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Some stars shining at World Cup, others remain dim

Updated: 2014-06-18 11:50 (Agencies)

Some stars shining at World Cup, others remain dim

Robin van Persie of the Netherlands (L) heads the ball to score against Spain during their 2014 World Cup Group B soccer match at the Fonte Nova arena in Salvador June 13, 2014. [Photo/Agencies]

RIO DE JANEIRO - After just one match each, Robin van Persie and Lionel Messi have already equaled their goal tallies from their previous two World Cups combined.

Two of football's biggest stars are finally shining where it matters most.

While it has taken Van Persie and Messi three tournaments to find their feet, other strikers seem to thrive on the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the World Cup from day one.

Thomas Mueller, joint tournament top scorer with five in South Africa four years ago, grabbed a hat trick Monday as Germany hammered Portugal 4-0.

And with the weight of the football-loving host nation resting on his slender shoulders, 22-year-old Neymar slotted two goals on his World Cup debut as Brazil beat Croatia 3-1 in the tournament opener. Neymar failed to score against Mexico Tuesday thanks to amazing goalkeeping Guillermo Ochoa.

But the pressure that some players thrive on seems to weigh others down. Cristiano Ronaldo - constantly paired against Messi in the debate over the world's best player - continued his miserable World Cup form. His only goal in South Africa was in Portugal's 7-0 rout of Democratic People's republic of Korea, and he and his team were shut out in their first game in Brazil.

For Messi, getting his name on the score sheet was an improvement from four years ago, when he left South Africa without a goal. The Argentine wizard's only previous World Cup goal came in Germany in 2006.

If Van Persie's relative failure in his first two World Cups - he managed just one goal in the Dutch charge to the 2010 final and only one in Germany four years earlier - was weighing on his mind, it didn't show in Salvador on Friday, where he grabbed two goals in his team's 5-1 demolition of world champion Spain.

"He's so mature that I don't really think he's thinking about that a lot," Dutch midfielder Nigel de Jong said of Van Persie's previous World Cup flops. "I don't think he looks at the statistics, especially from the last couple of tournaments."

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