This fulfills my duty to write about certain games

June 24, 2010

While US v Algeria was pretty entertaining (I think), if you didn’t care that much about the result, from my point of view it was difficult.

The Group D games were quite entertaining. Germany beat Ghana, but I didn’t really come away feeling like Germany was the better team. Granted, Germany didn’t have Klose, but the result could easily have been different. Meanwhile, Australia beat Serbia 2-1, after being up 2-0 and for a second having a shot to score the goals that would get them into the second round. The end of Serbia Australia was a crazy andrenaline-filled track meet. Australia had to score a few goals, while Serbia had to tie or win. It was truly frenetic. When the other team had the ball, it was take any risk to win the ball and then go immediately for goal, meaning the attacks always had numbers. And man, the Serbia striker missed some sitters to send his team through to the second round.

If there was a team that was victimized by the refs as much as the US in group play, I think you’d probably go with Australia. Two red cards in the beginning of their first two matches, and yet they were only eliminated from one of the World Cup’s toughest groups on goal differential. Give Australia credit. Unfortunately, I think you could argue that both red cards were technically correct, even if harsh and certainly not always given. Also they meant suspensions for some of Australia’s most crucial players, especially Tim Cahill. The handball on the goal line: well, it usually gets a red, but I think that in context there was a pretty good case to be made that it wasn’t intentional. Call the penalty, don’t give the red actually was probably the correct call, although I do think most refs would give the red card as it is the normal thing to do in that situation.

I thought Holland’s movement off the ball against Cameroon was quite impressive, though I only saw the first half. In my opinion, the best half of football played so far at this World Cup. The game wasn’t particularly important, and you could even argue that would have been better to finish in second in the group, but…

Japan beat Denmark in a game I didn’t watch and so know nothing about. Given that Korea and Japan both advanced, give them some credit.

Oh….yeah, and Italy did not advance. This is really most surprising because Italy had a pretty weak group. In fact, I named it the weakest group when the groups were drawn, with Argentina’s second weakest. I don’t really see a reason to change my opinion. Italy wasn’t the best team four years ago and their luck ran out. They should have chosen American-but-plays-for-Italy Guiseppe Rossi, because he was the only creative option that Italy had. But they didn’t.

As I said, I still think Italy’s group was weakest, but call it increasing worldwide footballing parity as well as relative Italian weakness.


Interesting games tomorrow, Ivory Coast, Brazil, Portugal

June 15, 2010

Italy’s 1-1 draw with Paraguay wasn’t completely unexpected.  Paraguay beat Argentina and Brazil in qualifying, and led all of South America for a long time during qualifying.  They are good on the counter, organize well defensively, and actually have a ton of attacking talent.  Oscar Cardozo, Lucas Barrios (who is actually an Argentine), Roque Santa Cruz…

* At one point during the Italy Paraguay game, there were two Argentines from Buenos Aires on the field, one for each team: Lucas Barrios and Camorenesi.

It was a little disappointing that there was so much rain, but there’s no doubt Italy controlled the game.  The goal for Paraguay came against the run of play, although I didn’t find it surprising, having seen Paraguay play.  Italy had to press, but to my mind they didn’t really create that many clear chances.  When they get behind, the lack of a playmaker like Giuseppe Rossi is pretty apparent.  Italy got its goal by what was basically a goalie error.

All this leads into tomorrow’s first game: Slovakia v New Zealand.   Those are two of the biggest minnows of the World Cup and are very unlikely to advance.  Still, Marek Hamsik is someone who could definitely help himself get to a big club in Europe with a solid performance.

Following that is probably the best game of the “first games” of the first round.  England v US was pretty big, but Ivory Coast and Portugal is pretty massive.  The other two teams in that group are North Korea and Brazil: arguably the worst and best team to qualify for the World Cup finals, respectively.   I would argue that Ivory Coast is probably one of the most underrated countries heading into the World Cup, although they have had alot of recent adversity, including the injury to Didier Drogba and replacing their coach with…yikes, Sven Goran Eriksson (not someone I rate).

Portugal has had a couple important injuries recently as well, but still boast a team that doesn’t have too much pressure on it, has Cristiano Ronaldo and his diving ability, and pretty well rested.  Compare that to a squad like England and Portugal has some intangibles on its side.

To date, African teams haven’t seemed to have any great home advantage, but it will be interesting to see the crowd tomorrow.   It will be a killer if FIFA doesn’t allow Didier Drogba to play (although the play in which he injured himself was his own fault as he essentially karate scissorkicked the opposing player).

Finally, it’s not impossible that Brazil, Ivory Coast and Portugal end up in something of a three way tie, so beating North Korea by alot could be key for goal differential.  I would expect Brazil to pump in 5 goals or so, which could help determine who scores the most goals in the World Cup.

To tell you the truth, I think Portugal is likely to have the edge, in large part because of manager, but I will be rooting for the Ivory Coast.

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