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Wileman: A look back at Spain, Messi, and more in Brazil

Luke Wileman
6/16/2014 9:59:52 AM
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We are just four days into the tournament, but there has been no shortage of talking points at Brazil 2014 both on and off the pitch. The goals have been flowing with 37 scored through the first 11 matches, making it the highest scoring World Cup since 1958.

Here are the top five things that caught my attention in the tournament so far.

1. Pain for Spain

There really was no bigger story for me during the opening days of the tournament than the remarkable fall of the defending Champions Spain at the hands of the Netherlands. It wasn't just the size of the win by the Dutch in a repeat of the 2010 World Cup Final, it was the manner of the victory that shook the soccer world. Four goals is the biggest margin of defeat for a defending Champion in World Cup history.

From Robin Van Persie's stunning diving header, to Arjen Robben's exceptional two-goal performance it was an incredible, clinical display from the Netherlands, and they could have finished with more goals. All of this came after Spain had taken the lead, and almost went 2-0 up just before RVP's equalizer.

However, as impressive as the Dutch were, much of the surprise was about how Spain crumbled. In the second half, the defending World and European Champions looked anything but. The performance of the normally reliable Iker Casillas was just one black mark on a bad afternoon at the office for the Spaniards, and a late miss from close range by Fernando Torres summed up a bleak afternoon.

Spain lost their first match in 2010 and went on to win the World Cup. It will be fascinating to see how they respond this time around.

2. Magical Messi

There was much talk heading into the tournament about Lionel Messi's status as one of the true soccer greats. Can he be on a pedestal alongside the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona if he doesn't win a World Cup?

Messi showed on Sunday night what we have seen many times before for Barcelona. Whatever the game, whoever is around him, he has the ability to single-handedly influence the outcome.

Argentina were not at their best against Bosnia and Herzegovina, and neither was Messi, but with his team holding a slender one goal advantage against the World Cup newcomers, Messi scored a fantastic goal, leaving defenders trailing in his wake. It was a piece of individual brilliance that provided a spark needed by his team. Whether Messi wins the tournament or not is irrelevant to me - he has already shown plenty for both club and country to be classed as one of the World's elite players of all time.

3. Young Lions

I didn't expect much from England heading into the tournament, but I was pleasantly surprised by their performance in the 2-1 defeat to Italy on Saturday night. With young attacking flair, they looked dangerous going forward, and despite losing the match showed there is much to look forward to in the future. Raheem Sterling certainly repaid the faith shown by England boss Roy Hodgson with the Liverpool teenager putting in an excellent performance.

One of the big debates afterwards was the performance of Wayne Rooney. He missed an excellent chance with England down 2-1 but struggled to influence the game from an unfamiliar position wide on the left. If England are to be successful, they need to get the best out of Rooney, and I'm not sure that position will enable that to happen.

With Costa Rica's surprise victory over Uruguay, it leaves the group wide open. Italy will be favourites to advance in first place. England will need to tighten up defensively but if they can produce similar attack-minded performances in their next two matches, I think they have a good chance to advance.

4. Croatia Robbed

After all the build up to the World Cup, when the action finally began, it was a massive letdown that the post-game talking point was about refereeing and a controversial penalty.

Neymar and Oscar produced star performances as the host nation got off to a winning start, but the game really turned Brazil's way when Dejan Lovren was judged to have fouled Fred in the box. It should never have been a penalty. The contact was minimal, and Fred flopped like an Olympic diver, but Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura pointed to the spot and the penalty gave Brazil the lead they needed to settle some nerves.

It was a very poor decision, but fortunately in the days that followed, the action has been so good that the officials have not been the centre if attention. However, Croatian fans will find it difficult to forgive and forget as they were in the game until the referee changed the course of the match.

5. Ouch!

Poor old Gary Lewin. Immediately after Daniel Sturridge scored England's levelling goal in the first half against Italy on Saturday night, cameras zoomed in on the touch line near the England bench. A crowd of people, including medics, we're huddled around someone who was lying flat out on the floor. At first there was confusion. Who was it? What had gone wrong?

Turns out the man down injured was actually the England physio! Gary Lewin had hurt himself while celebrating England's goal. He jumped up, landed on a water bottle and dislocated his ankle.

It was an embarrassing situation at the time, but it will leave Lewin with a good story in years to come of how he injured himself during a World Cup match and had to be stretchered off! Roy Hodgson confirmed the injury after the match and also that Lewin's World Cup is over. A disappointing end for the physio, but at least he will have expert help on hand throughout his recovery.

Luke Wileman

Luke Wileman


Luke Wileman is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca.

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