World Cup Commentary
Day One didn’t provide any big surprises. Pool A is reasonably well balanced if you give South Africa a strong home field advantage for this first game. In the early game, Mexico ruled the first half. They showed good form and strong attacks. In the second half, South Africa took over. The speed and creativity of Bafana Bafana showed that they could surprise someone. The second game was far more disappointing. Both France and Uruguay have the potential to win this pool, but neither played like it The chemistry problems for the French may prove their downfall. They did not work as a team and they did not play to win. I am not sure what Domenech was thinking with Malouda on the sideline for the majority of the game, then taking Anelka off when he was finally on the field. These two are fabulous teammates. The South Americans didn’t fair any better. Without the same talent as France, I expected them to struggle. Instead they just played sloppy football. Hopefully Day 2 will be better.
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Day 2 definitely raised the stakes and performances in South Africa. The first game, South Korea v Greece really showed what a difference passion makes. Greece was arguably the better team going in, but the passion and heart of South Korea saw them win a 2-0 game. Game two was a bit of a disappointment, but still better than France. Argentina played Nigeria with all that they had. The Nigerian Keeper probably had the game of his life and blanked Messi. Still, Argentina dominated the game and finished with a 1-0 result. The final game was one of the most anticipated battles for those of us in the colonies. For the USA to battle England successfully, we had to show that we were not just children playing the mother countries game. With most of the pressure to win on England, the three lions came out hard and scored in the first four minutes. In the past, that would have been enough for the US team to hang their heads and “just try to stem the bleeding.” Instead, they fought hard and played to a 1-1 draw. There is no question that the US got lucky on a poorly handled shot and that England is the better team. Still, the it was a great battle and the best game by both sides of the cup so far.
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Day 3 has been interesting. The second Group C game saw an Algerian player enter the field and almost immediately get a yellow. Not long after, he intentionally handles the ball in the penalty area for his second yellow and he team is down a goal and down a man. Stupid play for this level. Neither Algeria or Slovenia played inspiring football, but the peanuts gang ended up with a 1-0 Win.
Ghana are the first African team to win in this World Cup. Serbia had their chances, but they didn’t play with enough energy to win. Serbia are the second team today to end up with a red card. Both teams still have a chance to move through, but Ghana has the definite advantage now.
With typical German precision, the boys dismantled Australia. It was like watching the youth side play against the starting eleven. Australia moved confederations from Oceana to Asia for a higher level of competition. It is still not Europe, and that showed. Again, cards played into the game strategy, but Germany didn’t need a player advantage to win 4-0.
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Day 4 brought a European battle between the Dutch and the Danes. The scoreline was about what we would have expected with the Oranje leading 2-0. What we didn’t expect was that Denmark would score the first point on and own goal header. The Netherlands controlled the entire game.
Game two was Japan and Cameroon. With players like Samuel Eto’o and Alexandre Song, Cameroon was picked to win. However, the Asian side showed great teamwork to capitalize on mistakes by Cameroon. The final tally was Honda one, Eto’o nil.
The other premier match featured the reigning cup holders against Paraguay. Finishing third in the CONMEBOL qualifying, Paraguay showed real talent and teamwork. Italy, as one of the oldest teams isn’t really the same team they were four years ago. Somehow though, Italy always finds a way. In this game, Paraguay showed that they can play with the best. They scored the first goal and continued to push. Italy equalized on a goalkeeper error (the third game changing error so far). In the end, both earn a point from a 1-1 draw.
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Day 5 opens with the Minnow Bowl. New Zealand is a country better known for rugby than football. Their one professional team actually plays in Australia. In fact they have several unattached (unemployed) players. One of the wonderful things about teams with no chance, is that they have nothing to lose. The Kiwi’s started strong and attacked hard in the first 15 minutes. By the 25th minute, things settled a bit and started to turn. By the 40th minute, Slovakia was starting to take over. After the half, Slovakia started break down the older, less skilled NZ side and scored quickly. Somehow, the All Whites found a way to equalize in stoppage time for a 1-1 draw.
Today’s Africa v Europe match should have been the best of the week. Group G is the toughest of the competition with three teams that could make the Semi-final. Ivory Coast is arguably the best African side with players like Salomon Kalou and Didier Drobga. They have a solid defense, quality mid-field and talented strikers. In the first half, they controlled the game with far more chances. Even without Drogba, the Elephants pushed to win this game. Portugal, with Carvalho, Deco, and Ronaldo are ranked 3rd for a reason. This is a team that should be able to beat anyone. During the first half, they seemed content not to lose. The second half was a completely different story. Portugal came out fighting and pushed for the entire half. Both teams played quality football and both earned real chances. This was also a game where both teams had quality goalkeeping. Something that seems to have lacked often so far in the tournament. It resulted in a 0-0 draw.
