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PHOTOS: World Cup wows fans after scintillating start

June 17, 2014 07:36 IST

PHOTOS: World Cup wows fans after scintillating start

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The opening round of games at the World Cup is almost over and the universal feeling is one of shock and awe.

Fans have been served up a marvellous first few days of excitement, controversy and, most amazing of all, goals galore.

None of the first 11 matches ended in draws, five were come from behind wins and the number of goals per game has averaged 3.36. Coming four years after the second-lowest scoring World Cup in history, with 2.27, fans can hardly believe it.

"I think this has been the best start since at least Italy in 1990," said England fan Ross Letham who watched Argentina-Bosnia at the Fan Fest in Sao Paulo. "The World Cup has been dour and too tactical for years and this has been wide open."

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Image: Argentina fans cheer during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Group F match between Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina at Maracana in Rio de Janeiro
Photographs: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

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'What a refreshingly positive start to this World Cup'

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The tone was set in the opening match, when the tournament returned to football's spiritual home for the first time since 1950. Brazil recovered to beat Croatia 3-1 in a game that featured an early own goal and a controversial penalty.

Less than 24 hours later, the Netherlands shocked the world by mauling world champions Spain 5-1, and a swashbuckling Chile swept to victory over Australia shortly after.

The following day Italy held off England to win a pulsating match in Manaus, Ivory Coast beat Japan after being a goal down, and Costa Rica provided the biggest shock so far by hammering Uruguay – semi-finalists four years ago – 3-1.

Not all the results have been surprising but the manner in which they were achieved has been unpredictable, with even unfancied teams playing to win.

"What a refreshingly positive start to this World Cup," Former England striker Gary Linker, now a BBC presenter, tweeted on Saturday. "The antithesis of four years ago. Long may it continue."

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Image: Neymar of Brazil (right) celebrates his goal with his team mates Marcelo (left) and Hulk (C) during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Group A match against Croatia at Arena de Sao Paulo.
Photographs: Fabrizio Bensch - Pool/Getty Images

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'This is an important philosophy: that you go out there to win, to score'

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There are still 53 games to go and tactics could change but, so far, the average number of goals per game is higher than at any World Cup since Sweden in 1958, which had 3.60 following the 1954 finals in Switzerland which registered a record 5.38.

When asked about the explosive start to this year's tournament, former Brazil attacking midfielder Zico said he believed coaches were largely to thank.

"I think the coaches have adopted the philosophy of first scoring and then defending," he told a daily FIFA media briefing in Rio de Janeiro on Monday, speaking through a translator.

"This is an important philosophy: that you go out there to win, to score, and that's what I have noticed for all teams, everyone trying to be quite offensive."

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Image: Robin van Persie of the Netherlands scores the team's first goal with a diving header against Spain in Salvador.
Photographs: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

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'Football is moving towards a faster, more counter-attacking style'

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No one really knows why teams have abandoned caginess and gone for goals. Some believe it's the Brazilian influence. Others say the European-based players have brought their attacking philosophy across the Atlantic.

Then there's the intriguing possibility that football has shifted direction and we are witnessing the death throes of the possession-based tiki-taka Spanish style.

"Football is moving towards a faster, more counter-attacking style," said Marc Smith, a sales representative from London who came to Brazil without tickets with high hopes of seeing a game.

"There's been less tickey-tackey, just look at the way Holland beat Spain. It's not stop-start any longer, it's been flowing."

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Image: Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring his goal against Bosnia-Herzegovina at Maracana in Rio de Janeiro
Photographs: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

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'We always hope for goals, and it has been a fine return thus far'

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A pleasant side effect has been the way scintillating players have seized attention from the political controversy surrounding the tournament in the buildup.

Stadiums were late and over budget and much of the infrastructure promised by the government was never delivered.

The spotlight also fell on soccer's world governing body FIFA and the continuing fallout over allegations of corruption surrounding the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

"I have a tainted relationship with FIFA at the moment, but the football is doing the talking," said Jim Rendall, a disillusioned fan who has been to four World Cups but opted to watch this one at home in Scotland.

"We always hope for goals, and it has been a fine return thus far. I am enjoying it hugely."

If all this sounds unusually optimistic coming from football supporters, there was one familiar complaint.

When asked what had got his attention over the first few days, Mexican fan Jose Villareal came up with an age-old response. "The refereeing's been terrible once again," he said.

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Image: A fan holds a 'We Need Tickets' sign prior to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group F match between Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina at Maracana in Rio de Janeiro
Photographs: Clive Rose/Getty Images

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