Four days in, we have finally seen goal-line technology employed for the first time ever at a World Cup. It solved one controversy, the one it was introduced to solve, but in the process, only seemed to create another.
The goal in question effectively confirmed the result in France's game against Honduras, although, with Didier Deschamps' side 1-0 up and their opponents down to 10 men, it is likely that the Europeans would have gone on to win anyway.
Nevertheless, it is always better to make the right decision in such situations, and technology enabled us to see that goalkeeper Noel Valladares had indeed inadvertently deflected Karim Benzema's shot into his own goal after the initial effort had hit the far post.
The final outcome was the right one, then, but the flaws in the process were also exhibited along the way. The replay of the incident—which was also shown on the big screens in the stadium in Porto Alegre—first highlighted the moment Benzema's strike hit the post, bringing up a "No goal" sign that led to many confused cheers from Honduras fans in attendance.
But then the replay continued, focusing instead on the instant Valladares mishandled the rebound. This time, a "Goal" signal flashed, sparking celebrations from the French fans but anger and confusion from the previously relieved Honduras players and staff.
Honduras coach Luis Suarez (no, not that one—or indeed the other one) even confronted his counterpart, Deschamps, as both men debated the decision, although this seemed more like posturing than a genuine feeling of injustice. The verdict was clear, even if the process was not.
It is okay if you were confused, too (Jonathan Pearce, commentating for the BBC, took 10 minutes to gather his thoughts). FIFA has reportedly insisted that goal-line-technology reviews are shown alongside every second replay of an important goal—hence pointless "Goal" notices when shots have hit the net, never mind simply crossed the line—but it looks like they still have some kinks to iron out. Still, the first outing embracing the new technology was generally a positive one.
The fourth day of the World Cup was also another positive one, even if it did see its second red card (congratulations, Wilson Palacios). The most dramatic moment came in the first game, as Switzerland ran the length of the pitch in the final minute to steal victory over Ecuador in remarkable fashion.
France were then convincing in their win over Honduras, with the Central Americans seemingly more interested in kicking their opponents than trying to beat them. It was a strategy that might have worked in tournaments past, but was entirely unsuccessful on this occasion.
Then, like a heavyweight champion headlining the bill on fight night, came the main event—Lionel Messi and Argentina. The team most likely to rival Brazil (sorry, Spain, Netherlands, Italy et al) were not utterly convincing, but after an early own goal and a change of formation at half-time, Messi's trademark solo goal was enough for Alejandro Sabella's side to squeeze a 2-1 win.
Fans will want to see more from him in his next outing, of course. That is against Iran, though, so chances are, they just might get their wish.
And while there were a few technical issues elsewhere, the first game at the Maracana, the venue hosting the final, seemed to go very smoothly. With a brilliant atmosphere, perhaps the best of the tournament to date, it was a real taste of what the final might be like.
Fortunately, however, there is still much more football to be played (and enjoyed) before then.
Results in Brief - Day 4
Switzerland 2-1 Ecuador
(Mehmedi, Seferovic; E. Valencia)
France 3-0 Honduras
(Benzema (2), Valladares o.g.)
Argentina 2-1 Bosnia & Herzegovina
(Kolasinac o.g., Messi; Ibisevic)
Notes from Day 2
Messing with Expectations
These opening games are not exactly making it easy to make any firm prognostications about who might end up lifting the trophy in Rio next month. Brazil were decent but needed a soft penalty decision to get the win, while Spain were battered by Netherlands—a team previously written off due to their young squad.
On Sunday, meanwhile, Argentina—many people's favourites—looked flat for long periods against Bosnia and Herzegovina, raising real questions about their long-term chances. France, in contrast, elevated their standing among observers immensely with another comprehensive display, arguably the most authoritative of the tournament to date.
Colombia might be their rivals in that regard, while Belgium are among the teams still to play. Brazil might have home advantage, but beyond them, it really looks like this could be anyone's World Cup (except England's, of course).
Not antique but years from now this image will be used to depict the greatness of Messi. pic.twitter.com/N2NOY2tiMO— Antique Football (@AntiqueFootball) June 15, 2014
Teething Problems Still Being Ironed out
The first two games on Sunday both saw reasonably high-profile logistical issues, ones that might have caused some embarrassment to organisers. The Switzerland-Ecuador game featured a large number of empty seats in the first half of the match, as security checks took far longer than expected to process supporters. Then, in the France-Honduras meeting, neither national anthem was played pre-match, apparently due to a problem with the PA system inside the grounds.
