We might reasonably suggest that no small part of the global appeal of association football stems from its combination of reliance on the very differing attributes of individual brilliance and the application of a solid team ethic. If the game itself is a blank sheet onto which we can project any of our values, this combination seems likely, whether concious or not, to be no small part of the reason behind why it is this particular aspect of the game that gives it a near-literal “everyman” appeal across so much of the globe. If the performances of the likes of Costa Rica have been a victory for those who believe that the the key to World Cup success is the team that amounts to more than the sum of its parts, those who cherish the role of the individual had much to cheer yesterday.

The role of the mercurially talented individual carrying an otherwise pedestrian team has so far been no more clearly than in the performances of Argentina and Lionel Messi over their last two matches. Yesterday against Iran, Messi dug his team out of a hole entirely of its own creation with a glorious stoppage-time winning goal against an Iran side who had worked so tirelessly over the previous ninety minutes and who could be forgiven for feeling outraged at the non-awardance of penalty kick that would surely have completely changed the timbre of this match. Indeed, with just three minutes left to play the result might have ended up the opposite of the way in which it did, when Reza Ghoochanejad charged through and almost scored for Iran. They can still find a way through to the second round of this competition, though a record of no goals in two matches isn’t encouraging for a team that needs a win. For Argentina, meanwhile, the question at the moment is what attacking alternatives they may be able to come up with if or when they come up against an opposition that can dampen Messi’s fire. He looks very much a world champion at the moment. Too many of his team-mates, at present, do not.

Another talisman came up against a team with a cohesive work ethic in the group’s other match last night, between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Nigeria. There was little between the two teams, but the record will report that they were seperated by a first-half goal scored by Peter Odemwingie. This was another game of fine margins, as Edin Dzeko found to his cost when the difference between Bosnia-Herzegovina staying the competition was the width of a goal post in the second half. Another team beaten by two narrow defeats, Bosnia-Herzegovina can still influence what happens elsewhere in their final group match against Iran, whilst Nigeria are almost but not quite through to the second round of the competition as a result of this win. They are, alongside Mexico, one of just two sides in the tournament to have kept clean sheets in both of their opening two matches, another statistic that would not have been predicted a week and a half ago. Still, if nothing else, the 2014 World Cup finals have been very good at confounding our expectations at every turn.

After the first round of matches, Germany were rightly lauded as being a team to have put in one of the best performances of the competition to that point, but they came a little unstuck agains Ghana last night and ended up dependent on a ghost of World Cups pas to secure themselves a draw from a match that they might otherwise have expected to win. After a slow-burner of a first half in Fortaleza yesterday, four second half goals resulted in the match ending all square. Germany took the lead six minutes into the second half in slightly odd circumstances when Mario Gotze headed the ball down and onto his knee at such an improbable angle that it shot straight into the Ghanaian goal, but this moment of fortune was cancelled out three minutes later, when Andre Ayew scored his second in two matches to bring Ghana level. As the match finally started to open up and gain a little ebb and flow, Ghana started to assert themselves a little more confidently and when Asamoah Gyan gave Ghana the lead after sixty-three minutes it felt as if a surprise result could be on again.

To haul themselves back into this match, Germany had to rely on a blast from the past. Miroslaw Klose is thirty-six years old nowadays, and he was summoned from the substitutes bench with twenty-one minutes of the match to play, quite likely with a brief to show Germany’s younger editions how it should be done. It didn’t take him long. Two minutes later, the ball was in the back of the Ghana net and Klose had equalled Ronaldo’s all-time record of fifteen goals, but Ghana will most likely be feeling a twinge of disappointment this morning with the knowledge that they had the opportunities to win this match. They will play Portugal in their final match with their place in the competition hanging by a thread. For Germany, meanwhile, last night’s result may even be somewhat beneficial in that a tempering of expectations after their first match trouncing may do the players some good. They are through to the next round of the competition with a game to spare, thanks to that old stager Klose.

Classic World Cup Match Of The Day

Articles either bemoaning or celebrating association football’s increased popularity in recent years have become something of a popular trope at recent tournaments, and supporters of the USA national team can expect a further upsurge in viewing figures at home later today when they play Portugal later today knowing that a second victory would guarantee their team a place in the Second Round of the competition. Twelve years ago, however, at the start of the 2002 World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea, there was little such optimism surrounding the American team. A poor performance at the 1998 finals in France and a difficult group, which also included co-hosts South Korea and Poland, had seen to that. Still, the USA team ended up beginning the 2002 World Cup finals with a bang, and the team on the receiving end was, then as it may or may not be this evening… Portugal.

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