Portugal pitiful in almost every phase
Somewhere, in a hotel room in Brazil, Lionel Messi is still crying with laughter. You just know that he's already made a GIF of that Cristiano Ronaldo free-kick and that he's going to keep it on his smartphone for whenever he's feeling blue. On Sunday, one of the two best players in the world opened his account with a breathtaking solo effort. On Monday, the other scuffed a free-kick into the ankles of a one man wall at about five kilometers per hour.
If Portugal's first game of the World Cup was the first night of a Broadway musical, there wouldn't be a second one. The lights never went up, the star forgot his lines and the show was ruined when one actor strode out to the front row and put the nut on a member of the audience.
Fortunately for manager Paulo Bento, they will get a second night and there is absolutely no margin for error. That's a point the 29-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, with one eye on his legacy, will doubtless reassert. They will have to improve dramatically if they're to qualify for the next stage now. Furious Portuguese fans were quick to blame the officials for an early penalty call and the dismissal of Pepe, but there's no avoiding the fact that their team were desperately poor in every department. Ronaldo's mother could have refereed that game and they would still have been soundly beaten.
Away from the discussions of the wobbly goalkeeper, the leaky defence, the incoherent midfield, the staggeringly abysmal Nani and the woeful Ronaldo, there was one question on the lips of all football fans: Just how stupid is Pepe? Yes, Thomas Muller's acting was expressive enough to win him a part in an actual Broadway musical, but how can a hugely experienced member of one of Europe's most scrutinised football teams be moronic enough to butt another player right in front of the referee? Pepe really is almost heroically dense.
- After 11 games of this World Cup, the dullest of which was the entertaining tussle between Mexico and Cameroon, we were due a real stinker. And so it was that Nigeria and Iran stepped up to deliver the bads. If you missed it, try to imagine a very long train journey through featureless Siberian tundra while Al Gore sits next to you and reads aloud the first draft of his new book, "Al Gore's Comprehensive History of the Paperclip."
Iran, organised but limited, could hardly be blamed for defending in numbers. Nigeria, initially sprightly, but then increasingly and bafflingly disjointed, will have rather more regrets. They're better than that. Still, try and look at it like this. Like people who went on a madcap four-day credit card spending spree in Vegas, we've had an awful lot of fun together. This was just the bill.
- All seemed right for the United States when veteran frontman Clint Dempsey scored a quite outrageous goal just 29 seconds after the kickoff. Sadly their other frontman, the redoubtable Jozy Altidore was cut down in his prime, shortly after this blog had made a point of lavishing him with praise on Twitter.
The intelligence of Altidore's movement, the effort, the determination. He's *so* close to being awesome. If only he could shoot straight.- Iain Macintosh (@iainmacintosh) June 16, 2014
Sorry about that. Altidore has struggled to find the back of the net in England, but a more determined, committed, intelligent and likeable young footballer you will not find. In a particularly classy gesture, Ghana honoured his falling by spanking almost every shot wildly off target for the rest of the night, a really nice touch.
- Last week an article in Time Magazine repeated the absurd maxim that America doesn't like soccer, claiming that one of the major problems with the sport was, "infrequent scoring." The author would do well to watch the scenes of unrestrained jubilation that followed John Brooks' late winner. The goal came a whole 85 minutes after Dempsey's opener, a period that Time Magazine presumably spent checking Facebook, staring out of the window or chasing something shiny that initially looked like fun, but turned out to be a discarded candy wrapper. America does like soccer. And America knows very well that some things are worth waiting for.
- Brazil will have to buck their ideas up if they're to lift the World Cup this summer. Thursday feels like a lifetime ago now, so it's worth reminding ourselves that they could easily have dropped points in their clash with Croatia had it not been for the generosity of the match officials. Due to a curious anomaly in the scheduling, they'll play Mexico in the second of today's three games, which means that one of the two nations could secure qualification for the next round before Russia and South Korea have even kicked a ball.
- Elsewhere we'll finally discover whether Belgium are worth the half-decade of hype that has been lavished upon them. Marc Wilmots' men have been tipped as the surprise package of the tournament by so many people that the only way they could genuinely surprise anyone now is by losing to Algeria and then failing to qualify.