Sunday, June 13, 2010

Group A-D: The First Matches

Mexico 1:1 South Africa -- I had a feeling that the home support was going to be worth a goal and that the Bafana Bafana might possibly see a result from this match, so I was not surprised by the draw. Mexico looked the better team in the first half, but all credit to South Africa for a tremendous first goal on the counterattack which sent the fans into ecstasy. Unfortunately, the home side lost the plot after that, and their marking on Mexico's inevitable equalizer was dreadful -- there were easily three or four Mexican players left unmarked at the far post on that play in position to score. South Africa had a late chance to win it, but a lazy shot was denied by the woodwork. Fair result and happy to see the hosts get a point.

France 0:0 Uruguay -- well, France was a bit better than I expected, and Uruguay was a lot worse. France defended well but looked toothless in front of goal. Uruguay really suffered from a lack of playmakers in midfield; their much-praised strike duo of Suarez and Forlan couldn't get any decent service throughout the match. Still, Uruguay should have won but Forlan missed an absolute sitter from the penalty spot, unmarked. Hope both these teams get eliminated as soon as possible.

South Korea 2:0 Greece -- the Koreans were fantastic. Energetic, skillful, and fit. They took it to the Greeks from the first whistle, and with a little luck could easily have won this one by four goals. Both of their goals were nicely taken: the first showed great concentration and belief on a set piece, while the second was a great bit of individual effort from open play. Meanwhile, Greece were horrendous. We knew they would struggle to score goals, but I expected they would be organized on defense at a minimum. Er, no. Their center backs looked like they were going to get into a fist fight after the Koreans came close once too often. Greece won't get a point, or even a goal, at this rate. Korea v. Argentina will be a blast.

Argentina 1:0 Nigeria -- the Argentines were a lot more dominant than the scoreline would suggest. Messi, Tevez and Higuain just tore up the Nigerian back line -- I lost count but Messi must have had five shots on or near target and ran at the defense with real purpose. Tevez was also very, very dangerous. But the Nigerian keeper was awesome, and literally kept his side in the match. The second half introduction of Obafemi Martins for Nigeria was long-overdue, and he really provided some chances to get Nigeria back in the match. Again, with a little luck the Africans might have stolen a point, but you could easily say that with a little luck, Argentina could have had three more goals. It was fun to watch Maradona jumping around on the sidelines, too.

England 1:1 USA -- the Americans looked terrified in the opening minutes, and a totally overmatched Ricardo Clark was punished after 4 minutes with a nice goal from Gerrard who easily tapped in a heads up pass from Heskey following a routine throw in. I had a sinking feeling of a Czech Republic-style drubbing, but instead of unravelling the USA buckled down and fought back. In particular, England had trouble with our pace. On the right side Cherundolo consistently abused Milner, who eventually collected a yellow card for multiple infractions and had to be subbed after just 30 minutes lest he pick up a red. In the middle, Donovan and Dempsey tested John Terry and Leadley King, the latter going off at the half with an injury. On the left, Altidore ripped Carragher on multiple occasions, the last of which almost resulted in a winning goal, but England’s keeper, Green, just palmed it onto the near post and out of the net. Dempsey's 40th minute equalizer was soft and totally, completely lucky, and Green deserved the abuse he's taken for it, but England had let the USA back into the match, and the goal wasn't completely against the run of play. Onyewu, DeMerit and Bradley kept Rooney somewhat in check, and Howard came up big in stopping hard shots by Heskey and Wright-Phillips. Sadly, Bocanegra was the weak link in the defense, as Lennon and Johnson kept running at him on the left, creating several chances. To paraphrase one commentator, England were better at every position except keeper, and the keepers decided the match. A huge point for USA. If they can build from here and not let down in the last matches, they could win the group. On a personal note, the second half was so nerve-wracking in my house, that my always-loquacious father-in-law fell silent and my son looked like he was going to puke. That's why I love the World Cup.

Slovenia 1:0 Algeria -- both these teams were awful for most of this match. Couldn't string passes together, bad service from the wings, sloppy all over the pitch. There were a couple of half-chances both ways, but nothing that seemed like a sustained attack. I had heard so much about the great Slovenian defense pre-match, but they looked really mediocre, even from the tepid attacking Algeria managed. An Algerian forward was sent off for an idiotic intentional hand ball, ending any chance for a goal from them. Slovenia finally got a breakthrough ten minutes from time when a decent but stoppable shot was mishandled by the Algerian keeper, and the ball ended up in the back of the net. And that was that. Without the keeper’s gaffe, this was headed for the worst kind of 0:0 draw. Slovenia got the result, which will put pressure on both the English and Americans to beat them. Good -- maybe we'll play Torres instead of Clark ...

Ghana 1:0 Serbia -- Ghana missed Essien less than I expected, and Serbia's play was definitely not up to the pre-match hype. Ghana had a couple of decent chances but they were not very sharp in front of goal. Ghana seemed more poised in midfield than I expected, though. The match turned on a ridiculous Serb hand ball in the box resulting in a penalty to Ghana, which was clinically finished. Serbia didn’t really put a decent attack together until they had the man sent off; oddly it seemed to energize them and they played much better down a man, getting their best chances of the match. The Ghanaian goal scorer had another chance to put it away late, but hit the post. Surprise result, and Ghana will go into their next match with confidence, but both teams put on second-rate performances.

Germany 4:0 Australia -- wow, did Germany look good here. Best performance of the first eight matches. Ok, the Australians sucked ass, worse even than they were against the USA in the pre-cup friendly. In fairness, the Aussies opened decently, and missed at least one early chance. But when the Germans ultimately took over the match, they were electric. Podolski's strike was an unstoppable rocket, and after Klose missed an easy one on a great early cross from Podolski, he came back and destroyed Schwartzer and the Aussie defense with a killer header, classic German power football. Germany collected two more good goals after poor Tim Cahill was sent off for a dubious straight red card. But my pre-tourney take that Germany was going to suffer from the absence of the playmaker Ballack in midfield was just dead wrong. If anything, they looked quicker and livelier without him. This was more Germany good than Australia bad, and Germany are going to go far in this competition and should provide both England and the USA a lot of incentive to win the group, just to avoid playing them in the round of 16.

5 comments:

OldBlue said...

If the whole tech VC thing doesn't work out for you :) you would be a refreshing voice commenting from South Africa. As much as I enjoy your business writing, its the soccer articles that I look forward to most. Keep up the analysis, it helps me keep up with my British co-workers. Oh, and I plan on regularly dropping things in their presence and saying "Dang it...got a case of the Greens today".

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