What We Learned From Group G Eliminators

Group of Death My Arse – Brazil 0 – 0 Portugal

When the Group of Death was originally announced, everyone thought that it would be the usual Group of Death malarkey, with teams rushing out of the blocks to inflict maximum pain on the small usually African or Asian nation unlucky enough to have been drawn with the three Big Boys. However, in this Group the only danger of death is of me dying of boredom, so vacuous and tepid was this encounter. Admittedly it wasn’t quite up to the thoroughly reprehensible standards set by the two most boring teams of all time Switzerland  and Ukraine in 2006 (and fuck me was that boring, by the end I was the only person left in the pub including the landlord), but it was way up to the standards set by the likes of Bolton, Blackburn, Hull etc. Quite how Brazil (Brazil for god’s sake) can be this unimaginative is a mystery, although they were without both Kaka, who was harshly sent off in their match with the Ivory Coast, and Elano, who wasn’t so much sent off as taken out of the game by the Ivorians. And, yes they were up against an extremely well-drilled Portuguese team, whose defensive record is pretty exemplary and whose version of the Mourinho Discipline is certainly a great deal more exciting than that of Switzerland. So you could say it was a stalemate of a game that was essentially a dead rubber to start with, the Portuguese destruction of North Korea meaning that Ivory Coast had to score approximately 10 to have any chance and still needed the Brazilians to beat the Portuguese. So, in some ways it was more predictable that this match should be a nil-nil than the Mexico Uruguay game. It’s just a shame that what could have been a classic turned into a turkey.

Meanwhile In The North Korean House Of Pain – Ivory Coast 3 – 0 North Korea

How disappointed are we in both these sorry excuses for teams. The North Koreans had the virtue of being an unknown quantity and were determined and plucky against Brazil, but then fell apart against Portugal, who could have spanked them for a hell of a lot more than the seven they put past them. Unfortunately for North Korea the tactics of unrestrained totalitarian dictatorship don’t translate very effectively from the gulag to the football pitch. Unfortunately for the Ivory Coast the joys of military dictatorship don’t inspire the best in a football team. You have to feel that this is probably the end of the road for the World Cup hopes of the Drog, the Toure brothers and the rest of this generation of Ivorians.

So Bye-Bye North Korea And Ivory Coast

For you, this was the group of death.

46 Down 18 To Go 17 Teams Remaining

Extra Extra What We Learned At The Halfway Point

The Competition Has Kicked Off

Yes, the Second Round of Group matches were certainly better than the First Round. Most teams understood that they couldn’t simply defend all the time and play for a draw, even the Swiss, whose adoption of an almost ‘Neutral Country’ option has seen them regularly top both the Haven’t Conceded and the Haven’t Scored tables, realised that at some point they’d have to come out and have a shot, although to be fair they did have something that vaguely resembled a shot in the First Round and it paid off handsomely. The games got faster and more meaningful as we saw Matches That Mattered and teams realised that there was a very real danger of their World Cup ending later this week.

The Goals Are Coming

As teams threw off the shackles of defensive cowardice and started attacking we began to see more goals. Few teams were content to sit on a one goal lead and continued to press their opponents. Some goals were even good, although few of them were up to the Tshabalala standard. However, I distinctly remember exclaiming, “What a goal” more than once during Round 2.

The Cheating Has Started

Grab and Dive, with or without pirouette, is the order of the day. Compulsive penalty box wrestling at every set piece. Not that much deliberate diving, but plenty of subtle blocking and writhing around. All in an attempt to cheat your way to a free kick or some colour of card for the opposition, or both. Not good. I think if it continues, we will see some kind of tv replay system introduced on the fly, if only because the whole world is watching.

Lots of Empty Seats

Now that it’s getting serious I suspect we won’t be seeing too many empty stadiums, but I’d lay money that there will be empty seats at the Uruguay Mexico match, where both teams need only to draw to go through (0 – 0 anyone?). However, too many venues have been conspicuously less than capacity.

Who Has Been Naughty?

It’s goodbye to South Africa, France (very naughty), Nigeria, Greece (very bad),  Algeria,  Oztralia (awful), Serbia (painful). Cameroon, New Zealand (rubbish), Slovakia (tedious), Ivory Coast (unlucky to get Group of Death for the second World Cup in a row), North Korea, and Honduras. You are all officially too crap for the World Cup. Book your flights now.

Who Has Been Nice?

And it’s hello to Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, South Korea, Ghana, Germany, Holland, Paraguay, Italy, Brazil, Portugal, and Chile. Nicely done South America.

And Who Is Bricking It?

Group C is totally up for grabs with two of Engerland, USA and Slovenia, the permutations are excruciating, but basically all teams have to win to be sure that they will qualify. In Group E Japan and Denmark will duke it out, a draw being enough to take the Japanese through. Group H is so complicated that Spain, Chile and Switzerland could all end up with 6 points and theoretically identical goal differences and goals scored, in which case as Spain will have beaten Chile, who have beaten Switzerland, who have beaten Spain lots would have to be drawn.  Makes penalty shoot outs seem tame by comparison.