A note on the kit used for the games. Watching the Elephants play, it was obvious that there were at least three different jerseys. Most of the time, players have the choice of at least two (long sleeve and short sleeve) shirts. This year, most players also have the choice of a performance jersey. These are tight fitting and made of the same material as an under layer. They wick away moisture better and may be more comfortable for some players.
The premier game of the day was Brazil v North Korea. This is the largest rank difference in the cup. Admittedly, The Democratic Republic of Korea was an unknown entity with two advantages. First, nobody knew too much about how Korea would play, how they would hold up or how they would attack. Second, because most only play for the national side, they are much more cohesive and have had much more experience playing together. Then again, they were playing Brazil. For the first half, Most of the game was played on the Korean side of the field, but solid defense and quality play kept the score nil-nil. North Korea even had a few breakaways leading to real chances. In fact, I would say that North Korea actually had better chances than Brazil. The most of second half was entirely different. Brazil started to break down the Korean defense and get solid shots. Then, they scored the first goal. It opened up the field and encouraged Brazil to play like the Samba boys. That resulted in a second goal and real chances for a third. Finally, in the closing minutes, Brazil started to let up and Korea scored a beautiful goal. I think Ivory Coast and Portugal have more of a game ahead of them than they thought, and we have some beautiful football to watch.
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Day 6 opens with the first games for the final group. The early game, Chile v Honduras was a very Latin game. Play was fast and emotional. La Roja controlled the ball for the majority of the first half and stayed on the attack. That attack eventually netted the first goal of the game. The second half was much the same. Chile controlled the ball through much of the half with Honduras struggling to keep the ball away from the goal. Obviously out matched, they continued to play with solid football. Unfortunately, the players seemed to give up. The few attacking opportunities that Honduras had resulted in players giving up when challenged. The highlight for Honduras was goalkeeping. This was not a beautiful game, but it was an exciting one. Lots of shots, lots of changes in possession, and lots of ball movement.
The last first round game finds Switzerland facing potential cup winner Spain. As often happens when a quality team faces a fantastic team, Switzerland looked good early. They were often pinned back, but they created chances and held firm. Quality goal keeping kept an early strike from Spain out of the net. Similar quality at the other end, kept a Swiss free kick from finding the back of the net. After 45 minutes, it was scoreless, but the balance was changing. Philippe Senderos (Switzerland) was out of the game and Spain were getting more quality chances. In the second half, Spain continued to break down the Swiss defense. Unfortunately, they also became overconfident. When Switzerland got a breakaway, they were able to score the first goal of the game. At the end of regulation, the Swiss have the biggest upset of the tournament so far. Not even the England-USA draw is as surprising as seeing the European Champions go down to the bankers.
After watching the Chile v Honduras game this morning, I was really hoping Uruguay would live up to the enthusiasm of their Latin compatriots. I was not disappointed. Both Uruguay and South Africa hit the pitch and played with passion. The first 25 minutes saw a goal from Forlan on a deflected ball and several quality chances for Bafana Bafana. Uruguay definitely held the possession advantage in the first half, but it could have been easily tied. After the half, the Charrúas came out a bit lethargic. They did not play with the same passion that they had at the beginning. South Africa continued to play strong with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. At the 80th minute, the South African keeper earned a penalty and a red card. Playing down a player and two goals, there was little that they could do to come back. On the other hand, Uruguay felt the need to add a third goal.
NOTE: The red card was earned by a specific rule relating to “goal scoring opportunities.” If the last player before the goal commits a foul and prevents the goal scoring opportunity, then it results in an immediate red card. This is not automatically considered a violent foul and therefore rarely incurs additional suspension time or fines.
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Day 7 started with the two winners in Group B, South Korea and Argentina. As expected, Argentina dominated from the beginning; however, it was South Korea that scored first… for Argentina. An excellent cross was deflected of a shin into the net. This opened things up for Argentina and they were able to attack more effectively. A second goal was added soon after. South Korea continued to play well through the half. Diligence and attention favored South Korea during first half injury time when they took advantage of an Argentine laps scoring their only goal. The second half saw South Korea take an early strike that could have tied the game. It was the last time they would have a realistic shot at a point. Messi, perhaps the most unlucky striker to play for Argentina, had several shots blocked or off the woodwork, but Higuain turned out to be the cherry picker. He finished with a hat-trick making the final line 4-1.
