Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Preview of Round of 16. Match 8: Spain v Portugal

This is La Furia Roja versus Selecção das Quinas. It's the clash of the Iberian neighbours - one of the biggest rivalries in world football. This is two teams who can play sumptuous football, love to attack and have a number of household names in their teams.

The most recent chapter of their rivalry was Euro 2004 in which they were drawn together in the Group stage. Going into the final game against Portugal Spain were level with Greece on top of the group, on four points and needed just a draw against Portugal to progress. Instead they lost 1-0 and Portugal ultimately made the final.

Spain came into World Cup 2010 as favourites but are yet to really live up to their billing. They were stunned 1-0 by Switzerland in the opening group game in which despite looking good lacked the penetration to break them down. They have since bounced back from this to defeat Honduras 2-0 and Chile 2-1 to take top spot in Group H.

Portugal have also yet to really light up the tournament but they are a side who are very hard to break down. They are yet to concede a goal at World Cup 2010 having recorded two 0-0 draws with Ivory Coast and Brazil, either side of a 7-0 drubbing of North Korea. They have a very good recent defensive record but they rely too much on their midfield to score goals as they don't really have any notable strikers.

Neither side have players suspended and the only injury of note is that Alonso is struggling to be fit for Spain. If he doesn't make it then Martinez should start. Deco is back from injury for Portugal but with the form Tiago is in it will be surprising if he starts.

Key players

Spain

Villa has scored three of Spain's four goals thus far and is looking in the mood.

Iniesta is one of the best midfielders in the world.

Casillas is captain and one of the best goalkeepers around.

Portugal

Ronaldo has finally broken his international goalscoring duck of around 18 months. Perhaps this will be the impetus he needs to break the shackles. He always looks dangerous and is incredibly skilful. Maybe this is the day he lights up World Cup 2010

Tiago has been in fantastic form in midfield.

Coentrao is a brilliant left-back who performs at a consistently high level.

Expectations: This is a mouth-watering clash that people will hope lives up to expectations. Spain should have more of the possession and more of the early attacks on goal. Portugal will look to keep it tight and counter-attack with pace, poise and penetration. If there is an early goal this match could end up being a classic but the longer it stays 0-0 the more likely people are to be disappointed. Both sides will be hungry to reach the quarter-final - especially as they will both back themselves to beat Paraguay when they get there.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Preview of Round of 16. Match 7: Paraguay v Japan

This is La Albirroja versus the Blue Samarai. This is South America versus Asia's final representative, made all the more interesting by virtue of the fact that an Asian side has never beaten a South American side at a World Cup. These are two teams that have never got past the Round of 16. Paraguay have been in this position four times, Japan only once (and that in their own continent). But for one of them - this is about to change! I should also add that neither of them has even scored a goal in the second round!

Both come into the knock-out range with confidence. Paraguay believe this is their best ever team, they finished only one point behind Brazil in qualifying and they finished unbeated top of Group F. Japan's manager Takeshi Okada stated before the World Cup that they would make the semi-finals and they've certainly looked the best Asian team at the tournament. For both teams however it is hard to know whether they looked good because they really were that good or because their opposition didn't perform to potential at the tournament.

Paraguay looked very assured and skilful against Italy, completely dominated Slovakia and did enough against New Zealand to score the requisite point. Japan narrowly defeated Cameroon in a poor game, suffered a narrow loss against Netherlands before playing an excellent game against Denmark, defeating them 3-1.

Head-to-head: They have played each other on six occasions - Paraguay winning twice, Japan and there have been three draws. Paraguay's wins have been in the 2004 Olympic Games and the 1999 Copa America.

Suspensions: Caceres is unfortunately suspended for Paraguay. Vera and Santa Cruz (Paraguay) are one booking short of a suspension as are Abe, Endo, Nagatomo (Japan).

Key players

Paraguay: Alcarez has impressed in defence, Vera has been one of the most enterprising players in South Africa and scored a delightful goal against Slovakia. Santa Cruz will need to start showing why he is considered the star of the team.

Japan: Honda is their inspirational captain and in fine form. Endo is another one with a big talent. Often employed as a defensive midfielder he has a brilliant creative pass. Tulio is an imposing and effective 6 foot tall centre-back.

Expectations: Paraguay have a stellar defence who have conceded only once in South Africa and had the second best defensive record in South American qualifying. But it is also true to say that Japan are quite miserly having conceded twice in South Africa and with a good defensive record in qualifying. Perhaps then it will be a low scoring match? I certainly expect them to spend a while feeling each other out. Paraguay do love to attack but the likes of Santa Cruz, Barrios and Cardozo have not really demonstrated much of this in South Africa. Perhaps tonight is the night that they really let their South American flair go wild. Japan will be neat and quick in possession and potentially lethal from free-kicks. It should be a fascinating contest. Paraguay are favourites, and rightfully so, but this could easily go either way...

Group H final set of games

Spain 2-1 Chile

Spain went into the match knowing only a win would guarantee qualification. Chile knew they only needed to draw.

The opening exchanges were lively. Torres had a couple of early chances and a lovely move by Chile resulted in Beausejour setting up Gonzalez which he sent wide. Chile started to dominate proceedings and Sanchez attempted an exquisite cheeky lob that Casillas managed to flap away. Then, disaster struck for Chile. Goalkeeper Bravo rushed out of his area to clear Alonso's through ball and take it away from Torres. He won the ball (as he needed to) and cleared it away - but instead of to the sideline it went further up the pitch...and straight to Villa who sensationally kept the ball on target from 30 yards out with a first-time shot. 1-0 Spain.

A second goal for Spain wasn't long in coming. As Chile pressed for an equaliser gaps were appearing - Iniesta won the ball in Chile's half and a few crisp and incisive passes later he was clinically despatching a quality strike. In the process Estrada was given a second yellow card for a trip on Torres and was therefore sent off. Estrada deserved his first yellow but the second yellow was harsh. He barely caught Torres and it appeared accidental. However moments earlier he had not been booked for a cynical foul when he perhaps should have, so overall maybe the decision was inadvertently correct.

In the second half Chile showed what a courageous side they are. With ten men they scored a goal right at the start of the half and didn't concede again. Medel and Ponce were both tigers in defence but both picked up yellow cards and are suspended for the Brazil game - both would surely be missed. Chile's goal was a touch fortuitous: second half substitute Millar had his shot deflected off Pique's knee and it was diverted into the net.

Both teams played an almost farcical last ten minutes of possession football - not interested in tackling or setting up goals. Both knew they had done enough to qualify should the game being played simultaneously (Switzerland v Honduras) remain at 0-0.

Switzerland 0-0 Honduras

Honduras knew only a win could give them even a small chance of qualifying. Switzerland knew a draw or a win may or may not be enough - depending on the result in the Spain v Chile game.

Despite the scoreline this was actually a fairly entertaining game. Honduras showed far more attacking intent than they could muster in their first two games and came very close to scoring on a number of occasions. Unfortunately for them, they didn't, and they would be eliminated without a goal to their name.

Both sides created a number of chances but neither team could trouble the goalscorers. Frei was disappointing for the Swiss as he barely mustered a shot and Nkufo had a couple of glaring misses. The Swiss showed their desire for goals by bringing Hakin Yakin on at half-time but he was unable to conjure up the victory they so desperately sought. Honduras were also guilty of glaring misses but were also denied by some quality keeping from Benaglio.

On the balance of play Honduras would have warranted 3 points, but it was not to be. And both sides were sent packing.

Preview of Round of 16. Match 6: Brazil v Chile

It's the Selecao versus la Roja. It's the 5 time world champion up against 3rd place finishers in 1962. It's a South American derby between two countries who were only separated by one point at the end of the qualifying campaign - during which Brazil only lost twice and conceded only 11 times in 18 games. Chile may have won one more game but this is a very impressive record for the Brazilians.

Brazil come into this game off the back of a group in which they showed good form but never really came alive. They defeated North Korea by a single goal - with the breakthrough taking a long time in coming. They eased to an impressive 3-1 victory over the Ivory Coast. And they did enough to manage a goal-less draw against Portugal. Manager Dunga has emphasised defence since he took over the managerial reigns in 2006 - hence the current Brazilian team have the potential to excite with the zest with which we associate Brazil, but this does not come to the fore as often as it might due to the sensible and pragmatic approach of Dunga.

