Rio de Janeiro: It will take some effort to top the goal everyone is still talking about, but Robin van Persie's header does not lack for competition.
Robin van Persie scores a stunning goal against Spain in FIFA World Cup 2014
There were 15 goals in the first four games of the World Cup, three times the number scored in the first two days of the 2010 tournament in South Africa. The Netherlands led the way early in this year's tournament, with five of the 15 goals. Brazil scored three in the opener, and Chile added a hat trick Friday. And all that was before four games combined to produce 13 more Saturday.
"It looks like teams are here to score and to attack," said Gerard Houllier, the former France and Liverpool coach.
Tactically, he said, teams clearly are taking more risks. Fullbacks are pressing forward, sometimes simultaneously, and fitter, faster players are looking to break out in transition as soon as their teams win the ball.
The Netherlands used both tactics to shred Spain on Friday, pushing forward relentlessly with its outside backs and feeding van Persie and Arjen Robben over and over with balls over the top of Spain's high back line. That was how van Persie scored, dashing to catch up to a long ball from near the midfield stripe and then taking it in stride - at full sprint - with a diving header that looped over goalkeeper Iker Casillas. Houllier said such skill made all the difference.
"To me, the difference between five goals then and 15 here is the quality of the strikers," Houllier said, noting FIFA's new edicts to referees and defenders have given attacking players more freedom to work. "And now you're seeing teams play with two strikers again: the Netherlands played van Persie and Arjen Robben together. Croatia played with two. Brazil, of course, plays with three.
"Teams seem to have a real goal and no regret."
As for van Persie's goal? "Absolutely phenomenal," he said.
© 2014, The New York Times News Service