Game two was Greece v Nigeria. Both of these teams need a win to have any chance to advance. Greece began the game playing a defensive game hoping to score on a cross, corner or free kick. Nigeria hit the pitch attacking. The attack seems the better approach resulting in a goal in just the 16th minute. Greece did have chances playing taking shots in the penalty area and from distance. The 34th minute saw another bonehead play. Kaita takes a shot at Torosidis and is sent off. The result is a complete change in the complexion of the game. Nigeria, fully in control before, no must lay back and Greece pushed forward effectively. They tied the game just before the half. In the second half, Nigeria come out fighting and take a chance in the 49th minute. Both sides have had wonderful chances stopped by outstanding goal keeping. Both sides played hard until Greece went ahead for their first ever win in a World Cup.
Group B is still up for grabs. Argentina will will the group. South Korea, and Greece now have wins, but negative goal differentials. If Nigeria can pound South Korea by at least two goals and Argentina beats Greece as expected, then Nigeria will through on goal differential. There is no question that Nigeria is a better team than Greece. Without the red card, they probably would have won today’s game by 2 or 3 goals. I would love to see these quality players move on.
The late game was Mexico v France. As expected, the French came out confident and started attacking from the opening whistle. They earned a few good chances early. Mexico was not content sit back in defense and countered when they could. Mexico created chances, but had difficulty finding the target. As the half progressed, Mexico began to take control and push the attack. I was impressed with the strength of Mexico. They counter quickly and open up space with long passes. If Dos Santos could find the target, Mexico would be up. With the beginning of the second half, Mexico came out strong They pushed hard and took the lead at the 64th minute. France really started to droop after the goal. Mexico continued to push and show real quality. A PK at the 80th minute gave Blanco a goal in his third World Cup (the first in 1998).
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Day 8 begins with Germany and Serbia. Germany set the high water mark with their 4-0 win against Australia. Against Serbia, the tone changed. Serbia, losers to Ghana, definitely elevated their game. Serbia played with pace and quality holding Germany off. This should have been a very good game. Unfortunately, the referee didn’t understand the difference between a foul and a reckless foul and handed out 6 yellow cards by the 36th minute. That 6th card was the second to Klose sending him off. Neither of his fouls should have been earned a card. Germany, playing with 10 men gave up a goal just two minutes later. Germany still create chances and Serbia seem content to keep their player advantage in the defensive end of the field. Even down a player, Germany created quality chances. Serbia do not have the shape or cohesion of Germany. In the end, the person who made the biggest difference in the game was the referee. 9 total yellows in a game that should have seen 3 or 4. Still, Podolski had more than a few chances and missed a penalty.
Game two is the Peanuts gang from Slovenia against the USA. Right from the start, Slovenia showed how they upset Russia in qualifying. There is an early goal from distance. Howard just seemed to watch it go in without moving. By the 30th minute, the US is wishing for the Spanish Referee from the first game… and either an excuse to lose or a man advantage. Slovenia has controlled the game. The US has taken a few chances, but hasn’t presented much of a challenge. A baffling card for Findley leaves the US stunned enough to watch another goal in. There is another half, but it would take an entirely different team to make up this difference. I keep wondering what happened to the team that held Rooney and the rest of England to a 1-1 draw. I guess we found out, They were in the locker room waiting for halftime. I have to say, that today has seen the worst refs of the tournament. Both the US and Slovenia played hard in the second half. The US definitely the better side and score a goal at the 48th minute. Both teams take chances, but very poor crosses and long balls. The USA pushed hard for the entire second half and are rewarded with a second goal at the 82nd minute. Absolutely the worst refs in any game so far. Near the end of regulation, the USA has won the game, except that the referee won’t allow it. Slovenia have pushed the last 5 minutes, but it should be 3-2 instead of a draw. We can only wonder what would happen if the US actually played an entire game.
