Archive for June 21st, 2010

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.

Archive for June 21st, 2010

What We Learned From Spain vs Honduras (2-0)

Spain Seem To Have Stepped Up A Gear

Where previously Spain seemed to have no answer to Switzerland except to try and force their way up the middle, with only a few minutes of wingplay, against Honduras they started with Jesus Navas, who immediately gave them width on the right and allowed David Villa to drift over to the left while Torres played down the middle. This way they were able to pull Honduras all over the field, their right back having no answer to Villa’s wingplay. However, Honduras were nowhere near as accomplished as Switzerland in terms of defending and Spain were nowhere near the tippy-tappy best they showed in last year’s Confederations Cup. Here they were merely superior and functional, playing the long ball far more often than they tried to pass their way through the Hondurans. Villa had a hatfull of chances, scoring two and missing a penalty, Torres seemed lacklustre and Sergio Ramos couldn’t buy a goal if he had a fistfull of dollars.

Fabregas Seemed To Energise Them

Cesc didn’t come on until late, but he seemed to immediately energise the Spanish side, making their attacks a little more vibrant and emphatic. It seems that Spain, like so many sides, are still looking for their ideal side, it should probably include Jesus Navas and Fabregas, but maybe not Torres?

Are Honduras Stuffed Then?

According to my I-Spy World Cup Handbook, Honduras are officially down and out. The best they can do is beat Switzerland, which will give them 3 points, and if they did it by more than 3 goals would put them above the Swiss, but even if Spain were to lose to Chile, leaving them on 3, they would probably have a better goal difference and even if they did Spain have beaten them. So I’m fairly confident that Honduras are officially stuffed.

32 Down 32 To Go 29 Teams Remaining

Archive for June 21st, 2010

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

Once More Unto The Breech

More than any team here, Switzerland epitomise the defensive element of the Mourinho Doctrine. They have the most successful defence in World Cup history, indeed they went through the whole of the last World Cup without conceding a goal. Chile’s task was simple, break down the defence and win the match, all it would take would be one goal and that would be that. Because while Switzerland have full mastery of the defensive arts, they have the sort of blunt, snub-nosed attack that would embarrass a pub team. Remember that World Cup where they didn’t concede? Well they didn’t score either, a feat that made them comfortably the most boring team at Germany 2006 and their last 16 match against the Ukraine was awesomely tedious, the single worst competitive international match ever.

Chile were aided by the sending off of West Ham’s Behrami for sticking his hand around not one, but two players’ faces (both drawing pretty blatant grab and dives). This cramped even Switzerland’s style and you sensed that they would be making even fewer breaks than they did against Spain. The match degenerated into Chilean attack vs Swiss defence, a kind of counterpoint to the second half of the Portugal vs North Korea match, where it wasn’t so much a case of how many can Chile score as how many will Switzerland stop. And bizarrely it was quite compellingly gripping. And it even had the right result, Chile, whose football is based on the philosophy of ‘Attack’, ended up scoring and, a single chance aside, Switzerland never looked like getting back into the game.  Now this group is wide open, you have to back the Swiss to beat Honduras (as should Spain), so it will all boil down to Chile vs Spain, the final match of the Group Stage.  Awesome.

Out Come The Cheats

As the games become more meaningful, so the blatant cheating comes to the fore. This World Cup has seen the rise of the spontaneous face grab and dive (with optional double roll and pike). Yesterday we saw various grab and dives from both the Ivory Coast and the Brazillians, the worst being Kieta’s obvious playacting after he had run into Kaka (embarrassment at running into another player when he could obviously have avoided him hasn’t been ruled out as the reason behind Kieta’s behaviour). Here, in a match that obviously mattered, where the winners were pretty much guaranteed a place in the Knockout Stages, and with a really pernickety ref the cheating came out big time. With players being booked for pretty minor infractions, any grab and dive was likely to bring out the cards and massively upset the opposition. Despite this, however, Kieta is still King of the Cheats.

31 Down 33 To Go 30 Teams Remaining

Archive for June 21st, 2010

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