Recaps and game analysis to follow one or two hours after each match.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Game 29: Brazil vs Ivory Coast

Brazil beat Ivory Coast 3-1. Goals by Fabiano (2), Elano (1), and Drogba (1).

Summary over.

Opinion time:

Ivory Coast, for shame!

What was shaping up to be wonderful game, in which Ivory Coast could make an attempt to lessen the goal differential after a dominating performance by Brazil turned into an ugly slug fest.

Tiote, what was the point of basically ripping of Elano's leg? Instead of playing the ball when Elano came in for a tackle, you went straight studs up into his shin, forcing the curly haired winger to be literally carried down the tunnel to get medical treatment. To top if off, you had quite a few fouls like that, be happy you only got away with one yellow.

Keita, you must have attended acting school. You practically run into Kaka, who puts his forearm up to protect himself (touching Keita's chest), and you crumple over like you just got punched in the face by an in-prime Mike Tyson. What wast he point? There was four minutes left in the game (including stoppage time) and you try to get the player kicked out, it's not like your team was coming back anyway.

Jokes on you Keita, Kaka misses the next game, a game in which Brazil has already qualified for the next round, so they probably wouldn't start Kaka anyway.  Now you just look like an idiot to the world.

But there was also some diving from the Brazilians, including Bastos and Lucio, who rolled around on the floor like a priest needed to come out to read the last rights. Note, I hate diving, I do not condone it, but they dove for a free kick. Ivory Coast, you guys dove because you could, because you wanted Brazilian players to be kicked off. You had lost already, try losing with some dignity.

The surprising thing is, Drogba, who is known for his diving, didn't do it. In fact, he acted as a mediator, shielding Kaka from his fellow Ivorian players. Props to you Drogba, I respect you more.

Let me be clear, I never cheer for Brazil to win the world cup, it's like cheering for the Yankees: It's unoriginal. I like the under-dogs, I was cheering for Ivory Coast, but after this display, I hope the Ivorian players are fined and lose the rest of their matches.

I fear this game will cease to exist in the future, to be replaced by a stage and some spot-lights, where players act out a match. I fear this diving, this acting, will be a blight on the game for years to come.

It sickens me.

Come on Portugal or North Korea (ick, did I just say that?), grab that second qualifying spot.

Game 28: Italy vs New Zealand

New Zealand shocked defending champions Italy on Sunday with a 1-1 draw.

The All Whites struck first in the 7th minute when Shane Smeltz was able to get onto the end of a long-range free kick, staying on-sides due to the flick on by Italian captain Fabio Cannavaro.

However, Italy would soon level in the 29th minute when De Rossi's shirt was tugged, and the Italian theatrically went down into the box to be awarded a penalty. Vincenzo Iaquinta would calmly even the score, and from then on out it would be a dog fight for the Aussies.

Only having three shots the entire game, one from Chris Wood narrowly missing at the end of the game, New Zealand was constantly on the defensive. Big stops from skipper Ryan Nelson were integral, but even he could not outshine the brilliant display from New Zealand keeper Mark Paston, who would come up huge on numerous occasions, denying Iaquinta, Montolivo, and others as he managed to keep his team in the game.

This is the second draw for both teams this year at the finals, New Zealand having tied the struggling Slovakians, while Italy drew 1-1 to Paraguay.

Although the much needed Andreas Pirlo is likely to return against Slovakia, something all Italians will be relishing, number one keeper Buffon could be out for the rest of the world cup due to his back injury.

In truth, Italy dominated the entire game, having 23 shots, and controlling 72% of the possession, but they just could not break down the New Zealand defense.

Italy almost tied up the match in the 27th minute, when Montolivo drilled a shot into the post, and it would remain there best chance of all their shots throughout the match.

At the final whistle, players on both sides calmly exchanged jerseys, and shook each others hands, but around the world views on the game will not be taken so lightly. Italian fans are dreading a display that France did in 2002, when after winning both the World Cup and the European Championship, the team crashed out without scoring a goal. Italy now has two goals from both their games, but they will need to win their match against Slovakia in order to progress. Normally, that would seem like an easy prediction, but with the Azzuri struggling to find the back of the net, the result could be anyone's guess.

Game 27: Slovakia vs Paraguay

Paraguay went top of the table on Sunday after a comfortable 2-0 win over Europeans Slovenia.

With this win, South American teams are now 6-0-2 at the World Cup finals, being the most successful qualification region so far.

The first goal came in the 27th minute off of Enrique Vera, after a defensive mistake from Slovakia allowed a cross into the box, to which Vera deftly hit the ball with the outside of his foot to send it past goalkeeper Jan Mucha.

Following this goal Slovakia would try to push forward with a possession game, but due to many lapses in judgment they would once again find themselves out of the game in the 86th minute when Cristian Riveros would score Paraguay's second goal of the match.

Paraguay's next game is against New Zealand, and they must be feeling very confident about going through. Meanwhile Slovakia is hurting, with only one point in two games they will next take on defending champions Italy.

In all honesty, Paraguay were easily the better side. Having improved on their passing game from their first match against Italy, the South Africans rarely looked like they were in trouble.  Having double the amount of shots (15) than Slovakia (6), Paraguay was constantly on the offensive.

One thing they could really work on is attacking more down the sides, as they mostly just went straight through the middle. By going down the flanks the team could, in theory, get more corner kicks which would allow them some more set piece plays, opportunities that are much harder to defend against.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Game 26: Cameroon vs Denmark

Unfortunately I missed most of this game due to certain reasons, which is a shame because it looked like a good one from what I saw.

So instead, here is a link to ESPN soccernet:

... As it would be a shame for me to do a recap when I didn't see it.

Anyway, Cameroon is now eliminated, the first team in the tournament to crash out. Their loss also ensured that the Netherlands is the first team to go through.

For the first ever World Cup on African soil, the African teams sure are doing bad. I had Ghana and Cameroon to go through, the latter is eliminated, and the former might not even make it! Meanwhile South Africa and Nigeria have very little chance of going through. Ivory Coast may upset Portugal, but we will have to wait for the next two days to see.

Once again, my apologies, I'll be back tomorrow with all the recaps.

Game 25: Ghana vs Australia

Heartbreak for Australia, as they would lose yet another star player to a red card, as they would draw against Ghana 1-1 on Saturday.

Bret Holman would put the Socceroos up in the 11th minute, after yet another goalkeeper blunder, this time from Ghana's Kingston, as he failed to control a long distance shot, Holman playing the role as a true goal poacher, was able to jump onto the ball and calmly lob it into the net.

However, in the 24th minute, after a cross was played into the box and a shot from Jonathan Mensah would be blocked on the line from Harry Kewell's arm. The official did not hesitate and produced a straight red. This allowed Asamoah Gyan to score from the penalty marker a minute later, his second of the tournament, both off of Penalties. This was Kewell's first game back after having only played five minutes of football for any team since February.

Even though Australia was a man down, they looked like the better side for much of the second half. By controlling the possession and waiting for opportunities, they would trouble Ghana's defense.  Only in the last ten minutes did Ghana start to mount any kind of real opportunities, but sadly it all came a little to late.

Ghana now sit atop the group with four points, one ahead Germany who lost their game yesterday against Serbia. Australia, on the other hand, is bottom of the table with a single point from today's draw. However, both teams could still advance depending on the outcomes from other matches if they each win their games (or in the case of Ghana, win or draw).

Tim Cahill, who received Australia's first red-card in the opening match against Germany, will be returning for the teams' final match. Australian fans are praying he might be able to work some of his magic to net a win, and hopefully, put the team through after some disappointing first two matches.

Game 24: Netherlands vs Japan

The Netherlands and Japan both came into this game off of comfortable wins from their first matches, but it would be the Netherlands who would go atop the group with six points after coolly finishing off the Asian contenders 1-0 on Saturday.

The Netherlands dominated most of the match, but were unable to score many goals due to Japan's emulation of North Korea by placing six defenders behind the ball throughout most of the match. Playing a passing game, the Netherlands would patiently whittle away at Japan until the 53rd minute when Wesley Sneijder would score.

A blistering rocket of a shot, the keeper Eiji Kawashima would be fooled by the sudden spin of the ball, taking it slightly away from him only to blast off of his forearm and go into the back of the net.