Chile have brought much flair and excitement to the tournament - partly because of the attack minded tactics of their manager Bielsa. Some of their play has really lit up the tournament but they have struggled to reflect this in goals scored. In the group stage they beat both Honduras and Switzerland with convincing 1-0 wins before succumbing to spain 2-1. They will come into this game, no doubt playing 3-1-3-3 again, and will certainly be looking to attack.

Key players

Brazil

Robinho is the key to providing Brazil's attacking impetus. If and when Brazil score goals it would be a fair assumption to make that Robinho has had a big hand in it

Lucio is a central defender who will keep it tight at the back. Maicon will be dangerous with his marauding runs from right-back.

Fabiano is a clinical goalscorer so Brazil will be looking to him to finish the moves off with aplomb, the way they are accustomed to him doing

Chile

Sanchez is an exciting winger and a real creative outlet for the Chileans.

Vidal is a quality full-back and will look to attack when he has the opportunity

Suazo is still on the comeback trail from injury but he might just start today. He scored plenty of goals in qualifying and will look to add to his tally against Brazil

Suspensions will be very costly for Chile. Defence is their biggest weakness and they are to go in against Brazil with a couple of second stringers after Ponce and Medel picked up second bookings of the tournament against Spain. Thus Chile's task has just got harder. Estrada is also suspended but his absence will be less keenly felt as he only starts games on occasions. They will be pleased to welcome back key players Carmona and M Fernandez to the fold after they were suspended for the Spanish match.

Expectations: To begin with Chile will likely attack and Brazil will likely contain. There is a distinct possibility that Brazil will catch them on the counter-attack, and if Chile do fall behind it will be a massive mountain for them to climb to get back in the game. Chile will need to convert any chances they do get - instead of being wasteful as they have been shown to be in their earlier games.

South America versus South America is usually something special at the World Cup and Chile will be hoping not to suffer a repeat of their second round game against Brazil back in 1998 when they lost 4-1. Chile have only beaten Brazil seven times in their last 66 games and are very much second favourites coming into this one. But they have a very talented team and a never say die attitude. They can also be ill-disciplined, something else that may be their down fall.

This could be a very entertaining game.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Preview of Round of 16. Match 5: Netherlands v Slovakia

This is Oranje versus Repre. It's two different forms of history on the line. For the Dutch they have been in two consecutive finals in the 70's and a fourth place finish in 98 and are widely considered to have a rich football tradition that often highlights beautiful football over the art of winning. For Slovakia they are in their first world cup as an independent country so have already kicked off history by making the round of 16. They are descended from a great lineage however of Czechoslovakian football.

The Dutch have been in the round of 16 seven times and failed to progress on 3 of those occasions. They are very much the favourites in this match. Partly due to some of the irresistable players they have and partly because they cruised through the group stages at second gear but still won all three games. Slovakia were terrible against Paraguay and brilliant against Italy. It depends which one turns up as to how much of a chance they will have.

Key players

For the Dutch it's their exciting quartet of players who can win any game when they are on song: Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and van der Waart. They also have good solid midfield players in Nigel de Jong and Giovanni Mark van Bommel. If anything their defence is the weakest area but looking at it man for man it is still pretty darn good.

For Slovakia it will be Robert Vittek that needs to be in the goals, Marek Hamsik will cause problems and Skrtel is a big bruising defender. The manager dropped two of their bigger names in Vladimir Weiss and Stanislav Sestak in their last game and it paid dividends - it's hard to know what he will do tonight. One things for sure they have some quality throughout their squad as they demonstrated against the defending champions.

Expectations: It's hard to predict. Logic would suggest Slovakia will sit back and look to counter-attack with the Dutch making the play, but it's really hard to know for sure. It will be a shock if the Netherlands lose but they've shown time and time again you can't write off a Dutch implosion. At least this time there doesn't seem to be fights within the squad. We shall see when the game kicks off at 2am NZ time!

Group G final group games

Brazil 0-0 Portugal

When you see a Brazil v Portugal game on the fixture list it's enough to make one salivate in anticipation. However with Brazil only needing a draw to qualify top and Portugal only needing a draw to make absolutely certain of qualification it quickly became apparent that this would be a damp squib of a game. And so it turned out to be...for ninety minutes. I had thought that with both sides having pretty much progressed this would be an open fun game to match the festive atmosphere that accompanied it. I was wrong. I was also wrong that I didn't think the tackles would be flying in quite so hard. They were and as a result there were a few bookings.

As expected both sides had also made a few changes to their starting line-up and it was in these fringe players best interests to put on a show to force themselves into the managers plans for the round of 16. But even they couldn't really liven up proceedings. Juan could have been given a red card for a deliberate hand ball but the referee took a lenient approach.

The best chances were when a close-range Nilmar shot was parried onto the post by Eduardo and when the ball broke loose for Meireles in the box but was unable to convert.

Ivory Coast 3-0 North Korea

The Ivory Coast new that they needed a massive victory coupled with a Brazil win to have any chance of qualifying for the next stage.

The Ivory Coast could not match the 7-0 Portugal mustered against North Korea but they did create chances and were well worth their 3-0 victory. At least Ivory Coast could go out and enjoy themselves in a game, knowing these were their last minutes at World Cup 2010 they might as well!

The Ivory Coast were particularly dominant in the first half as Yaya Toure and Romaric both scored good goals. Despite their dominance and chances they were unable to produce more. They were unable to create as much during the second half and only a Kalou effort added to the two goals for a simple 3-0 victory that signalled the end of both sides involvement in the tournament.

It was a disheartening tournament for The Elephants and they will rue their conservatism in the first game against Portugal.

Group F final group games

New Zealand 0-0 Paraguay

Paraguay knew a draw was enough to qualify. New Zealand knew they needed a win. This was a dour match as Paraguay seemed content to play out a 0-0 draw and the New Zealanders, whilst wanting to win, just lacked the quality and creativity to make it possible. For a neutral this would have been a boring game, but for us in New Zealand every moment was tense as we dreaded conceding and hoped like hell for a winner.

For New Zealand Paston did well with a couple of good saves. Nelsen was the Kiwis best player as always and Reid and Smith did everything they needed to at the back. Bertos showed a little more moving forwards than he has done previously and Elliott continued to do well. Having bagged Elliott before the tournament I was pleased to see he has done well. Up front Killen and Fallon again showed nothing of note and Smeltz always looked dangerous.

My criticism of the New Zealand approach is focused on Herbert and his tactics in the last half hour of the game. New Zealand were in a situation where they knew one goal would probably be enough to take them through to the second round for the first time ever. They knew they may never be in such a position again. This was the time to take the bull by the horns and just go for it - leave no regrets. This was the situation where Herbert needed to throw on Chris Wood much earlier. He needed to get Tim Brown on for Vicelich for a while. Brown is a natural centre-mid who can make good darting runs into the box as well as breaking up the play nicely. What was the point of him returning to fitness from his shoulder injury if he wasn't going to get considered for a run. We could also have looked at changing the tactics. Perhaps switching formation to a 4-4-2 or a 3-5-2 to try something different. If we'd lost going down fighting it would have felt much better than the tepid way the match drifted to its inexorable conclusion.

Having said that I am very proud of the All Whites for the immense achievement of 3 World Cup draws. They became the fourth team in history (after Belgium, Scotland and Cameroon) to be eliminated after being undefeated. We finished a point ahead of Italy on the rankings and we showed ourselves as a proud nation able to compete on the world stage.

Slovakia 3-2 Italy

Italy needed a win to guarantee qualification and Slovakia knew that even that might not be good enough.

This was an enthralling contest. Slovakia led 1-0 at half-time after De Rossi's pass lost possession near the edge of the box and the ball was fed to Vittek who finished clinically. For the remainder of the half Slovakia were mostly in control of the contest and Marchetti did well to save on a couple of occasions.

Both sides had chances in the second half with Slovakia counter-attacking at every opportunity when Italian pressure broke down. With 17 minutes remaining it looked all over for Italy when Vittek stole in to score at the near post - this not long after Quagliarella had a volley blocked on the goal-line by Skrtel. Di Nitale pulled one back with nine minutes remaining however as he steered into an open goal after Mucha had blocked a shot.

