First Round of Matches...


Written on 6/15/2006 05:23:00 pm by sikapitan

Germany 4 – 2 Costa Rica
The opening game and certainly one of the more entertaining one. Germany showed amazing attacking verve and flair with Bastian Schweinsteger and Philip Lahm one of the few who impressed for Germany. But they were severely exposed at the back, with the high defensive line adopted by Germany after their first goal being exposed twice by Paulo Wanchope.

Perhaps the Germans were more carefree without Ballack controlling everything in midfield. This allowed all the midfielders to have a free run at being a playmaker, attacker and defender though at a cost of defensive solidity. Costa Rica had 3 shots on goal, with two finding the net. They didn’t control possession and were, in actual fact, fortunate to score both goals.

I would love to see the Germans continue the tournament in this attacking spirit, something that Germany was never really famous for. Solid efficiency? More like suicidal flair…

Poland 0 – 2 Ecuador
Poland was strong defensively in the first 20 minutes, with Ecuador making the early runs. However, they were unlocked by a flick from Southampton player Delgado to Tenario who scored from close range. I was particularly impressed with the combination of both strikers who troubled the not-so-shabby Polish defence.

After the first goal, it appears that Poland lost the plot, especially in midfield as the physically imposing South American took charge. Ecuador was creative in attack with both full backs getting a free run against their opposite number. Ecuador was not that impressive at the back though, and I am waiting for the game against Germany to see how they adapt to a more polished, structured attack but by that time Germany would probably field a weak team.

England 1 – 0 Paraguay
England got off to a good start when Beckham’s wicked free kick went in off Gamarra’s head for an own goal. After that, they overran the Paraguayans midfield with Lampard and Joe Cole being particularly impressive. However, after 20 minutes, the pace considerably slowed and England could not maintain possession.

I am still perplexed as to why the English like to pump the ball down the flanks for either strikers to chase. In midfield they have a collection of individuals who have proven at club level they could pass the ball around. I believe that if England stick to a short, triangle-based game they would look better and perhaps bring out the best from Michael Owen who had a terrible game. This would also allow Lampard and Gerrard to play those great through balls.

Paraguay was quite impressive, especially Nelson Valdez, the star from Werder Bremen. If they had more of a killer touch, England could have been embarrassed.

Sweden 0 – 0 Trinidad & Tobago
Sweden has serious troubles, though I have to say they were unfortunate not to score. Shaka Hislop were the stumbling block against Zlatan and Larsson, but it would be wrong to say Sweden should have won the game. They were uninspired in midfield and tactically stiff against a surprisingly fiery Trinidad frontline.

Trinidad played with one lone striker, and yet the two fullbacks for Sweden were never adventurous enough to attack. This resulted in one absurd situation where the ball arrived at the feet of a Trinidad player in Sweden’s half and there were FOUR Swedish defenders! The sad thing was that only one was close enough to the striker to do anything while the rest just jogged down guarding the grass perhaps.

Trinidad won’t qualify to the next round, but they have shown that they’re no pushovers. Yorke impressed in a new role as the midfield dynamo where his lack of pace did not really matter.

Argentina 2 – 1 Ivory Coast
Argentina faced a difficult African team who qualified impressively and recently finished second in the African Nations Cup. This was evident in the first half where the Africans ran their lungs out, closing down the Argentinians. In fact, on the balance of play the Africans did not deserve to go down by two goals in the first half.

I was particularly impressed with Saviola as he proved to be the tormentor with clever off the ball running and accurate passing. I was not as impressed with Nicolas Burdisso, the right side defender of Argentina’s three-man defense. Luckily they have Heinze and Ayala, who despite obvious height disadvantage, did not leave any space for Drogba to exploit.

Truth be told, the Argentinians never looked in danger of losing, as they showed that this team is built around possession football rather than South American more favored direct attacking approach. But the Ivory Coast will prove to formidable opponent to whichever team they faced. It is just unfortunate they are stuck in this group.