Seeing themselves 1-0 down, Japan would begin to press by bringing in more attacking options, but very few of their shots would trouble the Dutch keeper Stekelenburg. With Japan trying to muster a goal, they would leave themselves vulnerable in the back, and substitute Ibrahim Afellay would have a couple one-on-one chances, the first in the 84th minute, and again in the 88th, but Kawashima would come up big to keep his team in the game.

Japan's best ever opportunity would sadly come at the very end of the match, when Shinji Okazaki would get onto the end of a brilliant crossing header and beat the defense, only to see his shot narrowly go over Stekelenburg's crossbar.

The Netherlands are now on a national-side record of ten straight wins, and will automatically qualify for the next round provided Cameroon and Denmark tie in their final match.

The Dutch were able to give a warning to teams at this years tournament, that even when going up against a solid defense, they still have the capability to score sudden and spectacular goals from range in the form of Sneijder and van der Vaart.  All in all, it was another solid performance by the Dutch, who maintained control of the ball and created a number of opportunities. The score could have easily been much higher if not for Kawashima's heroics, and if not for the trouble they had of having to navigate through a ten-man side defensive unit.

Netherlands is one of the favorites to contend for the title, and even though they have been runner-ups two times, once in 1974 and the following year 1978, they have never won the tournament. Could this year be different for Oranje?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Game 23: England vs Algeria

This has been a tough tournament for the Three Lions. Two successive draws in a row, with the team only having scored one goal in total, may spell doom for England after the 0-0 draw today against Algeria.

In truth, Algeria were the better team for much of the match. They connected their passes well, stood up to the tough English center-forwards, and made good runs on offense. Karim Ziani was a maestro on the offense, tormenting the English backline and constantly trying to set up opportunities for his fellow countrymen.

On the other side, Rooney could do very little. Because of the usual double-marking, Rooney had to constantly track back to the center of the field just to even get touches on the ball, something you generally don't want to see your central-forward and main goal-scoring machine doing.

"No excuses," said captain Steven Gerrard, "we weren't aggressive enough."

Constantly the English attackers would try to lay the ball off for each other, rather than going for goal on their own. The few times they did have shots on target, such as from Lampard, Gerrard, and Rooney, the ball had little strength behind it, making them comfortable saves for Algeria keeper Rais M'Bolhi.

Much like the United States, England now goes into their final game against Slovenia in a win-or-die situation. Even if England pull off a draw, they would more than likely not go through provided the Yanks also draw. If the United States win, England is out regardless, if the United States lose then England will go through with a win.

In other words: to move on, England has to win.

Algeria will be going into their final game against the United States with renewed confidence, and if they win then they could conceivably go through provided England also loses.

Group C is turning out to be one of the most exciting groups of this years tournament.

Game 22: Slovenia vs United States

On Friday the United States were able to pull off a dramatic come from behind effort to draw 2-2 against Slovenia. Coming in as favorites, the United States had to work hard to get back into the game, and would have won if not for some controversy on a disallowed goal.

For the first 45 minutes the United States could not muster any of their brilliance they displayed against England. The first wound would be inflicted in the 13th minute after Valter Birsa was left all alone on top of the 18 yard box, firing in a bending shot which would catch Tim Howard completely flat footed.

Having conceded a goal in the first 15 minutes for the second straight game the United States began to push, but would be caught on a counter-attack when Oguchi Onyewu was left standing in the open, allowing Zlatan Ljubijankic to slide in behind him in the 42nd minute to score in a one-on-one chance against Howard.

Going into half-time, the United States was trailing Slovenia, a country of only two million people, by a score of two to nil.

However, the United States would not be undone, and would put on display the best come-from-behind draw of the tournament thus far.

It would be non other than Landon Donovan, America's talisman, that would get the Yanks back in the game. After a long ball was played up the field, a Slovenian defender would have a lapse in judgment by missing the ball, allowing Donovan to gather and dribble into the box. Looking around, America's number 10 could find no open player at the front of goal; instead, he would carry the weight of the team, by going straight up to the Slovenian keeper and blasting a shot through his arms, burying it in the back of the net. The United States was back in the game.

From this point on, Slovenia would feel like they were being sucked in a hole. The Yanks would constantly press, coming close to equalizing numerous times from both Altidore and Donovan, the latter barely missing a cross from Dempsey. Then, in the 82nd minute, American fans around the world would go crazy, as Altidore would send in a header while Herculez Gomez (a sub in the 80th minute) would lead a defender away, allowing Michael Bradley to run onto the ball and blast it into the net, tying the game back up at 2-2.

Both sides would become desperate trying to push forward, and it would be in the 86th minute that a Donovan freekick delivered to Maurice Edu in the box would be scored! Then disallowed. The referee from Mali had called a foul on Edu which, upon further review of the replays, was completely unjustified. Maurice Edu would be guilty of doing nothing but slipping his man, without touching him, to connect with a strong volley. Highlight reels will be showing this one for years to come, as the game will go down as one of the best come-from-behind victory-draw's ever.

I'm not sure what the call was.” Stated Landon Donovan at the end of the match. “He wouldn't tell us what the call was.”

Coach Bradley, father of Michael Bradley who scored the equalizer was also confused: “We still don't know what the call was for” said the coach, “it's too early to tell so soon after the game.”
Regardless, the United States still came away with an excellent result, keeping them alive in the tournament. Had they lost, they would easily be facing elimination.

This now sets up some different scenarios. Regardless of other results, the United States has to win against Algeria in their final game. Then, if England beats Algeria later today, and then goes on to beat Slovenia, the United States will be through in second. If England ties or loses to Algeria, then ties or loses to Slovenia, the United States would go through in either first or second, depending on goal differential. If England beat Algeria, then tie Slovenia (or the other way around), then the United States will face goal differential against both the English and Slovenia.

Regardless, the game against Algeria is now a must win situation, the rest is up to fate.

Game 21: Serbia vs Germany

This would be a game dictated by the official, something a fan never likes to see.

Serbia would score the only goal of the match in the 38th minute when Milan Jovanovic would get onto a loose ball in the box, sliding it past the German goalkeeper.

The goal came shortly after Miroslav Klose had recieved his second yellow card (the sixth yellow in the first quarter of the game), to send the goal-scoring giant to the locker room. The sad thing is, is both fouls were rather tame, certainly not card worthy.

As a result of so many cards, Germany would not be able to play their usual physical game, for fear of later suspensions. They did, however, have a few chances. Sami Khedira, at the stroke of half-time would volley in a rocket of a shot, only to see it smack against the crossbar.

Then in the 60th minute Germany would be given a penalty kick, after a Vidic hand-ball in the box. However, Lucas Podolski would fail to deliver the shot, with Vladimir Stojkovic of Serbia coming up with a tremendous save.

The game would end Serbia 1 - 0 Germany.

Hopefully Germany can put this loss behind them, as they were very unfortunate with the amount of cards they received. However, with their extreme talent and desire, I can easily envision Germany still going through to the knockout stages. To do so they will need to win their last game against Ghana, then hope that either Ghana or Serbia lose one match, as Australia would need to overcome a lot of goal differential to edge out Germany for a spot to move on.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Game 20: France vs Mexico

First, let me start with this: Thank you Mexico for having the best fans in the world! Now, before I have my United States citizenship revoked, let me explain. This world cup has been dominated by one sound, the dreaded vuvuzela, and lacking a historic football theme, singing! But the Mexican fans changed this, instead of the vuvuzela, we heard chanting, instead of a bee-hive we heard cheering, drums, we saw passion and I loved it. So thank you Mexico fans, now please attend every match as the minority!


Today, Mexico took on France, and re-wrote history as they routed les Bleus 2-0 to come within a whisker of reaching the knockout stages.

With the defeat of France, Mexico snapped some interesting losing streaks. For one, the country has never beaten France; two, until today Mexico had never defeated a country that has won the World Cup. Sure, those facts may only interest the statistic snobs, but it does show growth for Mexican football, demonstrating how they can take on the world's elite teams.

