Friday, June 30, 2006

Quarter-finals are here!



A mammoth, massive, gigantic, huge, gargantuan, intriguing, exciting, fascinating, mouthwatering, orgasmic match-up. A repeat of both the 1986 and 1990 finals won by Argentina and Germany respectively. The hosts are in fine form, particularly on attack, and they come up against the magic of the Argentinians who entertain by the nature of the way they play the game. Argentinians extra squad depth with Tevez and Messi as likely substitutes could be seen to give them the edge, but then again Germany playing at home could be an even bigger advantage.

This is what the world cup is all about.

One of these teams will go home and the other will progress.

Shit, it's exciting isn't it?

Who do I want? I don't know - I have a lot of reasons to want neither to progress, and yet I enjoy watching both of them.

Who do I think? So hard to tell, hopefully the game will go to extra time though!

Italy - Ukraine.

Italy were rather lucky in their second round match, and they haven't exactly been inspiring at the world cup. But they defend well and like to sneak 1-0 wins. They have, on paper, the easiest quarter-final but Ukraine, appearing at their first tournament will have something to say about this. Maybe Shevchenko will properly fire for the first time at the tournament.

Should be interesting.

And who knows, maybe even more exciting than the other game, one can never be sure of these things. It is football after all!

Spain underachieve...AGAIN!

France 3-1 Spain.

Once more Spain enter the World Cup as one of the favourites, once more they fall at an early stage. Going into their second round match with France, Spain were on top form and looking good, France had been playing like they were on borrowed time. However when you have a quality team, even if it's getting on in years, a good performance is only ever one game away.

France: Looked better than they have done for a long time. Henry was constantly caught offside but they looked dangerous going forward, particularly the young and exuberant Ribery. Thuram made the mistake of conceding the penalty with a silly foul but Ribery equalised with aplomb as he rounded the keeper and stroked home after a nice through ball from Viera, the ball eluding the desperate dives of Puyol and Pernia. France came out fighting at the start of the second half, Malouda's lob drawing a great save from Casillas. Viera headed in the second goal with less than 10 minutes remaining, and extra time looming. Then as Spain pushed for the equaliser Zidane found himself with the opportunity to make it 3, his forceful shot completing a happy night for the French. This sets up a quarter-final clash which will be a repeat of the 98 final, Brazil await.

Spain: Passed patiently, searching for the opening and were presented with a great chance as Pablo was felled in the box. Villa made no mistake from the spot with a perfectly taken penalty - low and hard in the botton left hand corner. It was Puyol who was to become villain as it was he who conceded the free kick from which Viera was ultimately to score. Henry was in a non menacing position chasing down the ball, possession looking likely to go the spanish way until a rash elbow from Puyol. Spain never quite looked the fast, threatening team they had done, their renowned midfield and attack not quite up to speed, despite their frenetic opening 20 minutes or so. Aragones brought on Joaquin and Garcia midway through the second period to reinvigorate his side who were looking second best, but neither of their efforts was enough, even Joaquin's shot into the side netting.

A very disappointing finish to the Spanish campaign, and Aragones picked up his only defeat at the helm of the national side since taking over after Euro 2004. Spanish sides may hold the champions league and the uefa cup, but their national team continue to flatter to deceive.

I was disappointed in the result for purely footballing reasons. I thought Spain deserved to be in the quarter final ahead of the French after the way they had played thus far, and because they are an exciting team going forward I would have looked forward more to their match-up with Brazil. It's also a bit of a shambles that the Ukraine who were hammered 4-0 by Spain progress further than their tormentors. But that's the nature of world cup footy.

It also meant that now 6 of the 8 quarter finalists are past winners, it would have been nice from my perspective if this was 5 out of 8 and Spain were still there.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Brazil 3-0 Ghana

An expected result, even if the game itself suggested the scoreline could have been otherwise. Ghana could not even become the first African team to score a goal against Brazil at a world cup.

Brazil: Always looked dangerous on attack, and were handed an early present as Ronaldo became the most prolific goalscorer in world cup finals history, as he expertly shimmied past Kingston after a through ball by Kaka. For most of the half though Brazil had to be content with defence, an aspect of their game which made them look vulnerable at times. However, Dida had a great game in goal and made the game turning save from Mensah's header at a corner. Fortuitously Brazil managed a second goal before the break as Cafu crossed, and Adrian tapped home. He was in an offside position but the officials got it wrong and the goal stood. Brazil sat back again in the second half, defending OK, but still relying heavily on Dida. After Ghana were reduced to 10 men with 10 minutes remaining, Brazil then created numerous opportunities and could have ended with 5 or 6 goals. Only one more was taken however as Ze Roberto also skilfully rounded the keeper to put the icing on the cake. 3-0 was not an accurate reflection of the game but Brazil are renowned for taking their chances and roll on into the quarters.

