World Cup 2014: Already Worth It

The 2014 World Cup has been the most anticipated sporting event ever since Brazil was chosen as the host nation back in 2007. Only a few days into the most beautiful tournament known to man, and it’s already produced unforgettable images and moments.

There’s the unrest, of course. So far a million of Brazil’s working class and homeless have taken to the streets since demonstrations began last summer, protesting the estimated $11 billion spent by a so-called progressive government doing next to nothing to close the wide socioeconomic gap in the country.

But that’s another story, for another section.

And as former Daily Show correspondent explained on his new weekly HBO show, even though we fans are fully aware of the havoc being caused in Brazil by this year’s World Cup, that doesn’t stop us from becoming totally entranced by the tournament once the first whistle blows.

Brazil opened the tournament on Thursday with a Group A match against Croatia at the newly-built, nearly $1 billion Arena Corinthians in São Paulo. Favored to win the whole thing — mainly because they are always favored, and because they’ve done it the most (five times) — Brazil got off to a scary start when defender Marcelo’s normally precise footwork failed him and he ended up scoring on his own goal, the 37th in World Cup history.

The world soon turned right side up, and Brazil went on to win the match 3-1.

On Friday the 13th, however, in arguably the biggest upset in the 84-year history of the tournament, the Dutch side thrashed returning champions Spain, 5-1. It was sweet revenge for the three-time World Cup runners-up, who lost the 2010 final in South Africa after Spain scored a goal in extra time.

In fact, the Group B match at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador threatened to be a repeat of that 2010 final, after Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso scored a penalty kick in the 27th minute and Netherlands seemed unable to break through Spain’s defenses. But their break came less than two minutes before the 45 mark when Netherlands captain Robin van Persie… well, just see for yourself:

After heading to the locker room to regroup, the audience members in attendance and the millions watching around the world were sure Spain would return to their former glory in the second half. Then came the 53rd minute, when Dutch forward Arjen Robben, alone in the penalty box with two Spanish defenders, legendary goalkeeper Iker Casillas and all the poise in the world, fired a left-footed kick past all three.

Eleven minutes, in one of those pure-luck World Cup moments that cause so much joy (and anguish), a free kick found the left foot of Dutch defender Stefan de Vrij, earning the 22-year-old his first international goal.

At that point, the Netherlands were up 3-1. Had the match ended like that, it still would’ve made headlines. But this Friday the 13th had more in store for the Spanish side, who seemed to have completely imploded after the second goal, abandoning their trademark style of play.

Van Persie scored his second goal in the 72nd minute. He would’ve had himself a hat trick had a third shot on goal not bounced off the crossbar. Then he was subbed out, but not before handing his captain’s armband to Robben, who scored his second goal quickly afterward.

Thus, Spain lost its first 2014 World Cup game 5-1. But what to make of it all?

Fans criticize the FIFA World Rankings for not accurately portraying a teams standing. While the criticism is justified in some spots — how is Team USA in the top 15? — as the 2010 World Cup Champions, the 2013 Confederations Cup runner-up and the 2012 UEFA European Champions, Spain’s top ranking is undeniable. It could be that Father Time has finally caught up to this golden squad, considering its most iconic stars — David Villa, Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and Casillas — are all on the slower side of 30.

Van Persie and Robben, both 30, are facing the same downhill, though they and the rest of the Dutch seemed much quicker and stronger than the Spaniards. (Robben scored his second goal after outracing an exhausted Sergio Ramos for at least 30 meters.)

In the end, isn’t this why Brazilian Pres. Dilma Rousseff has gone through so much trouble, spent so many billions and earned herself the ire of a nation? An historic upset is what the World Cup is all about — the unpredictable ability of one man’s foot to alter the entire course of a country’s spiritual history. It’s why even those Brazilians who support the protests are calling for a moratorium during the matches, and why Pres. Rousseff is hoping a World cup win for the Brazilian side will lead to her reelection this fall.

Having beaten the best in the world, the rest of the Netherlands’ path to the next stage should be downhill. Spain, on the hand, faces Chile next, a tenacious side whose confidence received a boost by a few recent wins, including 3-1 against Australia on Friday. Plus, this 5-1 trouncing has shattered Spain’s image of invincibility, which should make things easier for any side facing them from here on out.

That is, unless they make it out of the group stage. Chile could beat them too, knocking out the current champions in the first round.

Who knows. This is the World Cup!

[Photo: MSVG via Flickr]