When Javier Hernandez came on as a substitute to score Mexico's first goal in the 64th minute, by beating the off-sides trap to stage a one-on-one with Hugo Lloris, he became the second person in his family to score against France, after his Grandfather had done it previously. The second goal from Blanco, scored in the 79th minute on a penalty, is also important because in doing so he became the third oldest player to have ever scored in the World Cup finals, at the ripe young age of  thirty-seven.

And finally, the most important record setter, Mexico's win over France has essentially kicked hosts South Africa out of the tournament, when previously a host nation has never failed to make it out of the group stage. The reason I said Mexico did this, instead of Uruguay, is because South Africa does still have an extreme outside shot of qualifying, provided they beat France. However, now France has to really lay the 'smack-down' on the hosts to have any chance of qualifying, and when France get cornered, they often deliver, in some form or another (*ahem*, playoff against Ireland).

Mexico now go into their final game against Uruguay only needing a draw to qualify for the second round. With Argentina knocking on the door, and a tie meaning Mexico draws the South Americans, I expect the Mexicans to come out firing on all cylinders in an effort to win, and therefore draw one of the weaker teams from Group B (see: South Korea or Greece).

All in all, Mexico played spectacular football today. The link up play was spectacular, the attackers ran at the defenders, the defenders held off the attackers, you name it and Mexico did it; well, they could have finished their shooting more, but that is the story of this World Cup and a tale for another time.

I actually am terrified of Mexico's future team, with the likes of Dos Santos, Chicharito, and co., Mexico have a solid platform to build for the future. So whether win or lose in the next stage, I expect good things to come from my southern neighbor.

Did I mention Mexican fans are the best?

Game 19: Greece vs Nigeria

Well, it seems yet another African side is out of the world cup, after Nigeria was defeated 2-1 by Europeans Greece.

Sani Kaita received a straight red card in the 33rd minute, after lashing out with a shove and kick to a Greek player. Even though Nigeria had been leading up until this point, after a goal by Kalu Uche in the 16th minute, from a free kick, the team would seem to lose their spirit, and succumb to the Greek onslaught.

Greece would go on to receive their first ever win at a World Cup finals, when Salpingidis would score in the 44th minute when his long-range shot would deflect off of a Nigerian defender. Later in the 71st minute Torosidis would notch the sides second, after Enyeama bobbled a shot, allowing the Greek player to tap the ball in.

All in all this was probably the correct score for the game. Nigeria do not seem to be at full fitness, as two players, Taiwo and his replacement Echiejilie, would both be subbed off due to injury. The Nigerians just could not seem to muster any sort of attack, which left them at the mercy of the Greeks, who fought hard to take advantage of the Super Eagles only playing with ten men.

If either of these two teams go through in second place (something Nigeria probably will not do outside of a miracle) it will be an easy game for the team that draws them, as neither team is really that impressive in attack, and their defense is mild at best. Because of this, I still fancy South Korea to move on, regardless of their loss today, as I think they will have no problems against the demoralized Nigerians.

Game 18: Argentina vs South Korea

Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina netted the first hat-trick of this years World Cup finals as his team went on to beat South Korea 4-1 on Thursday.

Both teams were coming off comfortable wins from the first week, and knew that a win in today's game would more than likely send them through to the second round.

The scoring opened up off of a South Korea own goal, when a cross into the box went off of striker Park Chu-Young's shin and into the net. Seventeen minutes later Higuain would score his first goal on the afternoon after another set piece play was layed off for Maxi Rodriquez who whips the ball into the box, and Burdisso gets the flick on to find Hiquain at the back post who taps it in for the teams second goal.

Argentina were looking to go into half-time with a two goal lead until Demichelis mis-controlled a header in the 46th minute, Lee Chung-Yong would run onto it and easily beat the keeper to get South Korea back into the game.

At the start of the second half Argentina were desperate to extend their lead, with a flurry of shots from Tevez at range, and Higuain with a point-blank volley, but the South Korean keeper Sung-Ryung comes up big to keep his team in the game.

South Korea would have the chance to equalize, when Ki-Hun would be fed a beautiful through ball, but he attempts to shoot with the outside of his foot, sending the ball harmlessly wide of the post in a wasted opportunity.

From here on out South Korea would be able to produce very little. Higuain would get his second goal in the 76th minute after Lionel Messi would make a brilliant run through the defense, taking a shot which is stopped by the goalie, then following up and rattling the post, the ball would come to the feet of Higuain at the back post who taps the ball in. His hat-trick goal, the first of these finals, would be scored in the 80th minute after heading in a cross, sending the ball back across the face of goal and past the goalkeepers reach.

Jonas Gutierrez would be unfortunate to pick up a yellow card during the match, his second of the group stage, which means he will be suspended for Argentina's final game against Greece.

Walter Samuel would also be substituted off in the first half with what appeared to be a hamstring injury, it is unclear how serious the injury is and if he will factor in Argentina's next game.

Argentina looked very good this match, linking up very well with each other, particularly between the three strikers of Tevez, Higuain, and Messi.  They will hope to keep this form down the line as they come up against defensive minded Greece, which will be played at Peter Mokaba Stadium, June 22nd.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Game 17: South Africa vs Uruguay

I'm feeling a bit under the weather, so I'll summarize this game really quickly.

Diego Forlan is amazing, easily the hardest worker, and deserved his goals.
Luis Suarez is a diver (I counted about three, including the last one). Poor South Africa.

Final score, Uruguay 3 - 0 South Africa.
Goals by Forlan (2), and Perelra.

Game 16: Spain vs Switzerland

Today Switzerland made history by beating Spain, with a score of 1-0, for the first time ever in the first week of World Cup play at Durban Stadium, continuing their streak of five world cup games in a row without having conceded a single goal.

Spain, who dominated almost every faucet of the game, would be unable to score against the Swiss, who's aggressive and indomitable defense would prove too much for the possession based Spaniards. Committing 19 fouls and only controlling 26% of the possession, Switzerland was constantly on the defensive, but in the 52nd minute they would capitalize on one of only a few chances, when Gelson Fernandes would score with a tap in after some sloppy defense from the Spanish side, which allowed a Switzerland attacker a one-on-one chance with Iker Casillas. Casillas would miss the ball with his feet, but knocking the attacker over, which created a loose ball for Fernandes to jump onto.

Spain would try to rally themselves, by bringing on more attacking options in Fernando Torres, Jesus Navas, and Pedro, and although the substitutes had an immediate effect, they would constantly find themselves coming up short. As the minutes passed by, Switzerland would constantly put more bodies behind the goal as Spain would tally for a total of twenty-five shots, but only five on target. The Goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, of Switzerland, would have a very impressive game, making many game saving plays, against such players as Torres, Pique, and Iniesta.

Spain's best chance was in the 70th minute, when a corner kick was layed off for Xabi Alonso, who would strike the ball with a vengeance only to see it smash against the crossbar. In the last ten minutes Spain would become desperate, constantly attacking and keeping the ball in Switzerland's third of the field for the majority of the time. Unfortunately for la Furia Roja, the final whistle would blow, giving Switzerland the first major upset and giant-killing of the tournament.

Andres Iniesta, a player already dealing with injury problems, was substituted off in the 77th minute, adding to the woes of the Spanish Team.

Spain next play Honduras on June the 21st at Ellis Park, while Switzerland will play Chile, also on the 21st, at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

It would seem that the Spanish Coach did not know what to fully expect when facing the Swiss, because I don't believe the 4-5-1 formation, with David Villa as the lone striker, works against a solid defense such as Switzerland. Instead, Spain should have started with the partnership of Villa and Torres so they could work off of each other, and help pull defenders away. Even if Torres was hurt, Navas or Pedro would have been suitable replacements. Ultimately, Spain got a little unlucky, as Switzerland was able to capitalize on their only real chance. As a result Spain will need to really redress their ranks, with the midfielders in particular working on their shooting.

Switzerland is a defensive team, but they got lucky this game, having scored a goal to get the win instead of a draw. Without Alexander Frei due to injury, the Swiss will really have to start attacking, instead of sitting back and defending constantly. All in all, the Swiss may have been completely dominated, but they still won, that is the nature of football.

Game 15: Honduras vs Chile

Group H kicked off today with Honduras taking on the South Americans Chile. Chile would dominate the game, frustrating Honduras as the Central American team would be unable to find an equalizer.

