PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil, June 17 (Reuters) - A World Cup that has delivered fantastic goals in the first round of group games has also produced gems away from the pitch with players and coaches coming up with memorable quotes.
Croatia coach Niko Kovac got the tournament off to a fiery start by blasting the Japanese referee after their defeat by Brazil in the opening match.
After the hosts were awarded a penalty when forward Fred theatrically fell to the ground, angry Kovac told reporters: ”This was ridiculous today, and if we continue in this way we will have a circus.
”If that’s a penalty, we don’t need to play football any more. Let’s play basketball instead.
“The lads played their hearts out but that was outright thuggery by a referee who was just out of his depth for a game of this magnitude.”
“Pressure? What pressure?” seemed to be a common thread running through the interview rooms from the tropical heat of Manaus in the north of Brazil to the rain and chill of Porto Alegre in the south.
The World Cup may be sport’s ultimate pressure cooker but fancied Belgium seem to be taking everything in their stride with coach Marc Wilmots putting things into perspective.
“Pressure, you know, it is worse if you have a child who’s ill and in hospital,” he said discussing their status as dark horses. “That’s pressure. Here there is no pressure.”
Different coaches have brought different styles to Brazil and while Spain’s Vicente Del Bosque gets the most out of his players through encouragement and praise, Fabio Capello, the Italian coach of Russia, rules by fear and intimidation.
”He is tough and demanding. Discipline is the most important thing for him,“ Russian midfielder Oleg Shatov said of Capello. ”If a player is standing in the defensive wall and turns around, he’ll say, ‘I will not tolerate that in my teams.
“If you say you’re scared, you can leave and I’ll use another player’.”
Germany, one of the favourites to triumph in Brazil, are clearly not afraid of facing anyone after their 4-0 demolition of Portugal.
Instead they are striking fear into their opponents, especially through Thomas Mueller, who scored a hat-trick against the Portuguese.
“In the last four years I’ve had some experience in world soccer and I‘m not the kind of guy who gets afraid,” said Mueller.
Portugal’s Critsiano Ronaldo, who is always full of confidence, says he has nothing to prove at the finals.
Asked if a great World Cup was something lacking in his career, he replied: ”I don’t think I have to show anyone anything. If you look at my statistics and my resume...I have no words for that question.
“I think I do not have to demonstrate anything, not now, before, not after. What I have to do is just continue my career, which has been great so far.”
Netherlands forward Arjen Robben, who scored twice against Spain, is also capable of giving the opposition the jitters.
The brace put to bed the trauma of a missed chance in the final four years ago in South Africa when the outstretched leg of Spain keeper Iker Casillas denied the winger a possible World Cup-winning goal.
The only surprise Robben has had in Brazil so far came at a post-match news conference.
Asked about his miss in the 2010 showpiece, he joked: ”I‘m surprised it took five questions before it came up. Of course it will stay with me for the rest of my life, you can’t deny that.
“But we are now looking ahead. That all doesn’t count anymore.” (Editing by Ken Ferris)