If you asked me a month before the start of the World Cup what my thoughts would be after the first set of games; I probably might have said subdued; however, the first set of matches at the 2018 World Cup have been surprisingly inspiring. Most competitions start out quite slowly; a number of barren or lukewarm draws take center stage; Russia is serving something different and it looks like we are in for a bumpy ride over the next three weeks or so. Here are my thoughts from the first set of group games played so far:

African Teams can’t defend set pieces

As at the time of penning this piece all African teams bar Senegal have taken to the field of play; all have conceded from set pieces; particularly corners. Have the Vampires found their way into the African camps? How else do I explain this problem with crosses into the box from dead ball situations. What is particularly annoying is the fact that most of these set pieces are conceded needlessly; Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia have given away pointless set piece opportunities in the dying embers of games; with a point as good as almost secured.

The Tunisian late concession was particularly damning as they were in possession of the ball and all that needed to be done was to clear the ball up-field; instead the defender was caught in possession leading to the corner kick England scored their winner from.

So far, African teams have failed to do the most basic thing in defending corners and set pieces generally; which is don’t miss the first header, if you do ensure you get to the second one; instead there’s a kind of freeze in the defense once that first header is missed; just look at Nigeria and the way they conceded against Croatia.

At this rate; if these school boy errors are not checked; I am not sure any African team will make it past the group stage.

VAR has taken Center stage

Firstly, I must say I like the way the VAR Room is set up; looks like some kind of War room; you would be forgiven if you misread the inscription on the wall too. So Far, all decisions taken with the help of VAR have been spot on; however there still seems to be some grey areas in terms of what aspects of play are actually reviewed by the Video Assistant Referees.

Now I like the fact that we haven’t had an endless wait for a decision to be taken; processing time as been quite impressive; penalties awarded have been on the increase, due to the additional scrutiny which has been a major area for the advocacy to introduce VAR in the first place.

If we are to look at things on the flip side; certain in play or in action decisions went without VAR being either called upon or these actions were completely ignored. Case in point, Diego Costa’s infringement on Pepe leading to Spain’s equalizer; how come that goal wasn’t ruled out for the off the ball incident.

My question on VAR is this; is the review based on the Referees discretion or is he prompted at all times that a review is been made as the game progresses?

A slow start for the Favorites

Germany, Brazil and Argentina are all without a victory after match day 1 with the World Champions, Germany in a dire need of inspiration after a resilient Mexico sped past them to victory. Brazil and Argentina on the other hand laboured to a 1-1 draw against Switzerland and Iceland respectively. Also the likes of France and Uruguay have been sluggish in their victories; whilst Spain were a Cristano Ronaldo free kick away from three points after an impressive performance despite the upheavals of the last few days.

There’s no need to press the panic button just yet for the established teams; they just need to be more clinical and probably refresh their starting 11 as we know many have come through a very long and hard season.

Cristano Ronaldo: Man for the big occasions

If there’s a young lad out there that dreams of making a career or livelihood out of football; Cristano Ronaldo is the person to model your career after. Yes Talent is good; however it is grossly overrated without discipline and hard work. If you are not ready to put in the shift; then maybe football is not for you.

Ronaldo continues to show why he should be considered in the same bracket as Pele, Maradona, Zidane and Cryuff; I see no reason why he shouldn’t. For many a years he has carried his club and country on his shoulder to deliver victories and trophies a plenty. To show that he his human after all he has the odd poor game and the media come for him; he turns around and drops another massive performance for us to lick our lips over.

What a player.

A new name on the trophy

After watching the first set of matches; for some strange reason, I am beginning to feel like we may have a new winner in 2018. The likes of Colombia, Belgium and Mexico look like they are willing to fill that void; now don’t get me wrong and I am not getting over myself because Mexico got the better of Germany.

I just continue to have that sneaky feeling someone away from the usual suspects would hoist high that 24 carat showpiece trophy come July 15th, 2018.