Sunday, June 20, 2010

Assorted World Cup thoughts (Day 8)

* The extremely cautious and defensive nature of this year's tournament, combined with the unpredictable flight of the Jabulani ball, is making it hard for both attackers and goalkeepers. Which means results can be harder to predict than normal. Attacking teams are not really having their dominance rewarded, as defensive teams can hope to nick a goal on the break.

* One thing you should be able to predict with some success, however, is a draw between Uruguay and Mexico. The two teams sit atop their group, with France and South Africa hoping a win will put them in the running. But the permutations of the group mean that no matter the result between the locals or the French, a draw between the two Latin American teams will put them both in the next round. Bookies are already suspecting the fix will be in. Even if the game isn't rigged via secret agreement between the two teams, neither will be especially motivated to try anything risky. Bet on it being boring as hell.

* Argentina are the only side at this point that genuinely look good enough to win it. Which is not to say they will, as you can expect some of the slow starting big names to improve their form. The key to the Argentines has predictably been the sublime Lionel Messi, and if anyone beats them it will be the team who can best deal with Messi. Nigeria almost managed it thanks to keeper Enyeama's heroics, but Korea allowed the little fella to run riot.

* Who'da thunk it? The most awesome game of the tournament so far was the 2-2 draw between the USA and Slovenia. It had absolutely everything. I had written off the Slovenes after their sleep-inspiring performance against Algeria (in which they managed to win via a lucky goal), but they demonstrated they can impress on the counter-attack. The Americans displayed admirable spirit to fight back and draw, but they were very unlucky not to win, due to a couple of questionable decisions by the man with the whistle. They had a goal disallowed for no apparent reason, and Robbie Findley somehow managed to earn a yellow for handball when the ball hit him in the face.

* England's rancid performance against Algeria could cost them big time, as their supposedly easy group suddenly looks tight indeed. Their team looked devoid of inspiration, and their two best club players this season (Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard) have been shockingly poor. Coach Fabio Capello's decision to leave Joe Cole on the bench looks like a mistake. Likewise for the omission of both Adam Johnson and Theo Walcott from the squad, when they are exactly the kind of player who could create something out of nothing to get England out of trouble.

* Just when Germany look like they are the team to beat at this tournament, they go down 1-0 to Serbia. Lukas Podolski's meek penalty is the first one a German player has missed since 1974. Perhaps that was a snapshot of the failing of this German side; by prioritising youth and an attacking sensibility, they may be lacking the clinical efficiency that has been the traditional trademark of German teams.

* North Korea have shown they could really shake up Group G, and are quite capable of taking points off both Portugal and Cote D'Ivoire. Despite going down 2-1 to Brazil, they put on a defensive masterclass against the Samba Kings, and notably did this without earning a single yellow card. That's pretty rare in this age; most teams who are strong defensively tend to supplement their hard work with a cynical (ie. dirty) edge. To score, Brazil needed 2 moments of genius; Maicon's once-in-a-lifetime goal, and Robinho's brilliant pass to Elano.

* The form of some of Brazil's players is a concern for them. Kaka was unrecognisable as the 2007 World Player of the Year, and you have to wonder why coaches keep playing him on the wing, rather than in the free role behind the striker in which he flourished at AC Milan. Luis Fabiano looked indifferent as well. By contrast, Robinho looks like the player that Manchester City paid £32.5 million for.

* While Switzerland's 1-0 victory over Spain was a big suprise, perhaps we shouldn't have been overly shocked. In the 2006 World Cup, the Swiss made the second round and were knocked out on penalties without conceding a single goal in the whole tournament. They are no one's idea of an exciting attacking team, but their miserly defence is a match for anyone, and eventually they'll sneak a goal.

* Forget Robert Green's keeping blunder. Brain explosion of the tournament goes to Nigeria's Sani Kaita. He blatantly kicked out at a Greek player for no apparent reason and got himself red-carded. At that stage, Greece were 0-1 down and going absolutely nowhere. Against the 10-man Super Eagles, the Greeks unsurprisingly took the upper hand and scored twice. Kaita's stupidity has likely cost his team a place in the second round, while the Greeks might still sneak through, despite still being quite rubbish.

* I initially figured the Netherlands' Arjen Robben might have a shot at being player of the tournament, but the injury-prone winger hasn't managed to get a game yet. In his absence, Wesley Sneijder is the man who makes the Oranje tick, and he came up with the crucial goal that beat the Japanese. The Dutch haven't quite hit their stride yet, but they are looking as good as anyone else at the moment.

* Another game, another red card for an Australian key player. Again, it was a borderline call; Harry Kewell's handball was certainly not deliberate, but when you are on standing on the goal line and outstretched arm stops the shot from going in, the referee has few options. Amidst the predictable Australian outrage over the decision, they will no doubt forget the ease with which Ghanaian winger Andre Ayew was able to waltz past their defenders to make the cross. Or how Lucas Neill appeared to bring down Asamoah Gyan in the box just before the shot.

* At least Australia played like a team that belonged at the World Cup, rather than the joke lineup that was sent out against Germany and received a deserved drubbing. Surprisingly they still have a chance of progressing out of the group, but it's a slim one, involving beating Serbia by 3 clear goals. Which is not going to happen.

* Chile look a fantastic attacking side, with pace to go with their passing ability, and one can see why they finished second only behind Brazil in South American qualifying. But looking like that against Honduras is not such a great achievement, and they may be found out against a better side. Even for all their impressive play against Honduras, it was still only a 1-0 victory.

* France, again, were absolute rubbish. One of the greatest indictments of Raymond Domenech as coach is that he has seemingly no idea of his best lineup, even after all the qualifying games and friendlies. A blind man can see that his central defensive pairing of Gallas and Abidal just do not work together, and he hasn't worked out how to play two of his best creative attacking players (Ribery and Malouda) effectively together. The poor form of Yoann Gourcuff in the first game exposed a lack of a suitable replacement; the obvious one, Hatem Ben Arfa, remained on the bench. The controversial omission of Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri looks like it is coming back to haunt Domenech.

* French striker Nicolas Anelka has apparently been kicked out of the squad after allegedly telling Domenech "Go screw yourself, dirty son of a whore". Which is not very nice, but only articulates what most of the French public are undoubtedly thinking. Nonetheless, it is players who win games, and the French players have been hugely disappointing, particularly the strikers.

It's not just Cameroon left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto's ridiculous hairstyle that deserves condemnation. The Tottenham man was culpable for both the goals that knocked his team out of the reckoning, as the man assigned to keep Denmark's veteran winger Dennis Rommedahl quiet. The Indomitable Lions were the African team that on paper had the best chance of progressing deep into the tournament. But to the list of "coaches who don't know what they are doing", add their coach Paul LeGuen. While he put out an improved lineup against Denmark and still got beaten, it was his ridiculous team selection against Japan, in a game they could and should have won, that has cost them their tournament.
See also Assorted World Cup thoughts (Day 5)

1 comment:

  1. Just when Germany look like they are the team to beat at this tournament, they go down 1-0 to Serbia.

    lol I'm glad this happened because this way Serbia has a chance to go into the next round. See you on 23rd! ;)