Jean Beausejour would score the only goal on the night in the 34th minute, after a lovely through ball that sent him through on goal, allowing the Chilean to tap the ball in to the near post, fooling the goalkeeper as he went the other way.

Chile would have many other chances on goal, particularly from the fast play of number seven, Alexis Sanchez, who proved to be a nightmare for the Honduran defense.

Honduras would desperately try to gain possession of the ball, but up against a strong willed and organized Chile, they would have very few chances, ending with only one touch and one shot inside the penalty box. The best effort came in the injury time of the first half, when Nunez would strike a freekick which would have to be quickly tapped over the net by Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, who actually had very little to do on the night.

Chile next take on Switzerland, and Honduras are up against Spain, both games being on Monday, the 21st of June.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Game 14: Brazil vs North Korea

Today Brazil, the world number one, faced off against virtual un-knowns North Korea, who are currently ranked number 105, according to FIFA.  Brazil would have many chances, but against the stalwart defense of Korea, they would find themselves struggling to score goals.

The scoring opened up in the 55th minute when Maicon of Brazil would fool the goalkeeper, Ri Myong-Guk, by pretending to send in a cross, only for the ball to sneak in the near post. Later, in the 72nd minute Brazil would once again capitalize, on a rare North Korean defensive mistake, after Robinho neatly threaded the ball onto an onrushing Elano, who would calmly net Brazil's second of the evening.

However, North Korea, not to go away completely empty-handed, would shock the samba footballers by netting their own goal in the 89th minute, after Ji Yun-Nam was able to navigate his way through the mass of yellow jersey's to score a very pretty strike. The final score would end 2-1, with the Brazilian's narrowly coming away with a victory.

It was clear from the beginning that North Korea were going to focus on defense, allowing Brazil to control seventy-three percent of the possession, and weathering twenty-six shots, the vast majority of which would be blocked or sail harmlessly wide. North Korea did show moments of brilliance on the attack, when the opportunity presented itself, in the form of Jong Tae-Se, who would routinely get around the big Brazilian defender Lucio. Not to be outdone, Robinho of Brazil would be a true workhorse, not only getting an assist on the night, but creating many other chances in between his narrow misses on goal.

Although North Korea began with a 3-4-3 lineup card (insert: as displayed on my TV, and commented on by the announcers), they played it more as a 6-3-1 throughout most of the match, something they are well known for. This daunting defensive wall would cause many headaches for the Brazilians, but ultimately they would come away with the win.

Brazil will really have a lot to work on if they hope to win this tournament. The tough defensive play of North Korea could certainly be a reason for the slow start, but when one takes into account that Brazil had twenty-six shots, but only two goals, shows how much Brazil needs to work on their finishing. There are several reason for this. First, Brazil played almost exclusively down the middle, which clearly does not work when the opposition clogs it with defenders, instead they should have focused on the sides of the pitch, where they would have the opportunity to take defenders on one-on-one. Secondly, Kaka and Luis Fabiano were no where to be found this match. With the two players only combining for three shots throughout the game. To fix this Brazil will need to focus on feeding the ball to these players more, instead of their defenders and wingers taking ninety percent of all the shots.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised by North Korea, besides there one thousand hired Chinese Nationals (who were payed to act as North Korean fans), they did have a couple players that impressed me. Notably Jong Tae-Se who plays his club ball in Japan. He had some amazing moves, and really troubled the Brazilian defense. I still have no belief that North Korea will move on, and let's face it, six defenders is extremely boring to watch, but if they want to score goals then Tae-Se is their man.

Game 13: Ivory Coast vs Portugal

When Christiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba play, there are two things that are certain, lots of spectacular diving, and lots of spectacular shots, the fact that there were very few of the latter can tell you pretty much how this game went.

Ending in a 0-0 draw, Ivory Coast looked the be the better of the two sides. They constantly pressed their offense while still maintaining a strong defense, two basic but integral parts of any successful team. In truth, it appeared that Portugal were playing for a nil-nil draw, as they did not look very impressive, certainly not as good as teams long since passed.

An interesting thing about this game was the officiating, especially in the first half. Up until this point the officials had been impeccable, utterly beyond criticism, but the Uruguayan official today missed quite a few calls. In the opening three minutes Ronaldo took a dive after not being touched, it fooled the official and Portugal was awarded a spot-kick, along with Zokora receiving a yellow-card. A little while later in the 21st minute, Ronaldo would be clearly fouled, and after the official gave to order to play on some arguing would ensure that would not only see Demel (the man who committed the foul) booked, but also Ronaldo. This would continue into the second half after some reckless and dangerous tackles from both sides would be overlooked, I pray this official improves as each team was denied some valuable free kicks. The final highlight was at the very end of the game when Ivory Coast plays a short corner, only to hear the official blow the whistle to end the game. Maybe the rules of officiating have changed, but you never blow the final whistle on an advantageous possession chance.

The best chance for Portugal would be from the 11th minute after an absolutely beautiful run of play shot from Christiano Ronaldo would collide off of the post. Many fans had been waiting for someone to do well with the much criticized Jabulani ball, and Ronaldo did not disappoint. For Ivory Coast it would come in stoppage time when Didier Drogba just missed out on getting his foot wrapped around the ball, after having been played into the box from a lovely through ball.

In order for Ivory Coast to improve they would need to be a little less aggressive in terms of challenges, otherwise they would be risking a lot of yellow cards. Furthermore, they must practice their finishing, as there were some amazing goal chances, but the shot takers would kick the ball right at Eduardo, Portugal's goalkeeper.

Portugal on the other hand has a lot of work to do. They were not aggressive enough in their counterattacks, relying, it seems, to much on Christiano Ronaldo to see them through. If Portugal wants to advance then they will need to have some players step up to score and run at defenders, a very disappointing game from the former semi-finalists.

Game 12: New Zealand vs Slovakia

Alexi Lalas, a match analysis for ESPN, said ahead of this game that New Zealand need to prove that they deserve to be at this World Cup. Allow me to disagree with him for a moment. The Oceania qualification group has rather slim pickings, and since Australia moved to the Asian confederacy, the door has been pretty much left open for the Kiwis, who after winning the vast majority of the games faced a playoff against Bahrain. Well Alexi, who would you prefer? New Zealand or Bahrain, neither are terribly impressive teams. To imply that New Zealand does not deserve to be at this tournament is a little condescending, especially after the game they had today.

New Zealand claimed they would not just play defensively, that they would come out and attack, and attack they did, amassing the same number of shots on goal as their opponents Slovakia, at two each, going practically fifty-fifty on possession, and constantly pushing. The Kiwis also put out a really good defense, that halted a lot of Slovakia's goal-scorers, albeit not completely when Robert Vittik would score a header from a routine cross in the 50th minute. After replays, it was shown that Vittik and another Slovakian player were offsides, but that is the nature of football.

After this goal Slovakia would calm down a bit, starting to connect their passing more in an effort to maintain possession while waiting for an opening. However, New Zealand would not provide one, and would keep battling hard down to the final minute, when in the last thirty seconds of stoppage time the defender Winston Reid would head the ball off of a brilliant Smeltz cross, catching all the defenders off guard.  Poor Slovakia, playing in their first ever World Cup as their own nation, just narrowly missed out on a win, but New Zealand would not give up and deserved this draw.

How about now Alexi? Good enough for you?

Final Score: New Zealand 1 - 1 Slovakia

Monday, June 14, 2010

Game 11: Italy vs Paraguay

It's a shame that the first week of this World Cup Finals has been blighted by goalkeeper mistakes, as fans just narrowly missed out on their first giant killing.

The first game in group F was played out today, and both Italy and Paraguay were hungry for a victory. There was heavy rain on the day, but both sides managed to keep their footing throughout the match; although it would seem the gloom would hang over the Italian side for a while to come.

Coming into the finals, Paraguay has been having problems scoring, combined with Italy being notorious for normally playing a defensive game, it was interesting to see both teams attacking early, trying to get that go-ahead goal.  In the 23rd minute Paraguay would have the first chance on goal, with a brilliant link-up play to Torres, but he would unfortunately put the ball wide of the net. Following this Italy would begin to press, but Paraguay's defense would hold strong, denying the defending champions after they had three corner kicks in a row.

