World Cup 2014: BBC pundits on a wonderful first week in Brazil

 

Thrills, spills and goals galore - there has never been a first week of a World Cup quite like this one.

There have been shocks and surprises too, from the implosion and elimination of defending champions Spain to the fumbles and stumbles of hosts Brazil, who are still on course to get out of their group but are yet to catch fire.

But, so far, this has been a tournament full of positives, illuminated by an attacking outlook from most of the 32 teams and brought to life by the planet's biggest stars, who - largely - are rising to the occasion.

BBC pundits Gary Lineker, Rio Ferdinand, Thierry Henry, Tony Pulis and Mark Lawrenson give their verdicts on what has made for such a wonderful start to the World Cup.

Goals galore

World Cup 2014: Robin van Persie scores with superb header

So much for the usual slow start to major tournaments. It took Croatia just 11 minutes to score the first goal of this World Cup and, since then, they have not stopped coming.

There was just one 0-0 in the first round of group fixtures, which saw more goals - 49 in 16 games at an average of 3.06 per game - than at any of the four World Cups since it expanded to 32 teams in 1998.

In South Africa four years ago, only 25 goals were scored in the first round of group fixtures, an average of 1.56 per game. Nobody watching Brazil 2014 can complain of boredom.

Gary Lineker: "It has been a terrific start to the tournament. The football has been positive and high-quality and we have seen a lot of very good games.

"You are always going to get the odd duffer but almost every team has given it a good go and played some good football. I would include England among that, even though they lost to Italy."

Tony Pulis: "It has been the most open World Cup I can remember in respect of teams just going for it.

"Defensively, it looks as if there are weaknesses in every team - even the ones that won their opening games - but that is because sides are spreading so wide and making the pitch so big when they get the ball.

"So after the changeover in possession, if you've got pace in your team, you can counter-attack and end up with lots of end product."

Mark Lawrenson: "There is no sign of a defensive outlook, and no sign of a particularly good defence either.

"It's been fantastic to watch and at least part of the excitement is down to the Brazil factor. Nobody wants to come to a World Cup here and try and play a spoiling game."

Spectacular strikes

World Cup 2014: Tim Cahill nets stunning volley for Australia

There have not just been lots of goals at this World Cup - there have been lots of very good ones.

Among the best are Chile's superbly-constructed team effort against Spain, Robin van Persie's extraordinary diving lobbed header against the same opposition, and Tim Cahill's scorching volley for Australia against the Netherlands.

Van Persie even sparked a Twitter sensation, with people posting pictures of themselves 'Persieing' - recreating his pose as he nose-dived into the turf of the Arena Fonte Nova after meeting Daley Blind's perfectly-placed through-ball.

Mark Lawrenson: "Out of all the great goals we have seen in Brazil, Van Persie's was the best. What he did was an unbelievably difficult skill. He had to get that 100% right because 99% right was not good enough."

Thierry Henry: "In terms of beauty, the goal scored by Tim Cahill against the Dutch was the best so far. But my kind of goal was the Chile team goal with all the interchange between the players."

Big guns firing - well, most of them

Commentators go wild as Brazil score

Superstars do not always shine on the greatest stage of all but, this time, almost all of the big names have come to the party.

Neymar (Brazil), Lionel Messi (Argentina), Mario Balotelli (Italy) and Alexis Sanchez (Chile) all found the net in their opening games, while Van Persie and team-mate Arjen Robben now have three in two matches.

Wayne Rooney (England) weighed in with an assist, despite getting more mixed reviews for his display against Italy. But Germany's Thomas Muller outdid them all, with a hat-trick against Portugal.

Rio Ferdinand on Messi: "Everyone left the Maracana happy on Sunday night. Everybody there was waiting for Messi to put something on the table, to bring what he does for Barcelona to Argentina and light up the World Cup - and he did that with his brilliant goal.

"It has been great as a fan to see so many of the top players performing and doing well and getting on the scoresheet.

"They will have been feeling nerves but to get off in the first game with a goal or two, that pressure has lifted and hopefully now we can see them go out and do even more elaborate stuff on the ball, and bring more party tricks to the table."

