THE DAY REPLAYED – It was a mixed day for royalty in Brazil. The FIFA World Cup™ kings had their reign stunningly ended. A beloved Sydneysider arguably made sure of being crowned his country’s all-time greatest with a memorable masterstroke. And King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima were so exhilarated by seeing the country they rule take a second step towards the throne Spain relinquished that they posed for ‘selfies’ with Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Co in the dressing room.
Matchday 7 began in Porto Alegre. It ended around 2,000 miles away in Manaus (yes, Brazil is big). In between, the Netherlands and Chile booked places in the Round of 16 with a game to spare, Australia, Spain and Cameroon were eliminated, and Croatia won handsomely to leave themselves in a three-way fight with Brazil and Mexico for two tickets to the knockout phase.
Australia 2-3 Netherlands (Budweiser Man of the Match: Arjen Robben, NED)
Spain 0-2 Chile (Budweiser Man of the Match: Eduardo Vargas, CHI)
Cameroon 0-4 Croatia (Budweiser Man of the Match: Mario Mandzukic, CRO)
A volley from heaven
Arjen Robben whizzed through the Socceroos’ defence and fizzed the ball home. It was a goal of the tournament contender. It was expected to be the start of an Australian crumble. Within seconds, however, it was no longer either. Tim Cahill let a high, hanging punt forward drop over his shoulder and on to his ‘weaker’ left foot, his eyes fixated on the ball during its entire flight. He then produced a volley that combined ferocious power and unerring accuracy, rocketing the ball into the net off the underside of the crossbar for one of the World Cup’s most eye-popping goals – one of which the scorer of the most celebrated volley in football history, Dutchman Marco van Basten, would have been proud. Cahill collected his second booking of the tournament against the Netherlands though, meaning he will miss Australia’s goodbye game against Spain. The Socceroos’ all-time leading marksman will be 38 during Russia 2018. If that was Cahill’s last World Cup appearance, what an unforgettable way to bow out.
Draped in orange scarves, waving a flag, cheering excitedly, joining in chants and posing for pictures with fellow fans, you would have never guessed the couple in question were the rulers of the Netherlands. Then again, this is the same down-to-earth chap who kept his royal status a secret from his now-wife for their first few dates! Afterwards, King Willem-Alexander gave a congratulatory speech in the Dutch locker room. “It was really wonderful,” said coach Louis van Gaal afterwards. And in such a euphoric mood, who was going to stop the monarch and players posing together for ‘selfies’?
Monopoly ended at the Maracana
Italy were the only defending champions to have succumbed to elimination before playing their final first-phase game and, when that befell them in 1950, it was indebted to India withdrawing from the tournament because they weren’t allowed to play barefoot (La Nazionale had played only once, losing 3-2 to Sweden). A faint fraction of fans foresaw Spain crashing out in the group stage. A miniscule portion predicted they’d do so before taking the Arena da Baixada turf against Australia. Following a 5-1 thrashing by Dutch heads and feet, however, Vicente Del Bosque’s side were subject to a second successive significant upset, with Chile winning 2-0 at the Maracana – the scene of arguably the greatest shock in World Cup history, the Maracanazo – to seal Spain’s fate. One of the most beautiful results in Chilean football history came at the venue of one of their ugliest. Their goalkeeper Ricardo Rojas was caught cheating in an Italy 1990 qualifier, costing Chile the chance to play at two successive World Cups. Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez and Co finally allowed them to erase that memory.
Wolves maul Lions
Ivica Olic put Croatia ahead against Cameroon. His Wolfsburg team-mate Ivan Perisic doubled the lead. Then a double from Mario Mandzukic, a former Wölfe striker, completed a 4-0 rout over the Indomitable Lions, coached by German Volker Finke.
12 years after Ivica Olic last scored in the World Cup, the Croatia striker repeated the feat. The Wolfsburg striker’s last goal had been in the 2-1 win over Italy at Korea/Japan 2002, and his deadlock-breaker against Cameroon gave him the second-longest span between World Cup goals in history, six days shy of Michael Laudrup, whose only two efforts in the competition came in 1986 and 1998. Furthermore, Olic, at 34 years and 277 days, became Croatia’s oldest scorer at the World Cup, surpassing his former team-mate and current coach, Niko Kovac.
The social hub
Arturo Vidal tweeted after Chile’s 2-0 shock win against Spain.
“So proud to be part of this team! We’re leaving Rio but we will come back on July 13! Come on Chile!”