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After the thumping victory of the Netherlands against Spain, the World Cup winners of 2010, one might have expected the majestic Dutch to swamp the Australians in their next league match, and avenge their disastrous defeat of 1-6 in the World Cup hockey final on Sunday. Instead the match was more thrilling than any page-turner could be, with the Australians showing that they were no pushovers despite their 1-3 defeat against Chile. Chile again put up a splendid performance against Spain and sent the previous champions out of the tournament in the first round itself, making this the fourth time that such a thing has happened so far. The challenge from the Iberian Peninsula remains the much-fancied Portugal, which, however, surrendered meekly to the mighty Germans. However, given the fact that Portugal has Ghana and the United States to face in its remaining two league matches, it can still hope to make it to the next stage.
The league stage of the World Cup, as seen since 1986, the year we saw the entire World Cup for the first time, has been the best part of the tournament. There is a bit less tension, making it possible for the players to play attacking football. This year too, it has been no different, as evidenced by the fact that there have been only three drawn encounters so far. The underdogs, such as Algeria, Mexico and South Korea, too are performing well, though the challenge from Asia is much weaker than that from Africa, where Cameroon seems to have lost its pre-eminent position. The surprise so far has been South America, where Chile and Colombia have impressed more than Brazil or Argentina. One is in this case reminded of the killing of a Colombian player whose self-goal sent the team out of the World Cup in 1994.
But one thing is missing in this World Cup and it is the nonparticipation of the Scandinavian countries. While the winners in Europe have generally been central or southern European countries, the Scandinavians and east Europeans play their distinctive variety of football. Sweden and Denmark have exhibited skill seldom seen in today’s age of power football. Perhaps FIFA should look at Europe in its different components and allot quotas for each.