Serbia 0 – 1 Netherlands
Critics would say they only won by one goal, but the truth was that Serbia never really threatened Van Der Sar, nor did they hold the ball as long as they should. Holland was impressive in controlling the midfield, though in truth they lack the necessary creative spark that a player like Van Der Vaart could bring in midfield.

Arjen Robben grabbed all the headlines as the star of the show, and I was impressed but I prefer to look at the contribution of Bouhlarouz who came as a replacement for Mathijsen in the second half. The Serbians was just beginning to attack with verve only to find this Stam-like colossus holding firm. It is believed that he would start in Holland’s next game against the Ivory Coast.

I was so disappointed with Serbia’s attacking line, because I expected more from the experienced Milosevic and explosive Kezman. They didn’t control the ball, and that proved to be the difference.

Mexico 3 – 1 Iran
This was surprisingly an interesting game. Iran was more than a match for the Mexicans in the first half, with Oswaldo Sanchez being the busier of the two keepers. The Iranians seems to have a problem defending set-pieces, but their midfield quartet was beautiful to watch. Skillful on the ball, they were unfortunate to go into the break level.

But I applaud the Mexican coach for making the necessary personnel and tactical changes at the beginning of the second half. They adopted a more fluent 4-4-2 attacking formation and this proved to be too much for the Iranians who lost the ball more often than they should.

I like Borgetti, but I think his injury proved to be the catalyst of Mexico’s success as the Mexicans then flowed with a different close passing game instead of lumping the ball into the box.

Angola 0 -1 Portugal
I was so disappointed with Portugal’s display against the debutants. Angola had no one who played in the top level of football, and in the opening 10 minutes this was truly evident. I thought that there would be a drubbing when Pauleta pounced as early as the 4th minute but I was so wrong.

In truth, the Portuguese huff and puffed without really excelling, but nor were they ever threatened. As I expected, the only bright spark was Christiano Ronaldo, before he was substituted. Figo was also impressive, against a very slow and immobile Angolan defence. Not impressed with Simao, who wasted one too many balls.

United States 0 – 3 Czech Republic
This was as one sided as they go. The Czechs were good, no doubt, but they were helped by an inept US display. The Czechs allowed the US midfield to control the ball as long as they want because they knew nothing would come out of it. I was bitterly disappointed that the midfield gave the ball away too much in the final third, with Eddie Pope and Claudio Reyna guilty of some glaring miss passes.

In contrast, the Czechs made every second of the possession count with Rosicky and Nedved particularly impressive. While the US preferred to stroke the ball in the middle of the park the Czechs made fast attacking runs down the channel to catch the US high line of defense off-guard. Rosicky was the man of the match with a solid display of midfield supreme, capped off with two sublime goals and one shot rattling the cross-bar. I just hate the fact that he is Arsenal’s, and for only 5 million pound!!!

Italy 2 – 0 Ghana
Ghana was tipped by many as the African team that would do well in this tournament, but with their strikers seemingly short of quality, the task to qualify to the next round would be challenging. Ghana had some wonderful moments in possession, with Appiah and Essien particularly impressive, but they came up short in the third half of the field.

Italy is no longer the boring defensive team of old. They were willing to attack when needed, and if they were a bit sharper in front of goal then the scoreline would be more reflective of their effort. The midfield trio of Pirlo, De Rossi and Perrotta was superb on that night. Defensively, the look tight and didn’t allow the Ghanaians space. Italy will qualify.

Australia 3 – 1 Japan
Japan was impressive in the first half. I liked the way they controlled possession, and the midfielders were more than a match against the physically imposing Australians. Australia, in truth, was pathetic in the first half. Harry Kewell was clearly feeling the heat, and was largely disappointing throughout the game.

