Archive for June 16th, 2010

Extra Extra What We Learned From Round 1


It was clear that this World Cup would see the confrontation of pragmatic defensive cautiousness and flamboyant total football. Would the first round of Group games show teams revelling in their attacking flair, ambitious to win the match, or lurking behind their defensive walls, hamstrung by timidity? Sadly, the result has been a resounding timidity as teams appear far more frightened of losing than they are of taking the game to their opponents and winning. And with defenses all being ruthlessly well managed (all? no one small village of barbarians holds out for their right to be useless in defence – step forward Oztralia), most matches have been fucking boring. Only the truly confident (Argentina and Germany) or the crazy (Engerland and Chile) have thrown defensive caution to the wind and gone full on to try and win their matches.  Worth noting which one of them didn’t actually win.

It may be that this is simply a reflection of the previous World Cup, where teams losing their first game found it almost impossible to qualify (only Ghana, who lost 2 – 0 to Italy and Ukraine, who lost 4 – 0 to Spain made it through). But you would have thought that the best way to ensure qualification would be to win your first match. Sadly you’d be wrong as both Czech Republic and South Korea won their first matches only to finish third, while Sweden, France and Switzerland drew and made it through. Which kind of explains the disappointing safety first, swaddle our game in cotton wool mentality that has infested this World Cup. We can only hope that as teams realise that they have to win at some point, the games will get a bit more interesting.  The only downside is that many of those matches are likely to be played at the same time as part of the final round of Group matches, ensuring that we miss at least some of them.

Good Points

Bloody Hell Those Germans. They look a bit menacing. That Ozil could be a bit of a player.

Tshabalala’s great goal in the opening match, with the outstanding defence splitting pass that made it.

Maicon’s great goal for Brazil. Like Tshabalala’s it showed the value of fast attacking breaks, seizing the moment and taking the game to your opponents.

Attempts at game changing substitutions. Think Italy’s introduction of Calamarioneisi (which worked), Spain’s introduction of Torres and Jesus Navas (which didn’t). It makes you wonder why they didn’t adopt that line up earlier.

Heskey’s reverse pass to Gerrard for Engerland’s goal. It must be the first good thing he’s done since he knee knacked Rio.

Those North Koreans. They are mad, mad, mad. But they could give Ivory Coast and Portugal a bit of a spanking.

Bad Points

Bloody Hell Those Oztralians, French, Algerians, Paraguayayayayayans, New Zealanders, Slovenians, Slovakians, Greeks, Serbians and Danes (to name but a few). They look bloody terrible and they play with a timidity that not just deserves but requires punishment.

The invention of the ‘Green’. An ineffectual technique for keeping a clean sheet and, hopefully, the last we’ll ever see of that loser.

The non-appearance of Rhino, Ronalda, Torres, Messi and other individuals of talent, they may have played but they didn’t sparkle.

The craplustre performances from Brazil, Holland and Spain.

Archive for June 16th, 2010

What We Learned From Spain vs Switzerland (0-1)

If It Continues Like This It Will Be Bad

Stultifyingly negative anti-football that elevates technocratic defensive organisation and tedious teamwork above attacking ambition and individual flair. Timid teams more afraid of losing than they are of grabbing the initiative, attacking and actually, get this, winning matches. Thoroughly ghastly confrontations between teams that we don’t care for playing games they don’t give a shit about. This is a bad thing.

If It Continues Like This It Will Be Good

One particularly interesting thing we’re seeing is that the games change dramatically as soon as there’s a goal (the Germany/Oztralia match aside). Things speed up, the game gets stretched and occasionally bouts of football break out around the pitch. This is particularly true when the apparent victim of the tie, the designated loser if you will, gets the goal. Then questions are asked that go beyond the simple, Can you defend with 10 men behind the ball? and start addressing the real skill of the team. By going behind, Spain were forced to live up to the game and their pretty tippy-tappy game was challenged. They promptly bottled it by immediately switching to a less focused and equally ineffective longer ball game, which only began to pay off when Torres and Jesus Navas came on to provide genuine attacking threat. The fact Spain lost doesn’t absolve the defensive tedium philosophy, but it does mean they will have to up their game and really go for it in their next two matches. They now have the prospect of meeting Brazil in the first knockout round. Game on or what!

