Alright, my friends, we're a few days in to the World Cup and so far it has lived up to all of my expectations. Here's a recap of some of the action that's happened so far for those who haven't had a chance to watch (and if you have been watching, relive the glory):
Day 1 featured host country Russia taking on Saudi Arabia. As mentioned earlier, the quality of play here was not great - Saudi Arabia is not a soccer powerhouse and Russia (who has had their moments at times) has been severely depleted with injuries, players aging out of the game, etc. Russia took this one 5-0. The craziest part was probably watching the Russian and Saudi Arabian leaders sitting together in a box and making conversation after each goal. Yikes.
Game 1 was Egypt vs. Uruguay. The 2 questions on everyone's mind: 1) Will Mo Salah be able to play? (after his brutal injury in the Champions' League Final when Sergio Ramos pulled him to the ground and messed up his shoulder ligaments) and 2) Will Luis Suarez bite anyone? The answer to both questions, unfortunately, was no. Uruguay escaped with a 1-0 victory. Would Egypt have tied or won with Mo Salah in the game? We'll never know.
Game 2 was Morocco vs. Iran. This was not the greatest game, but it did feature one of the most over-the-top dives I've seen in a while. Iran won 1-0, but there wasn't a whole lot of excitement other than the moment when an Iran player had his leg lightly clipped and rolled no fewer than 7 times while calling for a foul.
Game 3 featured Portugal vs. Spain. This was a great game, and if you're a soccer fan and happened to miss it - find the highlights or a recording and check it out. Spain still has several players from the team that some consider the best ever (WC and Euro back-to-back winners) and Portugal is, of course, anchored by Cristiano Ronaldo. There were some beautiful goals in this game. Nacho curving the ball in on a blast from outside the 18 yard box and knocking it off the post and into the opposite corner was enough to make me beg for Bend it Like Beckham 2: Nacho's Revenge. Then, after trading goals throughout, Portugal was down 3-2 with only 1 minute left in regular time when Portugal was fouled just outside the 18-yard box and Cristiano Ronaldo did exactly what we all hate to love him and love to hate him for - perfectly placed the free kick into the top of the net. This match was an instant classic and I highly recommend watching.
Game 1 kicked off early with France taking on Australia. This one took place at 5:00am CT so I had to rely on a recording, but overall it was just okay. France, while considered a possible contender for the title, did not look very sharp. Deschamps has received a lot of criticism on and off over the years, but typically Olivier Giroud has thrived under him - not sure the setup was right for France in this match. France won 2-1, but VAR played a role in that win (and to be fair, as a soccer traditionalist, I'm not sure I'm liking VAR in the World Cup - goal line technology sure, but some of the VAR slows the game down unnecessarily). The Socceroos put up a good fight, but ultimately France still came out on top.
Game 2 was a nail-biter with Argentina taking on World Cup underdogs Iceland. This is Iceland's first World Cup ever, but after a Cinderella run at Euro 2016, I wasn't going to underestimate them. Almost 20% of Iceland's population is attending the World Cup and when you think that the entire country has somewhere around 350K people and their head coach is also a dentist, it's pretty crazy seeing what they're able to accomplish. Argentina has a lot of very good players, but at least in this game, they weren't meshing together all that well. Messi is possibly the best player in the world (probably THE best in my opinion), but after all he's gone through with the Argentinian National Team, I don't even know how he stands playing for them anymore. As many soccer fans know, Messi and about 8 other players quit the Argentina National Team after the last World Cup when they lost to Germany in the final and received extremely harsh criticism - most of them eventually came around and rejoined their national team, but that can't be a fun environment for them. Argentina was expected to win this one, but Iceland was able to pull off a tie. This one is worth a watch (if for nothing other than the Iceland Thunder Clap after their goal).
Game 3 saw Peru taking on Denmark - while Peru dominated most of the possession they couldn't finish. Denmark was able to sneak one in and win the game 1-0, but neither team looked particularly threatening in the grand scheme of things.
In Game 4, Croatia beat Nigeria 2-0. The most interesting part about this outcome is that Croatia now leads Group D (and we all assumed Argentina would be in that position at this point). Group D could definitely be an interesting one to watch as there are no easy winners in this group (or the team we all thought might be the easy winner - Argentina - has started with just a tie).
Game 1 featured Costa Rica vs. Serbia. Not a very exciting game, but Serbia snuck in a goal to win the game.
Game 2 was the highly anticipated Germany vs. Mexico game. Mexico went ahead fairly early in the game and Germany tried to pick up the intensity and attacking a bit, but they couldn't find anyone who could actually finish. The number of plays that included perfect passing with a ball down the right side and a cross, but no finish, was crazy. Germany is typically one of my favorite teams to watch because the soccer team I played for was based around the German style, but today they just looked flat and there was almost no urgency. Hopefully they can find their rhythm in future games and actually have some finishing talent, or this will be a long World Cup for Germany. While Mexico did score, there were several opportunities where a Mexican player had practically a wide-open opportunity and wasted it because they took too long to take a shot. My guess is that Mexico and Germany will both advance out of this group, but it's hard to tell until we see Sweden vs. South Korea tomorrow.
Game 3 included the favorite Brazil vs. a top 10 team, Switzerland. A lot of people were expecting Brazil to have a huge win here, but if you've been following soccer for the last few years, you would know that Switzerland has actually been a very solid team. This one ended in a 1-1 draw and had some good opportunities for both sides. The draw will keep things interesting in Group E with Serbia currently in the lead, but my guess is Brazil and Switzerland will be the two teams to advance in the end.
And with that, you're now caught up on the first few days of the World Cup. There have been some great matches already and we're not even finished with the first matches of the group stage. Tomorrow we'll see Sweden take on South Korea, Belgium vs. Panama and England vs. Tunisia.
I hope you're all getting as much enjoyment from the World Cup as I am! If you have any thoughts or questions about matches so far or upcoming matches, make sure to comment - I always love a lively soccer conversation!