Sit tight! Some nail-biting affairs are on the cards as the World Cup has already promised to be quite unpredictable for fans and pundits alike.
Nearly all tournament favourites have played their first game over the past week and the lesson from biggest matches so far is that a win is far from guaranteed even for great teams. The Davids posed themselves as stronger than expected, and the Goliaths were mostly weighed down by the burden of sky-high expectations.
Coached by a dentist, World Cup debutants Iceland held the mighty Argentina to a 1-1 draw. One of the best scorers of all time, Lionel Messi, missed a spot-kick.
Defending champions and the top-ranked side in the world Germany also bit the dust against Mexico, a team on whom only a few rabid fans would bet to win the trophy. Who thought that the tactics of a proven coach like Joachim Loew would be up for a beating by that of his less illustrious opponent Juan Carlos Osorio? Osorio could spot a tiny fissure in German back line to spur his team on all-out attack for a 2-1 victory.
Guaranteed favourites at every World Cup, Brazil also started off with a jolt to find themselves in a 1-1 draw against Switzerland, a team that has never gone beyond the quarterfinals. Yet no one is giving up on Tite, who inspired a remarkable Brazilian revival from the ashes of that 7-1 drubbing by Germany in the semifinal four years back. Brazil's amazing build-up to the tournament is testimony to the strength of the five-time world champions. This year, Tite did not bring a Neymar-only team to Russia. Any of at least half a dozen footballers have the ability to turn any match on its head.
Spain are the other Goliaths that took a stumble in their opener against a one-man army, Portugal. Arguably the world's best player at the moment, Cristiano Ronaldo single-handedly spoiled the inaugural match of Spain, the most balanced side on paper. For Ronaldo, it was as if only a change of jersey, from Real Madrid's to Portugal's. He carried his unbelievable club form into the World Cup and Portugal will likely progress as far as Ronaldo fires.
England and Belgium are the other formidable teams who could stay away from the false-start tendency of big guns. The way both the teams played would give their fans plenty of hopes in the tournament.
However, it is a stage of the tournament where any of the favourites can afford a draw and even defeat. Every coach still has time to tweak and tune their team. But come the next game, come the heart-thumping moments, where there is no room for error. It has to be a win as only the top two teams will advance to knockout phase.
Good luck for the big guns.
The writer is former Sports Editor of The Daily Star
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