Three days in and the 2014 FIFA World Cup is already looking like it will go down as a classic.
Just eight games have been played so far in the tournament, yet already we have had brilliant goals, shock results and a near-constant diet of attacking football. What more can we hope for from the next 56?
Compared to the negative, defence-first approach that dominated proceedings in South Africa, almost every team in Brazil seems to be making a concerted effort to push forward and take the game to their opponents. Even Greece, a team whose only obvious strength appears to lie in its defence, tried to attack Colombia in Saturday's first game—unfortunately, all they got for their efforts was a 3-0 defeat.
The triumph established Colombia as a genuine threat for this competition, even without Radamel Falcao to call upon. Yet that statement of intent was quickly followed by a real shock, as Costa Rica came from behind to beat Uruguay 3-1. The South Americans, without Luis Suarez available to them, looked surprisingly rigid—and now face an uphill battle to reach the knockout stages of the competition.
That is because their remaining games are against England and Italy, who met each other in Manaus on Saturday evening. In a entertaining and eventful game, Italy eventually triumphed 2-1 thanks to Mario Balotelli's header despite a youthful England side enjoying as much of the match as their more experienced opponents.
"It was an epic match and I feel that England is one of the strongest teams in the World Cup. We played a great game," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli told reporters. "Up until just a few years ago England relied on long balls but they are now a skilled team with excellent triangular passing.
"They have changed a lot and now have one of the strongest attacks in the World Cup, that is why I am so satisfied with the result."
England being lauded for their "excellent triangular passing"—that's when you know this is a different World Cup.
In the fourth and final game of the day (don't get used to it; we now revert back to three games a day until the conclusion of the group stages), Ivory Coast produced another comeback to round off the day, scoring twice in 100 seconds to defeat Japan 2-1.
Keisuke Honda had given the Asian side a deserved lead with an emphatic finish in the first half, but Ivory Coast came out in a different formation in the second half, and that sparked the turnaround, as Wilfried Bony and Gervinho feasted on successive Serge Aurier crosses.
Excitement at every turn, and it does not look like stopping any time soon. On Sunday, Lionel Messi makes his tournament bow...
Saturday's Results in Brief
Colombia 3-0 Greece
(Armero, Gutierrez, Rodriguez)
Uruguay 1-3 Costa Rica
(Cavani; Campbell, Duarte, Urena)
England 1-2 Italy
(Sturridge; Marchisio, Balotelli)
Ivory Coast 2-1 Japan
(Bony, Gervinho; Honda)
1. Notes from Day Three
Like a fine wine... Andrea Pirlo truly is an ageless wonder. The 35-year-old once again dictated play brilliantly as Italy beat England, putting Steven Gerrard's attempts to do similar for the other side into a somewhat harsh light. To round off his performance, he then nearly embarrassed Joe Hart with a free-kick that probably had everyone inside the ground befuddled.
Gunning for glory... The star of Costa Rica's impressive victory over Uruguay was Joel Campbell, a player who seems to be doing everything he can to convince Arsenal he is ready to play for them next season after a number of campaigns out on loan. The forward's equaliser was an example of great technique and composure.
Another player to put in a good individual display was Ivory Coast's Serge Aurier, a widely rumoured target for the Gunners, per Matthew Morlidge of the Daily Mail. The full-back was pivotal in turning around his side's game against Japan, providing two assists for his forwards with brilliant crosses. Would both players enhance Arsene Wenger's side next season? They have another two games to audition.
2. Quote of the Day
At times I thought I was having hallucinations it was so hot. This team, though, showed it has great character, in the final minutes we resisted and brought home a deserved win.
—Claudio Marchisio, per Reuters (via Eurosport.com)
3. Tweet of the Day
4. Goal of the Day
It wasn't enough to grab his country the three points, but it was just enough to earn Goal of the Day honours. Keisuke Honda's finish gave Boubacar Barry absolutely no chance.
5. A Good Day for...
Costa Rica. Who else could it really be? Written off by many before the tournament, they produced an upset every bit as surprising and impressive as Netherlands' demolition of Spain 24 hours earlier, coming from behind to beat Uruguay 3-1. Suddenly, they have a very real chance of reaching the knockout stages of the competition. Uruguay have already been stung. England and Italy beware.
6. A Bad Day for...
Luis Suarez. Confined to the bench as he watched his side throw away an early lead against Costa Rica, the Liverpool forward will now return to the line-up to face England—assuming he is fit for that match, as is expected—knowing he needs to do something quickly if his side is to avoid an early exit from the competition. The one match Suarez missed may ultimately prove more significant than the two games he plays in.
Also a bad day for... England physio Gary Lewin, who managed to dislocate his ankle while celebrating Daniel Sturridge's equaliser against Italy. Painful for now, embarrassing for all eternity.
7. Sunday's Schedule
Switzerland vs. Ecuador (Group E: 5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET)
Another day, another intriguing clash of styles. Ecuador hardly impressed in their warm-up friendly against England, but they did get a draw—an indication of their threat as a powerful side on the counter-attack. Switzerland, meanwhile, have an array of exciting young attacking talents at their disposal, but will they be a bit porous at the back?
France vs. Honduras (Group E: 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. ET)
France may have been the only "big" side to actually impress in its final friendlies before the tournament, including an absolute demolition of Jamaica in Paris. Honduras—another side that managed a pre-tournament draw with England—are better than Jamaica but not by that much. This could be a big opening win for the Europeans.
Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina (Group F: 11 p.m. BST/6 p.m. ET)
If Brazil are the favourites to win the tournament, then Argentina are their closest challengers. It has almost become fact that Lionel Messi must have a dominant World Cup on his CV to be considered one of the sport's all-time greats, and his bid to finally do that comes against a European country that has come through remarkable hardships (including, but not limited to, war) to reach this point.
Bosnia-Herzegovina have some great attacking players, but chances are they will spend more time trying to defend against Messi and his impressive supporting cast.