Costa Rica, Italy and Switzerland

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The World Cup opening rounds often match the powers of World football against the minnows. More often than not it’s a goal fest for the bigger nations but every now and then a minnow refuses to lie down and a new hero is found, think Roger Milla, Cameroon in 1994, or Joel Campbell, Costa Rica in 2014.

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The officials again played their part in the game with inconsistent decisions. This sort of whistling in favour of the more established teams only makes the win sweeter when the underdog does in fact pull the proverbial rug out under the big boys.
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Cavani stepped up and buried the penalty with aplomb in the 24th minute and that was pretty much all he did in the game. Costa Rica put them to the sword with hard running and fast breaks made possible by accurate diagonal passes. To be fair it looked like Costa Rica had picked this as their game to make an impact straight away. Campbell ran at the fragile defenders from the first whistle and impressed the pundits. The second half was all about Costa Rica and they deservedly scored three times to humble Uruguay who started without Suarez and did not risk putting him on the field.

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Switzerland start the tournament ranked 6th by FIFA, thoughts of ranking points bought by Sepp crossed my mind but nevertheless they don’t lose often. At the same time they play low risk football usually and it’s not overly exciting most of the time either. Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri and Stephan Lichtsteiner of Juventus are probably the only players known by non-Swiss fans.

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Ecuador were stronger from the start. Maybe the Swiss struggled in the heat. Valencia leapt well, although unmarked, in the heart of the six yard box to head home easily in the 22nd minute. In essence a messy game with wasted chances at both ends. Poor decisions and inaccurate passes ruined the game as a spectacle long before the goals were scored.

The World Cup is providing the viewer with a lot of goals compared to recent tournaments and even this game did not disappoint. Hitzfeld subbed Mehmedi on for Stocker at half-time and within 2 minutes he had scored the equaliser.

The next 45 minutes were littered with errors and some bizarre referee decisions. With the seconds counting down to the final whistle Ecuador had the chance to win but hesitated to take the shot on the edge of the area only to have the ball stolen by the Swiss, run 80m and score despite a hideous tackle at half way.

Do yourself a favour and avoid the reruns of this game.

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Saturday’s prime time game had to be Italy – England. Two previous winners grouped together in a difficult group. The English media speculated heavily about the effectiveness of Rooney, the pace of Sturridge and the unknown factor of Sterling. If you bought into all this you would think England had won the game before a ball was kicked since the opposition were full of old men, notably lead by Pirlo (35) but still old men. Pundits suggested England had the pace to tackle the old men, they said Immobile should start, they said Super Mario wasn’t on form.

In short, pundits talk a lot. Rooney was started on the left wing, Welbeck on the right, Sterling was given the floating number 10 position behind Sturridge and for a while it looked promising even if untested. The Italians are always solid more than exciting but Mario Balotelli is a player for the big occasion and given half a chance he will write his name in the headlines.

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Italy scored first with a Marchisio strike but England did not let them rest on their lead as Rooney showed his pace and deft touch on the left to turn provider with a crisp cross that found Sturridge who side-footed it for the equaliser within 2 minutes. Rather amusingly, during the goal celebrations, England team physio Lewin injured an ankle and was taken off on a stretcher.
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The stats suggest England had the better chances, with more shots, more on target, more corners and yet, less possession. As they say, the only stat that counts is the final score and Balotelli made sure Italy got all 3 points by heading home from close range 5 minutes into the 2nd half.

Images: Google Image Search / Getty Images

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