John Brooks' big moment
That was one hell of a way to introduce new fans to the sport. On Monday night, the United States took on Ghana in what had been widely billed as a revenge mission. Having knocked the Americans out of two previous World Cups, the Black Stars were the perfect nemesis; as the opening match in their Group G campaign they provided the perfect springboard as Jurgen Klinsmann and company looked to escape the Group of Death. And as the first USA game in what is probably the most hyped up (and hyperactive) World Cup of all time, plenty of new American eyes were glued to the screen, awaiting entertainment and, hopefully, glory.
They got both in spades. The match opened with bang, Clint Dempsey skipping past the still-napping John Boye to score what turned out to be the fifth-fastest goal in World Cup history, and the action barely stopped for 90 minutes. Ghana were more than worthy opponents despite going down early, and as the pressure on Tim Howard's goal grew and the USA suffered setbacks, losing both Jozy Altidore and Matt Besler to hamstring injuries, the tension got so thick that you could probably have cut it with a stern look, nevermind a knife.
All seemed lost when Andre Ayew finally made the breakthrough in the 82nd minute to bring Ghana back to level pegging, but while that would have been a compelling enough story on its own -- Valiant Defensive Effort Undone At The Last, Oh You Poor Brave Boys is a staple of the World Cup media cycle, after all -- it was merely the setup for John Brooks' moment. Backs to the wall, all seeming lost, the understudy, on the pitch only through injury, rose above his marker (Boye again) to thump an 86th-minute header past Adam Kwarasey and send a nation into raptures.
It was the perfect start, both from a sporting perspective and a viewing one. Three points gained, millions of eyes glued to the screen, devastating lows and then incredible highs -- truly edge of the seat stuff for the full 90 minutes.
According to plan
In the 11 games played before matches started on Monday, there'd been 37 goals scored. Few matches had gone according to plan: Netherlands blew Spain out of the water, Uruguay fell to Costa Rica, and some of the refereeing had been rather, shall we say, questionable.
Then along came Germany's demolition of Portugal. A win was expected, a Pepe red card could well be predicted. But such a dramatic thrashing hadn't looked to be in the cards.
That's why the goalless draw between Nigeria and Iran was so ... nice. No surprises, no drama. No real action, in fact. The game went exactly as planned, with two defensive sides determined to hang on for a point. In a World Cup full of shocks and surprises, this came as a lovely reminder that we're still watching the same sport as four years ago.
It also gave anyone that had been staying up past two a.m. for the last three nights an opportunity for a lovely nap. So thanks, Iran and Nigeria!
It's not easy being Pepe
Alright, so you're world football's most naturally gifted berk. You're blessed with the natural talent to irritate anybody, at any time, whether by means of saucy simulation, an inappropriate jabbing finger, or a touch of the old ultraviolence. But talent will only get you to the top; it takes hard work to stay there.
So what do you do when, out of nowhere, some young puckish upstart like Thomas Müller is threatening to out-arse you in front of the watching world? You've wafted a hand vaguely near his chin and he's gone down like he's been poked firmly in both eyes. That's your game! He's stealing your moves! You ... you're on the moral high ground! And you don't like it up there. The view is dizzying. The air is thin. It's not where you belong.
Something special is required. And this is where you come into your own. World Cup headbutts are rare things: Zinedine Zidane on Marco Materazzi the most notable; five-foot-nothing Ariel Ortega on six-foot-plus Edwin van der Sar perhaps the most amusing. At least until now. For this is the moment you unveil the bending-from-the-waist forehead nuzzle, and gently-yet-insistently put the head on a man who is already sat on the ground. This is the kind of improvisational genius that can't be taught. This is how the king stays the king. Truly, Pepe, you are the Garrincha of being a total dick.