The late game is the Lions against the Foxes. England still look a bit stunned at the US draw and started very tentatively. Algeria are playing like they need to win. At 25 minutes in, Algeria has seven shots to England’s two. Calamity James played well in the net and England needed him. By the 35th minute, both teams have taken more chances with England beginning to show their quality. Both goalkeepers have been tested and both stood firm. A few minutes into the second half and England look much more away, but no more successful. Algeria have had two free kicks in dangerous positions. At the 55th minute, England seem to be doing anything to avoid scoring. They have had beautiful chances, only to lose the ball. I think Gerard and Heskey need to watch the Nike “Write your Future” commercial and remember who all those babies are named for… WAYNE has hardly touched the ball. Actually, it is time for a substitution for England. Time to drop Heskey and bring in someone who can actually score. At the 74th minute, Capello finally figured out what everyone else already knew… time to replace Heskey with Defoe. With seven minutes to go, Peter Crouch comes on to move England to a 4-3-3. As the game ends, the only thing England can be happy about is the play of James. No calamities and some big saves. All of England is asking why he didn’t start on Saturday. The rest of us are happy that the referees were very good in this game after the disasters of game one and two.
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Day nine opens with the Oranje of the Netherlands against the Samurai of Japan. Both teams begin the game playing a bit lethargic. Japan played most of the first half focused on defense. The pressure is definitely on the Dutch to make something happen. They have the largest share of possession. Japan took advantage of a few counters to push forward, but with no success. The Netherlands seemed content to play keep-away and test the Japanese back line. At the end of the first half, the Netherlands controlled the ball for almost 70% of the time with nothing to show for it. The second half begins with a bit more lively play. The Dutch still seem to be playing keep away and the Japanese seem to be satisfied to sit back and wait for a counter opportunity. The 70th minute saw the only real chance for Japan. The final is another 1-0 victory where the Netherlands seemed content to play just enough to win. They will have to pick up the effort and quality in the knock-out stage or the will be off in the first game.
Game two finds Australia fighting for their lives and Ghana looking to reaffirm their lead. The Socceroos (sounds like a Disney channel show for toddlers) start the game strong. The Black Stars seem to be disorganized and off their form. Australia get several chances in the first 10 minutes with a goal soon after. The goal brought Ghana back a bit and they begin to organize. It is obvious they miss Essien. At 25 minutes, Ghana strike and it is handled by Harry Kewell. The stupid move sends him to the locker room and puts Ghana on the penalty stop to tie the game. Ghana take advantage of the confusion for the next 10 minutes before Australia settle down. The rest of the half sees Ghana creating chances with, but failing to capitalize. The second half mostly sees Ghana controlling the ball. Australia do not have the pace to keep up. Ghana just cannot find the net. They seem to either lose possession before the shot or completely miss the goal. By the 75th minute, Australia begin to play solid football and earn a few chances. The final 1-1 draw is a bit disappointing for both sides and the fans.
Cameroon start the third game of the day strong knowing that they have to win to stay alive. A few changes to the line-up allow Eto’o to play in the middle where he belongs. By the 5th minute he has already taken a shot and worried the Danes. 10 minutes in and Cameroon have their goal. Denmark seem to be struggling, but they are pressing where they can. The pace of Cameroon seem to be more than Denmark could handle until the 33rd minute. Denmark have continued to play organized and it pays off with an equalizer. Cameroon continue to press for the rest of the half, but Denmark is playing much better. The second half is played at a fast, error prone pace. Both teams create chances and both keepers are forced to make saves. It is entertaining football, but not beautiful. Denmark’s second goal comes in the 61st minute. It is a beautiful shot made possible by poor defending. If Cameroon could hit the broad side of a barn, they would be up by 3. Instead, they lose the game and are eliminated from advancing.
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We expected game one on Father’s Day (USA Holiday) to find Paraguay and Slovakia fighting for second place. Italy’s draw allows both of these teams hope. Paraguay start the game strong. Slovakia don’t seem to be able to maintain possession. Paraguay definitely plays better throughout the half resulting in a goal at the 27 minute mark and 3x the number of shots in the first half. The second half finds Paraguay in control. They showed more organization and pace to control most of the half. By the 75th minute Slovakia look worried and haggard. Paraguay and Slovakia both begin to press where they can, but Paraguay have better chances resulting in a goal in the 84th minute. In the 89th minute, Slovakia take just their 4th real effort on goal. Slovakia take a few more shots in extra time, but still lose 2-0. With little hope of beating Italy, they are probably out. A strong performance by Paraguay against New Zealand could see them finish first in the pool.