Ghana: Their defending was naive at times, in fact it was poor. They seemed to always want to play the offside trap, however this requires their flat backline to be synchronised, however at times one of the defenders didn't move up thus playing the Brazilians onside. This is what Paintsil did for Ronaldo's goal after 5 minutes. Ghana took about 20 minutes to get into the match, perhaps overawed by the big occasion, and feeling lost without Essien. However on attack Ghana looked dangerous. The final shot was often poor though, long range drives went over or wide, shots in the penalty were hit straight (and feebly) at Dida. Amoah and Gyan had the best of the chances but were unable to convert.

After Mensah's strong header was well saved by Dida with his legs only minutes before the half-time interval the killer blow arrived. Adriano scored from an offside position making Ghana's task almost impossible. What made it worse was that he appeared offside. The players, incensed, surrounded the ref, and coach Dujkovic was sent to the stands.

Still Ghana ploughed on in the second spell. However on many an occasion, as they looked good with the ball in a central position 20 or 30 yards from goal, with good options to the left and right, they opted for the harmless piledriver. This approach also revealed their naivety, with all their possession and chances in the second half goals should have accrued. After Gyan was sent off for a second yellow the Ghana defence crumbled and only heroics from Kingston kept the scoreline respectable.

The officials had a bit of a shocker. Brazil should probably have been awarded in the first half rather than Adriano receiving yellow, a number of offsides were wrong i.e. Brazil's second goal was actually offside, and Ronaldo being given offside when he wasn't. Overall not a great day for them.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Final round 2 previews.

Not many goals in the second round games thus far, I have a feeling this might change tonight.

Brazil vs Ghana.

Not sure who I want to win this one. I always like to see an African team make the quarterfinals, however it would be a shame to see such a great team as Brazil get knocked out at this relatively early stage. Robinho will be missing through injury for Brazi. More crucially Ghanain lynchpin Essien is suspended for the clash which will be a huge blow. There could be a few goals in this one, both teams love to attack.

Spain - France.

Hopefully Spain will win this one, they have a great squad and an exciting team whilst France have looked rather abject thus far. It's a one off game though and anything can happen, especially as France welcome back Zidane for the game.

Ukraine joy, Swiss despair.

Ukraine 0-0 Switzerland, 0-0 a.e.t, 3-0 PSO

This was possibly the most boring game of the world cup with few decent chances, and only one offside in 120 minutes of action typifying both teams emphasis on defence. Both Shevchenko and Frei, star men of their respective teams, struck the crossbar - Shevchenko with a glancing header, Frei with a hard struck free kick.

Penalties seemed inevitable and it was Ukraine who showed the better nerves. Despite Shevchenko having Ukraine's first penalty saved they converted their next three while Switzerland converted none of theirs. Barnetta was unlucky as his struck the crossbar but Streller and Cabanas both hit poor efforts leaving Shovkovskiy with comfortable saves.

Very disappointing for the Swiss who become the first team to be eliminated at any world cup finals without conceding in open play. I was hoping they could progress if only for the coach Koebi Kuhn who appears such a genial character. Many of the Swiss team impressed at the world cup, none more so than Barnetta.

The referee took reffing to another extreme. Whilst other refs have been criticised for handing out too many yellow cards, this one was very reticent to show any when perhaps a few were in order. Can't anyone get the balance right?

Italy 1-0 Australia

An absorbing, enthralling contest decided by a last minute penalty.

Italy: Played with by far the least possession but did their usual trick of defending expertly, looking to counterattack and sneaking a 1-0 win. Luca Toni was presented with a few chances, none of which he was able to dispatch. Fabio Cannavaro had an immense, immaculate game in defence, and Gattuso gave his usual tigerish display. At times Italy looked rattled though, and could be said to be fortunate. Their last second penalty was debatable. The sending off of Materazzi was probably fair as he was perceived to be the last man. It was far less clearcut however than the incident which should have seen Heinze shown the red against Mexico.

