Goal glut welcome as defensive stalemates get the boot

Goal glut welcome as defensive stalemates get the boot

Brazil waited 64 years to stage a World Cup, and right from the kick-off it feels that the pulse is moving at an exceptional pace.

The first image that stunned me was the statue of Christ the Redeemer, back-lit in yellow, green and blue Brazilian colours, overlooking Rio de Janeiro.

Down in the stadiums, where mere mortals play (at least until Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo get going), something also stirs the emotions.

Brazil's national team are up and winning, without jogo bonito but with goals from their talisman Neymar and gifts from the referee.

Mexico winning despite another ref who made them score three goals to count a single one. Chile putting the Aussies to the sword.

Goals everywhere. But nowhere like Salvador on the second night of the competition, where the Dutch deflowering of world champions Spain was the biggest first-round shock most of us can remember in our lifetime.

Forty-eight hours is no time at all to gauge a month-long event. Yet this World Cup does already feel different, with 15 goals scored in four games far, far more than we anticipated.

Where did caution go?

This World Cup, I think and I hope, has the sensations that we have not felt since Mexico 1986. There are similarities in the temperatures, the Latin excitability that surrounds the games, the sudden tropical downpours, the sheer love of football by the host population.

Come play for us is, or ought to be, a compelling message to any sportsman.

Maybe I'm being romantic here, and judging a tournament way too early in its evolution.

There were, certainly, extenuating circumstances to the Dutch rout of Spain. The Spaniards arrived handicapped by the fact that three of their clubs went all the way to the finals of the Champions League and the Europa League in late May.

Barcelona, the core of this Spanish national XI, became embroiled to the final weekend in a head-to-head contest which they ultimately lost to Atletico Madrid.

We already questioned how many times the players like Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta and Co could sustain the hunger to keep on winning when their fortunes, their reputations, their ambitions were already secure and probably sated.

We knew, too, that defensively Carles Puyol, who was forced to retire through persistent injuries, had been a leader and a rock to both Barcelona and Spain. He was no great player in the technical sense, but he knew how to goad, to organise, and to invigorate those in his team who could be.

Take out the spiritual leader, the warrior if you like, and it is a hard, hard role to replace.

But beyond that, beyond Barca, was the four-year hurt that gnawed away at the Dutch soul. That team knew they had let themselves down four years ago, and had thrown away the chance of winning the final by betraying their skills for an attempt at physical brutality against Spain.

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