Lionel Messi scores sublime Argentina goal

Gary Lineker on Muller : "Germany haven't got an out-and-out centre-forward in their starting line-up but they do have Muller. No player has ever won back-to-back Golden Boots at the World Cup but he has as good a chance as anyone has ever had after scoring those three goals against Portugal."

Tony Pulis on Neymar: "I know Neymar has taken a little bit of criticism here and there but I have been impressed with him. As well as his play, his work-rate has been fantastic. Brazil's problem is that he is is their only real threat up front."

The shocks...

Highlights: Spain 1-5 Netherlands

After winning three successive major tournaments, it is Spain's turn to feel the pain.

Defending champions to go out in the group stage

Spain (2014) Italy (2010 and 1950), France (2002), Brazil (1966)

The reigning world and European champions are out after following up their crushing 5-1 defeat by Netherlands with a limp 2-0 loss to Chile.

Gary Lineker: "The sheer shock of Netherlands' magnificent victory over Spain, where they trounced them with a remarkable second-half performance, made it the best game of the tournament."

Thierry Henry: "I have gone out of the World Cup in a group stage as a defending champion, and it is nothing but sadness in that situation. You just want to hide."

Tony Pulis: "Spain have been so dominant and so good for so long, but they have gone out in a bit of a damp squib, which is what disappoints me. As a manager you feel for them. You do not want them to go out this way."

... and the flops

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo limps out of training

The biggest star who has failed to shine in Brazil is undoubtedly Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo.

His tournament started badly with a 4-0 defeat by Germany, and got worse when he limped out of training on Wednesday with an injured knee.

And Spain's Brazil-born striker Diego Costa has had a shocker in his homeland.

The 25-year-old Atletico Madrid forward, a target of Chelsea, who missed a golden chance to break his World Cup duck against Chile, has had five shots in 126 minutes on the pitch during his two games at the tournament, and none were on target.

Thierry Henry on Costa: "Football is about taking your chances and Costa did not take his. That miss against Chile was his moment and it did not happen for him, just like it did not happen for Spain."

Tony Pulis on Ronaldo: "Normally it is so difficult to stop him because he can run at you, and is brilliant in the air too. I remember facing him with Stoke when he was at Manchester United and we did really well but we gave two free-kicks away and Ronaldo scored with both of them.

"But I watched him playing against Germany in Salvador and I did not think he looked fit. I'm not making excuses for him but he looked a bit laboured - very, very unlike Ronaldo."

What next?

More of the same, hopefully. Although the results for certain sides will matter more than any marks for style. For example, England could be the next big-name team to be eliminated, if they lose to Uruguay on Thursday and Italy and Costa Rica draw on Friday.

Watch Gary Lineker's review of the first week's action in Brazil

And, sidelined by a training injury or not, Cristiano Ronaldo will almost certainly be out of the tournament if the United States beat Portugal on Sunday.

Gary Lineker: "Overall it has been a terrific start to the tournament and let's have some more.

"Other than the Netherlands and Germany, most of the big boys have not really caught fire yet. Argentina took a while to get going against Bosnia-Herecegovina and were awful in the first half, with Messi out of sorts. I am going to stick with them as my winners, but with slightly less confidence than I had at the start of the tournament."

Mark Lawrenson: "I am backing England to beat Uruguay, and I don't think they have got to change too much from their defeat by Italy, although I would play Wayne Rooney in the number 10 position because you want his quality involved in crucial areas.

"I am going to go for a shock and pick the United States to beat Portugal, who have had a nightmare start to their World Cup. It will be down to Cristiano Ronaldo to save their tournament, but I just don't think he is in the shape he needs to be to make a difference."

World Cup Funnies

Rio Ferdinand: "Ronaldo will be thinking, 'Messi has laid the gauntlet down, here I come'. He is a determined character and all the way through his career he has used people's negativity and doubts as his fuel to go out and perform.

"And Wayne Rooney will have come into this tournament wanting to make this a defining part of his career. He will want to leave it enhancing his career, his reputation. This a defining tournament for him and he will be champing at the bit to get out in the next game and score."