Australia: Didn't take advantage of their one man advantage and their wealth of possession, demonstrating that against top class opposition they lack penetration. Most of the team generally played well, Scott Chipperfield was particularly good, and Viduka again led the line valiantly, but without Harry Kewell they missed one player who can win a game in a moment. Neill may be seen as the villain after it was he who conceded the penalty. Schwarzer had an excellent game, tipping over on a couple of occasions and making one fantastic save with his legs from Toni when it appeared destined to be a goal.

Aussie heartbreak: A RANT !!

First please permit me to shake off my objectivity and rant.

I am pretty gutted about the Aussies loss. I don't really know why but they have been one of the teams I have been supporting at World Cup 2006. Maybe because they are an underdog with great fighting spirit. Maybe it's neighbourly affection. It is also no doubt partly in the case of the second round match because I really do not like Italy who I have always considered to be diving, cheating scum. My dislike is not in the same league as my dislike of Argentina or Germany but there is a dislike there nevertheless. I don't like the Aussie rugby and cricket teams, but I do like the Socceroos, even if Harry Kewell who screwed Leeds over is a member of the squad. I even celebrated his goal against Croatia.

What is particularly gutting is that: Australia were not outclassed, Australia were not given a deserved beating, Australia were involved in an absorbing and close contest that was ultimately decided by a debatable penalty. There are those who argue both ways. Penalties are given for trips, but was it a trip? Grosso fell over Lucas Neill's prostrate figure, it was admittedly a hard one to interpret but whether the referee got it right or wrong (and I still think from my perspective it was wrong), how hard is it to lose with the very last kick of the game.

I so wanted extra time. The Italians with 10 men would have been wilting, Aussies would have increased the pressure. The Italians outstanding defence may well have stood firm but we will never know. The drama of penalties may have eventuated but we did not get the chance to see.

It was this ref who was in charge when Australia overcame Uruguay on penalties to get to the world cup, it was at this stage 4 years ago when an underdog coached by Guus Hiddink broke Italian hearts (ironically I was rooting for Italy on that day, how much luck did the Koreans have back in 02?). These were good portents for the Aussies. Although there are good portents for Italians overall. Last time their league was embroiled in Scandal was 82 when, yes you've guessed it, they last won the world cup.

I feel so sorry for the Aussie boys, the Aussie supporters, the ockers and the Aussie women.

This is the worst I have felt during the World Cup so far.

Those fans who support Australia and Leeds United (there are many of them), have had a pretty gutting year. But none of the events in Germany will come close to those at Millennium stadium on May 21st 2006.

Australia can hold their heads high after this world cup. High and proud.And then I can go back to snarling at the likes of George Gregan and Brett Lee!

Tonight's previews:

Aussie - Italy

Most would expect an Italian win given their personnel, their ranking and their history. They have won the world cup on more than one occasion and seem to be a constant figure in the round of 16. Aussie on the other hand are in their second world cup and in the round of 16 for the first time. They do have a good squad though and Guus Hiddink is a wily campaigner. However I expect it to be close and I really think there is a potential for an upset on the cards. I hope so anyway!

On the injury front, Kewell is struggling with an injury and may not start, Nesta is ruled out.

Also: can Viduka finally find his goalscoring form, he has been playing well as the lone striker but would no doubt love a goal.

Swiss - Ukraine:

Should be tight. It's the clash of Frei vs Shevchenko, both renowned goalscorers. Switzerland haven't conceded a goal yet at WC 06 but they are without Senderos. Ukraine have been criticised at times but this is the moment for Voronin and Kalinichenko to step up, they have looked dangerous at times, they need to do so again. They do have 2 defenders suspended however.

One of the four second round matches has gone to extra time. None of them have reached penalties. Is tonight the night where all this changes? Or will the trend continue? Tune in and find out!

A war of attrition.

Portugal 1-0 Holland.

A match that promised so much. 2 heavyweights battling it out to reach the last 8. 2 teams with so much promise going forward, with great coaches. We did get to see some of this much vaunted attack but instead the after match analysis has tended to focus on the 4 red cards, a world cup finals record.

Referee Ivanov

Sepp Blatter has criticised Ivanov for his performance, and in some ways I agree. He was a bit too quick to caution the players, not really adopting the common sense approach that passions will run high and we can afford to be a little lenient. However red cards did seem inevitable in this clash as players came to blows and players lunged in with the tackles. Figo is also lucky not to have received a red card for headbutting. The commentator expressed thoughts that FIFA would look at the incident and may consider imposing a suspension, however I was proved correct in my thoughts that FIFA would choose not to intervene because Ivanov had seen the situation, and had meted out a punishment. I was right, this was exactly their standpoint. I don't actually agree with this standpoint because referee's can get punishments wrong and the high powered technology can reveal for all to see exactly what occurred. So yes, a bad tempered affair with 16 flashing yellows including 8 for the sent off men who were all given their marching orders for second bookable offences rather than straight reds.