Game two is slow starter, Italy against the surprise New Zealand team. Someone forgot to tell them that they don’t have a chance. The All Whites come out strong and push Italy from the opening touch. Seven minutes in, New Zealand scores and they have their first ever lead in a World Cup game. After the goal, Italy began to press and rely on a few flops to earn free kicks. I wonder how much of this is a result of Buffon’s absence. Italy continue to get the ball into the NZ box and the Kiwi’s continue to counter back into the Italian end. Someone should tell the Italians that the national game in New Zealand is Rugby. 20 minutes in and Italy begin to press hard. They have taken half a dozen shots. At the 28th minute, one more dive earns Italy a PK and the equalizer. New Zealand was definitely out matched, but weathered a 10 minute barrage. The last few minutes saw the Kiwis just try to survive. The final shot tally is 1 for New Zealand and 11 for the Azzuri. New Zealand start the second half with a bit more pressure, but the Italians continue to press. Italy is creating dangerous chances, but New Zealand continue to play solid defense. At the 60th minute, New Zealand have held strong and Italy continue the dramatics. At 20 minutes to play, the New Zealand defense is the story of this game. With 10 minutes to play, New Zealand are obviously tired. Italy is getting shot after shot. 94 minutes total and 87 minutes after their goal, New Zealand have drawn with Italy. Amazing play by keeper Paston and center full Ryan Nelson have given the Kiwis their greatest result in World Cup history. A well deserved result.
There is a great quote from a former German coach “It was at that moment I learned that an Italian is more dangerous on his back than on his feet.”
The marquee game of the day is Samba Boys meet the Elephants. The game starts with both team playing very aggressively. Brazil push the trap up well into the midfield keeping the Elephants pinned in their own half. Brazil seems content to control the pace of the game. Ivory Coast create a few chances, but have difficulty getting beyond the Brazilian line. The happy Samba Boys seem to think roughing up the Elephants will help. They are fouling often, but not earning cards. A couple of corners for Brazil have resulted in real chances. The first goal is at the 25th minute. It is Kaka’s perfect pass that makes gives Fabiano the goal. The remainder of the first half is much the same with Brazil playing high into the Ivory Coast and short controlled passes and quick runs breaking down the defense. The second half sees Ivory Coast starting worried and sloppy. Brazil is not doing much better, but you can see the quality differences adding you. Short of a burst from Drogba, the game is over in the 50th minute. A second goal for Fabiano seals the game. The Elephants defense is completely gone. The 62nd minute sees Brazil’s third goal. A goal for IC in the 79th minute let Drogba go home with something. In the last few minutes, Brazil begin to show why the world loves them. Carnival has started on the pitch. Unfortunately, Kaka seems to have offended the referee and earned a yellow. The Ivory Coast are kicking at everything that moves, mostly the Brazilian players. Most ridiculous, Kaka who is rarely carded, gets a second yellow in less than five minutes and is out for the next two games.
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Portugal get to show if they are real or just pretenders against the Democratic Republic of Korea. It is pouring rain so we can expect the ball to move much differently and to cause problems with control. Portugal need a result from this game. North Korea start out the way they did against Brazil: organized, tight in defense and looking to counter. Portugal are attacking more than in their last game, but NK has chances. 29 minutes in, Portugal strike first. Ronaldo and company are starting to break down the NK defense, but the are still countering and still getting chances. The half ends with the same score. In the second half, Portugal come out very aggressively. The rain of goals begins in the 53rd minute. Cristiano sets up goal after goal (56th, 60th, 81st) before finally scoring his first international goal in two years. It was such an improbably goal, even Ronaldo laughed. Portugal added one more in the last minute to wrap things up.
Game two is Switzerland, the Surprise victors over Spain, and Chile. The two first round winners play very different styles. Chile is playing very aggressively and earn a yellow in the 2 minutes. The Chilean attack is a bit easier with Senderos out for Switzerland. The referee seems to be calling soft fouls and we have three more cards by the 25th minute. Chile have taken the majority of the chances to this point, but Switzerland have held firm. In the By the 30th minute, Switzerland looses a player for a pointless red card. The ref has set a very light level for cards. At half time, it is still nil-nil, but Switzerland is taking a pounding. The second half starts with another card. Switzerland is holding back. They seem content for draw. Given the conditions, that is not surprising. Three cards later and Switzerland are still holding. By the 70th minute, Switzerland is starting to press and getting chances. Unfortunately, it starts to open up the their defense. In the 75th minute, Chile makes them pay with a goal. The Swiss have a few more chances to equalize, but cannot score. Chile ends with the 1-0 win. The 9 players issued cards, lose.
