17 June 2014

Africa: Goals Galore As Muller Eclipses Ronaldo, Nigeria-Iran in First Goalless Draw

5 things we learned from Day 5 in Brazil...

Going Dutch has acquired an ominous ring. Growing up in Britain, we were told that the concept of "going Dutch" was all about sharing and participation. So far in Brazil it's been about conquest and humiliation.

The Netherlands beat the defending champions Spain 5-1 to register the biggest shock of the tournament. The Germans - or Die Mannschaft as they're called back home - aren't to be outdone though. In their opening game in their Group ... they transmitted their signal of intent by hammering Portugal 4-0. Thomas Muller scored a hat-trick and eclipsed Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal aren't a bad side but clearly Ronaldo and the boys had been Mannschafted.

There is no end to balance. The daily review is whippet-quick but granite-hard when it comes to highlighting glaring inconsistencies at industrial event complexes like world cups and Olympics, so it's with dripping self-admiration that we mention the organisers' generosity at the Curitiba stadium. The press stands are at the top of six flights of stairs, lifts aren't anywhere to be found and when you get to the top, you're sent down flights again to the various commentary positions inside the stadium. This is all a bit counter intuitive. However, when you arrive after the trek up six storeys, there are volunteers handing out plastic bottles of water. Nice touch. Especially since you can't bring your own drinks in.

Patience is a virtue. But the 39,000 spectators in Curitiba for the Iran v Nigeria match didn't see it that way. They came looking for goals from the African champions. But Nigeria found Iran far too obdurate. It was the first 0-0 of the tournament. Nigeria had hoped to get the three points. Iran deserved a point for their diligence. The crowd whistled every now and then. But as Iran got closer to the end they started cheering for them realising that 1-0 to Iran would be a better tale to tell.

It's cruel at the top level. Ghana's coach Kwesi Appiah lamented his team's lack of concentration at the start of the match and even more lethally at the end. Clint Dempsey scored in the first minute for the United States. André Ayew - he who was in international exile for a year or two before the world cup - levelled with eight minutes to go. The Ghana defence was clearly already snoozing in the dressing room when John Brooks rose to head home for the US with four minutes to go. Appiah said dolefully afterwards: "We created many scoring chances but didn't take them, the US took theirs."

It's about the coming together. Heartwarming vignettes littered the path to the stadium in Curitiba for the Iran v Nigeria game. Fans from opposing countries were snapping pictures with each other. There was one Nigerian man in team colours - green - jumping up and down with some Iranians as they chanted: "Iran! Iran! Iran!" Essentially scenes to warm the cockles of any FIFA executive's heart. Taking a step back to see such simple interactions between others as yellow-shirted Brazilians joined any party is an enriching experience. A bit like being a rogue FIFA executive.

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