Portugal: Were under the cosh right from the start but got the only goal of the game against the run of play. And what a brilliant goal it was too! After some intricate build-up play Deco sent the ball inside the penalty area, Pauleta laid the ball off to Maniche who brilliantly shimmied to create space and cracked the ball home much to his delight. They started to take some control of the match only for Christiano Ronaldo to succumb to injury. He tried to run it off but ultimately he left the field in tears. He is expected to recover for the England clash though, a match he describes as "very special" because he plays in England with Manchester United. They received their first red card at the end of the first half: the only red card there should be absolutely no doubts about having received two yellow cards for a crude challenge and a deliberate handball, but who could have so easily already had a second booking and thus his marching orders. Scolari reacted to the red card by withdrawing striker Pauleta for more of a midfield enforcer in Petit. In the second half Portugal also had to defend a lot as Holland pressed for the equaliser, but for the most part they did their duties admirably as Ricardo did well in goal and the rest of the defence kept it reasonably tight. Deco's red card and subsequent suspension will be a huge loss for the Portugese in their match against England as he is such a crucial figure for the team.

Holland had the better of the goalscoring chances. Early on both Van Bommel and Van Persie had shots narrowly miss which they were made to rue as Maniche scored the only goal of the game. Van Persie again came incredibly close before half-time, and Van der Sar kept the margin at one with an excellent save from Pauleta at point-blank range. In the second half Holland looked to make their man advantage count, Phillip Cocu smashing into the crossbar from close range in the unluckiest moment of the game. Van Bommel hit a vicious long range effort that Ricardo did well to save, and in the 81st minute Kuyt had a great chance, one on one with Ricardo the chance was smothered, Kuyt should probably have flicked it to his left to go round the keeper which would have left him merely needing to stroke the ball home. His legs weren't in the best position though as they were a little too outstretched to make it comfortable. Still, he should have done better. Holland had more than double the shots of Portugal and played really well offensively. Regardless, and unfortunately for them, they are eliminated.

The Holland side are young, inexperienced and talented. Van Basten made the tough call to leave most of the experienced players behind and go with youth. It could have paid off. He is a young, talented manager, and should he remain at the helm will be a big force in Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010. I will question one thing though. At the eleventh hour with Holland desperately needing a goal, why did Van Basten refuse to even give Ruud Van Nistlerooy on the bench, cutting a forlorn figure? I know they had a bit of a spat/chat midweek which was leaked to the media but here they were in the round of 16, about to get eliminated, and the immense scoring prowess of Van Nistlerooy was never even called upon. Strange. But there we have it. No more Holland at World Cup 2006!

England scrape the win.

England 1-0 Ecuador

A tight, uninspiring game was eventually separated by one moment of magic as England set up a repeat of the Euro 2004 semi-final.

England, quite frankly, were pretty shocking. They created sparse decent opportunities and their defending left quite a bit to be desired. To start off, the formation and tactics were a bit of a shambles. Rooney was left isolated up front, he put in the hard yards with a very committed performance but it was not the role for him. Strangely England had a tendency to pump balls long, bypassing the midfield. This is a tactic which can almost work with Crouch in that position, but not Rooney. Against Sweden in the first half, playing 4-4-2, even after Crouch had replaced Owen, England passed the ball around and cleverly created openings by working their way up through the midfield. This seemed to suit the team, however Sven in his wisdom decided on 4-5-1 (or 4-1-4-1 to be more precise) for the Ecuador game as Rooney often chased fruitlessly after punts from the defence. Rooney is fantastic when he plays that deep lying striker role, he creates a link between midfield and attack, he goes off on strong runs, he shoots dangerously from distance, and he helps create opportunities for his team mates. Left to lead the line on his own, he looks like a lost little boy. Carrick did well in his defensive midfield role but should he have that role? Do England need that role? Should it just be left to Gerrard and Lampard to marshall the centre of midfield or are there other solutions?