Spain start the game against Honduras very aggressively. Honduras seem a bit out matched, but their defense looks good. 17 Minutes in, David Villa ends his WC drought. This game seems to be the opposite of the of the Chile game. Some fouls are being called, but not enough and obvious cards are not being issued. Spain continue to press and this has become a half court game. In the 51st minute, Villa scores his second. He is showing the form that makes him the favorite for golden boot. Spain continue to attack and Honduras counter where they can, but to no effect. At the 65th minute, Spain have started to sub out players and settle into defense. The game ends 2-0.
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Today, we enter the final round of the group stage and that means four games a day. The first two games are the hosts vs. France and Mexico v Uruguay. After all of the drama for France in the last few days (months), we don’t expect much. Even the French press already expects them to fly home tonight. South Africa has a chance to move if they win big and Mexico loses. As the line-ups are announced, half of the French team has been replaced including the captain. South Africa are playing with urgency and fire. They definitely want this game more and are playing as a team. 20 minutes in sees Bafana Bafana take the lead. It is a wonderful goal that should make the home team proud. France’s frustration continues and is coming through in their play. In the 25th minute, France receives a red card for an elbow in the air. Probably should have been a yellow, but FIFA seems to have designated this as a red card penalty and it has been consistent throughout the tournament. South Africa take advantage of the power play and score again at 37 minutes in. They are taking two shots for every one from the frogs. The second have continues along the same vein. France has quality individuals who are playing for themselves. South Africa is not only playing for their team, but their country and continent. They deserve to win this game. The 70th minute sees France score and South Africa is out of the World Cup.
Mexico and Uruguay are playing to avoid Argentina. The winner of Group A will play the runner up from Group B. All Uruguay needs is a draw for first place. Mexico needs a win. These teams are about equal but have very different styles of play. Mexico have a better average talent level, but Uruguay have stars. As the game begins Mexico show their quality and begin to push forward. Uruguay also take some risks and counter. 12 minutes in, Forlan wins a free kick for Uruguay and has a good strike. Mexico is pushing as a team, but Uruguay continues to have opportunities. Uruguay scores just before the half. At the second half, Mexico start looking for an equalizer. Buy the 57th minute, Mexico knows they only need to finish as they are to move on. Two subs change Mexico to a more defensive formation. Yellow cards on both sides and the game ends with little excitement.
The important game in our second double of the day is Nigeria and South Korea. South Korea start the game with a chance in the 2nd minute. Nigeria start with two of the defender injured and a third is hurt in the 9th minute. He is off to the sideline for treatment and right back on. Nigeria take the lead at the 12th minute. They will need at least one more to be ahead of Greece. The rest of the first half saw both South Korea and Nigeria take chances and move the ball well. Nigeria earn several calls and South Korea earns their first goal in the 38th minute. At halftime, Nigeria make a change. So far, they have had better quality chances, but horrible luck. South Korea have a gorgeous free kick earning one of the best goals of the Cup. Both teams continue to have chances, but Nigeria looks to equalize. Their luck continues to be bad hitting the woodwork or missing just outside. Finally a PK in the 69th minute. Without a win, it won’t be enough to matter. Nigeria have several other chances, but cannot capitalize.
Greece must come away with a win against Argentina to advance. Argentina just need to be awake to advance. They substitute seven starters to rest players. Argentina show why they are leading the group. Greece can hardly touch the ball for the first 10 minutes. Messi makes a run. His luck continues and he is dispossessed. Greece see the light and advance into the Argentine half for the first time in the 13th minute. Greece has decided to blanket Messi with Papastathopoulos. He has the pace to keep up, but not the quality. Argentina continue to push forward, but the Greek defense holds strong to halftime. After halftime, Argentina start to turn up the heat. Messi and company continue to get chances. Greece uses all of their subs, trying to find the write combination. Argentina continues to get chances and control the game. Messi’s luck continues to be horrible. He probably has more shots on target than Greece. On the 75th minute, Argentina finally capitalize. Greece have to attack or be out of the tournament. Argentina finally start to relax and play their game. Messi gets another chance and the Goalkeeper just keeps it out. Palmero gets the rebound and the goal. Argentina will go through in to meet Mexico and South Korea to battle Uruguay.