The first goal of the game would occur in the the 39th minute, when Alcaraz would get onto the end of a brilliantly placed spot kick, and head the ball into the net, rising above two Italian defenders. The Azzuri were stunned, and you could notice they were hanging their heads. After constant pressing which saw Paraguay defending for their lives, Italy would finally get the equalizer from de Rossi, who would would score off a corner, when the Paraguayan keeper Vellar would make a huge mistake in the 63rd minute.

Unfortunately, Italy would be unable to find another goal. Even more unfortunate, Italy is already without star Andreas Pirlo, but now they may be without the world number one keeper, Gianluigi Buffon, who had to be substituted off at half due to back pains. Buffon had little to do all match, so hopefully this is not some pre-existing condition, otherwise Italy will have a tough time in future games without their starting keeper.

This match is interesting because the passing completion was one of the worst in World Cup history, with both teams only combining for a total of 67%. This could be attributed to the tough defense played by both sides, to the wet conditions, but a lot of it still has to come down to the players. Constantly throughout the match both teams would have problems finding space, resorting to a lot of unnecessary fouls. Thankfully, the Mexican official was able to keep the game going at a smooth pace.

This is certainly not the Italy who won the World Cup four years ago. They just didn't seem to have the pace that would allow them to perform their notorious counter attacks, but they also lacked the awareness to execute many of their set pieces. If Italy wants to go further they will have to work on their passing, for a defensively minded possession team, they did not perform to their best. By maintaining possession they will have more chances to play their strikers, or for their wingers to make runs, allowing them more chances on goal.

Paraguay actually played very well, as well as you would expect for Paraguay, anyway. They have never been a team that is great at scoring, and they showed that today, but they did play defense very well, halting many of the Italian's attacks before they could reach the penalty area. Starting with Roque Santa Cruz may be more desirable, as he was able to create a couple chances for Paraguay in the second half, something they were lacking initially. As with Italy, they will also need to work on their passing.

Game 10: Japan vs Cameroon

Congratulations to Japan for nabbing their first ever World Cup win on foreign soil, as they were able to do it with a solid performance.

Cameroon, it seems, did not show up to this match until the final fifteen minutes when they started to become desperate. Yet Japan would hold them, mounting a spectacular defense to halt the likes of Mbia and Eto'o.

The first half would prove to be really slow going, while both teams tried to get into a rhythm. Similar to the Algeria vs Slovenia game, both teams began very cautious, trying to find openings in the defenses. Cameroon, however, was starting to struggle. They were not able to connect their passes, as Japan would start to solidify the middle. Having rarely pressed throughout most of the match, Japan would get the deciding goal after Matsui sends in a beautiful cross to Honda on the back post, completely unmarked, and slots it into the net at the 39 minute mark.

With a goal in hand, Japan would sit on the lead, having literally no shots in the second half of the game. Cameroon would keep trying to press, but with a horrible 4-3-3 formation, the indomitable lions would resort to playing a long-ball game, belting the ball up the field and hoping a teammate would get onto it.

This long-ball game would result in quite a few shots; however, most would be off target, and those that were on target would be right at the goalkeeper Kawashima, who would make a couple good saves. Cameroon's best chance would come in the 86th minute, when Mbia would shoot a bullet, only to see it rattle off of the woodwork, poor guy.

To improve, Cameroon will probably need to revert to a 4-4-2 formation, with Eto'o up front and not stuck in the middle. Additionally, the team will need to practice their first touch, and gain some confidence when challenging for fifty-fifty balls, the lack of those two essential abilities is one reason Japan was able to create a strong defense. Unfortunately, after this game I feel it could be all over for the Indomitable Lions. With Netherlands and Denmark to come, both teams which I believe are vastly superior, Cameroon is going to have a horrendous time. My initial bracket is all messed up now.

For Japan, well, I bet they are extremely happy. The coach had some lofty ideals of making it to the quarter-finals, but the rest of the nation would have been happy with a win, and they got it! Anything else now will just be gravy, I believe. But expect Japan to be riding the high and fight hard against their next two opponents.

Game 9: Netherlands vs Denmark

The Orange army was out in force for this game, but what they would witness was Holland narrowly edging out Denmark.

Denmark proved to be equal to the task of taking on one of the favorites, mounting an astounding defense that would frustrate the Dutch. Holland started with van Persie, Kuyt, Sneijder, and v. der Vaart as their top four, and although those are some quality players, they were really missing some speed, especially in the form of Arjen Robben; however, they would find their answer later in the second half.

For the first half the Dutch were having a very hard time creating chances. Although they were moving the ball well, it was not fast enough, allowing the Danes to quickly restructure and react. Nerves also got the better of the Netherlands in the beginning, when some bad passing would allow Denmark to mount some counter-attacks, some being more successful than others. Things were looking bad for the offensive minded Dutch until they got some breathing room in the 46th minute when Paulson, a Danish defender, would accidentally head the ball into his own net.

Slowly but surely Denmark would start to crumble, while Holland would keep pressing. It was not until the 67th minute, however, when Elia came on for v. der Vaart that Holland would finally start to get some results for their efforts. His impact was immediate, turning defenders on the flank, putting balls into the middle with solid crosses, and just completely dominating the Danish defense. Elia brought some speed to the pitch, something the Dutch were lacking without Arjen Robben. This speed would pay off as Elia would sneak behind the Danish defense, after a wonderful through ball from Sneijder,  and take a poke at the ball, sending it around the keeper Sorenson, only to hit the post; fortunately, Dirk Kuyt was there to tap it into the goal, yielding the final score of 2-0 in favor of the Netherlands.

If I may be bold, I think Elia should start. Van der Vaart is a natural candidate for replacement as he constantly played out of position. Instead of being on the left where he was supposed to be, he would drift into the middle. This would be detrimental to Wesley Sneijder who needs that space in the middle to be at his best, instead Sneijder would constantly be clogged, and unable to perform because v. der Vaart would track to many defenders in. Additionally, having someone who is extremely fast and able to run at defenders is very important for most teams, and the Dutch were lacking that until Elia came in. The reason I want Sneijder to stay in, even though this match was less than stellar for him, is because if he is not clogged up then he has the potential to be brilliant, sadly Raphael and Wesley did not click this game. I was really impressed by this kid, he brought some life to the team.

For Denmark, don't be dis-heartened! You may have lost, but you performed very well, much better than I expected. If the Danes are able to work on their counterattacks, they could easily go through the group in second place. Work on feeding Bendtner a bit more, and the man will score some goals, as he came very close a few times today. Their defense was impeccable, one of the best at the tournament so far. Plus they had Sorenson behind them, who came up with some really big saves. I was really impressed by Denmark this game.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Game 8: Germany vs Australia

Poor Australia.
The socceroos went into the tournament with high hopes, but after tonights game, they will have to be fighting for their lives to survive. The situation becomes even more desperate now that Tim Cahill will have to serve a two match ban, after having received a straight red on a rather innocent tackle. Yes, it was from behind, but please, there was no malice in the challenge, a simple yellow-card would have done. I will say it again, poor Australia.

Germany were easily the better team in this match. Touted by the German media as not being a real contender this year, due to their young age and inexperience, the team were able to silence their critics with a comfortable four-nil win.

The ability in which they moved the ball around the field was breathtaking, constantly switching sides and attacking from new angles. Lahm proved to be a very effective captain as he kept his back-line rock solid, never really allowing Australia a chance on goal.

The scoring opened up in the eighth minute off of a Lukas Podolski bullet, after a crisp back pass from Muhller. From then on fans could tell this would be an easy game for the Germans. Then by the twenty-second minute, Klose would score, finally after having failed some clear goal-scoring chances, off of a header to put the game completely out of the socceroos hands. Final goals by Muhller in the sixty-seventh minute, and by Cacau in the seventieth minute would seal the deal.

All in all, the Germans were perfect all around; however, the same can not be said for Australia. The team started out well, but after the second goal it just seemed like they were not in the game. Germany was constantly able to make runs behind the back four and get chances as the Australians were just too slow to react with their back line. It seemed like they were trying to create an off-sides trap, but against seasoned players in a top flight, it just didn't work, instead they should probably try staggering themselves in the future. By doing so the Australians would have better vision of the attackers, allowing them to react a split-second faster on the break away runs.

