Already, the 2014 FIFA World Cup has been historic in many ways, and we’re just 29 games in as of Saturday night. Here are the five biggest takeaways so far from the tournament, as well as a preview of the USA-Portugal matchup tonight at 5 p.m.
- South America has dominated
Teams from the host country’s continent have obliterated the competition, going 8-1-1 combined so far. But it’s not just South America, though, that has taken charge. The entire Americas have played well above their opponents at this point of the tournament. Combined, North America and South America have an 11-2-0 record. It could be a changing of the guard or it just could be that the Americas, especially the Southern continent, feel more comfortable playing closer to home. Whatever it is, teams from this side of the world are showing no sign of slowing down.
- Is this soccer or the NFL?
But really, the kind of offense we have seen from World Cup teams in Brazil has been incredible, and its comparison to the offense-heavy league we see in our American version of football might not be that far-fetched. The point is that this World Cup has been about scoring, and the numbers back it up. There have been 80 total goals scored so far. Compare that with 2010’s World Cup number with the same number of games played (29) and the result is 23 more goals this year. 23. That’s about one more goal per match so far at this World Cup.
- Star play has come from non-marquee names
We heard so much about big names like Neymar, Ronaldo and Messi before the World Cup, and while two of those three have already made an impact, they have not led the pack. It has been players like Germany’s Thomas Mueller, who’s in a four-way tie for most goals so far with three and leads FIFA’s Castrol Index: Top Player rankings, a statistic that measures the overall impact a player is having on the game. Then there’s Mexico’s keeper Guillermo Ochoa, who’s four world-class saves against Brazil were the reason El Tri was able to stun the host country in a 0-0 draw. In total, Ochoa has a World Cup-leading seven saves and zero goals allowed in what has been a surprising Mexican run so far. And speaking of surprises, there have been plenty of them already. Besides countries like Mexico playing well, not many predicted teams like Spain and England to already be out of contention.
- Technology has made what’s already entertaining, even better
For those on social media, especially Twitter, the fun has existed beyond the pitch. Whether it’s the hundreds of memes that have been shared or the cool flags that twitter has created to go alongside each team’s country abbreviation, it’s safe to say this has been the most interactive World Cup to date. Never before has this sporting event been almost as easy to follow online as it has been watching live. But technology has not just been about the tweets or Facebook posts. It has also directly affected the games. This World Cup introduced goal-line technology that has eliminated any question of close-called goals. Situations like what happened in the 2010 World Cup, when a clear goal by England’s Frank Lampard was not counted as his team was trailing 2-1 in a second-round match against Germany, have been eliminated. Any close call has been easily resolved in this World Cup. Tracking player’s fatigue, among other playing factors, with specially designed chips inside of their jerseys, has also affected the overall quality of play during games. This technology has been important for team’s use in Brazilian host cities like Manaus, where the high humidity and temperatures can affect play.
5. No Vuvuzelas deafening every other noise
Everybody remembers the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and how much the loud, annoying Vuvuzelas became a part of the headlines. This time around, Vuvuzelas have been replaced with what we’re used to hearing at World Cup matches – screaming chants from fans. Brazil has provided stadiums filled with unbelievable atmospheres. For all of the talk of problems with getting the facilities ready before the games began and the safety concerns plaguing host cities, Brazil has, from a far, looked like a solid host. The fans have shown up with passion and the culture of South America has been ever-present. Between the high scoring and energizing crowds, this World Cup has been worth the four-year wait.
Quick Preview: USA VS Portugal, 5 p.m. CT at Arena Amazonia stadium in Manaus, Brazil –
Very simple. Win, and the U.S. is in to the knockout round of the World Cup. Not so simple, is how this game could play out. The Americans come in with pure confidence after their 2-1 victory over Ghana six days go and feel even better that they are facing a hobbled Portugal squad.
The European team got dismantled by Germany, 4-0, in their first match of group play and lost one of their key defenders, Pepe, to a red card and suspension for this game. Cristiano Ronaldo’s injured knee is a concern for Portugal and a factor that will determine how powerful the team’s offense can be in attacking, based on how he’s feeling.
But, with all that’s happened to this squad, they are still Portugal, and this is still the “group of death.” Portugal will not go out easily and they certainly won’t allow the U.S. to walk into the round of 16. Argentina’s Lionel Messi proved on Saturday, when he scored the game-winning goal for Argentia in the last minutes of the game against Iran, that if you have one of the best players in the world on your team, anything can happen. Ronaldo will try and second that notion Sunday evening.
This matchup will be won in the midfield and in the counterattacks, where the U.S. could take advantage of a weaker Portuguese defense. Historically, the U.S. and Portugal are as even as you can get, each having two wins and one draw against each other with five total goals scored by each country as well.