Neymar, Messi start Golden Boot battle
Your move, Cristiano Ronaldo. Three days after Neymar opened the World Cup with a brace of goals for Brazil, Lionel Messi threw down an extraordinary individual strike for Argentina. In this three-way battle of the superstars, all the pressure is now on Portugal's talisman to perform.
Ronaldo, assuming that his lingering knee injury has been shaken off, will lead his nation out against Germany on Monday, and he'll need to do something spectacular to keep up with his contemporaries. Fortunately for him, and rather less so for Germany, the spectacular is a commodity Ronaldo rarely lacks.
There are two distinct groups already emerging at this World Cup: the superstars who remembered to pack their A-game, such Neymar, Messi and Robin van Persie, and those who did not, such as Iker Casillas, Wayne Rooney and Jennifer Lopez. To which group will Ronaldo pledge his allegiance? We'll find out later today.
- There were problems at Porto Alegre yesterday when an awkward breakdown in communications plunged the crowd, the managers and a number of international TV commentators into complete confusion.
It was Karim Benzema's second-half shot that caused the problem. The ball cannoned off the post, ricocheted back along the goal line, hit Honduras goalkeeper Noel Valladares and briefly popped over the line before it was hastily clawed back.
Referee Sandro Ricci awarded the goal. But when the stadium's big screen came to broadcast the goal line technology footage, it first showed the computer's read of the original post-hitting shot, quite correctly judged to be no goal. Inside the stadium, there was uproar. Had a mistake been made? Then the footage of the rebound was displayed and correctly adjudged to be a goal. And then, at great length and even greater volume, a surprising number of people accused the computer of cheating.
"It said no goal, then it said goal," Honduras manager Luis Suarez (not that one) said afterward. "What is the truth?"
The truth is that the computer was right; it just might have helped if someone had labelled the clips before screening them. A simple announcement over the PA system would have swiftly cleared up the confusion. Unfortunately, the PA system wasn't working -- a trifling issue when the national anthems couldn't be played but rather more pertinent when everyone was angrily shouting at each other and accusing the computers of demonstrating Skynet-like levels of individualism.
If Sepp Blatter wants a surefire way to win votes in the FIFA presidential election, a pledge to install an emergency megaphone in every stadium would probably be a good start.
- Honduras finally made their mark at the World Cup on Sunday. They also made their mark on Paul Pogba's legs, Mathieu Valbuena's ankles and so on. Honduras won't win much in Brazil, but no one's going to out-hack this team. France went into that game with the primary objective of making a winning start to the tournament. It wasn't long before their only aim was to make it to the end of the match without being snapped in half like a twig in autumn. Cameroon, with their flat back six and similarly antisocial studs, had taken an early lead in the race to be the worst side of the summer, but it's going to take something special to out-awful Honduras.
- This World Cup is the final swan song for one of Europe's most respected managers, Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, and he's not going to go quietly into the night. One of only five managers ever to win the Champions League with two different clubs, the 65-year-old German delivered another master class in management on Sunday. His side came in at halftime trailing Ecuador and playing with all the self-confidence of a particularly chubby hamster locked in a cattery. Hitzfeld took action. He brought on Admir Mehmedi. Mehmedi scored. Then he brought on Haris Seferovic. Seferovic scored too. Here endeth the lesson. Now kneel before Ottmar.
- Iran will be glad to put their difficult preparation period behind them and kick off against Nigeria. Carlos Queiroz's side drew with Belarus, Montenegro and Angola in the buildup before finally picking up a win against Trinidad and Tobago. But they'll have to keep an eye out for John Obi Mikel. Deployed as more of an obstacle than a creator for Chelsea, he tends to play in the No. 10 role for Nigeria, and he usually impresses.
- And, of course, it's finally time for the United States to get their party started against Ghana, who turfed them out in the second round in 2010. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has publicly insisted that his team cannot win the World Cup, a realistic, if rather defeatist, stance that at least allows him to temper any potential disappointment with a great, big "I told you so."