Italy looked for an all important equaliser and thought they had found one. Di Nitale had the ball in the back of the net again but he was correctly adjudged to be offside, even though it was a tight one. A super smart throw in from Slovakia ensured it was actually they who skored again. Substitute Kopenek deftly lifted it over Marchetti's head. The goal of the match came moments later when Quagliarella lobbed in a delightful long-range shot. It was perhaps even the goal of the tournament but it was to no avail as Italy ultimately lost.


Group E final group games

Japan 3-1 Denmark

Japan went into the game knowing a draw would be enough for them to qualify. Denmark knew they needed a win. The equation was fairly simple.

Denmark and Japan both traded early opportunities which both were unlucky to convert but fairly early in the first half it was Japan who took the lead. Given a free kick on the right hand side from 35 yards out Honda hit it with blistering pace and swerve and the ball nestled in the top left hand corner of the net. Sorensen moved the wrong way initially before diving full stretch, missing his outstretched fingers by a whisker. You have to feel a little sympathy for Sorensen - the flight of the ball was deceiving and one wonders how much influence the Jabulani ball had on the swerve. Nevertheless it was a wonderful free-kick in a tournament devoid of quality free-kick goals.

The Netherlands didn't learn their lesson and conceded another free-kick - this time more central and closer to the box. Endo stepped up and curled it beautifully round the wall, Sorensen had no chance. From 2-0 down it was a long way back given that Denmark now needed 3 goals. Endo had another free-kick from a massive distance in the second half and he almost did a 2002 World Cup quarter-final Brazil v England Ronaldinho special. Sorensen was Seaman on this occasion and he would have been delighted to get just enough hand to the floating ball to guide it onto the crossbar. Very close and very nervy though.

Tomasson had opportunities to pull the score back, one in particular saw him in a great position only to scuff his shot. But overall Denmark did not show enough in attack. Their supposedly creative team with a strong defence that had aided them so well through qualification was lacking. Larsen managed a fantastic volley against the bar and with ten minutes remaining Denmark had a life-line as they were awarded a penalty. Tomasson did his best to miss as Kawashima saved, only for Tomasson to bundle home the rebound and equal a Danish goalscoring record. 

Honda completed the job however, setting up Okazaki after taking it past one and slipping the ball across to him. It was sumptuous from Honda, only emphasising a masterful display from him. Japan eased into the second round, taking 2nd spot.

Netherlands 2-1 Cameroon

The Netherlands knew they only needed a draw to guarantee top spot and Cameroon knew they were only playing for pride having already been eliminated. Cameroon therefore took the opportunity to blood some youngsters, and a number of them impressed. The Netherlands played well, demonstrating neat and clever interplay that created a good number of chances. This finally paid off in the 36th minute after a sublime one-two between van Persie and van der Waart ended in a crisp finish for van Persie.

Cameroon played some quality football which resulted in a number of opportunities that the Netherlands did well to thwart. When the equaliser finally came it was from the spot. Eto'o converted clinically after a hand ball.

When the Netherlands winner came it was quite special. Sneijder set up the attack with a quality through ball, Robben's poor touch looked to have taken the ball away but he created space for himself, hit a fantastic shot against the post and Huntelaar slotted into an open goal - from a tight angle.

The Netherlands have nine points from nine and don't appear to have hit their straps. Cameroon were very weak in their opening game but probably deserved to register at least one point at the World Cup.

Preview of Round of 16. Match 4: Argentina v Mexico

It's the Albiceleste versus El Tri. It's the two time World Cup winners Argentina versus the two time quarter-finalists Mexico. It's South America versus North/Central America. It's also a repeat of the Round of 16 match in 2006.

Yes in 2006 Argentina (after winning Group C ahead of the Netherlands) faced Mexico (who finished 2nd in Group D behind Portugal) and the score was 1-1 after 90 minutes. Argentina won by virtue of a spectacular Maxi Rodriguez goal in extra-time but it had been a tightly fought quality game.

They also lost the 1993 Copa America final to Argentina 2-1 and a 2007 Copa America semi-final 3-0.

Argentina will be hoping to successfully navigate the second round so that they can exact revenge on Germany in the quarter-finals. Germany of course eliminated Argentina on penalties at the quarter-final of the last World Cup. Mexico will be hoping to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 1986.

Key players

Argentina

Messi: Messi is probably the best footballer in the world. He has perfect vision, innate football intelligence, super control, skill and awareness, creates opportunities for others and scores plenty of goals himself. He is a complete footballer and when on top of his game - nothing can stop him.

Mascherano: Mascherano is an important player because if there is one weakness in the Argentine team it is the defence. Not that the defence is bad but they do have the occasional blooper or nervy moment. Mascherano, as defensive midfielder, has the job of protecting the back four and does so admirably. He is also responsible for the link up play with the attacking midfielders at Argentina's disposal. He is very good at this also.

Tevez: A supremely talented striker, could Tevez be ready to fire?

Mexico

Marquez: Has the all important job of protecting the back four and in particular nullifying the threat of Messi. He thus has perhaps the most difficult job in world football. They are no strangers - they are team-mates and great friends for Barcelona. This friendship will of course be put on hold! Marquez is a highly experienced and quality player.

Dos Santos: Always threatening, Dos Santos creates opportunities for others and likes to have a shot himself.

Barrera: An under-rated midfielder Barrera has the potential to unlock defences.

Expectations: With both sides having the odd question mark over their defence this could be a very open game with plenty of goals. Argentina are far more clinical in attack. Mexico will create opportunities but they don't convert enough of them. This will have to change tonight. One hopes Hernandez might get a start this time but expect him instead off the bench. Maradona loves to play the fab four of Messi, Di Maria, Tevez and Higuain and expect this to continue. It's an irresistable combination and has worked for him so far.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Preview of Round of 16. Match 3: England v Germany

It's the big one! It's one time World Cup winner England versus three time champs Germany. It's one of world football's biggest rivalries and even though they are a very long time ago, for some people the rivalry takes on even bigger significance because of the world wars. This is reflected in the song that some people like to sing: "two world wars and one world cup".

England versus Germany is always one of the most anticipated clashes any time, let alone in the knock-out stage at a World Cup. They have a celebrated history of contests that stem in particular from the 1966 World Cup final.

Historic World Cup matches between the sides:

1966 World Cup final. England 4-2 Germany after extra-time. England were leading 2-1 and conceded an equaliser in the last minute of regulation time - Weber poked it over the line despite English protestations of a handball. In extra-time England scored one of the most controversial goals of all time and arguments rage to this day about it. Hurst hit the crossbar and the ball bounced down either onto or just over the goal-line. But the goal was given. Hurst went on to score another goal for England's fourth and his hat-trick and even that is contested. Fans had already started running onto the pitch so perhaps technically it should not have been given. England won their one and only world cup and this really kick-started a massive football rivalry.

1970 World Cup quarter-final. England were leading 2-0, then Germany pulled one back through Beckenbauer and manager Alf Ramsey did the unthinkable. He substituted the tiring Bobby Charlton and it was probably one of the worst decisions he ever made. England lost any potency going forward and Seeler equalised for the Germans. Gerd Muller scored the winner in extra-time (it was one of his 14 world cup finals goals for which he held the record until Ronaldo overtook him with 15 in 2006) to send the German fans into delirium. Many commentators think England would have won if their brilliant goalkeeper Gordon Banks hadn't been missing through illness.

1990 World Cup semi-final. This is one of my worst memories as an England fan. Lineker equalised in the 80th minute to make the match 1-1 and send it to extra-time. No-one broke through in extra-time and England had their first taste of spot-kick misery. Something they would experience a lot more of through the years. Pearce and Waddle missed their penalties. The game was also iconic for Gazza's tears - he had received a yellow card which would cause him to be suspended for the final should England make it through.

A couple more iconic matches (non World Cup) have also been the 1996 European Championships semi-final which England also lost on penalties - Southgate the villain this time - and a World Cup qualifying match in 2001 when England famously won a surprising 5-1!

Both teams are coming into this match off a mixed bag in the group stage. England were average against the USA, abysmal against Algeria, and finally got themselves together against Slovenia. Germany were mesmerising against Australia before succumbing to Serbia and then beating Ghana.

Key players

England

Rooney - yet to set the World Cup alight he is considered part of the trio of world's best footballers: Messi, Ronaldo and Rooney. When he fires he is almost unstoppable.

Gerrard and Lampard (and particularly Gerrard) - two supremely talented players who step up for their clubs when it matter but don't do it often enough for England.