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The Final Group C games see a European match and a North America v Africa match. England v Slovenia should be an active game. Slovenia leads the group and will go through on a draw. England need a win to advance. The Brits make one welcome change dropping Heskey for Jermain Defoe. The game starts with shaky play from England. They seem to be playing nervous. I don’t think they want to meet the French at the airport. Poor play by the Lions gives Slovenia chances. England have the majority of possession, but the Slovenian defense closes in when the get close to goal. 20 minutes in, the game is very clean without a card issued. At the 23rd minute, Milner offers a beautiful cross. Defoe volleys the ball into the back of the net. The goal has heated both teams up. Slovenia starts taking more risks and getting opportunities. England are much more active in this game. At the 30th minute, they complete barrage the goalie. Defoe takes a blistering shot – blocked, Rooney feeds Gerrard – blocked, ball rolling in – saved again. Slovenia is taking advantage of English mistakes and they are getting chances. James is playing well in the English net. The half ends with Slovenia taking Defoe out, but no foul is called. The German referee seems determined to punish England with a card to Johnson. Both sides continue to get chances. The only one on target for England is Calamity. Rooney seems to be playing three bar. I think he has hit every part of the goal posts now. He is dropping his head – a bad sign for any player, but especially a streaking emotional player like Rooney. The Slovenia keeper is playing outstanding football and keeping England out. Rooney’s ankle injury that kept him out of several EPL/CL games seems to be bothering him again. Both keepers are getting lots of work as these teams try to go top of the pool. The 72nd minute has Rooney out and Joe Cole in. Not a bad sub considering Rooney’s emotional state. Two cards for Slovenia as they get desperate in their play. Final is England by one.
The USA v Algeria is win and in. The USA controls their own destiny. Algeria needs help from England. The US starts with several changes. Half of the defense has been replaced as well as Gomez on the attack. From the opening touch, both teams come out attacking. This is an entirely different team than the one that tied England. Less than 10 minutes in and the US are lucky not to be down a goal again. Still, they are taking chances and getting good shots. Yet again, the US is denied a goal, as a bad off-sides call take a fair goal from Clint Dempsey. The US are pushing forward and leaving the back open. Both sides are taking advantage of open space as they attack. Algeria is definitely playing the best attacking game we have seen from them. The US is trading defense for offense and risking another early goal. At half-time, it should be 1-0, but we are tied. At the half, Gomez is out for Feilhaber. US upping the ante on the attack again. The second half has the USA controlling most of the game, but giving up chances on the counter attack. Buddle comes in for Edu a the 64th minute and the attack is upped again. The final US sub is Beasley adding to the attack again. At the end of regulation, looks like both teams are going home. The US has had a furious attack and Algeria has countered where they could. In extra time, Howard saves a great shot and quickly distributes to Donavan. Up Altidore, cross to Dempsey, blocked and Landon cleans up for the win.
Australia v Serbia is an almost meaningless game for everyone, but the players. Australia can move on with a big win and help in the other game. The first half starts with Serbia as more active side. They are attacking and defending high. Australia looks outmatched. They cannot string passes together and Serbia continues to get chances. Serbia’s goal is ruled off-sides and the half ends scoreless. The Socceroos come out strong in the second half. After consecutive red cards in the first two games, Australia sees two yellows in the next five minutes. Serbia pick up the pace and run the field for the next 10 minutes. The subs start in the 62nd with two for each team. Australia’s Tim Cahill scores on a header at 68. Another from Australia at the 73rd minute. A 30 yard strike from Holman. Serbia seem to have collapsed. Australia continue to attack, but leave the defense vulnerable. A long shot by Serbia is mishandled by the Aussie keeper and Serbia score on the rebound. The final is 2-1 Australia.
Ghana and Germany may be a quiet game. Both will go through on a draw. Germany are the stronger side and have chances from the beginning. Neither team is pushing hard, but Germany is getting the better side. Both sides are pushing forward and have become vunerable to counters. Both sides have taken quality chances and poor shots. The half ends on a lively game so far, but nothing in the net. The second half starts and Germany looks to strike. It comes in the 61st minute. Ozil hits a rocket into the top corner. The goal forces Ghana to step up the pace. Both sides sub and settle in. Podolsky is off form and could not hit the broad side of a barn. The game ends with Germany winning the pool and Ghana second.
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Paraguay and New Zealand start the Group F final set. Remarkably, New Zealand could move on with a big win and some help in the other game. The All Whites come out tentatively, still playing rugby instead of soccer. Paraguay hold the advantage creating chances, but New Zealand play solid defense. While a draw will not see New Zealand through, it would still be positive result for the 78th ranked team. Paraguay have not been troubled so far, but they have not capitalized either. At half time, it is scoreless. As the second half starts, New Zealand have changed to a 4-3-3 and push farther up field. Paraguay are still the better team, but they seem satisfied with a draw. New Zealand pushes forward a few more times, but cannot make anything happen. Paraguay takes a number of poor shots and continue to control possession. The games ends as it began 0-0.
