World Cup 2014: 10 Biggest Talking Points from the Group-Stage Games

Samuel Marsden@@samuelmarsdenFeatured ColumnistJune 28, 2014

World Cup 2014: 10 Biggest Talking Points from the Group-Stage Games

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    Mario Tama/Getty Images

    What a World Cup we have been treated to so far.

    From South American success to the struggles of some grand old European powers, there have been goals, excitement, ghastly goalkeeping and a hint of controversy.

    And now that the group stages are over, we live in hope that it will only get better as the last 16 kicks off on Saturday.

    In the meantime, relive the 10 biggest talking points from the group stage games.

    No prizes for guessing what comes in at No. 1...

10. Fred Takes a Tumble in the Opener

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    The very first evening of the World Cup yielded the first controversial refereeing decision.

    Croatia had taken the lead against Brazil, only for the referee to hand the hosts a soft penalty for what looked a very dodgy dive from centre-forward Fred.

    Neymar hammered it home and Brazil were up and running.

    Decisions like that are probably behind the reasons Chile's Alexis Sanchez, whose side play the Brazilians in the last 16, said he's "worried about the referee," per SPORT.

9. That Robin Van Persie Header

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    A Xabi Alonso penalty got Spain's World Cup campaign off to the ideal start in their opening fixture against the Dutch.

    Holland were fielding a youthful team, with the experience of Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie thrown in, and not many people expected too much from them.

    Then came Van Persie's fantastic header and the Dutch became rampant, smashing the Spanish 5-1 and sending a message to everyone else in Brazil.

    Buoyed by the win, Louis van Gaal's side went on to win all three of their group matches.

8. South American Teams Soar

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    A lot was made of the climate before the World Cup, the suggestion being it would benefit the teams from South America.

    Now there's no way of knowing how true that is exactly, but it can't be purely coincidental that the South American teams have done so well until this point.

    Colombia and Chile have particularly impressed, while Argentina and Brazil were always likely to emerge from their groups.

    Uruguay squeezed through as well, leaving Ecuador as the only South American nation not to make it through the group stages.

7. Los Ticos Fly Through

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    Petr David Josek/Associated Press

    Without a doubt, the surprise country at this summer's World Cup so far has been Costa Rica.

    Before the tournament got underway, their group was dubbed "The Group of Death," not because of their involvement but because of the involvement of three former World Cup winners: England, Italy and Uruguay.

    However, with a 3-1 win over Uruguay in their opening game, Los Ticos made it clear they were not in Brazil to make up numbers.

    They then beat the Italians as well before drawing with England in their final game to clinch top spot in the group.

6. Paying Coaches £££ Guarantees Nothing

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    You can pay your manager all the money in the world, but it doesn't mean they can get you through the group stages at the World Cup.

    The three top-earning coaches at this summer's World Cup are already on their way out of Brazil.

    Fabio Capello (Russia, £6.7 million), Roy Hodgson (England, £3.5m) and Cesare Prandelli (Italy, £2.6m) all failed to extend their side's participation beyond the first round.

    Meanwhile, Miguel Herrera (Mexico, £0.13m), Stephen Keshi (Nigeria, £0.24m) and Jorge Luis Pinto (Costa Rica, £0.26m) all march on.

5. Klose Equals Ronaldo's Record

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    Martin Rose/Getty Images

    Germany's Miroslav Klose will be remembered more for his contribution to international football than he will for anything he has ever done at club level.

    He has consistently done damage at World Cups and continues to score goals at the world's biggest tournament at the age of 36.

    Appearing as a substitute in Germany's 2-2 draw with Ghana, he scored his 70th international goal.

    It was his 15th goal in World Cups, which equals the record set by Brazil's Ronaldo, and Klose still has time to surpass it with Germany continuing their participation in the tournament.

4. Neymar Carrying the Hosts' Expectations

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    Buda Mendes/Getty Images

    You can't help but feel the hopes of Brazil lie at the feet of Neymar.

    Fortunately for the football-mad country, the Barcelona star is happy to carry their expectations on his back.

    Still just 22, Neymar has lit up the group stages with four goals—two in the opener against Croatia and two more against Cameroon—as Brazil progressed to the last 16 with few hiccups.

    Now he's going to have to move into another gear if he wants to ensure the World Cup ends up on Brazil's mantle piece.

3. Messi's Stoppage-Time Screamer

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    Apparently Lionel Messi can't be listed among the best players of all time until he's done something worthwhile at a World Cup—that's a stick some use to beat him with.

    Well, if Argentina don't come out of this World Cup well, it will be nothing to do with a lack of effort on Messi's part.

    His crowning moment so far came in stoppage time against Iran. With a 0-0 draw on the cards, the Barcelona man picked up the ball, dropped inside and popped the ball into the top corner.

    It was his second goal of the tournament in as many games, and he went on to add two more in the final group game against Nigeria.

2. World Champions KO'd

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    Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

    Spain, Brazil, Argentina, possibly Germany.

    This was a common answer when people discussed the candidates to win this summer's World Cup, but one of them crashed out in a bad way.

    Thumped 5-1 in the opening game by Holland, Spain—who won the tournament four years ago—looked languid and unfamiliar as they tumbled out in the group stages.

    A 2-0 defeat to Chile confirmed their elimination, although they salvaged a small amount of pride by beating Australia 3-0 in their final match.

1. Luis Suarez Bites Again

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    Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

    The previous nine points, which have lit up an extraordinary World Cup so far, have been on the brink of being forgotten over the last week as the world has instead become engulfed by Luis Suarez and his penchant for biting.

    Having displayed the talent he has in his feet when Uruguay beat England 2-1, it was the talent in his teeth which sparked controversy after La Celeste moved into the last 16 at the expense of Italy.

    With the score at 0-0, Suarez felt the need to bite Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder—it was the third time he has bitten an opponent.

    It wasn't picked up on at the time by the referee, but FIFA have since dished out a nine-match international ban and a four-month ban from all "football related activity"—Uruguay will appeal the sanction.