John Terry - Prone to the odd mistake Terry will have to put a few things behind him, (affair, captaincy stripping, harsh words on Capello) stay focused and be a true leader on the pitch.

Germany

Oezil and Mueller - Two young players that can wrip apart any defence when they are at the top of their game. Oezil is coming off a game in which he scored an absolute belter and Mueller has the potential to become the best player in the world, and is not far behind right now. Both could create a lot of opportunities for the devastating front men Podolski and Klose.

Lahm - Captain and a fantastic full-back he must be alert to the dangers coming from England's midfield and attack.

Schweinsteiger - A key man in central midfield, Schweinsteiger is battling an injury and hoping to be fit.

Expectations - could be a cagey tight affair with neither side wanting to give an inch. But it will have the potential to explode at any time with the attacking talent on show tonight. Both sides have shown the odd weakness in defence so there could be some goals in the game. Germany have more talent throughout their squad and they are younger which could make them more exciting and play with less fear. Although it could also lead to more mistakes or naive play without all the wise old heads around.

And if it comes to penalties, you have to back the Germans.
An absolute classic encounter is in the offing, and it's a shame one of these teams won't be strutting their stuff in the quarter-finals.

Group D final set of games

Germany 1-0 Ghana

Ghana went into this game knowing a draw would guarantee them qualification for the second round. Germany knew they needed a win to make sure of their place.

The game soon settled into a pattern of Germany attacking with Ghana defending and hitting them back on the counter-attack. Ghana's defence was very well organised and the German side found it difficult to break them down. And for all Germany's pressure Ghana probably had the better chances overall, including two shots that were cleared off the line by German defenders. Both Oezil and Asamoah should have done a lot better with their one-on-one opportunities.

I was getting the distinct feel of a 0-0 about the game until the moment of magic arrived, a little out of the blue. The Germans were passing the ball around roughly ten metres outside the Ghanaian penalty area when the ball arrived at Oezil's feet (courtesy of Mueller), he flicked it up with his left boot before crashing a stupendous long-range shot into the top left hand corner of the goal. It was a goal worthy of winning a football match and that is the way it proved to be as Germany finished top of the group and Ghana sneaked into second place.


Australia 2-1 Serbia

Serbia went into this game knowing a victory would put them into the second round and a draw would leave their hopes hanging by a thread. Australia knew only a win would do, and that even that might not be enough. Cahill was back from suspension but Kewell was suspended.

Serbia dominated the first half and failed to score from a number of promising attacks. Krasic had a couple of excellent chances and Schwarzer foiled Ivanovic with a stunning save from a powerful shot. On the balance of play Serbia perhaps deserved a half-time lead.

The second half proved to be far more even in terms of creating good chances. Australia warned Serbia with a Cahill header that went wide and a couple of strong Bresciano shots when on 69 minutes Cahill opened the scoring with a typically powerful and accurate header from the centre of the box - the likes of which we've seen him score for Everton on numerous occasions. Then only minutes later Brett Holman scored an absolute screamer. He picked up the ball just inside Serbia's half, surged forward and thundered into the bottom right hand corner from 25 yards. There had been no pressure on him from Serbia's defence and the keeper had no chance.

With Germany winning 1-0 against Ghana Australia knew they needed one more goal to send them through to the second round. However next to score were Serbia. With six minutes remaining Tosic curled in a dipping and swerving ball which Schwarzer spilled into the path of Pantelic who tapped in the rebound. This now meant that Australia needed two goals to advance but Serbia just needed an equaliser. There was still time for a good shot from Cullina, a shout for a penalty and a disallowed goal. Cahill handled in the area but it was clearly accidental and despite Serbian protestations both during and after the match it was a fair call. Pantelic also thought he had brought things level but his goal was disallowed for offside in a tight call from the assistant referee.

Ultimately both sides were disappointed as they failed to progress to the knock-out stages.

Group C final group games

England 1-0 Slovenia

The game began with England knowing they pretty much had to win, and Slovenia knowing that a point would be enough. England came into the game with two draws after a poor showing against the USA and an abysmal showing against Algeria. Slovenia came in off an average game against Algeria they had managed to win, and a good performance in a pulsating 2 all draw against the USA. The biggest question was: which England would turn up?

It had been widely expected that Capello would finally change the tactics and play Gerrard off Rooney but it didn't quite happen like that. Instead he played Defoe ahead of Heskey and brought Milner into the right wing slot. Carragher of course was suspended so Upson got a start at centre-back. It was a 4-4-2 formation although I was sure Gerrard would drift infield quite a bit (and this would also allow Ashley Cole the freedom to attack down the left flank).


England ultimately put in an excellent performance in what was a commanding 1-0 victory. England constantly hassled and harried the Slovenian players throughout and created a number of opportunities. Milner was my man of the match - he had a fantastic game at right-wing and provided many Beckham-esque crosses. One of which produced the winning goal as Defoe stabbed home from close range.

Slovenia were disappointing. They had thrilled against the USA but they offered only a few off-key whimpers against England. Admittedly, even 1-0 down they were going to qualify while the other game was locked up at 0-0 but the USA's very late winner prevented that.

Rooney still hasn't stamped his mark on a game, England will be hoping for more from him in the second round.

USA 1-0 Algeria

Going into the match the USA knew only a win could guarantee progression. Algeria needed a win even more as this was the only way they could progress and even then they were dependent on the other result.

This game was an engaging affair as both teams looked to attack and to play attractive football. For Algeria Djebbour, Matmour, Ziani and Belhadj were creative, passed intelligently, had plenty of decent shots and played with a spark. Had I never watched this game and relied only on their first two performances at the World Cup I would have described them as a poor or limited side. But having seen this I would now say they are a very capable team who didn't show this until their final game.

The USA were also enterprising and creative which allowed for a free-flowing good game of football. Both sides hit the woodwork with Dempsey hitting the post and Djebbour hitting the bar but it was fitting that Donovan hit the winner as he had been the best player for the USA and possibly for the match. In injury time the ball broke loose in Algeria's penalty area and Donovan was there to slam it into the net, producing a massive moment of high drama and pure ecstasy for the Americans who all threw themselves onto the ground in a mass of bodies. The win had put them through to the second round, and in first place in their group no less.

Preview of Round of 16. Match 2: USA v Ghana

This is American World Power versus the Hope of Africa. The Stars and Stripes against the Black Stars.

The USA, apart from a 3rd place finish in the first World Cup in 1930, reached their pinnacle of World Cup achievement in 2002 when they lost to Germany in the quarter-finals. And they were unlucky as well - Frings arguably handled in the penalty area preventing a goal but no penalty was awarded and the USA ultimately lost 1-0. They will be hoping to defeat Ghana to emulate the Class of 2002 and an opportunity to surpass them against Uruguay in the quarter-final. Ghana have only recently joined the ranks of the African countries to have appeared at a World Cup. First appearance was in 2006 when they made the second round only to lose 3-0 to Brazil. They will be hoping to achieve their best ever success and to emulate their African counterparts: Cameroon of 1990 and Senegal in 2002. And then to go one better against Uruguay in the quarter-finals.

The USA and Ghana have faced each other once at World Cup level. In 2002 they were drawn in the same group. Ghana beat the USA 2-1 in their final games of the group which enabled Ghana to progress to the second round and sent the USA packing.

Some key statistics: Ghana are the only team at World Cup 2010 to make the second round without scoring a goal from open play. Both goals came courtesy of Gyan penalty kicks. The USA have demonstrated fantastic battling qualities having come back from behind to draw in two games. After conceding early against England they equalised five minutes before half-time, albeit thanks to assistance from a Robert Green shocker. Against Slovenia they conceded two goals in the first half only to come back with two goals of their own in the second. Against Algeria they didn't need to fight back from being behind, but with the scores 0-0 in injury time at the end of the game they fashioned a winner. Clearly the USA have a lot of heart and clearly it is time for Ghana to score a goal from open play!

Key players: For Ghana Gyan is the likeliest goal scorer and Ayew should cause problems down the left flank. First choice centre-back Vorsah may not recover from injury in time. For USA Donovan and Dempsey are the keys with both players having the quality to create goals and a lot of heart to boot.

This should be a very physical match. Ghana have some very physically strong players and the USA won't back down. The USA are marginal favourites, particularly if they score first. It will be a fascinating contest.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Preview of Round of 16. Match 1: Uruguay v South Korea

This is South America v Asia. This is 1930 and 1950 World Cup winners against 2002 Semi-finalist. This is 2.5 million people v 52 million. La Celeste v Taeguk Warriors.