The England defence looked shaky at times, Terry had a bit of a nightmare on a couple of occasions, the first of which setting up Ecuador for the perfect opportunity to open the scoring only for a great block by Ashley Cole who had come haring back to resurrect the situation. Hargreaves had another good game at the atypical position of right back to demonstrate why he is in the squad. Lampard had a couple of magnificent chances in the second half, one in which he should have shot, instead trying to lay it off for Rooney only to succeed in giving away possession. The other was being in the perfect position in the penalty area with quite a bit of space, and blazing over with a shot reminiscent of a rugby conversion! Lampard who has scored so many goals for Chelsea is pretty down on confidence it seems, and just needs 1 goal to open the floodgates in my humble opinion.

The winning goal was a trademark Beckham free kick as he rolled back the years to curl the ball past Mora's outstretched hands, becoming the first Englishman to score in 3 different world cups. As I said before, he probably merits his position simply for his prowess at the dead ball situation alone. As apart from that he actually had a terrible game. At half-time Beckham had the statistic of a measly 44% passing accuracy as only 11/25 passes actually found their intended target. Towards the end of the game Beckham was visibly struggling but still Sven kept him on, waiting till there was 3 minutes to go before introducing Aaron Lennon. (Aaron Lennon: now there is a man who should be given more game time than he is!). Sven thinks England are getting "better and better and better" but I see no evidence of this myself!

Ultimately England played poorly and won. This is the sign of a good team, although perhaps it reflects the nature of the opposition rather than an innate winning mentality. Time will reveal all!

Ecuador: Looked reasonable in the first half. Tenorio could so easily have scored when he found himself one-on-one with Robinson. The keeper appeared beaten but as mentioned before Ashley Cole came in with a life saving deflection. Ecuador played with two up front as Tenorio and Delgado tried their best to terrorise England. In the second half Ecuador didn't create much of note, Castillo having one good shot that Robinson had to be alert to. They were probably eager to defend and take England to extra time. They lacked aggression at times and to be honest were a little disappointing overall.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Tonight's second round previews.

England v Ecuador.

The leaked news (if indeed it is true) is that Sven is going to play 4-5-1 with Carrick to play the holding midfield role, Crouch to drop to the bench, and someone like Gerrard to play a more attacking role just behind lone striker Rooney. Hargreaves is supposedly taking over from Carragher at right back. Ferdinand should be fit to start.

I don't like this news. I still think England should well because the class of their players will ultimately pull through, but I'll tell you what I don't like about it.

1) Why is Hargreaves playing at right back instead of Carragher? Hargreaves is a player in the defensive midfield role and it is this job he performs for Bayern Munich. We got a chance to see Hargreaves in this role against Sweden and he did a good job, much better than the many critics expected. Carragher is a natural defender, he has filled in at right back for Liverpool and England before. Part of the rationale is thought to be that Hargreaves will be able to help out Beckham more on the right. Sven's obsession with Beckham has obviously led to playing Hargreaves out of position. Some have suggested this means Beckham should be dropped but I'd keep him in there if only for his dead ball delivery. Players should not be played out of position unless in the direst of circumstances (Kevin Blackwell are you listening, do you sleep with Sven or something?) Carrick is a good player and passes well but if we are to have a holding midfielder I'd prefer to see Hargreaves retain his spot, and Carragher his.

2) 4-5-1? Personally I would have Crouch in the lineup ahead of Carrick. Crouch has scored 6 goals in his last 10 internationals, he has proved reasonably effective thus far and there is no reason to suggest he will be unable to partner Rooney. In fact he did so against Sweden after Owen had crawled off the pitch. It is also not ideal to keep changing formations. When everyone is guessing how England will lineup it really is no good. We should have a first team properly sorted, and emphasis should be on getting it right. This formation also means that one of the midfield will be pushed forward, probably Gerrard. Whilst he should be able to do quite well in this role it would be a waste of his talents which we'd much rather see patrolling the midfield.

I do think England should have too much for Ecuador but even if the match is a 4-0 win I will still have doubts over this chopping and changing formation. Ecuador welcome back the players they rested for the Germany match and they should give England a game. Ecuador have been pleasing on the eye this world cup and have proved to be a bit of a surprise package. Watch out for the likes of Delgado, Carlos Tenoria, Valencia, Hurtado and Espinoza. They are the key. Ecuador will likely play a wide game.

If you are an England fan put up you're hand if you are worried. Surely you don't want to see England fall to one of the minnows of world football. Will the English be rueing Sven's apparent desperation or will a big quarter-final match-up with Holland or Portugal be in the offing? England are the team facing pressure with the team expected to win, can Ecuador instead muster a huge surprise?

