With Spain’s capitulation last night, the World Cup has not only lost its defending champions at the group stage for the second consecutive edition after Italy failed to make it out of their group in 2010, but it has also been deprived of one of the pre-tournament favourites.
While Germany impressed, Brazil, the team who shared the favourites tag with Vicente Del Bosque’s men, failed to impress against Mexico on Tuesday and Argentina laboured more than expected to overcome Bosnia on Sunday.
With eight teams having played two games, the World Cup picture is beginning to look a little bit clearer now, with some of the favourites struggling and potential dark horses failing to live up to their reputation.
Arrived in Brazil among scepticism because of an extremely young squad and of their talent for self-imploding, Holland are now considered genuine contenders for the title, their credentials undoubtedly boosted by their 5-1 annihilation of Spain.
Van Gaal’s men are considered the dark horses of the tournament by over the 36% of fans who took part in a World Cup survey using smartphone app OnePulse, and with Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie in such scintillating form it’s not easy to understand why the Oranje‘s stock has risen so swiftly.
With the 19% of votes Belgium were a distant second and during the first 45 minutes of their opening game against Algeria Marc Wilmots’ side looked far from the exciting surprise package they had been tipped to be ahead of the tournament.
Devoid of ideas and rhythm, Belgium were pedestrian and predictable against the North African until the introduction of Dries Mertens and Marouane Fellaini turn their fortunes around, with the Manchester United midfielder netting an equaliser before Mertens’ goal clinched three points for the Red Devils.
With Russia and South Korea boring each other into a 1-1 draw, Belgium remain firm favourites to top the group and could in fact build confidence over the next two games, a luxury England might not be able to afford.
Just over the 10% of the fans polled had Roy Hodgson’s men as third favourites to be the surprise package this summer but after losing 2-1 to Italy on Saturday, England must win against Uruguay tonight to avoid being eliminated at the first round of a World Cup for the first time since 1958.
Result aside, there were plenty of positives for England on Saturday night – a bolder, more attacking approach and the excellent performance of Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge – while Uruguay were largely unimpressive in their opening round defeat to Costa Rica.
Luis Suarez’s return will be a welcome and timely boost for Oscar Tabarez’s team but the 6% of fans who tipped Uruguay to be this summer’s surprise could be left disappointed for the 2010 semifinalists looked weary in their first game and one feels they might struggle to remain in the tournament.
France, who received the 10% of votes, are instead likely to extend their stay in Brazil if their opening game is anything to go by. While not spectacular, Didier Deschamps’ men comfortably disposed of Honduras and with neither Ecuador or Switzerland likely to have enough to cause France any trouble in their remaining two fixtures, Karim Benzema & Co. could be a tricky customer to face in the knockout stages.
Bizarrely, however, Chile, arguably the standout team of the tournament so far, failed to pick up any votes in the poll.
Not that Jorge Sanpaoli is likely to be too bothered, for Alexis Sanchez, Edu Vargas and Arturo Vidal last night showed that this Chile side is one other teams will underestimate at their peril.
La Roja face Holland on Monday in the encounter that will determine the winner of Group B and, most probably, which of the two sides will face Brazil in the round of 16, given the Selecao should top Group A.
Should Chile shock the hosts, expect many to consider them favourite for the title, never mind dark horses.
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