[BRAZIL 2014] Saturday's marathon at the World Cup did not disappoint. Four games, 13 goals, two comeback wins. It capped surely the greatest first three days of the World Cup in our lifetimes. For a look at Saturday's winners -- lots of winners -- and losers.
TICOS.Costa Rica's 3-1 win over Uruguay wasn't its first World Cup win. The Ticos beat Scotland -- in their first-ever World Cup game -- and Sweden to reach the second round at Italia '90 in a performance that propelled their mercenary coach, Bora Milutinovic, into the U.S. national team job a year later. But for the opponent -- a Latin America powerhouse -- and the manner -- three goals in the second half -- it's surely in the biggest win in Costa Rica history. (We'll hold judgment on what this means for Concacaf -- now 2-0-0 after Costa Rica and Mexico wins -- until after Honduras plays France on Sunday and the USA meets Ghana on Monday.)
GOALS GALORE.The first eight games have produced 28 goals for an average of 3.5 goals per game. That's more than double the 2010 output of 13 games in eight games. Every game except the Mexico-Cameroon match has produced three or more goals -- and El Tri should have had three goals. The key has been early goals to open things up, beginning with the nifty buildup that produced Teo Gutierrez's goal for Colombia against Greece, the fastest at six minutes:
FIRST GOAL MATCH (SCORE)
6th minuteColombia-Greece (3-0)
11th minute Brazil-Croatia (3-1)
12th minute Chile-Australia (3-1)
16th minuteIvory Coast-Japan (2-1)
24th minuteCosta Rica-Uruguay (3-1)
27th minuteNetherlands-Spain (5-1)
35th minute Italy-England (2-1)
62nd minute Mexico-Cameron (1-0)
COMEBACKS. Ivory Coast's 2-1 win over Japan in the nightcap was the fourth comeback win in the first three days. By comparison, only three teams came back from 1-0 deficits to win in the entire 2010 World Cup. (Uruguay's quarterfinal win over Ghana came in a shootout.)
U.S. NETWORKS.We all get that the World Cup is a big deal, but there are still a lot of folks on the fence. Nothing will get them off the fence quicker than the action they've seen in the first three days. Even more than all the goals has been the drama. Fans have been rewarded with end-to-end action, right from the get-go. As the growing numbers start coming in, the U.S. nets should give a tip of the hat to -- applause -- Croatia, which set the tone for the tournament and came out and decided to play with Brazil in the opener.
MARK GEIGER.After some horrible refereeing in the first two days, American Mark Geiger made his World Cup debut with an excellent performance in the Colombia-Greece match. Refs, too, go home after the group stage. We think Geiger will be sticking around.
DIDIER DROGBA. The great Ivorian didn't score either goal, but his presence alone on the field inspired the Elephants in their 2-1 win over Japan. Within two minutes of entering the game, Ivory Coast equalized, and two minutes after that it was ahead.
ASSIST MEN. So many great goals in the first three days, but also so many great assists. The two balls by Daley Blind to set up Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben on Friday. On Saturday alone: Joel Campbell's through ball for the Tico insurance goal against Uruguay, the young right back Serge Aurier's service on the two quick Ivory Coast goals, Juan Cuardado's back heel on the third Colombian goal. Our pick: the excellent ball Lazio playmaker Antonio Candreva served up, leaving Mario Balotelli with the easiest of headers at the far post to beat England. (BTW, Candreva also initiated the short corner that led to Italy's first goal and hit the post in an eventful first half.)
URUGUAY.Like Spain, the Celeste was a shadow of the team of four years ago. And like Spain, it wilted in the second half after taking a first-half lead from the penalty spot. Luis Suarez could only watch helplessly as his teammates were run off the field by the Ticos in the second half. Like Spain, Uruguay could have lost by a lot more.
FIFA 1.Yes, it's important to have measurable standards -- the WBGT threshold, it's called -- but FIFA's refusal to order water breaks during the Italy-England game as it now has the power to do, was, says Italy coach, Cesare Prandelli, "madness." And cramping up in the second half, England players had it worse in Manaus. (And it wasn't like the English didn't prepare. Their pre-tournament training regimen included wearing extra layers of clothing, hats and gloves in Portugal.)
FIFA 2.FIFA makes an easy target these days, but when the shoe fits ... For all the rounds of ticketing -- the last to take into account are returned corporate tickets -- there were still lots of empty seats -- at the midfield line -- for Costa Rica-Uruguay at Fortaleza's Estadio Castelao. Too bad, the fans who showed up saw a great game.