And Who Is Really Bricking It Most?

Has to be ever-optimistic no-hopers Engerland, who just seem utterly unable to cope with the pressure of having to play a few matches away from home in front of large television audiences. Basking in unwarrented media acclaim and with performances getting more inadequate by the day, Engerland are a disaster waiting to happen. And while the French are imploding with a farcical degree of hilarity, Engerland can’t even manage an effective internal coup d’etat. One thing is clear, Wednesday could be the most excruciating game of football ever played.

What We Learned From Portugal vs North Korea (7-0)

That Old Skool Communism Thing Doesn’t Have the Same Old Ring

Now when we said that Portugal were led by a crying, mewling showpony and that North Korea were a well disciplined, effective side capable of giving the Portuguese a game, we were, obviously mistaken. Today the Portugeezers turned off the indifference and turned on the charm, while the plucky Maoists gave it their best for approximately 25 minutes before being consummately overwhelmed. And so, we reluctantly realise (yet again) that while spirit and passion are essential, they will only get you so far, which in this case really isn’t very far at all and are no substitute for skill and experience. Despite Germany’s slapdown of Oztralia, this was the first real World Cup pasting of the tournament.

Like An Episode Of White Horses

Yes that old black and white TV show about Lipizzaner horses with the catchiest theme tune in history. And the Portugeezers were the showponies. They showed exactly how you should overcome the Mourinho Discipline, fast counterattacking movements led by clever running down the channels and effective use of the width of the pitch, their first goal being a fantastic example of how to break from the centre into the box, thereby creating an extra man and pulling the central defenders out of position. The entire second half was essentially an episode of Portuguese attack vs North Korean defence. By the end you felt that the Koreans would have preferred to spend the time digging trenches for the North Korean army rather than repeat the pummelling they received on the pitch.

This Sets Up The Group

So Brazil are through and North Korea are out and Portugal and Ivory Coast know what they have to do and it’s looking a little harsh of the Ivorians. They need a win against North Korea and for Portugal to lose to Brazil with a nine goal turnaround to have any chance of making it through to the Knockout Stages. Harsh.

30 Down 34 To Go 30 Teams Remaining

What We Learned From Brazil vs North Korea (2-1)

You’ve Got To Be Fast

What with everyone and their uncle taking their cue from the Little Red Book of Mourinho and Allerdyce (2 banks of four, midfield holding player, 10 men minimum behind the ball in the final third as soon as you lose possession, blah, blah, blah), there really is only one way to break teams down. That is to own the transition between gaining possession and scoring, the incendiary moments before the opposition can get their shit together. That means you have to break fast, move fast, pass fast, confuse the opposition and score. It means pretty constant movement off the ball to show yourself to your teammates and pull the defence out of position to create openings. Think of the way Man U, Aresenal and Chelsea can break from defence to goalscoring  in 5 – 10 seconds and the power, pace, accuracy and style that requires. So far no team here has shown they are capable of or even aspire to this quality of football to any significant degree. After the German’s demolition of Oztralia, this was the second best match so far.

What A Goal!

And when you do it right, it is awesome. For the first (only) time in the entire game we saw a Brazillian attacking the Koreans at speed and a nice direction changing pass from Elano to Maicon (second only to Robinho’s pass to Elano for the second goal). This provided the clear space for Maicon to shoot. And goals win games. Once you’re ahead, it’s a completely different match as the opposition has to chase the game and opens up their tightly maxed out defence. Now we’ve not seen many good goals so far, the killer strike of Tshabalala with the fantastic defence splitting pass setting it up being the pick of the moments to date, but this eclipsed even that. Killer strike.

Kudos To The Koreans – They Have Balls Of Steel

Unlike many of the low grade, whining, fouling, lazy, pig-dog ugly teams we’ve seen so far (Oztralia, Slovenia, Algeria, New Zealand, Slovakia, Denmark, Paraguay, and the whole of Group A hang your fucking heads in shame), the Koreans haven’t flinched, fouled or played the crying showpony. Nor have they simply shut up shop like some qualitiless, lower league Fat Sam Allerdyce team. Instead they defended effectively, attacked when they had the ball and never let up. If only they didn’t live in a place ruined by a fucked up, four-eyed moron and his spastic cadres, they might have  a fully fledged country by now. In any other group they would have a very real chance of getting into the knock out phase. Portugal and Ivory Coast think all they need to do is beat these guys and rack up the goals. After seeing their lacklustre game earlier I think both those teams should be very, very worried. This is, indeed, the Group of Death. The next round of matches is going to be fantastic, especially Portugal vs North Korea. I can see the table reading, Brazil 6, North Korea 3, Ivory Coast 1, Portugal 1. And then it really is Game On.

14 Down 50 To Go