Midfield was also a large issue, with the team not being able to string together passes. This was mostly a confidence and temperament issue. They were becoming frustrated too easily, and that frustration led to mistakes, bad touches, and the tendency to blame others for their own shortcomings. Since the team is now without Cahill, who is amazing at finding and creating space, the Australians will really need to practice feeding the ball to each other, as the replacement strikers will not be as experienced.

Excellent showing by the Germans, easily the best team in the tournament so far. I only hope Australia is able to put this game behind them and bounce back.

Game 7: Serbia vs Ghana

Let me begin by saying I am now a Ghana fan. The fans were great, they played attractive soccer, but most of all, the kids were happy to be there. From the moment of the national anthems, down to the final whistle there were constant smiles all around, the thoughts of "amazing, we get to play in the World Cup!" circulating through the team, the team played with heart, and I commend them for that.

Now on to the analysis.

Despite the low score, and the two non-powerhouse teams, this was a very exciting game. Both sides were hungry for a victory, and unlike the game right before (see Algeria vs Slovenia), Ghana and Serbia kept pushing against each other, taking shots, creating breakaways, excellent spot kicks, you name it and there it was. However, what kept this game from easily being a four to three scoreline was the tremendous defense from both sides.

Gyan through on goal? Vidic heroically steps in front and clears the ball. Zigic trying to head the ball off of a cross? Mensah is equal to it. Now, I expected a tough defense from Serbia, but Ghana surprised me. Without Essien I thought the youthful bunch would be an attacking nightmare, but they were very balanced.

Unfortunately for Serbia, they were to become victimized when Lukovic received a second yellow in the seventy-fifth minute, dropping Serbia down to ten men. Ghana would take advantage and keep pressing, until finally Serbia made a mistake, when Kuzmanovic executes a clear hand ball on a ball lobbed into the box, immediately the referee calls for the penalty, which Gyan scores with ease.

Poor Serbia will be disappointed by this result, but they should take pride in that they did play well. There only main weakness was their lack for goalscoring, with the six-foot-eight Zigic having little to no impact on the game. Ghana on the other hand still had the occasional defensive lapse, but that could be chalked up to first-game nerves. However, on the whole, I was very impressed by both teams, it's a shame that with Germany in the group that only one of these teams will be likely to make it to the second round.

Final Score: Serbia 0 - 1 Ghana

Welcome to the World Bee-hive

Now i'm the type of person that likes to hear the crowd, I like to hear the oohs and aahs, the cheers and boos. But there is one device that is preventing that, the hated vuvuzela. Dubbed the "soundtrack to the World Cup", South African fans pleaded with FIFA to allow the instruments to be used, and FIFA gave in.

What a horrible mistake.

The vuvuzela could possibly be the most obnoxious sound I have heard in a while, and it is everywhere now. At every game, the constant droning sound is present. Behind all the commentary, the vuvuzelas are heard. During national anthems, people blow their horns, so disrespectful!

Please FIFA, I plead to you, ban these instruments from the ground (except for maybe South Africa games), they have been a blight on this world cup.

Game 6: Algeria vs Slovenia

There actually ins't much to say about this game, I'm sorry to say, as I was really looking forward to it.

With the draw between England and the United States, both teams were extremely cautious, playing defensive soccer for the full ninety minutes. There were very few shots on goal, with Algeria and Slovenia only having two and three respectively, almost all coming from counterattacks and set pieces. Eventually, Robert Koren would score in the seventy-ninth minute, off of yet another horrible goalkeeping mistake.

However, there was a historical moment worth noting from this match, as Abdelkader Ghezzal became the fastest red card for a substitute coming off of the bench. Substituted in the fifty-eighth minute for Djebbour, he would receive his first yellow one minute later. Then in the seventy-third minute he would find himself diving for a lobbed ball, only to, stupidly, reach out with his hand to bring it down in the box. The referee did not hesitate, giving Ghezzal a second yellow and sending him off of the pitch.

Even though Algeria was one man down, they continued to push at times, stretching themselves very thin. Ultimately a quick Slovenia counter-attack, and a horrible save later, Slovenia would find themselves to be the winners.

In the end, neither team looked terribly impressive, they didn't play the game they typically do, instead playing very cautiously. Now Slovenia will have some momentum heading into their match with England, sitting atop the group and therefore forcing the Three Lions to come at the defense in order to win. By doing so, Slovenia will be hoping to pull the English defense so far up that they can send one of their strikers running, and possibly get a goal or two to pull off another draw.

Algeria on the other hand is now in a difficult position. If they want to continue on then they will need to beat a very tough United States team, something I don't think they will be able to do.

Ultimately, both these teams proved today that they are the minnows of the group, and I will be utterly shocked if either advance. A very disappointing match.

Final Score: Algeria 0 - 1 Slovenia

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Game 5: England vs United States

What an excellent way for the United States to start off the World Cup campaign. The players had been speaking very positively throughout the week leading up to the match and they did deliver, but through a tough drawn out fight.

Almost instantly into the match, England went ahead in the fourth minute as Heskey linked up to Gerrard, creating a beautiful give and go against a flat footed US defense. Many people were still settling into their seats, taking a sip of their drink, chatting with other attendees when the goal happened, catching literally everyone off guard. However, the men of the US were not phased.

The United States started to kick into action, and the midfield performed very well, outshining England's superstars for most of the match. They provided good feeds, made good runs, and really just ran around Milner, Lennon, and Lampard, but out of all of them, Dempsey would be the golden boy for the team. In the fortieth minute he would take a hard shot at goal from outside the eighteen yard box, and Robert Green would commit an error so great that it will go down in history, an error so bad that the tabloids will beat him senseless. What should have been an easy scoop up instead ran right past the goalkeepers gloves, and I'm sure in slow motion for everyone watching, crawling it's way into the net. The United States had just equalized against England.

The rest of the match would see both sides continuously pushing, both wanting to come away with a win. England would have a glorious chance in the fifty-second minute when Heskey gets clear of the defense only to see his shot saved by Tim Howard, who made himself huge to block the shot. Thirteen minutes later Jozy Altidore would respond, by leaving Jamie Carragher in the dust to put a low-near-post shot on goal, which Robert Green just manages to knock off the post. These back and forth attacks would continue for the rest of the game, but ultimately England would be disappointed, as the United States came out with a big draw against one of the toughest teams in the world.

There are obviously some big questions concerning this match. Firstly, did the United States deserve this draw? The answer has to be 'yes'. The combination of Findley, Clark, Dempsey, and Donovan was fantastic. These guys worked their butts off, and performed a passing game that put the England midfield to shame. Don't forget Cherundolo either, who ran around Milner and Wright-Phillips like they were simple ball-boys getting in the way. Even Lampard, one of the top midfielders in the world, failed to show up all game, being completely outshines by the United States opposition. These guys worked hard, and although the goal came off of a mistake, it was deserved, because they kept pressing and pressing, never giving in to defeat. They were hungry for a victory and made sure England could not get their way.

However, the United States defense did seem to be an issue in comparison to England's. Whereas John Terry was strong and confident, Oguchi Onyewu was slow to react and cautious. DeMerit may have done a good job marking Rooney, but Rooney was also never fed the ball to actually attack, but when somebody else would leap into the box, such as a Heskey or a Lennon, DeMerit would not react to them. Coach Bradley will have a lot of work to do heading into the next games to make his defense ready, and maybe consider benching Onyewu because he does not seem to be fully fit. Regardless, on a whole it was still an excellent showing, and the United States men's national team should be proud of themselves.

Final Score: England 1 - 1 United States

Game 4: Argentina vs Nigeria

Have you hugged your goalkeeper today? That is the message the people of the world will be conveying to the Nigerian fans, as Vincent Enyeama is the only reason the Nigerians did not succumb to a goal-fest loss.

In the third minute, Nigeria had an excellent chance on goal, when Obassi sent the Argentinian defense to school, performing a wonderful step-over/side-step move to kick a cross into the box, but no Nigerian striker could get to the end of it. The Africans were showing heart, and I was applauding them, until it all went downhill, when in the sixth minute Veron took a corner, finding a completely unmarked Heinze who netted the ball with an incredible header.