Uruguay and South Korea have only ever played each other once at a World Cup. This was at the group stage in 1990. Uruguay won 1-0 in the last minute and qualified for the round of 16, South Korea went home without registering a point. They have played each other five times in total - Uruguay have won 4 times and they have drawn once. South Korea have never beaten a South American side at a World Cup.

Uruguay will be desperate to make their first quarter-finals since 1970 and are in the knock-out stages for the first time since 1990. South Korea will want to write a new chapter in their history having only been past the group stage once before (2002). Both will be buoyed, knowing that should they win, their quarter-final clash will be against USA or Ghana, neither one of the so-called bigger nations.

Form Guide over their last 5 games: Uruguay are unbeaten with 4 wins and a draw. South Korea have recorded a win, a draw and three losses. At this World Cup Uruguay are yet to concede a goal, scoring 4 times. South Korea have scored 5 and conceded 6.

Who is the favourite? Uruguay probably go in as favourites but this is finals football: form can go right out of the window. Forlan and Park Ji-Sung could be the keys to victories for their respective sides.

Who will reign supreme? It will be an interesting clash of styles, and naturally I'm really looking forward to the game.

Group B final set of games

South Korea 2-2 Nigeria

Nigeria came into the game knowing that they could qualify with a win, providing that Argentina beat Greece. South Korea knew they probably only needed a draw (assuming Greece didn't beat Argentina).

As a result Nigeria came out with positive intent, and it was they who opened the scoring after only 12 minutes. Odiah took it past two South Koreans down the flank before sending a low cross in, Uche ghosted in front of the defender and finished with aplomb. It was a combination of South Korea showing weakness in defence and Uche showing a cutting edge to score.

The impressive Uche could have made it 2-0 soon after. A venomous long-range shot smacked into the post as Nigeria came tantalisingly close to putting one foot in the second round. Instead South Korea were to get the equaliser not long before half-time. Awarded a free kick on the left flank Ki Sung-Yong swung in the free kick and Lee Jung-soo bundled home, unmarked thanks to an error from Afolabi. It was an odd goal as it came off Lee Jung-soo's head and then knee on the way into the net.

South Korea took the lead early in the second half. Shittu committed the foul and Park Chu-Young converted the long distance free-kick. Enyeama was wrong footed by the shot and perhaps should have been positioned better. It wasn't the best free-kick but it crept in at the far post.

Errors were costing Nigeria dearly. Now behind they had to throw caution to the wind. As the game wore on we witnessed one of the misses of all time. Ayila squared the ball to an unmarked Yakubu who had an open goal in front of him. He inexplicably put the ball wide. A couple of minutes later he was able to atone for the error, converting a penalty after Kim Nam-Il had brought Obasi down in the box. It was a frantic ending to the match as Martins and Obinna had a couple of good chances each but were unable to profit. Inches away from the second round...

Nigeria would rue their defensive errors. South Korea had played some nice football and had more chances than my review has indicated. Park Chu-Young was the most impressive South Korean in my opinion. For Nigeria both Uche and Obasi had looked quality. Nigeria were eliminated and overall they would rue defensive lapses, wasted opportunities and ill-discipline in the Greece match. South Korea qualified for a second-round date with Uruguay.

Argentina 2-0 Greece

Greece went into this game knowing a win might not be enough to qualify, but a draw might. In other words the Group had a number of permutations and they knew they had to win to give themselves the best chance possible. Argentina had already qualified and only needed a draw to ensure top spot. As a result they rested a few players.

Despite this Greece did not go into the game attempting to attack Argentina from the offset. Instead they were happy to defend, soak up the pressure and hit Argentina with a fast counter-attack. Argentina looked very exciting moving forward and it was thanks to some impressive saves from Tsorvas (as well as some good defending in general) that it took Argentina until the 79th minute to open the scoring. Demichelis stabbed home from a corner kick after his intial shot was blocked by fellow team-mate Milito. The second goal came when Messi beat a couple of players and thundered a spectacular shot which hit the post - veteran striker Palermo was alert to slot home the rebound. Messi had shown a number of flashes of brilliance throughout the game as he continued his run of playing very well but not scoring.

Greece had had a few chances throughout the match, these mainly falling to Samaras. He was unable to convert any of them however. One of them in particular he really should have scored.

But it was Maradona's Argentina to finish first in the group (they will take on Mexico in the second round) and Greece to take an early flight home.

Group A final set of games

Uruguay 1-0 Mexico

Some people had predicted a damp squib of a game as both sides only required a draw to guarantee progression to the second round of the World Cup. However with the 2nd placed team likely to play Argentina both would surely have decided that they wanted to avoid that. To do so Mexico (in 2nd on goal difference) would need to win but Uruguay would only need to draw.

At any rate it was an entertaining game with both sides having a number of chances, and no-one could possibly accuse them of doing a 1982 Germany Algeria (when a Germany 1-0 win would be enough to take them both through Germany scored in the first 10 minutes and the last 80 were a farce).

Suarez scored the only goal of the game with a simple header at the back post but there were a number of missed opportunities from both sides. Guardado smashed a thunderous long-range shot against the underside of the bar, Suarez uncharacteristically shot wide of the target when in a good position, Rodriguez somehow put a header wide when it seemed easier to score and Perez pulled off a magnificent save from a Lugano header - to describe the best few.

Both sides looked good going forward, Mexico a bit shaky at the back, and ultimately Uruguay perhaps deserved the one goal victory that was enough to take both sides into the second round.

South Africa 2-1 France

Both sides went into the game knowing they needed a big win (or a small win and relying on a big win in the game being played simultaneously). South Africa broke the deadlock after only 20 minues (against the run of play) - Khumalo heading home a Tshabalala corner that Lloris got nowhere near to. Their cause was aided further when Gourcuff was red carded for use of the elbow - it was a harsh decision as replays showed that whilst there was more than a hint of elbow there was no malicious intent. South Africa even managed a second before half-time. A comedy of errors in the French defence resulted in Mphela bundling the ball home.

The second half started with South Africa, tails up and in the ascendancy. Tshabalala released Mphela and in a one-on-one he lifted it above the goalkeeper but against the crossbar. A third goal would have left them requiring only a fourth, should the other game remain at 1-0. Lloris also made a couple of fantastic saves to keep France in it. Then it was France's turn to score against the run of play - Malouda finishing off a nice, simple and effective move by stroking the ball into the empty net. South Africa had a couple more big chances but they didn't manage to score again. Despite being the first hosts to be knocked out in the group stage, South Africa played with a huge amount of heart.

The match finished 2-1: the South Africans were happy to finally have a win at this World Cup and to miss out on the second round only on goal difference. The French went home with only 1 point and plenty of questions about the squad and manager. A couple of days before the game Anelka had been sent home for something he'd said and players had refused to train as a result, some had considered boycotting the match. In France they will feel the aftermath of the World Cup for a while as they try to pick up the pieces. The South African supporters will enjoy the rest of the tournament, despite the absence of the hosts.

Team of the second round of group games

This is the eleven I would pick after watching all the second round of group games. [Please note in a couple of instances I have played a player on the opposite flank to his favoured position - that is because there were two stand-outs in the one position and none on the opposite flank!]

I am employing a 3-5-2 formation

Goalkeeper: Paston (New Zealand) - no goalkeeper stood out in the second round with an outstanding array of saves (like Enyeama did in the first) but it would be hard to go past Mark Paston. He faced up to World Champions Italy and pulled off around half a dozen top quality saves that ensured minnows New Zealand would earn a point. He conceded one goal in the game - unable to save a sweetly struck Iaquinta penalty.

Honourable mentions: Stojkovic marshalled his defence well in a shock victory for Serbia against Germany, and is one of few goalkeepers who can boast a German penalty save. Benaglio also had a very good game for Switzerland against Chile

Defence

Fullbacks: Salcido (Mexico) and Coentrao (Portugal) both had stunning games. Salcido had attacked France superbly, leaving them at sixes and sevens, and defended very well too. Coentrao had an equally good attacking and defending game although that was against North Korea.

Honourable mention: Ramos was quality for Spain against Honduras.

Centre-back: Nelsen (New Zealand) was captain fantastic for New Zealand against Italy. He stopped everything that Italy threw in his way including an amazing block in the dying minutes of the match. He also marshalled his fellow defence brilliantly to ensure they found no way through.

