Here we are at the end of the first full week of 2014 World Cup action. It's been an absolutely brilliant advertisement for the global game.
The tournament has been rife with thrilling comebacks, unbelievable upsets, and young upstarts making a name for themselves in front of a global audience.
Day 7 featured some of the best teams in world football, and the competition's reputation for unparalleled excellence grew as the day went on.
In the first match, the Netherlands held on to beat Australia 3-2 in a surprisingly competitive affair. Chile then defeated Spain 2-0, ending La Furia Roja's chance to defend its World Cup title.
Croatia finished up the day by flattening 10-man Cameroon 4-0.
Here are the results, updated group tables and match recaps as we move through the action on Day 7.
|B||Netherlands vs. Australia||NED 3-2 AUS|
|B||Spain vs. Chile||CHI 2-0 ESP|
|A||Cameroon vs. Croatia||CRO 4-0 CMR|
Netherlands 3-2 Australia
There was only one lead that proved to be even remotely safe in this thrilling back-and-forth match, and it was the one that provided the final scoreline in the Netherlands 3-2 win over a fearless Australian side.
How far will the Netherlands advance in the 2014 World Cup?
The Dutch squad looked rather unfocused at the beginning of the match, the players perhaps still flying high after their unbelievable dismantling of Spain on Day 2.
Australia utilized its team strength and athleticism to go straight at the shaky Dutch defense in the early going, but it was the Netherlands who struck first against the run of play.
Arjen Robben, one of the slickest ball-handlers in the world, slipped through the entire Australian defense and sent a sizzling left-footed strike into the far corner of the net to give Netherlands the 1-0 lead.
The cheers from the Dutch supporters had yet to dissipate before Australia's Tim Cahill pulled the plug on their fun and brought the Socceroos level with an absolutely divine volley from the edge of the box. ESPNFC has the highlight:
Grantland.com's Brian Phillips pointed out the ludicrous nature of Cahill's World Cup goal-scoring record:
Tim Cahill has as many World Cup goals in this tournament as Messi does in his career, in case you were wondering whether life makes sense.— Brian Phillips (@runofplay) June 18, 2014
Australia were the more impressive side over the first 45 minutes; they maintained 55 percent possession against the nation of "Total Football" and outshot the Dutch 5-4 in the opening salvo. The New York Times' sports Twitter account has the key visuals from the first half:
Australia had to feel good about the result so far, but they did receive a major blow to their World Cup chances nonetheless. Cahill drew his second yellow card of the tournament after crashing into Bruno Martins Indi. His reckless challenge will keep him from participating in Australia's next match against Spain.
The game veered from surprisingly competitive to utterly unfathomable when Dutch defender Daryl Janmaat was called for a handball in his own box, earning a penalty for Australia.
Australia captain Mile Jedinak stepped up to take the kick, and calmly slotted it into the corner to give Australia the shocking 2-1 lead.
It appears neither team seemed interesting in keeping a lead for very long, as Robin van Persie equalized just three minutes later with a smashing strike to bring the Oranje back into the match.
It was now Australia's turn to look dazed and confused, and nowhere was this more apparent than on Memphis Depay's swerving long-range shot to give Netherlands the 3-2 lead. The Australian defense left him with acres of space with which to get his shot off, and Australian goalkeeper Maty Ryan got a late read on the strike and was unable to push it wide. ESPN Stats & Info shed light on the stunning nature of Depay's strike:
Memphis Depay (NED) scores his 1st international goal from 36.8 yards, easily the longest in this year's #WorldCup— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 18, 2014
The Netherlands was able to hold off the Socceroos for the remainder of the match, turning away free kicks and creating a few solid attacks of their own in the dying minutes.
Chile 2-0 Spain
Spain continued to baffle fans across the globe with another desultory performance in the World Cup, losing to Chile by a final score of 2-0.
Chile wasted little time in sending shockwaves throughout the stadium, as Eduardo Vargas put his team in front with a strong finish in the 19th minute.
Spain goalie Iker Casillas—long considered one of the best keepers in the world—continued to look overmatched in this tournament. His wayward punch on the ball after a Chile free kick led directly to Charles Aranguiz's blistering strike, which gave Chile a 2-0 lead inside 43 minutes.
Casillas may still prove to be a world class keeper for Real Madrid next season, but his performance thus far has been far below his usual standard.
Former England star Gary Lineker shared his thoughts on Casillas and Spain after Chile's second goal:
Curtains for Casillas! Spain look spent.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 18, 2014
ESPN commentator Ian Darke summed up Spain's World Cup performance, via ESPNFC's Twitter account:
Spain showed a bit more life in the second half, with Diego Costa getting a few chances in front of goal and Koke adding a jolt to the midfield. WhoScored.com's Twitter account showed the importance of Koke's appearance:
Koke and Diego Costa: Koke to Costa was the most common assist-goalscorer combination (7) in Europe’s top 5 leagues last season #esp— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) June 18, 2014
However, the Atletico Madrid combination had little time to work its magic, as Costa came off for Fernando Torres just a few minutes later, his almost comical inability to make good on his chances a symbol of Spain's overall ineffectual play.
Chile held on bravely in the second half to preserve the 2-0 scoreline and are now a lock to go through to the knockout round.
How shocking is Spain's performance? WhoScored.com's Twitter account provided an eye-opening statistic after the first half:
Spain: Have conceded more goals (7) in their last 2 games than they had in Euro 2008, World Cup 2010, and Euro 2012 combined (6) #esp— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) June 18, 2014
Spain's reign of terror in world football ended with the loss to Chile; it has no chance of advancing from the group stages. Chile will look to finish atop the group by defeating Netherlands in its final Group B match.
Croatia 4-0 Cameroon
Croatia put themselves back in the running to advance to the knockout round with a resounding 4-0 victory over an short-handed Cameroon.
Ivica Olic opened his World Cup account with a thumping strike in the 11th minute. His strike definitely came against the run of play, as Cameroon had made quite a few dangerous appearances in their opponents' box at that point.
Any hopes for a Cameroonian comeback were thoroughly extinguished when Alex Song drew a red card for blatantly striking Mario Mandzukic in the back in the 40th minute. ESPNFC has the highlight (or lowlight, I suppose).
Prior to this moment, Cameroon was playing at a very high level despite the 1-0 scoreline. Cameroon coach Volker Finke was left in a difficult position tactically with just 10 men on the pitch. As it turned out, he was in an impossible position, because the Croatians were rampant in the second half.
Ivan Perisic struck in the 48th minute, and Mandzukic—who was suspended for the Brazil match—added two goals of his own in the final 30 minutes to complete the rout. ESPN Stats & Info explains the significance of Mandzukic's performance:
There was very little for Cameroon to do other than defend valiantly without Song on the pitch, but their efforts were to no avail and they grew visibly frustrated as the match went on.
Luka Modric continued his puppet-master dominance in the match, playing his deep playmaking role to near perfection. If Croatia is to advance out of Group A, Modric will need to be at his best and provide the killer passes against Brazil.
Cameroon's tournament will be over after their final group stage match against Mexico. With no chance to advance, the best they can do is hope to play spoiler to another country's World Cup dreams.