Similar to the Greeks in the earlier game, this was the moment the Nigerians just could not get back into the game. Having to come back from a goal down forced the Super Eagles to become desperate, they constantly tried to push but would spread themselves out to easily, allowing a lot of Argentinian counterattacks to take advantage. The game should have been two-nil in the eighteenth minute when world player of the year Lionel Messi let fly a spectacular upper-corner shot that was only stopped from the flying Enyeama.

For the rest of the game Nigeria could not muster any sort of attack, resorting to desperate shots from outside of the box. Meanwhile Argentina kept pressing, but kept being denied either by Enyeama, or from poor shooting. Messi had many chances on goal, and should have scored a couple, maybe he really does under-perform for his country. In terms of the other strikers, Tevez did not have many chances at shooting, turning more into the playmaker, but he did slot some excellent passes. Hiquain on the other hand was a major disappointment, scuffing his shots, failing his runs, producing some bad passing, he was a natural candidate to be substituted first.

In terms of what to work on, Jonas Gutierrez, although an excellent full-back for Newcastle United, had a few weak points this game, allowing himself to be bullied off of the ball. Against South Korea this should not be an issue, but against the Greeks and in later stages this could become a problem. Secondly, the team needs to finish their shooting. Just like Mexico, the team did well in almost every situation, except score. Certainly the heroics of Enyeama can account for some of the blame, but there were a few chances that should have been goals, no excuses.

For the Super Eagles, well, they have the been one of the biggest disappointments in this tournament so far. They seemed to have a mentality like they didn't care anymore, being very flat footed the entire game, and their captain, Yobo, not shouting enough directions. Naturally these problems will have to be addressed in training or Nigeria will have a very short tournament. But first thing first, someone buy Enyeama a drink, he worked his butt off and seemed to be the only Nigerian (although you could argue for Yakubu and Martins) that wanted to win.

Final Score: Argentina 1 - 0 Nigeria

Game 3: South Korea vs Greece

It's a shame there was a low attendance for this game, as South Korea vs Greece was easily the most exciting of the first four matches.  As Greece won the 2004 Euro Cup, and had a pretty good European qualifying campaign, many thought them to have an easy time in today's match. However, like I have said since the beginning, this was not to be the case.

South Korea easily dominated the match, from one end of the pitch to the other. The proceedings opened up almost immediately, when in the seventh minute Lee Jung-Soo scored off of a set piece, completely catching the Greek defenders flat-footed. Once this goal occurred, I knew South Korea would win. Greece, although gifted with a strong force, and a great attacker in the form of Gekas, are not great at coming from behind. The typical Greek style is to score first, then sit on the lead, which they are very good at doing, as they have an amazing defense, but for some reason, the defenders were not on their best today.

The second goal came from Park Ji-Sung in the fifty-second minute, after a brilliant through ball sent him flying into the box. Holding off one defender, the Manchester United player confidently slotted the ball past the sprawling goalkeeper. Game Over.

Things to Improve on:
Where was Greece? Not in the game, apparently. For being touted as one of the best defense lines in the tournament, they sure disappointed everyone. I have always been a firm believer that the Greeks are overhyped, winning the 2004 tournament on a string of lucky goals which allowed them to play out a dirty and unspectacular game.  But against the speedy Koreans, they just didn't have a chance. By the end of the second half you could see how frustrated Gekas was becoming, having never received a good through-ball from the midfield which topped the list as the biggest under-performers.

For South Korea, their defense pleasantly surprised me. The couple of times Greece was able to mount an attack, the Koreans easily parried it away. What they most need to work on is getting their shots on target. They had plenty of clear goal scoring opportunities that simply didn't trouble the European keeper. If they hope to take on a solid Argentinian force, and a strong Nigerian team, then they will need to finish these chances.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Game 2: Uruguay vs France

If you are a French fan, you will be frustrated by this game. If you are a Uruguay fan, you will be ecstatic.

This entry will be slightly different from the first, as the game was very unimpressive for most of it.

Uruguay played pretty solid for most of the game. The defenders were spot on, really shutting down the French attack. In the beginning there were a few moments of shakiness, but it picked up towards the end, especially as they were able to 'weather the storm' in the last five minutes of the game, when France was desperately trying to get the winning goal. The midfield I think was their weakest link, they didn't play badly, they just didn't stand out. The two holding midfielders were spot on, but the lone offensive mid seemed to be having a horrid time feeding the ball to the strike partnership of Suarez and Forlan. However, the outside wingers did do a good job, especially when it came to shutting down Franck Ribery, who seemed to never really show up after the first twenty minutes, he was just completely shut down.

Forlan had a few chances on goal, but sadly he was usually off target. Most fans should excuse him for this though, as he worked very hard for most of the game. My one criticism, and this is probably a coaching decision, was having him take all the free kicks. The ones right outside the box I can understand, as Forlan is a terrific goal-scorer, but he would even take the kicks that were near the half line. Overall, Uruguay were very deserving of this result. My biggest criticism is with Lodeira, who made a horrible challenge on Sagna. I completely agree with the officials assessment by producing the red card.

For France, where to begin. I didn't expect France to go to far in this tournament, but I at least expected them to be better than what they were today.

From the moment the lineup was revealed I was questioning Raymond Domenech's decisions. I just don't feel the single striker set-up favors France, but I wasn't going to question that too much. My real problem was not starting Malouda. Apparently, Malouda had gotten into a spat with the coach, and that was the reason for his inclusion on the bench. For a club season, I would agree with the coach, but not for the World Cup! Not for some small spat on the training ground.

Moving on...

The Les Bleau midfield did not show up at all today. Govou and Toulalan were largely ineffective, and Ribery seemed to disappear after his yellow card early in the second half. By the sixtieth minute I was practically pleading at my television set for the coach to bring on Henry and Malouda, which he did, but in a completely wrong way.

He took Anelka off for Henry... Wait, what? Surely Govou or Toulalan would have been the better choice, afterall, the aim of bringing on another striker in the final minutes is to score goals. A very bad choice, that was only worsened when Domenech brought on Malouda for Gourcuff. Now, Gourcuff was not playing amazing soccer, but he was still holding his side of the pitch. So Malouda comes on, and takes over the left wing, moving Ribery into the middle, a position that Ribery is not suited to. By this point, I knew the game would end nil-nil (zero to zero for you American readers).

Poor showing for France, but excellent job by Uruguay. My predictions for Group A will now be widely off.

Game 1: South Africa vs Mexico

What a great way to start the tournament, both teams came out fighting, and we were even offered a few surprises.

Mexico clearly dominated throughout most of this game, as demonstrated by having sixty-four percent of the possession; however, that does not mean it was an easy game for them. During the first half everything went Mexico's way. They had fluid passing, they made good runs, defense was solid, it seemed they were doing everything right. On the other-hand, South Africa could produce very little, only really having three instances of attack in the whole forty-five minutes, but none being really impressive.

It all almost went downhill for Bafana Bafana, when in the thirty-second minute Franco got onto the end of the ball, but was denied by the goalkeeper Muneh who showed excellent reflexes to deny the Mexican striker.  Then in the thirty-seventh minute, Vela got onto the end of a cross, that took a reflection, to score... Only for it to be called back by the side-line official. Upon further review of the replay, it became clear he was offsides due to the result of the flick, and the mistake from the SA goalkeeper who came too far off of his line, allowing South Africa to catch a lucky break.

Going into halftime Bafana Bafana had a lot of work to do. They were not able to make any offensive pushes, and their defense was very shaky, which would unfortunately last for the rest of the game. Mexico, in contrast, seemed to be doing everything right, except score. Vela had not been performing well, so it seemed only like a matter of time until he was substituted off unless he improved.

Trust Carlos Alberto Parreira to fix a lot of these issues, as from the moment of the second half kickoff you could tell South Africa had vastly improved. Finally starting to get into Mexico's defensive half they were beginning to show promise.  Then in the fifty-fifth minute the stadium would explode as Tshabulala scores off a breakaway, driving a shot as far top-left corner as one could, scraping both post and crossbar before hitting the net, I would not be surprised if that goal ends up being one of the top ten for the entire tournament, absolutely beautiful.

