World Cup: Four takeaways from the first round of group matches

6 months ago 42

1. Asia rises to the fore

The first World Cup in the continent for 20 years seems to have stirred some of its teams.

Saudi Arabia and Japan stole the headlines with their sensational wins over former champions Argentina and Germany, respectively, on consecutive days. South Korea then held a Uruguay side brimming with talent that some consider dark horses for the Cup.

In fact, I would suggest we should also not look past Iran. They were beaten 6-2 by England but had left striker Sardar Azmoun on the bench for most of the game and withdrew star attacking midfielder Alireza Jahanbakhsh at half-time.

They were not as poor as the score suggested, which was partly down to the defensive set-up assembled by coach Carlos Queiroz, who may well have been playing his cards aiming to get results in their two other games against Wales (today, 6pm) and the United States (Tuesday, 10pm).

Australia and Qatar, however, suffered sound defeats by France and Ecuador, but overall Asia can be proud of its displays so far. The way it is shaping up, the continent could even have more than two teams progress into the last 16 for the first time ever. It has had two representatives only twice - in 2002 and 2010.

2. Keep an eye on the Spaniards

Much of the pre-tournament talk about favourites centred around two South American giants Brazil and Argentina, tournament machines Germany, defending champions France, and inevitably, England.

But Spain, champions in 2010, were hugely impressive in their 7-0 trouncing of Costa Rica in their opening Group E game - and not just because of their goals.

What struck me was how the Spaniards kept their intensity and focus up in the final half hour of the game, when they were already 4-0 up.

While some teams holding such a ...

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