The final game, however, didn't appear to have any major blemishes. Which is just as well considering it was at the Maracana, and anything less would be unacceptable in the building where next month's final is being held.
Ambition Is the Root of Disappointment
To date, this World Cup has been characterised on the pitch by a bolder style of play, with teams far more willing to go forth and attack than they were in South Africa. That approach has led to a number of enjoyable games for the neutral, but its downside was on full display on Sunday. Ecuador were well on course for a point against Switzerland when the game entered injury-time, before they committed too many men forward and got hit on the break by Haris Seferovic's last-gasp winner.
With France winning later in the day, the loss renders Ecuador's hopes of reaching the knockout stages slim at best. It will be interesting to see if their experience serves as a cautionary tale to those countries still to play their opening fixtures.
Quote of the Day
The first decision was 'No goal' and then the machine said it was a goal. So I don't know what to think.
That's the point. If the technology sends a clear message, then I don't understand how the system can say it's a goal first and then 'No goal.' What is the truth?
—Honduras coach Luis Suarez (per Jerome Pugmire of The Associated Press)
I can't force them to be at your disposal after what you have done to them and their families. How would you feel if someone took naked pictures of you?
—Croatia coach Niko Kovac (per Sky Sports)
Tweet of the Day
I was most relieved Clarence and Thierry knew who I was xx— Robbie Savage (@RobbieSavage8) June 15, 2014
Idea for show: Jonathan Pearce Is Confused By Things. "I put the bread into the machine and now it's warm. How? Is it the same bread?"— Chris Hewitt (@ChrisHewitt) June 15, 2014
Messi has done something Maradona never did: Score from outside the box in a World Cup.— MisterChip (English) (@MisterChiping) June 15, 2014
Goal of the Day
Most people expect, even demand, that Messi is back inside the Maracana for the final of this tournament next month. For now, this sort of thing will do.
A Good Day for...
Karim Benzema. Whether or not he is subsequently awarded France's second goal against Honduras (and, by the letter of the law, he surely should not—but goals have been awarded to the attacker in similar situations in the past), the Real Madrid striker has made himself an early front-runner to be the tournament's Golden Boot winner.
Six total goals have been good enough to win (or share) the last eight out of nine Golden Boot awards, and Benzema already has two to his credit. With Benzema having surely now cemented his starting spot and France still to play two teams (Ecuador and Switzerland) who look open at the back, Benzema could go a long way toward wrapping up the top goalscorer prize by the end of the group stages.
A Bad Day for...
Vedran Corluka and Dejan Lovren. A few days after they loudly complained about the penalty decision that effectively cost them their opener against Brazil, the defenders were two of the players most prominently featured (so to speak) when pictures of Croatian players swimming naked were published in some quarters online.
Speaking on Sunday, Croatia coach Niko Kovac subsequently revealed the players would not talk to the media, possibly for the remainder of the tournament. Anger, not embarrassment, seems to be the cause—but all should be on alert that we have already reached the stage of the World Cup when almost any story is possible.
Germany vs. Portugal (Group G: 5 p.m. GMT/12 p.m. ET)
Another day, another big all-European clash. Netherlands and Italy have already won their local encounters, but it is hard to predict which side might join them in Salvador. Germany have the pedigree, perhaps, but have been ravaged by injury and form issues coming into this tournament, while Portugal are unsure if Cristiano Ronaldo will be 100 percent. A draw—the first of the competition—may be the most likely eventuality.
Iran vs. Nigeria (Group F: 8 p.m. GMT/3 p.m. ET)
Iran have generally been lumped in with Honduras as the weakest sides in this competition, and their past record in World Cups does not bear much scrutiny. Nigeria, however, are a somewhat erratic and enigmatic side, just as capable of blistering attacking play as they are shocking examples of inept defending. This will not be one of the best quality games the competition witnesses.
Ghana vs. United States (Group G: 11 p.m. GMT/6 p.m. ET)
Revenge is on the agenda for the U.S., after falling to Ghana in each of the last two World Cups. More importantly, however, both sides know they really must win this game if they are to escape the group, with Germany and Portugal likely to prove stern opponents down the line. Ghana have the edge in quality, it must be said, but if Jurgen Klinsmann is the talisman the Americans hope he is, they should not be ruled out.