Mexico was definitely caught off guard and started to become rather flat footed. In the sixtieth minute Dos Santos, trying to inspire his team, makes a beautiful shot, near upper-right corner that was only stopped by a heroic save from Muneh. Mexico was slowly starting to pick up the pace.

In the sixty-ninth minute Vela finally came off, having performed less than satisfactory, to bring on the veteran Blanco (more on that later). Then in the seventy-fourth minute Franco gave way to Javier Hernandez. The coach was really trying to get some fresh attacking legs on the field, desperately trying to find an equalizer, which they would find in the seventy-ninth minute when a short corner was given to Guardado, who quickly snapped in a cross finding Rafa Marquez on the back post. Settling the ball, he was able to calmly slot it in between the keeper and post, giving Mexico the much desired goal to pull out a draw.

Final Score: South Africa 1 - 1 Mexico.

Things they did right, and things to improve on:
South Africa may have underperformed in the first half, but they came out firing on all cylinders during the second. Tshabulala was an absolute nightmare for the Mexican defense, so he will need to keep up this form. The midfield also showed some improvement, beginning able to finally put pressure on Mexico's possession based style. However, the defense was very shaky all game, constantly letting the Mexican attackers have their way. If it hadn't been for the excellence of Muneh between the posts, this game easily could have been three to one. Pienaar, the golden boy of Bafana Bafana was really quiet throughout most of the game, until his eventual substitution. He will need to drastically improve in order for South Africa to go further in this tournament.  The offense also needs to produce some more shots, as the entire team only had two chances all game, the first being a goal, and the second hitting the post, this will not be acceptable at later stages.

Mexico did most things really well except, as noted earlier, score. It may be me, but I don't see the need for Blanco in the squad. I understand he is the talisman and local hero of the nation, but he was clearly showing his age in this game. He was simply to slow, unable to keep up with the run of play, and being rather unspectacular when on the ball, seeming to have lost his first touch. On the other hand, Dos Santos was fantastic, a real workhorse. He was running all the around the field, hungry for the ball, taking shots and putting together some good passes, the kid seems to have a bright future ahead of him.

In the end I think this was probably the correct score for the game. South Africa showed some real improvement while Mexico did not, and that improvement will serve Bafana Bafana well in their games to come.

Picture from:

Group H: Chile

Chile are entering the World Cup coming off of a phenomenal qualification campaign in which they saw themselves place second in South America, right behind Brazil. Led by coach Marcelo Bielsa, who is a genius when it comes to tactical decisions, Chile is looking to  reach the second round for only the third time out of eight appearances in the World Cup.

Their weakness, unsurprisingly, is defense. They gave up twenty-two goals during qualification compared to Brazil's eleven, but that won't trouble many fans because Chile have the ability to really entertain. Previously beating Argentina one to zero, La Roja will be keen to try for another upset, this time over the world favorites Spain.

Key Players: Claudio Bravo, the goalkeeper, is dynamite between the posts, showing his quick footwork and reactions during Chile's games. Although not quite as good as the world's best goalkeepers, he did earn the honor of being voted South America's top keeper, beating out Julio Ceasar of Brazil. Since Chile lacks a lot of defensive power, it will be up to Bravo to come up with the big saves, and keep his nation's hopes alive.

My Prediction: Second Round.

Group H: Switzerland

Switzerland could probably say they are having the same problem as Ivory Coast at the moment, they are without their star goal-scorer. Just a few days ago Alexander Frei was put on the injured list, after suffering a bruised and sprained ankle. This is a big problem for the Swiss.

Overall Switzerland is a sturdy, efficient team, but they are not an exciting team. Very defensively minded, they will usually try to sit on wins instead of pushing for more goals, but unlike other teams such as North Korea, they are good at it. Philip Senderos [pictured] will play centrally in the defense. Tall and strong, he has gained valuable experience while playing for Arsenal F.C. in the EPL.

It should be made aware that this will not be Switzerland's World Cup, but in the future it could be. Recently the country beat Nigeria to win the Under 17 world championship, as such the future looks good for the Swiss. Although the team may not go far in this years tournament, it will be an excellent training field for the youngsters, who will bring their valuable experience forward to usher in a new Swiss era.

My Prediction: Group H: 3rd/4th Place. It all depends how Honduras does.

Group H: Honduras

Honduras will be making their second ever World Cup appearance in South Africa, the last coming in 1982 when they were eliminated in the group stage. Having an excellent run in qualification, Honduras will be looking to take full advantage of their good placement in Group H.

Although Spain is more than likely to win the group, under coach Reinaldo Rueda Honduras has the chance of moving into the knockout stages. By taking advantage of their "unknown" status, Los Catraochos could find themselves getting results against a weak Switzerland side, and dashing the dream of Chile to reach the second round. However, in order to accomplish this, the team will need to really step up their defense, which has been shaky in the past. Throughout qualification the team rarely won with a shutout, instead having to fight back and score a lot of goals to secure victory, but this is a double-edged sword. Switzerland will have a pretty good defense, but no offense, so the result could be a draw. On the other-hand, Chile is much like Honduras, weaker defense but good offense, so I think this could be one of the highest scoring games of the tournament.

Key Players: Wilson Palacios [pictured] is the most high-profile player on the team, playing his club ball with Tottenham in England. Playing the central midfield role, it will be his duty to feed the strikers and take shots from outside the box. Although traditionally lacking when called up for international duty, under Rueda he has shown new promise, and he will be integral to the coaches plans.

My Prediction: Group H 3rd/4th place. This is the only team I can not easily be confident in the placement. I do not think they will move on, but I have a feeling they may still leave the tournament with the world smiling at them, because I believe they will be huge entertainers.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Group H: Spain

To say that Spain are the best team in the world may be underestimating them, to say they may be one of the best teams in history is more accurate. In their past forty-seven games, Spain has only lost once... That's it! It came at the hands of the United States during the Confederations Cup last year, ending a thirty-five game unbeaten streak, and fifteen wins in a row, which tied Brazil's record that they set back in 1994.

This team has everything, from one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Iker Casillas, to their midfielders which run so deep that every single one of them would be a first team starter in any top club throughout the world, up to the strike partnership of Fernando Torres and David Villa [pictured]. 

They easily outscore most teams, they concede fewer goals then most teams, they maintain possession longer, and they entertain their fans to degrees unheard of (although I'm sure Brazil and Netherlands would contest that). After winning the Euro Cup in 2008, Spain found themselves ranked number one in the world for the first time in their history. Although they have since slipped down to number two, the team will be eager to once again go up a spot, proving to the world just how good they are.

Does the team have weaknesses? No. Well, in all honesty they 'could' be a bit better on defense, due to their back-line all thinking they are born again attackers, but I don't mind. I love seeing Puyol and Sergio Ramos score goals because it looks natural for them, which is truly saying something since most defenders don't go near the oppositions box except on set pieces. But besides that, la Furia Roja easily get top marks across the field, having virtually no competition at the present moment.

My Prediction: Champions!

Group G: Ivory Coast

Just days before the World Cup, Ivory Coast was dealt a serious blow. Their main man, the flare that would give The Elephants a chance, their leading scorer, yes, you all know who I'm talking about, Didier Drogba [pictured] shattered his elbow.  There are reports he may be able to play, but so far the Ivory Coast team has been very quiet, and the citizens of the nation are not sure when he will be ready.

Dubbed the "African Brazil", Ivory Coast was one of Africa's few teams that had a realistic shot at hoisting the trophy, but with the loss of Drogba the team will find themselves struggling in the group stage.  In his place, it will be up to Salomon Kalou of Chelsea to score the goals.  Young and speedy, he has the ability to go toe to toe with the best defenders in the world, but it will be interesting to see how he does without his usual strike partner, or he might even take up the lone striker role.

In the past Ivory Coast has been very shaky on defense. There are a few big names, such as Eboue and Kolo Toure, but they have not worked too well together, allowing many easy goals to slip past them. As a result, Brazil (a notorious goal scoring machine) will probably have their way with the Elephants, while Portugal is likely to sneak in a quick surprise goal. Ivory Coast will need to be on their best form in order to get into the knockout rounds.

My Prediction: Group G 3rd Place.