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World Cup Opening Weekend: Surprises Seen, Records Recorded

RECIFE, BRAZIL - JUNE 14: Masato Morishige (L) and Yuto Nagatomo of Japan challenge Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group C match between the Ivory Coast and Japan at Arena Pernambuco on June 14, 2014 in Recife, Brazil. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***
RECIFE, BRAZIL - JUNE 14: Masato Morishige (L) and Yuto Nagatomo of Japan challenge Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group C match between the Ivory Coast and Japan at Arena Pernambuco on June 14, 2014 in Recife, Brazil. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***Getty Images

Throughout the 2014 World Cup, New England Revolution forward Patrick Mullins, who maintains his own blog, will give us a player’s perspective on the tournament. This is the first installment.

The opening weekend of the 2014 FIFA World Cup is officially in the books. We have barely had a moment to catch our breath.

The tournament so far has given us everything we want in our beautiful game. We have seen more goals (37) up to this point than any other previous World Cup. We have seen the top players produce on the biggest stage. And, we have yet to see a draw.

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In short, we have seen it all. But here are some of the highlights that stood out to me.

As they so often do, Brazil won its opening match. What did come as a surprise was the host nation’s overall performance. Brazil can take promise from young stars Oscar and Neymar’s performances as they showed moments of class in the attack. But too often, Brazil looked susceptible to Croatia’s attack, in particular from crosses.

Brazilian fans would agree it’s a good start. But they need to improve in order to be the last team standing.

Spain, the last team standing at the 2010 World Cup, began their title defense poorly. They fell 5-1 to the Netherlands. On the day, the Spanish defense was outclassed by Dutch forwards Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie.

Although the score line raises plenty of concern in the Spanish camp, it is also a little flattering to the Dutch. Up until the 60th minute, Spain showed the quality and precision that could still beat any team in the world.

The Spanish need two wins in their last two group games against Chile and Australia to assure passage into the knockout round. Two very winnable games. I think few should be surprised if an experienced Spanish group put this result behind them and advances.

All four teams in what I think is the “Group of Life” (Group C: Colombia, Greece, Cote d’Ivoire, Japan) entered the tournament thinking they had a chance to advance.

Colombia got off to a high-flying start with a 3-0 win over Greece. Colombia gave their emotional fans a reason to celebrate with some clinical finishing, while Greece were left ruing quality scoring opportunities missed.

The Cote d’Ivoire’s 2-1 win over Japan was my match of the tournament so far. It was a classic tale of two halves. Japan showed a neat passing style with relentless pressure in the first half and was rewarded with a goal that put them in the driver’s seat.

But a two-minute sequence in the second half cost Japan and sprung Cote d’Ivoire to victory. Not only two minutes, but two massive headers. Two great finishes from Wilfried Bony and Gervinho from pinpoint crosses proved the difference.

The “Group of Life” certainly lived up to the billing as it is still all to play for.

The biggest takeaway from the opening weekend is that it is just the opening weekend. You don’t win the World Cup after the first match.

Certainly, we learned a lot and enjoyed the record-amount of goals so far. But this tournament is long from over.

The mission in the group stage is simple: survive and advance.

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