If You Missed the World Cup's First Weekend, You Missed a Lot

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If You Missed the World Cup's First Weekend, You Missed a Lot
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For the diehards around the world, there is nothing better than the start of a World Cup. Four years of work, dedication, political wrangling and hastily constructed stadia are finally being put to use on the field in Brazil. Nothing matters more.

To casual fans of the game—and traditional big-event television watchers in America—the World Cup is too often something to admire from afar, tuning in when the United States plays and catching a few matches that involve power nations like Brazil, Italy or Argentina.

For the diehards who watched every minute of the first 11 World Cup matches, we witnessed what might go down as the best opening weekend in the event's storied history.

You want big stars? The first weekend had them.

You want controversy? The first weekend had a ton of that too.

You want amazing come-from-behind victories and last-minute goals that change the fortunes of entire nations in an instant? Yeah, the first weekend had that as well.

The diehards were treated to a lot over the first World Cup weekend. For the casual fans and big-event viewers with one eye on the matches and one eye on something else, it's time you get focused. You missed a lot.

That tweet, by the way, was sent out at halftime of the 11th match, so add two to that goal tally, as fans have been treated to a ridiculous 37 goals through the first 11 games.

To compare that mark to more recent World Cups, the 2010 World Cup in South Africa had just 18 goals through the first 11 matches, four of which ended in 1-1 or 0-0 draws. Just one team through the first 11 matches in 2010 managed to score more than two goals and just three teams scored more than one.

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There was a bit more action back in 2006, with 27 goals scored through the first 11 matches in Germany, but even then eight teams failed to score at all, with six of those matches featuring two or fewer total goals.

Through the first 11 matches this year, 10 teams scored at least two goals, with six netting three or more.

Just one of the first 11 matches failed to have at least three goals, and that was the 1-0 win for Mexico over Cameroon that had two goals in the first half wrongly overturned for offside.

That creates the perfect segue into even more controversy. Everybody loves a little scandal and debate at the World Cup, right?

Well, whether you like it or not, we've had it. The officiating in the Mexico match with Cameroon was woeful, taking two goals away on flat-out poor calls by the linesman. Still, that wasn't the worst of it.

In the first match of the tournament with Brazil struggling to put away a tough Croatia team, Brazilian striker Fred was pulled down in the box—or so it looked—allowing samba star Neymar to bury home the eventual game-winner from the penalty spot, his second goal of the match, in front of adoring home fans.

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The call was questionable at best, as replays showed Fred blatantly diving to draw a call. The decision surely changed the construct of that match, but in the end the host nation added another goal late on, a 25-yard toe poke—a toe poke!—from Oscar, getting the World Cup party officially underway.

The come-from-behind victory for Brazil proved a harbinger of things to come on the first weekend. Five of the 11 matches were won by teams that were trailing at some point in the match.

There was no storyline more shocking—other than perhaps Costa Rica's incredible upset of Uruguay—than the come-from-behind victory for the Netherlands over reigning champions Spain.

The Dutch fell behind after an early penalty off another questionable whistle in the box but equalized before the half by Robin van Persie with one of the greatest headed balls you will ever see. The second half was all Oranje, who shocked Iker Casillas and the Spaniards to the tune of 5-1, scoring four in the second half to make a huge statement in the most lopsided result of the first weekend.

Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

Of the 37 goals scored through 11 matches, 22 were scored in the second half, including seven scored in the 80th minute or later. Seven of the first 11 match-winning goals were tallied in the second half as well, none more incredible than the finish to the Switzerland-Ecuador match.

With seconds to play in a 1-1 draw that, let's be honest, was one of the duller matches of the first weekend, Ecuador had a chance inside the Swiss box to net a match-winner before some wonderful scrambling defense from Swiss midfielder Valon Behrami stopped the charge and cleared the ball back up the field.

With Switzerland on the counter, a great call of advantage by the referee after a cynical Ecuadorian challenge allowed play to continue near the midfield stripe, leading to a cross in the box by Ricardo Rodriguez that Haris Seferovic buried home with the last touch of the match.

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The finish to that match was stunning. Yes, this World Cup has been so great that even the worst games get the best finishes.

Oh, and speaking of great finishes, there were no ties over the first weekend, meaning that every match of the first 11 had a proper finish for the American audience. Plus lots of goals, by lots of stars.

What's that…you like stars scoring goals, do you?

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The first 37 goals of the World Cup were scored by 30 different players—32 if you include two own goals—and the list includes Neymar, Karim Benzema, Arjen Robben and Van Persie each with two goals, with a list of 26 players who scored one goal, including the likes of Lionel Messi, Edinson Cavani, Oscar, James Rodriguez, Alexis Sanchez, Daniel Sturridge, Tim Cahill, Xabi Alonso, Keisuke Honda and Mario Balotelli.

FIFA gives out a Man of the Match award, sponsored by Budweiser, after each match and through the first 11 games that trophy was handed to the following all-star team of players: Neymar, Giovani dos Santos, Van Persie, Sanchez, Rodriguez, Joel Campbell, Balotelli, Yaya Toure, Xherdan Shaqiri of Switzerland—who, incidentally, I thought was pretty poor for his side—Benzema for being responsible for all three of France's goals and Messi.

(It's amazing what a match-winning wonder goal can do for your trophy collection.)

Oh, and circling back to Benzema being responsible for all three of France's goals, the second came packaged inside bundle of historic proportions…and never-ending controversy.

Goal-line technology was used to verify if Benzema's shot off the post had careened off the Honduran keeper and totally crossed the goal line. The technology said it did, and even visual replays—blocked slightly by the goal posts on every possible angle—seemed to confirm the call. But that didn't satisfy the anti-technology, anti-FIFA conspiracy theorists online.

But back to the stars. None of the first 11 players awarded Man of the Match were named Andrea Pirlo, who slogged his 35-year old bones through the humid jungle of Manaus to put on a master class of control, passing and free-kick physics for Italy. None were named Didier Drogba, whose mere presence on the field for Cote d'Ivoire seemed to take a second-half deficit and turn it into a victory for the African side.

Stars? Yes, the first weekend had a lot of stars.

The first weekend had a bit of everything, rewarding the diehards, and hopefully enticing the casual fans to stick around. The World Cup has just gotten started, after all. You wouldn't want to miss anything else.

 

Follow Dan Levy on Twitter: Follow @DanLevyThinks

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