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Everyone has now played at least one game. I think Cristiano Ronaldo just scored again, and maybe again. The World Cup is off and soccering. And then some.
At this point, I defy anyone to step up and say with any sort of certainty that this favored team or that favored team is more likely to win than anyone else. Other than host Russia, which has benefited from one of the easiest draws in World Cup history, no team - not Brazil, not France, definitely not Germany - has stepped up and said this tournament is theirs. And Russia finally has to play a real team - Uruguay - next time around.
We are, of course, only one game in for the majority of teams played over a two-week stretch. Senegal and Poland were the last teams to play their first game and they did so on Tuesday. (Everyone starts the event with three pool-play games - the teams that post the best results in those games advance to the round of 16.)
But there has been a heaping helping of extraordinary stuff.
Ronaldo made it four goals already when he knocked one in to give Portugal an early lead in its Wednesday morning contest with Morocco:
He had played the best game of anyone in the tournament in the first go-round, posting a hat trick against talented Spain in a game that ended up tied 3-3.
While the 33-year-old Ronaldo is showing yet again that he is the king of world soccer, Lionel Messi is floundering at yet another World Cup.
Here he is blowing a penalty kick in Argentina's shocking 1-1 tie with tiny Iceland:
Meanwhile Neymar is limping around for Brazil with an ankle injury.
The biggest win of the tournament so far was scored by . . . Mexico. Who knew El Tri had it in them? Despite rolling through World Cup qualifying after barely, barely squeaking in four years prior, many a Mexican had not been shy about calling for the head of coach Juan Carlos Osorio for this perceived shortcoming or that one.
Hopefully all those folks will shut up for a while now that Mexico has shocked the soccer world by beating Germany in its opening game.
To Osorio's and his team's great credit, Mexico did not play it safe early against the defending champions. The team's work rate was outstanding as it put together scoring chance after scoring chance, until their efforts culminated in Hirving "Chucky" (you cannot make this stuff up) Lozano's 35th-minute goal, which stood up as the winner:
Meanwhile, Japan and Senegal broke through for victories that were not only big for their countries but also their continents. No Asian team had ever defeated a top team from either Europe or South America in a World Cup before the Samurai Blue knocked off Columbia 2-1 on Tuesday. Columbia was done in by an intentional handball in the third minute of the game that not only gave Japan a penalty kick and the early lead but also resulted in a red card for defending Carlos Sanchez:
A Yuya Osako header in the 72nd-minute put the game away:
Senegal notched the first victory for an African team in this tournament after there was nothing but disappointment for the continent during its first four matches. The Lions of Teranga outplayed Poland to win 2-1 but they also benefited from the worst bit of officiating of the tournament thus far.
It is customary for temporarily injured players (and the guys who fake it) to go to the sideline and wait until the referee waves them back in. The referee knows to do so during moments in the game where a fresh player racing in, like a hockey player coming out of a penalty box, will not impact the game (like when the ball goes out of bounds).
In the 60th minute, with Senegal leading 1-0, M'Baye Niang was waved back into the game a moment before a Polish midfielder played a pass back to his own end to preserve possession. Niang was able to race in, kick the ball away from the onrushing goaltender, and then walk it into the net:
The final extraordinariness to come out of the first time through the tournament's pools was the highly successful implementation of video replay. The games I watched featured several video replays, including one that resulted in a penalty kick that Peru subsequently squandered, that were done smoothly and quickly. I desperately hope baseball, football and basketball officials in the U.S. are paying attention.
Let the games continue!
Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.
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