Good On The Swiss

For a team that managed to make it into the knockout round of the last World Cup and get eliminated without either conceeding or scoring a goal, and who played out the single most utterly painful game I’ve ever seen in their match with Ukraine – two teams in the World Cup playing for penalties from the word go – the Swiss have done themselves proud. First, they actually scored a goal, albeit a super-messy scuffer that involved not one but three people falling on their arses, second, they showed both technique and dedication and, finally, they won and beat the Spanish. I still hope they don’t get through to the knockout stages, but they did themselves proud.

16 Down 48 To Go

Archive for June 16th, 2010

What We Learned From Honduras vs Chile (0-1)

At Last! An Alternative

Chile are mad. I can still remember when they came to Wemberley in ’98 and Salas scored a brilliant Route 1 net-bulger, controlling the long ball on his thigh, before lashing it in on the volley. Boy were we both gutted and impressed. Salas is obviously not there any more, but Chile are still mad. They play an interesting 3-1-3-3 formation, which is somewhat unusual, and they haven’t bought into this Mourinho defensive pragmatism. No, they are a throwback to a bygone age when sophisticated rearguard actions consisted of a kick in the teeth from ‘Chopper’ Harris and a free kick if you were lucky.

At Last! South Central American Football

And we don’t mean Compton LA. We expect the South and Central Americans to be focused on a more extravagant, flamboyant football and you could see pretty early on that both sides had the rather quaint notion of attacking the opposition and trying to win the game. How utterly naive we thought, they will get found out if they make it through to the next round. But then they will have got through to the next round by playing good football and winning, which is more than many teams will achieve. And that was a lovely goal even if the actual ‘shot’ was a bit jammy.

Refs From The Seychelles

Hmmmm Now we’re all for the international world fellowship of football that FIFA loves, but I’m not sure the World Cup wouldn’t be better served by having more refs from larger countries, who have experience at international and Champions League levels, than spreading the love all the way around the world’s holiday hot spots. That said the ref from Uzbekistan, who did the first match was spot on.

15 Down 49 To Go

Archive for June 16th, 2010

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

Archive for June 16th, 2010

What We Learned From Portugal vs Ivory Coast (0-0)

Them Vuvuzelas Are Magic

Now I might have previously expressed the notion that the Vuvuzela has all the charm of a broken kazoo with a limited octave range, but here it was matched with a pile of african drums and produced the kind of rampageous clumpy housey housey ‘call and response’ disco beat not heard since The Good Men and their ‘Give It Up’ track from back in the day. Class.

That Pedro Mendes Is A Dirty Plotte And He’s Not Alone

Ho ho. We thought the Paraguayayayayans were dirty little so-and-sos, what with their studs up approach to personal contact, but Pedro runs them close. There were some really nasty stud rakes and quite a lot of ‘afters’ coming in from both sides in a match that was suffused with the reek of negativity. Fundamentally, this was a match that both sides had to win in order to have a realistic chance of getting through this group. However, once again, both sides approached the game with no sense of urgency and the kind of defensive mindset that is best left in medieval castles. If football is indeed a game of chess, then both sides castled early and surrounded their kings with pawns, while making no attempt to reach the other side.

It’s A Team Game Stupid

Both sides could be described as being built on individual genius, the Portugeezers built on Ronalda (the flouncing football diva), while the Ivorians build theirs around The Drog. What this match clearly showed is that individual talent is easily stifled by grimly efficient man-marking and a tediously organised defence.

Are You Engerland In Disguise?

Built around the promise of a ‘Golden Generation’ (now tarnished by age into a more inadequate lead or brown coloured), and the fading talents of one skilled individual, this is a side that has elevated disappointment into an art form. No we are not talking about Engerland and Rhino, but Portugal and Ronalda. They once promised much, have failed to win anything and are but a fading shadow of themselves, held together only by the nostalgic vision of a once-great talent. At last Portugal know how we feel. Revenge is sweet.

13 Down 51 To Go