World Cup ups and downs
The World Cup can make or break reputations. After the first round of games, Iain Macintosh tells us whose stock is rising and whose is plunging to the floor.
And to think, Joachim Low was criticised in some quarters for not bringing enough specialist strikers. Who needs specialist strikers when you have Thomas Muller? The 24-year-old was the winner of the Golden Boot in the 2010 World Cup with five goals and he added three more in his first game in Brazil. He is the master at finding space where none seems to exist and boasts such a versatile skill set that he could play in any position he wanted. Given the Best Young Player award in South Africa four years ago, he'll have the senior version to go with it if he keeps this up.
If you ever wanted to sum Modric up in a game, Croatia's opening clash with Brazil was the one to choose. The Croatian struggled to cope with physical attention in his first six months at Tottenham in 2008, but that baptism of fire taught him well. Under constant pressure from the hosts, Modric was never flustered and never intimidated. Whatever Brazil did, he always made space, bought time and then pushed the ball on to another teammate. Aided and abetted by the equally impressive Ivan Rakitic, who has since agreed to join Barcelona, the reason that Croatia were able to make chances was that their midfield was so composed and intelligent.
Robin van Persie
What a difference a manager makes. Van Persie was a shadow of himself under David Moyes at Old Trafford last season, but it bodes well for Manchester United fans that he has been so transformed in Netherlands colours under Louis van Gaal. It's one thing to be instinctively brilliant, but it's quite another to pull a World Cup-defining diving header out of the bag when you've had all the time in the world to think about how you could mess it up. Physically, Van Persie will always been vulnerable. Mentally, he's impregnable. This could be his summer.
The veteran centre-back waited many years to make his World Cup debut and he enjoyed every minute of it. The Colombian captain will celebrate his 40th birthday in 18 months, but he looked half his age when he was spotted rampaging across the halfway line with the ball at his feet and the wind in his long hair. Having successfully kept Greece at bay, he'll have a tougher challenge against Ivory Coast this week, but there's no reason to think that he'll be found wanting. Yepes will retire after the World Cup and what a way he's chosen to bow out.
England rather played into the hands of the Italian by leaving the door to their left side unlocked all night, but didn't Antonio Candreva make the most of it? The Lazio midfielder didn't give Roy Hodgson's side a moment's peace as he pillaged the flank mercilessly and poor Leighton Baines must still be having nightmares about it. Candreva's all round game was excellent, but his cross for Mario Balotelli's winning goal was absolutely sublime. Little wonder then that Liverpool, flush with the promise of Champions League money, have reportedly been watching him so closely. Lazio may struggle to keep their man.
- Iain Macintosh: World Cup diary
The Spain goalkeeper acknowledged that his display against the Netherlands was one of the worst of his career. And he was right. There was a theory that Jose Mourinho dropped Casillas at Real Madrid because he felt threatened by the club legend. However, it's becoming more and more apparent why Carlo Ancelotti didn't rush to reverse his predecessor's decision. Casillas is in a trough. But at least he's been a man about it.
The world knows Michael Bradley as a snarling, shaven headed dynamo who can terrify a midfield. America, and indeed Canada, knows that he can be far better than that, offering a more cultured touch than you might expect. But against Ghana, Bradley displayed neither silk nor steel and was, for much of the game, quite anonymous. With the African side so dangerous and so dominant in the second half, Jurgen Klinsmann really needed the best of him and he didn't get it. After Portugal's collapse, the door for progression is open but the U.S. need Bradley to kick it off its hinges on Sunday night.
After years as England's only occasionally effective talisman, serious questions are finally being asked of Wayne Rooney. With Daniel Sturridge in such potent form, the Manchester United man can't expect the central role he covets. With Raheem Sterling so impressive against Italy, Rooney can't even count on winning the no. 10 role either. Keen to crowbar him in somehow, Hodgson deployed Rooney on the left and watched in horror as his nomadic tendencies left Baines horribly exposed. Rooney did supply a fine cross for England's goal, but he also wasted a number of excellent opportunities and looked less than fully fit. He will surely play against Uruguay, but he can't afford another poor game.
Two goals down to one of the best teams in Europe, Portugal needed Pepe to keep a cool head. Unfortunately, that was too much to ask. The Real Madrid man's senseless butt, executed directly in front of the referee, brought a deserved red card and left his nation in the lurch. But the problems had already begun. Between him and his long-standing defensive partner Bruno Alves, there was no way that Mats Hummels should have been able to power a first half corner into the back of the net. Portugal will now face the U.S. without him, and only a win will put qualification back in their hands.
The Belgian has had to deal with comparisons to Didier Drogba since he first came to prominence on that fuzzy Youtube compilation of Anderlecht goals, but never before has the similarity felt so tenuous. Lukaku was given the hook after one underwhelming hour against Algeria in which he rumbled around like a man who was sincerely regretting the decision to have an extra helping of pasta right before kick-off. At his best, Lukaku is unplayable, fearless, powerful and deceptively shrewd. This was not him at his best. This was a performance that vindicated Jose Mourinho's decision to send him out on loan last season.
Ecuador were left broken-hearted by Switzerland's last gasp winner on Sunday, but at least the performance of Jefferson Montero was some consolation. The 24-year-old midfielder was a constant menace. Once of Villarreal but now playing in Mexico, he may get a second chance in Europe if he can repeat that performance.
Less impressive was Diego Costa vs. the Netherlands. Spain's biggest concern before the World Cup was getting the Chelsea-bound striker fit in time for that first game, but Vicente del Bosque must wonder why he bothered. The Brazilian-born striker moped around the pitch, the howls and jeers of the jilted locals ringing in his ears. He's had better days.