Honourable mention: Subotic defended magnificently for Serbia in their clean sheet against Germany.

Midfield

Wingers: Krasic (Serbia) tormented the German defence setting up the goal with a perfect cross and providing many more opportunities for his side. Rommedahl (Denmark) was surely his side's man of the match against Cameroon. He set up Bendtner's goal with a fantastic square ball and also scored a goal with an absolutely delightful and inch perfect finish.

Defensive midfielder: Marquez (Mexico) was extremely solid in defence against the French and set up the Mexican's first goal with a delicious long ball to Javier Hernandez.

Honourable mention: Felipe Melo had a sterling game for Brazil against the Ivory Coast.

Central/Attacking midfielders: Birsa (Slovenia) was always threatening in his match against the USA and scored a long-range stunner as well. Tiago (Portugal) was the creative hub against North Korea and topped it off with two nice goals of his own.

Honourable mentions: Jovanovic (Serbia) who finished nicely and was always creative against Germany. Montolivio was the man who looked most likely for Italy to break New Zealand down. Pulled out some good long-range efforts too.

Strikers

The 'second striker' role: Messi (Argentina) was the key man for all four goals against South Korea. He played an irresistable match. In this line up he plays behind the front man and will provide beautiful link-up play and shots.

The 'front man': Forlan (Uruguay) scored two goals against South Africa but not only that he created opportunities for his team-mates too. He was heavily involved in any good play that they produced.

Honourable mentions: Villa scored two goals for Spain against Honduras - one of which was a wonderful finish. Although he did miss a penalty. Fabiano scored two goals for Brazil against the Ivory Coast. Both were very good finishes although he appeared to handle twice before unleashing for his second goal.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Group H permutations

Group H is fascinating. All can still qualify (although very unlikely for Honduras) and it could come down to goal difference. It's Spain v Chile and Switzerland v Honduras...

Chile will qualify top with a win or draw against Spain. If they lose Spain will finish ahead of them on goal difference and Chile will only be able to finish second. Second place will come down to goal difference with Switzerland (should they beat Honduras and not by enough to overtake Spain). In that situation, should either game be won by more than a single goal Switzerland will qualify and Chile will be eliminated. If Chile lose and Switzerland win by the same one goal margin scoreline they will finish with the same goals for and against and Chile will qualify by virtue of having beaten Switzerland. If Chile lose and Switzerland win, both by one goal, then Chile's opposition must score the same number of goals, or more, than Switzerand in order for Chile to qualify 2nd. If Chile lose and Switzerland fail to win Chile will qualify.

Spain will win the group if they beat Chile and Switzerland fail to overtake them on goal difference. If Spain win against Chile by the same margin (or more) than Switzerland beat Honduras they will be top. If Spain beat Chile by 1 less than Switzerland beat Honduras it will come down to goals scored (and if that's the same Switzerland will finish first due to beating Spain). For example, if Switzerland win 3-1 and Spain win 1-0 it's the same goal difference but Switzerland have scored more and will finish 1st. If Switzerland win 2-0 and Spain win 1-0 goal difference and goals scored will be equal and so Switzerland will finish 1st because they beat Spain. If Switzerland win 2-0 and Spain win 2-1, Spain will finish 1st. If Spain beat Chile by 2 less than Switzerland beat Honduras Switzerland will finish 1st and Spain 2nd. If Spain draw they will finish 2nd if Switzerland draw or lose against Honduras. If Spain lose and Honduras win Spain, Switzerland and Honduras will all be on 3 points and 2nd place will come down to goal difference (and if two are equal second on that then head-to-head between the two sides.

Switzerland will qualify if they beat Honduras and Spain fail to beat Chile. In such a situation they will compete with Chile for 1st and 2nd based on goal difference. If that is equal then it will come down to goals scored. And if that is equal Chile will be 1st having beaten Switzerland. If Switzerland and Spain win Switzerland will have to overtake Chile's goal difference, if that is the same they will have to have scored more goals, and if that is the same they will miss out. If Switzerland and Spain win they could finish first if they overtake Spain's goal difference, or equal Spain's goal difference and have scored more (or equal) goals. If Switzerland draw they require Chile to beat Spain to finish 2nd - otherwise they will be eliminated. If Switzerland lose they cannot finish 1st but they may finish 2nd. They would require Chile to beat Spain so that they are level on 3 points with Spain and Honduras. Then it will come down to goal difference and if that is equal with one team (and above anothers) it will come down to goals scored, and if that's the same - head-to-head. If Switzerland lose and Chile fail to beat Spain they are eliminated.

Honduras cannot finish 1st. In order to finish 2nd they first must win and hope Chile beat Spain. If that happens they will be tied on 3 points with Spain and Switzerland. Overall goal difference then goals scored will be taken into account, and if teams are still tied then the goal difference and goals scored between the tied teams will be taken into account. If still tied, lots will be drawn. To give an example of Honduras finishing 2nd - if they beat Switzerland 3-1 and Chile beat Spain 2-0, they will achieve that feat!

Group G permutations

Brazil are qualified, Portugal are almost guaranteed qualification, Ivory Coast are practically eliminated and North Korea are out...but that does not mean all issues are sorted. It's Brazil v Portugal and Ivory Coast v North Korea...let's look at the permutations.

Brazil have qualified. They only need a draw to finish top. If they lose they will finish second.

Portugal will qualify top with a win and second with a draw. They are also incredibly likely to finish 2nd with a loss as well. To miss out there would have to be a 9 or 10 goal swing - something like Ivory Coast to win 7-0 and Brazil to win 2-0.

Ivory Coast can only qualify if they couple a big win with a big Portugal loss - a 9 or 10 goal swing in total (see above). Otherwise they are eliminated. They are basically playing for pride.

The best North Korea can do is to finish 3rd - to do so they would need to beat the Ivory Coast.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Group F permutations

With all 4 teams very much alive...what is required for each to qualify? (Paraguay v New Zealand and Italy v Slovakia). (P.S. A coin toss = drawing of lots = same thing)

Paraguay: A win or a draw is required to guarantee qualification. A win and they will finish first, a draw and they will finish first (unless Italy can overtake them on goal difference - this will require either a 2 or 3 goal win), a loss and they will finish 2nd if Italy v Slovakia is a draw or if Slovakia win and fail to achieve a better goal difference than them (will require a 4 or 5 goal swing). Obviously If Paraguay lose and Italy win they are eliminated.

Italy: A win will guarantee qualification. A win and a Paraguay win and they will finish 2nd. A win and a Paraguay draw and 1st and 2nd will come down to goal difference (indeed if Paraguay draw 1-1 and Italy win 2-0, 1st and 2nd will come down to a coin toss). A win and a New Zealand win will mean 1st and 2nd come down to who got the best win. A draw will achieve qualification if New Zealand lose. A draw and a New Zealand win will mean they are eliminated. A draw and a New Zealand draw - they will qualify in 2nd place if their draw is a higher score draw than New Zealand and they will be eliminated if it is a lower score draw. If the scoreline in both draws are the same then they will have a coin toss with New Zealand to see who qualifies in 2nd and who misses out.

New Zealand. A win will guarantee qualification. A win and an Italian win will mean they qualify in 1st if they get a better win and 2nd if they get a worse win. If the win is the same scoreline then 1st and 2nd will be decided on a coin toss. A win and an Italian draw or loss and New Zealand will finish first. If New Zealand draw they will be eliminated if Italy or Slovakia win. A draw and an Italian draw - they will qualify in 2nd place if their draw is a higher score draw than Italy and they will be eliminated if it is a lower score draw. If the scoreline in both draws are the same then they will have a coin toss with Italy to see who qualifies in 2nd and who misses out.

Slovakia. A loss or a draw and they are eliminated, a win and a Paraguay win or draw and they will qualify in 2nd. A win and a New Zealand win and they will compete with Paraguay for 2nd place based on goal difference. They will need a 4 or 5 goal swing to qualify ahead of Paraguay. If they have the same goals scored and goals against then Paraguay will qualify.

Group E permutations

What is required to progress from Group E?

Netherlands: Qualification is already confirmed and they only need a draw with Cameroon to confirm top spot. How can they miss out on top spot and get second instead? This requires Cameroon to win and either Japan to overcome a 3 goal deficit or Denmark to overcome a 4 goal deficit. In either scenario if goal difference and goals scored are tied Netherlands will still finish top.

