The Good, the Bad, and the Howlers from Everyone’s First Matchday, by Matthew Celentano

Photo Credit: Tom Kludt

Just like that, Matchday One is complete for each team. We’ve now watched all 32 teams play in what has been a pulsating round of matches, complete with goals, upsets, controversy, and howlers.

It’s still early on in the tournament, but that doesn’t mean we won’t weigh in with reactionary takes and rash opinions. Here’s the good, the bad, and the howlers from everyone’s Matchday One.

 

The Good

Spain 3-3 Portugal

The best thing to come out of the Iberian peninsula since, well, Spain’s 2010 World Cup team.

This game had it all: wonder goals, comebacks, and Ronaldo doing Ronaldo things. We even got an inevitable yet oddly satisfying tussle between Diego Costa and Pepe, arguably the two nastiest players at the World Cup.

Most importantly, the football on display was breathtaking. Spain played the same mesmerizing tiki-taka we expected them to, regardless of Julen Lopetegui’s unceremonious sacking the day before the tournament kicked off. Portugal played with a similar style that won them the Euros in 2016, but with a bit less defensive grit and a bit more attacking flair.

While there was seemingly little interest in defending, both teams looked like serious contenders.

 

VAR

Aside from being fun to say and spawning decent memes, VAR has already helped referees make crucial calls at the World Cup. The Video Assistant Referee system is making its debut at the tournament, and awarded its first penalty in World Cup history when Antoine Griezmann hit the deck during France’s 2-1 win over Australia.

Yes, there’s something to be said for the frenetic chaos that ensues when human error and blind chance are part of the equation—but World Cup matches are a sacred affair that deserve the scrutiny of video replay.

VAR will almost certainly be the subject of controversy as the tournament progresses. So far though, it’s been quietly efficient.

 

¡Mexico!

Chucky scored, Chicharito wept, and Mexicans created a small earthquake (seriously). El Tri’s win over Germany was the stuff of dreams.

Jogi Lowe’s side may have dominated the game in terms of possession and shots created (we’ll get to them later), but anyone who watched the match knows Mexico completely outplayed the defending world champions. Their pace and decision-making on the counterattack were scintillating to watch, and had they been more clinical they could’ve won by even more.

In the dynamic, pacey front three of Hirving Lozano, Chicharito and Carlos Vela, Mexico are set up perfectly to hurt possession-oriented teams on the break. It may be early days, but Juan Carlos Osorio’s side already look like the tournament’s dark horse.

 

Free kicks

At the 2014 World Cup, a total of three direct free kicks were scored. We already have four in Russia and it hasn’t even been a week.

Golovin’s effort was sublime, Kolarov’s strike was outrageous, and Quintero’s was the cheekiest of under-the-wall attempts. Ronaldo’s ridiculous last-gasp goal was arguably his greatest-ever World Cup moment.

More of these, please.

 

The Bad

Messi from 11 yards out

The day after Ronaldo lit up Russia with a spectacular hat trick against Spain, Messi was shackled by a resilient Iceland.

Presented with the chance to give Argentina the lead in the 63rd minute, Messi’s tame penalty was saved by Iceland’s keeper (who, by the way, is a part-time film director). It’s almost as if Messi is above scoring penalties, like the most straightforward opportunity in the game is somehow too easy for the greatest player on the planet.

His record from the spot makes it seem like that, at least.

 

Germany

The Germans entered this tournament as defending champions and one of the overwhelming favorites. Against Mexico, they looked like they bought into their own hype.

From the first kick of the game, Die Mannschaft were pedestrian in their buildup play and shockingly vulnerable to El Tri’s counterattacks. The central midfield pairing of Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira had just one tackle and zero interceptions between them, looking far more interested in taking speculative shots than protecting the back four.

Germany’s biggest strength has always been that they are greater than the sum of their parts, a well-oiled machine capable of grinding out results no matter who is on the pitch. So far, they resemble a incongruent group of lost individuals. If the world champions are to avoid an embarrassing early exit, something needs to change.

 

Neymar’s haircut

Sure, looks are subjective. At some angles, Neymar’s new World Cup doo looks kind of cool. But mostly, it resembles a strange combination of a cockatoo and leftover ramen.

Hair aside, Brazil’s talisman struggled to impose himself against Switzerland. It wasn’t pretty, but the Swiss did just enough to stop him with their shirt-pulling, shoulder-grabbing, and tenacious tackling.

It was by no means a poor Brazilian performance, though. Watch out for Tite’s side (and Neymar’s hair) to grow as the tournament moves forward.

 

The Howlers

David de Gea

It’s no World Cup without a goalkeeping howler—we just didn’t expect the first one to come from David de Gea.

Arguably the best goalkeeper at the tournament, De Gea had a night to forget against Portugal. The Manchester United keeper produced a Certified Howler™ for Portugal’s second goal, letting a fiercely-struck Ronaldo shot slip through his hands.

We’re all for howlers, David, but your teammates probably want the old De Gea back.

 

Senegal’s second goal vs. Poland

It’s tough to single out a scapegoat for this goal, but there’s no doubt it was a howler.

Grzegorz Krychowiak’s back pass was boneheaded, the official’s decision to send M’Baye Niang back on the pitch mid-play was bizarre, and Wojciech Szczesny’s Manuel Neuer impression was less than convincing.

All in all, it made for a wonderfully weird, wildly entertaining howler.