In the European game of the day, the reigning world champions must win to advance. Anything less could see them sent home. Slovakia are pushing from the beginning. Italy play solid defense, as always, but don’t seem to be countering well. Italy are looking as old as they are. Even with 11 defenders, Italy allows a goal in the 25th minute. The remaining 20 minutes of the first are really rather boring with neither team opening up or pushing hard. The second half see Italy continuing to embarrass themselves. Another Slovak goal a the 73rd and Italy have to change or move to France. They finally strike back at the 81st minute and give away another 8 minutes later. Italy add one more for respect, but the are out of the Cup and finish last in their pool.
Closing out Group E puts Japan and Denmark together. Each team with three points and a chance to advance. Denmark come out strong and control possession in the early minutes. The Samurai are compact in the middle of the field and stand strong in defense. Japan get a yellow for time wasting on the 12th minute. A bit confusing since neither team benefit from it. Denmark have taken far more chances, but Japan counters and earns a goal in the 17th minute. Denmark strike back quickly bit the Japanese are solid in defense again. Japan start to play samurai in defense and ninja in offense with a surprise strike that curls in on the 30th minute. At the half, Japan looks set to go through. Denmark have taken more shots, but nothing too threatening. The second have is much like the first. Japan content to pack everyone into defense and attack on the counter. Denmark start subs at the 56th minute to get more attacking strength. They are getting more quality chances, but no success until the 81st. Again, Japan strikes back and tack on one more just before the end of regulation.
Last game of the day is parfait colored Cameroon and the Dutch. The Netherlands have played about 20 minutes of total football and have six points. The really need to turn into Portugal and run up the score to get all of their scoring threats involved. Samuel Eto’o and company have their jobs cut out for them as either of the other teams really threatened in the prior two games. From the first minute, the Netherlands are out for blood. Good to see them alive and awake. Cameroon, with nothing to lose are keen to match the attack. The Dutch have better form and earn more quality chances. The result is a 36th minute goal for Van Persie. A few more chances for each side and the half is over. If Van Persie can get the target off of the goalkeepers chest, he will score several more. The second half sees the Oranje continue the attack and most of the possession. Cameroon haven’t given up and Eto’o seems determined to score. The Dutch keeper starts to get a work out in the middle of the second half. A penalty in the 65th for Eto’o gives Cameroon an equalizer. Subs for both teams mean fresh legs and the attack is on again. Both teams are playing better in the last 20 minutes of the game then either has before. Injured Robben comes in for the Netherlands for the first time. It results in a goal for Huntelaar when Robben strikes the post. Again, the Dutch win on cruise control. Having Robben back will make big differences going forward. 2-1 Netherlands.
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Ivory Coast v N Korea should be interesting. The Elephants need a total nine goal differential between their game and Brazil v. Portugal. As expected, Ivory Coast attack from the beginning. Drobga one the golden boot in the EPL and will need to show that form here. North Korea string a few passes here and there, but cannot advance. Ivory Coast score early at the 14th minute. That opened the flood gates and the Elephants start peppering North Korea. Another goal at the 20th provides hope. It looks like the team that held Brazil to 2-1 has returned to Asia. The only chances for North Korea are off set pieces and few enough of those. At the end of the half, Ivory Coast must keep up the pressure and hope for Brazil to come alive. The second half sees Ivory Coast starting the attack again. Quality chances and poor finishing make this a half court game, but still 2-0. The rest of the half is the same with poor strikes from Ivory Coast. They earn one more at the 82nd minute and they will 3-0, but are out of the Cup. Remarkably, there is not one card in this game.
While this should be one of the best matches seeing Brazil (1) and Portugal (3) playing for the top spot, both go through on a draw. Brazil and Portugal come out of the block feeling each other out. Brazil is more compact in defense while Portugal is attacking a bit more. Brazil has decided to rest several players and Kaka is out for his red card suspension. Lots of ball movement and shots from both sides. Brazil is showing the depth of their team as they are still better without three of their top four on the pitch. The half ends with seven total cards and no goals. The second half is very much the same without the cards. Both teams show their quality both in attack and defense. By 70 minutes in, Portugal can be confident that a draw puts them through. As both focus on not losing, the game ends with no more cards and no goals.