Cahill’s spectacular strike
We know all about Tim Cahill’s greatest strength. That leap; those bulging neck muscles; that rock-hard forehead; that perfect sense of timing. Before this game, those four elements have combined to help him register 11 of his past 13 goals for Australia but they have also left him open to some (unfair) accusations of one-trick-ponyism.
Against the Dutch on Tuesday evening, the former Everton man took a hammer to said accusations in the most spectacular style. Matthew Leckie’s first-time ball dropped from high and, given that there were three Dutch players within his vicinity, most fans and team-mates would have been impressed if Cahill had merely held on to possession and perhaps set up one of his team-mates for an opportunity on goal. But he thought bigger and better than that. From the moment the ball left Leckie’s leg, Cahill’s eyes followed the arced flight of the pass and he had the intelligence to drop off the defenders and create the room he needed to shoot at goal.
The rest was an intoxicating combination of technique and power that left Jasper Cillessen with no chance. Australia were beaten in the end but Cahill will be hard pressed to be beaten for goal of the World Cup. Ian McCourt
More of the same from the match officials
Another match, another poor performance from the man in the middle. Let’s leave aside the fact that for much of the first half Djamel Haimoudi was far more strict with the Australians than he was with the Dutch, as well as the fact that it was questionable whether Robin van Persie should have been on the pitch to score Holland’s second goal, and skip right to the penalty decision.
Oliver Bozanic had just come off the bench when he gave his interpretation of the twist with Daryl Janmaat as his partner. Once bored of dancing, Bozanic decided to rid himself of possession. He cannot have been more than a handful of yards away from Janmaat when the ball left his foot at speed and brushed the trailing arm of the Dutchman. It was nigh-on impossible for Janmaat to move his arm away in time and yet somehow Haimoudi thought pointing to the spot was the right thing to do. It was a ridiculous decision, as farcical as the penalty awarded to Brazil in the opening match. So far this has been a spectacularly enjoyable tournament but the low level of refereeing is threatening to spoil the fun. IM
The end of an era
An hour after the full-time whistle a search on the picture wires for “Xavi” brought five results. Two were incorrectly labelled snaps of Diego Costa. One was a typo in a picture of Xabi Alonso. And one was a shot of Cameron Diaz at the launch of her new movie “Sex Tape” taken by the photographer Xavi Torrent. There was just one picture of Xavi Hernández, the genius behind so much of Spain’s success over the past six years. He’s wearing a purple Fifa bib and is staring out from the substitute’s bench.
What a shame that Spain’s castle crumbled without its chief architect striding the battlements. He will be 36 by the time Euro 2016 rumbles around and reports persist that he is set to leave Barcelona for Qatar – surely this tournament will prove his final hurrah on the international stage. Perhaps he will get one last chance to shine against Australia.
If those transfer rumours are correct it could be the final opportunity to see Xavi and Andrés Iniesta in harness – they may not be hitting the high notes like they used to but let’s see the band back together for one last show. John Ashdown
Chile – contenders?
Though they were facing a Spain side malfunctioning like an old ZX81, Chile were mightily impressive at the Maracanã. Jorge Sampaoli saw fragility in the Spain lineup, and perhaps in the Spanish psyche, and tailored his plan to exploit it. On the ball, Spain were suffocated by Chile’s high tempo. Time after time, Sergio Ramos resorted to what were essentially long balls out from the back – Del Bosque had talked about a tweak in style, but in Rio this was down to necessity rather than invention. On the ball, Las Rojas were incisive – a Xabi Alonso mistake was ruthlessly, and beautifully, exploited for the first goal. Iker Casillas’s ill-advised punch was punished for the second. They might have had more.
So much depends on the next game (and, for that matter, the final round of fixtures in Group A). If they can beat Holland and avoid Brazil, who will presumably win Group A though that is by no means guaranteed, then the quarter-finals should beckon for Sampaoli and his team. There they’d meet someone from Group C or Group D – Italy most likely. And they have nothing to fear from Cesare Prandelli’s side. Given the way Chile played on Wednesday evening they have little to fear from anyone. They could be in this tournament for a long, long time. JA
Croatia starting to echo class of 98
The post-mortem that will now be conducted into Spain’s fallen champions for many months to come will unquestionably raise the question of the absence of a plan B. Should they looking for an example to follow, Croatia’s would be a good place to start. Cameroon began brightly in Manaus, Alex Song and Eyong Enoh suffocating their playmaking duo Luka Modric and Ivan Ratikic. Indeed, until Song’s mindless red card, they were mere bystanders but this Croatian side does not lack the depth its recent predecessors did.
Ivan Perisic is another midfielder fast earning a reputation, enhanced by his breakaway goal (think Gareth Bale against Inter) while Darijo Srna is a constant threat rampaging down the right. Mario Mandzukic is dangerous in attack and Ivica Olic is showing no signs of losing his race with Old Father Time.
The last time Croatia had this many attacking options on the field was when they finished third at France 98 and had Lilian Thuram not chosen that particular semi-final to score his only goals for Les Bleus it might have been even better. Gerard Meagher