Denmark require a win over Japan to qualify. In this case they will finish second unless they can achieve a 4 or 5 goal swing. Unfortunately for Denmark their star centre-back Simon Kjaer is suspended for the game. They must hope Poulsen doesn't repeat errors from the earlier games.

Japan only require a draw over Denmark to qualify. Win or draw they will finish second unless they can achieve a 3 or 4 goal swing.

Cameroon are eliminated.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Group D permutations

I had initially predicted Germany and Serbia, suggesting Ghana may miss out at a whisker. I also suggested this was a tough group to get out of (twas a toughie to call) and so it would seem before the final round of matches. It could go to any two teams. What do they all need when Germany play Ghana and Serbia play Australia?

Ghana: If Ghana win they will finish top of the group. If they draw they will qualify first if Australia win or Australia and Serbia draw, or second if Serbia win. If Ghana lose by one goal they still have a chance to go through if the other game is a draw - they will have the same goal difference as Serbia but Serbia will need to have scored more goals to go through, thus a Ghana 1-0 loss and a Serbia 1-1 draw will see Ghana through but a Ghana 1-0 loss and a Serbia 2-2 draw will see Serbia through.

Germany: If Germany win they will likely top the group (unless Serbia thrash Australia and overtake the goal difference). If Germany draw they will be knocked out if Serbia win. They will be through in second if the other game is a draw or Australia win (unless there is an 8 goal swing).

Serbia: If Serbia win they will qualify. This will be in first if Germany and Ghana draw, in second if Ghana win and probably in second if Germany win (unless there is a 3 or 4 goal swing). A Serbia draw will also see them qualify if Ghana beat Germany.

Australia: If Australia win they will qualify (in second) if Ghana win. If they win and the Germany Ghana game is a draw they will need to win by 7 goals to qualify. If they win and Germany win they will need a 5 goal swing to qualify ahead of Ghana. Anything other than a win and they are knocked out.

Group C permutations

My initial prediction for Group C was England and Slovenia to progress (in 1st and 2nd) although I acknowledged that I was picking an upset having Slovenia over the USA. The last round of games will be intriguing as all are in with a shot at qualifying. Slovenia top the group but all can change in the blink of an eye. What do they all need to do when Slovenia play England and the USA play Algeria? [In simplistic terms without all the minor nuances].

England: A win and they are through - in first providing they win by a better margin than the USA. A draw could see them through but only if the USA score 3 less goals than them, 2 less and it would go down to a coin toss.

Slovenia: A win and they will finish first, a draw and they will qualify in first or second (depending on the USA result, a USA win might prevent them from taking 1st spot. A 1-1 draw between Slovenia and England and a 1-0 win to the USA would result in a coin toss between Slovenia and the USA to decide first place)

USA: A win and they are through in either first or second - depending on the other result. A draw and they will likely go through if England also draw (particularly if it is a score draw) or if England lose.

Algeria: Must beat USA. If they do and England draw they will be through in 2nd. If they do and England win they will be fighting with Slovenia for second place on goal difference. They basically need to win by 2 and England by 1 or vice versa. If they win and Slovenia win they will be through in 2nd. Algeria cannot finish first.

Group H's second set of games

Chile 1-0 Switzerland

The first thing I noted was the return of Behrami and Frei to the team. Frei is the key goalscorer for Switzerland so I saw this as a big boon for them. As was to be expected Chile started off doing more of the attacking while Switzerland were content to defend and hope to catch Chile out on the break. The red card after around 30 mins only allowed this pattern to intensify. Behrami's red was harsh - his high hand connected with Vidal's neck, and Vidal milked it for all it was worth. In fairness the dismissal was soft.

Chile attacked throughout the game but were wasteful with their chances. In fact in two World Cup games they have had over 40 shots and only managed two goals. It is this profligacy which could haunt them in the final reckoning as progression may come down to goal difference.

About five minutes after Switzerland had recorded the record for consecutive minutes played at the World Cup, with around 20 minutes to go, Chile finally broke the deadlock with a close range header from Gonzalez. In injury time Chile's profligacy almost came back to haunt with Derdiyok spawning a brilliant chance to bring things level.

Swiss keeper Benaglio had a quality game as did a number of the outfield Chileans. Unfortunately for Chile Carmona and M Fernandez are now suspended for the Spain game. Two big players to be without. And thanks to a whistle happy ref who wouldn't let the game flow.

Spain 2-0 Honduras

Interestingly Navas came in for Iniesta in midfield and Torres was starting upfront. This match was pretty much all Spanish attack and Honduran defence. Villa smashed the crossbar from 30 yards and managed to open the scoring on 17 minutes with a fantastic goal - lovely turn and precision finish after great build-up play.

The second goal didn't come until the second half - again a nice interchange from the Spanish, this time leading to a well hit, but deflected goal. Villa had the chance for a hat-trick but he missed a penalty (the giving of which was justified), sending the keeper the wrong way but blasting it wide.

Fabregas came on with half an hour to go and impressed in his short time on the field, almost scoring a goal in the process. Navas and Ramos did well down the right all evening and Spain were in general a cut above Honduras.

Honduras did however give Spain the odd nervy moment and worked ultra-hard in defence to keep the damage to a minimum.

Group G's second set of games

Portugal 7-0 North Korea

North Korea approached this match with far more positive attacking intent than they did against Brazil. The first half featured some good attacks from Portugal but it also featured some sustained pressure from North Korea, and arguably were creative enough to be worthy of a goal. Portugal probably had the better of the first half chances but no-one would have argued if Jong Tae-Se had managed to get onto the end of a delightful through ball instead of just missing out as it skidded through.

It was Portugal who broke the deadlock though, scoring the only goal of the first half as Tiago put through a measured clever pass, splitting the North Korean defence for Meireles to complete a tidy finish.

In the second half Portugal ran riot. Better sides than North Korea may not have been able to thwart what was a half of real attacking intent and some stunning play. They were partly able to do so however because North Korea did not look the solid defensive unit they did against Brazil. And that in itself was partly due to their own attacking intent. Instead of focusing on defending they were looking for goals, and it became their undoing as they were exposed at the back.

It's amusing to think that this was the first game North Korea had televised live since a qualifier against Iran maybe a year ago - and here they were getting thrashed. I wonder what a certain dictator thought of the game and if transmission suddenly failed part way through the second half lol.

Portugal scored their six second half goals through Simao, Almeida, Tiago (2), Liedson and Ronaldo - Ri Myong-Guk in goal could have probably done better with a couple of them.

Brazil 3-1 Ivory Coast

The first thing that struck me was that Drogba had come into the team at the expense of Gervinho. I exclaimed frustratedly that it should have been Dindane to be consigned to the subs bench, I really couldn't believe it.

The Ivory Coast had some good early pressure but failed to capitalise. Just before the half hour mark however Brazil struck. Robinho and Kaka combined well with Fabiano to allow him an opportunity to score - which he took emphatically. From that moment on Brazil took control of the game. Melo seemed to foil every attack, Brazil dominated possession and Ivory Coast were limited to long range efforts.

The sucker punch came in the form of a controversial second goal. Fabiano finished delightfully, but twice in the build up to scoring he used part of his arm for control of the ball. The goal should quite simply have been disallowed. The odd thing was there seemed to be pictures of the referee asking Fabiano afterwards if he had handled, and the two of them engaged in laughter. I wasn't quite sure what to make of it and the media hasn't really put this into the spotlight. A couple of minutes after Drogba had an excellent headed opportunity that he would normally bury, but he put it disappointingly wide.

Early in the second half Gervinho had finally replaced Dindane and it was easy to see why I had been so disturbed initially. Dindane had been ineffective, but Gervinho made a huge difference. He was involved in some quality moves, but still Ivory Coast failed to score.

After about 60 mins or so Brazil effectively ended the game as a contest when Elano coolly slotted home after timing his run to perfection. Almost immediately after this though he was stretchered off, barely able to stand on his right leg after a horrible studs up tackle from Tiote which arguably should have produced a red card.

