After a full week of World Cup games, it’s been a compelling first round of matches in Russia. There have been noteworthy surprises, like Mexico’s 1-0 defeat of the heavily-favoured Germany, and a few teams have already separated themselves from the pack.
With every country having played their first match, the standings are in an interesting position but are sure to change swiftly. An extra dose of excitement and anticipation surrounds a team’s inaugural match, but how much does the first game truly matter?
Football FanCast was joined by Liverpool and England legend John Barnes — who spoke to us on behalf of Just Eat for the summer of football — to discuss the first round of games…
FootballFanCast.com: We’ve had an interesting first week of the World Cup with some great games and a few surprises. What are your early impressions thus far?
John Barnes: “Well it’s been a fascinating World Cup. When you look at the teams — for example Germany losing, Brazil drawing, France struggling against Australia — this is what happens in the first games of the World Cup, because regardless of who the favourites are, to qualify for the World Cup you have to be a decent team.
“Of course, Russia beat Saudi Arabia 5-0, but that doesn’t normally happen in World Cup matches. In the early matches, everybody is quite confident coming into the World Cup. It’s normally after two or three matches that you’ve been beaten heavily and the consonance drops. Then you can expect to see the scores that we should see.
“The Premier League is the same. In the early days of competition, especially in the first games, you see some sorry results. But if you look at the way all of the top teams have played, I won’t say they’ve struggled. It’s just that the so-called lesser teams — in the first game and before they lose any confidence by losing matches — they play well. They’re up for it. They’re confident.
“Of course, they’re not able to do that consistently, which is why they usually don’t go to the quarter-finals or semi-finals. You always see some funny results in the early games of the World Cup.”
FFC: Some of the heavyweights — like Germany and Brazil — have come up with shaky performances in game one. Why has that been the case?
JB: “In the first game, when you’re playing against so-called lesser teams, they play with intensity, determination and desire. So therefore you see a lot of funny games. Like, even with Brazil. Brazil drew against Switzerland. But once you go through and get used to playing in a tournament, you’ll see they improve and get better.
“I don’t look at the first game. Someone playing really well in the first game or playing really badly in the first game doesn’t change my opinion. Because then you’d say Russia will win the World Cup because they won 5-0 against Saudi Arabia. So I don’t necessarily look at these early games positively or negatively.
“If that was the case, you’d say Germany might as well go home already. Germany will still be there in my opinion. It doesn’t matter to me after the first game how things are.”
FFC: Do you think too many people place too much weight on the first game?
JB: “Well, the first game is very important. Germany will really have to play well now to qualify after they lost the first game. So it is important in that respect. But it isn’t that important for you to all of a sudden be written off, to then say you’re not a good team and have no chance because you played badly the first game.
“Or, if you play well and win the first game — Costa Rica, for example, played really well and won, or if Saudi Arabia beat Russia — that doesn’t mean you’re going to win the World Cup. It means that they had one good game, which maybe puts them in a good place to go through.”
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