Unfortunately, for Japan, they were indecisive in attack. There were situations where the Japanese could have scored or were in great attacking position but lacked the killer instinct. They paid the price in the final 10 minutes when their midfield can no longer carry the whole team. Tim Cahill exploited this by arriving late, unmarked, from midfield to score two goals. The final goal by John Aloisi probably was a bit unfair to the Japanese, who now must regroup for their next match against Croatia. They have failed to win their one must-win game, so their chance to qualify is next to impossible.

South Korea 2 – 1 Togo
Togo surprised me with their endeavor and their physical presence. It appears to be the theme for African teams this year. A lot of hard running, impressive skills, but lacking the tactical ability to adapt. Togo paid the price when they did not adapt to the arrival of Ahn Jung Hwan in place of a defender and the resulting tactical reshuffle.

Truth be told, South Korea did not impress as much as they should, considering their experience. Their midfield, especially Park Ji-Sung, ran around a lot, like little ants chasing pieces of bagel, but did not penetrate the defense of Togo. In fact, the only reasoned they managed to score from a free kick was the slow response of the cumbersome Togo keeper.

France 0 – 0 Switzerland
Like I have predicted, the Swiss would be no pushovers. Judging by their performance against the Les Bleus, they would most likely take maximum points against Togo and perhaps the Koreans. They were strong in defense and midfield, with Degen and Muller impressing in defence.

However, this was against a French team lacking cohesion and most importantly, the finishing touch. Henry had a terrible game in attack. His first touches were awful and there was no penetration from the wings as is usual with him at Arsenal. I was also unimpressed with Vieira, who did not grab the game by its neck in his central midfield role. Instead, with 10 minutes remaining, the French were still busy passing the ball around in the middle of the park with only 2 players in the penalty box! On the plus side was Zidane’s passionate and artful control in the midfield, instead of the over-hyped Ribery who probably was trying too hard.

Brazil 1 – 0 Croatia
Brazil won with 10 men. Ronaldo was missing for most of the time. In fact, he appeared to enjoy strolling around without purpose. Luckily for Brazil they had the impressive Lucio at the back, as he was the heart in the centre of defense. Only a beautiful curling shot by Kaka made the difference against a well-organised, strong-willed and dedicated Croatian team.

Dado Prso was a constant menace. Unfortunately, this he did outside the penalty area especially in the left side where he ran his socks off to no avail. Niko Kranjcar was impressive in the centre of the back, giving Emerson a run for his money. Croatia would definitely compete for the second spot in this group if they keep up with this performance.

Spain 4 – 0 Ukraine
Wow…what can I say? On a day where most would expect Spain to be overwhelmed as usual, and Ukraine to finally show the world what they’ve been missing all this years, it was the complete opposite! It was finally the day when the world at large can see a Spanish performance befitting their great players. The Ukrainian were overwhelmed and like I say, if you mark Shevchenko properly, the whole team would not function.

Most importantly, it wasn’t a complete walk-out like the Czechs had against USA. The Ukrainians gave a good fight in midfield and defence. But against a strong resolute Spanish armada anchored by Marco Senna and the ever exuberant Xavi Hernandez, they were simply outrun, outpassed and outwitted. Puyol was a rock in the centre of defence, capping a fine evening by setting up Torres for Spain’s fourth goal. Is this the year where the Spanish bull would come out and play?

Tunisia 2 – 2 Saudi Arabia
One of the most entertaining games of the first round was conjured not by the big names, but two of the lesser teams in this competition. That was not the case in the first half as the two teams labored under the cautious approach of their respective managers. I don’t know why, but in the second half Tunisia simply capitulated despite holding a lead in the first.

Saudi, on their part, fought gallantly with their right back pumping balls down the channel that the Tunisian left-back failed to deal with time and time again. They soon equalized after one such ball opened up the defence and then took the lead from a quick, skillful counter attack. They thought they had their 3 points under wrap, but unfortunately, Raidi Jaidi had another idea when he rose to head the ball in the dying minutes of extra time.


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