Drogba headed a consolation, Ivory Coast started putting in some harsh, overly physical unfair tackles and then Keita engaged in some extra-ordinary play acting. Nudged in the chest by Kaka he dropped to the ground clutching his face. It was despicable behaviour reminiscent of Rivaldo's appalling dive (in 2002 against Turkey), clutching his face, after being hit in the knee by a ball kicked in his direction. FIFA have not done anything to prevent this kind of behaviour happening again - indeed they never even suspended him for it, just fining him 5,000 pounds. Kaka, unfairly got a red card. It was also ridiculous from Keita as the result of this is a suspension for Kaka against Portugal, when Ivory Coast would no doubt have been wanting Brazil to win to help them in their quest to qualify for the second round.

So, three bad decisions from the officials - 2 against Brazil and 1 against Ivory Coast. Plenty of talking points, including some quality football.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Group B permutations

Before the tournament I predicted Argentina. I'm not a quitter so I'll stick with that although I now have an inkling that Argentina and South Korea might make it. Let's look at the numbers.

Argentina only need a point against Greece to qualify. They will qualify with a loss if Nigeria win or draw against South Korea. The only way they could miss out on qualification is if they lose to Greece and South Korea win - with a heavy swing. In this situation 3 teams would be on 6 points and it would come down to goal difference. Currently Argentina are +4, South Korea are -1 and Greece are -1. So it would take something amazing for Argentina to be going home.

Greece can qualify with a win if Nigeria draw or beat South Korea. If South Korea also win they will need to beat Argentina by more than South Korea beat Nigeria. They can qualify with a draw if Nigeria beat South Korea or if South Korea also draw and score 2 more goals in their game than Greece do in theirs. Greece will be knocked out if they lose.

South Korea will qualify with a win (providing if Greece also win they can equal the margin of victory). They will qualify with a draw if Argentina win or if Greece draw and do not score 2 more goals than South Korea in their draw. South Korea will be eliminated if they lose.

Nigeria will qualify if they win and Greece lose. That is the only way they can qualify. But this scenario is quite possible!

Argentina will probably rest a few players for this game but should still have enough to win. I wouldn't be at all surprised if South Korea v Nigeria was a draw and South Korea got through. But as I initially picked Nigeria I'm gonna say Nigeria can get the victory they need (coupled with an Argentine loss)

Group A permutations

Group A's final games are tonight...who can qualify? What are the permutations? Before the tournament started I predicted France and Mexico to qualify. I also acknowledged this was the toughest group to pick as France, Mexico and Uruguay could be hard to separate and South Africa had the home advantage.

Uruguay and Mexico are playing each other and both only need a point to survive. If this happens Uruguay will finish first and Mexico second - setting up a likely date with Argentina in the second round.

If Uruguay win they will finish first. Mexico will finish 2nd unless France or South Africa can catch them up on goal difference. A 4-1 win to France coupled with a 1-0 loss for Mexico would do it. Or a 2-0 loss coupled with a 3-0 win for France. South Africa would require a bigger swing as their current goal difference is -3 compared to France's -2. If Mexico win, for Uruguay to be displaced in second would also require a bigger swing as they have a +3 goal difference compared to +2 for Mexico. The biggest swing would be for South Africa to overtake France, a 6 or 7 goal swing would be required. With France's current infighting and dramas their chances are really not great.

The chances are 98%ish stacked in Mexico and Uruguay's favour and they will probably end up playing out some kind of draw.

Group F's second set of games

Paraguay 2-0 Slovakia

Paraguay were by far and away the best team in this game. Slovakia didn't have a shot on target until the 92nd minute. By contrast Paraguay dominated, attacked fearlessly and with purpose and kept the ball very skilfully. Both goals they scored were very good but the first one in particular. Barrios played him in with a deft pass and Vera's finish was sublime. Slightly off balance, under plenty of pressure from the defender, Vera curled it into the top right hand corner, expertly using the outside of his boot to get the curve and the direction just right. It was one of those moments when you say, wow, how good would it be to be able to do that.

The first half afforded the most opportunities for Paraguay. The second half offered much less but they were comfortable nevertheless. Riveros scored the second goal with a quality (but probably straight-forward) strike from the edge of the box. Vera and Barrios in particular had a good game.

New Zealand 1-1 Italy


The All Whites were massive underdogs going into this game but emerged with a very creditable draw that could have easily been a win. Smeltz grabbed the lead on around 7 minutes. Elliott floated in a free kick which skimmed off the head of Reid, deflected slightly off Cannavaro and was poked in by Smeltz. There was a very real whiff of offside about it, but nevertheless a goal was given.

From this moment onwards Italy dominated. Not to say New Zealand didn't have chances, nor did we stick ten men behind the ball at all times. But it was certainly a domination which can be demonstrated by stats. Italy had 57% to 43% possession, they had 15 corners to zero and they had 23 shots to 3 (7 on target versus 1).

After the initial goal by New Zealand Italy set to work and warmed to their task. They were unlucky not to score just after the 20 minute mark when Montolivio hit the post from distance but their equaliser was to come not long after that. The referee blew for a penalty after Tommy Smith had had a hold of De Rossi's shirt. It is true that he briefly held it but De Rossi dived, did a Hollywood, "went down quicker than Paris Hilton" (Martin Devlin). In other words the penalty was harsh. Were a penalty given for every mild tug there would be a penalty every free kick or corner. Smith was naive in his actions however. Anyhow, Iaquinta converted with a quality penalty.

After highlighting De Rossi's propensity to dive, now is the opportune time to lament Italy's constant diving. Almost every tackle an Italian would drop to the floor and start writhing around and they were encouraged to do so by the fact the ref was conned and gave free kick after free kick. Fallon was booked early for an alleged elbow and so every time he gave himself some elbow leverage the Italians would drop to the floor in a dive. He was substituted with half an hour to go to avoid being sent off.

In the second half Mark Paston in goal for New Zealand, pulled off some excellent saves from full stretch dives. The former Bradford City and Walsall stopper was in top form and was ably assisted by the fantastic performance of skipper Ryan Nelsen and his fellow centre-backs Reid and Smith. Elliott also had the best game I've ever seen him play and Smeltz looked dangerous upfront.

The only two chances we had (other than the goal) was a sweetly timed but misdirected volley from Vicelich and a wonderful chance from Chris Wood who expertly turned one of the world's best defenders, Cannavaro, in the box, and flashed his shot wide of the post. It was desperately unlucky as the replay showed it arrowing in before curling away in the wrong direction at the last second.

New Zealand, a country of only 25 professionals had kept World Champions Italy to a 1-1 draw. It was (as an All Whites fan) the moment of the World Cup. And both sides still have it all to play for in their final group games (NZ v Paraguay, Italy v Slovakia).

Group E's second set of games

Netherlands 1-0 Japan

The Netherlands ultimately had a straight forward win but they were made to work hard for it. We still haven't seen the vintage Dutch they are capable of but perhaps they are saving that for later in the competition. The first half was largely forgettable, the odd chance for either side went begging. Early in the second half, a few minutes after van Persie missed a beautifully crafted chance, Sneijder pounced on a loose ball and smashed a ferocious shot from 20+ yards - Narazaki got a fair bit on his attempted save but it wasn't enough, instead diverting its path slightly and hitting the empty net. Perhaps he should have done better but few could surely blame him for a shot that was just too hot to handle. Second half sub for Holland, Afellay, impressed - although he had two wonderful opportunities to increase the lead at the death, but was denied. Japan had played their part in the game but had not really created enough to possess a sustained challenge.

Denmark 2-1 Cameroon

This was perhaps the most open game of the tournament. It was end-to-end stuff with plenty of chances to both sides, helped by the often appalling defending. Cameroon had thankfully got their personnel and tactics right this time. Alex Song was back in the starting eleven and Eto'o was given a more central role. This paid dividends when Cameroon opened the scoring early. Poulsen (who had been guilty of the own goal against Japan) played a slack pass that enabled Webo to nip in and feed Eto'o for a nice finish. For Cameroon Eto'o and Emana had top games and Webo was good value except for his woeful shooting.

Denmark's first goal was a gorgeous move. Kjaer played an inch perfect downfield diagonal pass to Rommedahl on the right wing who squared it perfectly into the path of Bendtner to finish. The second goal Bendtner set up Rommedahl for a superb finish. Tomasson was disappointing as he was unable to find the back of the net, criminally wasting some excellent opportunities - and thereby failing to equal Poul Nielsen's 85 year record of 52 goals for Denmark.

Both sides were creative, had chances, missed sitters, had good interplay, scored nice goals in an intriguing match that could have gone either way.

Unluckily for Cameroon it resulted in elimination from the tournament.