World Cup: Spain and Cristiano Ronaldo the best so far
Yesterday was a day of turn-ups. It's a date that'll go down in Mexico's history after El Tri stunned Germany, in a game that saw late substitute Rafa Márquez appear at his fifth World Cup. Only four other men had managed that, with the first, goalkeeper Antonio Carbajal, also a Mexican. The others are Lothar Matthäus and Gigi Buffon, who was an unused sub in '98. Mexico's win was followed by Brazil's surprise draw with Switzerland. The Seleçao were thrilling for a spell, but it was no more than a spell - and when their display dropped off they conceded the equaliser, before trying, and failing, to get back into top gear. Neymar lacked sharpness. He may well improve as the tournament goes on, but last night he looked short on spark or ideas. Against a side as solid as the Swiss, Brazil needed him much more on his game.
Sunday's surprises followed Argentina's stumble against Iceland
Those two surprises come on the back of Argentina's draw with Iceland on Saturday, which has led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth back home. The Albiceleste did next to zilch with the ball, save for the odd, scarce incursion from Lionel Messi, who wore a perma-frown as he desperately, and unsuccessfully, sought playing partners. And to top things off, he missed a penalty. Unlike previous Argentina stumbles, however, it's the coach, Jorge Sampaoli, who's copping most of the flak. No-one can understand his team selection. It was a side that simply offered nothing of note other than a fine goal by Sergio Agüero, who latched onto a loose ball, controlled with aplomb, and fired a powerful shot on the turn into the top corner. There was that, two or three smart balls from Messi, and that was their lot.
With Belgium still to play, France are the only contenders to have won
So of the pre-World Cup favourites to have played so far, only France have won. And they don't have all that much to boast about, having squeaked past Australia with a penalty awarded using VAR and a late, deflected winner given by goalline technology. Based on what we've seen in the tournament's opening games, and with Belgium still to play their first fixture (against Panama today), it's Spain that have been the most impressive, producing some excellent stuff for periods of Friday's thriller against Portugal, and shrugging off their keeper's struggles to twice bounce back from the blow of going behind. As for Russia 2018's headline stars, Cristiano Ronaldo is the only one who has lived up to the expectations we have of the game's truly top-class operators. Messi and Neymar didn't even get near him.
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