Holland v Portugal.

HUGE HUGE GAME. This is the kind of game that should be gracing a quarter or even a semi-final and here we have it in the round of 16. Both teams have quality throughout the side and both love to attack. This could suggest that a lot of goals are in the offing but who knows? One thing is for sure, this is probably the most eagerly awaited second round match up. One of these teams will be going home, what a shame. Both sides have looked impressive in the group stages. Can Scolari increase his run of 10 consecutive world cup finals matches victories? Can Holland fight the portents of history that suggest Portugal will win? Well Deco, Ronaldo, Figo and Pauleta of Portugal and Robben, Van Der Sar, Schneider and Van Persie of Holland (to name but a few) will be going at it hammer and tong. Apparently Van Basten has had a bit of a public spat with Van Nistlerooy who Van Basten feels has not lived up to expectations. He will consider playing Kuyt instead but may end up fixing on Van Nistlerooy. Both sides should be fresh after leaving out a few men in their final group matches. Both sides have huge respect for each other.

What will eventuate?

This has the potential to be the best, most explosive match of the world cup to date. But having said that they will probably now fight out a goal-less draw!

This game is a mouth-watering prospect. I would hate to pick a winner, so I won't! Hopefully we will see extra time though.

The English Show Ponies!

Browsing on the net I found this little article demonstrating the largesse of the English stars. This is the kind of story that can get you rooting for the underdogm for Ecuador to win for their impoverished nation and for England to lose to stick it up the English players who are on crazy wages which they throw haphazardly around!

It is not so much a game of two halves as one of two other halves.

As Coleen McLoughlin, Wayne Rooney's girlfriend, partied until the early hours yesterday, Maria de la Cruz, the wife of Ecuador's highest-paid footballer, was tucked up in bed at 10pm.

David Beckham and his fellow English multi-millionaires have lavished tens of thousands of pounds bringing over a whole coterie of big-spending, high-living wives, partners and assorted hangers-on to Germany for the World Cup. But Ecuador, England's opponents tomorrow have only one star, Ulises de la Cruz, and his wife is no Posh.

Not for her the marathon shopping trips or raucous nights out; not for her the pampering or the bling.

She spends all her time with her 20-month-old daughter, Samantha, strolling around the grounds of her team's modest hotel.
"We live quietly," Mrs de la Cruz, 25, a farmer's daughter, said. "I wish there were some more wives from Ecuador here with me but they're not. They can't afford to travel such a long way from Ecuador."

Mrs de la Cruz, who wears braces on her teeth and no make-up, said: "I don't like designer clothes. They are too expensive. I just wear clothes that are from ordinary shops."I am not famous in Ecuador. It's just my husband who is well known and I think that is a good thing."

Home for Mrs de la Cruz, whose husband plays for Aston Villa, is a semi-detached house in Sutton Coldfield, on the outskirts of Birmingham.

She is staying with the Ecuador team at the Bristol Hotel in Bad Kissinden, a spa town 175 miles from the England base in Baden-Baden. Rooms cost about £56-a-night compared with the £1,080 Posh and her colleagues are paying at the Brenner's Park Hotel.

Yesterday 19 of the 22 wives and girlfriends of the England team, who are reported to have spent £10,000 on fake tans, were recovering after partying until 4am.

The evening began when Nancy Dell'Olio, girlfriend of the manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, invited the women out for a farewell dinner at a restaurant in a moated castle near Baden-Baden. This will be the last tournament with England for Miss Dell'Olio because her boyfriend is being replaced as manager.

The women racked up a bill of £3,000 for lobster, steak and champagne before returning to the town to finish the night off. The bill was charged to their hotel for the players to pay.

At a bar called Garibaldi's they sang along with England fans and downed bottles of champagne with strawberry syrup, glasses of vodka and Red Bull and shots of sambucca.

Among those celebrating were Elen Rives, Frank Lampard's fiancee, Michael Carrick's girlfriend Lisa Roughead, Stewart Downing's girlfriend Michaela Henderson-Thynne and Alex Curran, Steven Gerrard's girlfriend. They tottered back to their hotel when the bar closed.

The other question it raises, is who is the one member of the 23 man England squad without wife or girlfriend, and why is he without? No doubt some will suggest it is Sol Campbell who has suffered speculation that he is gay. But who knows, and quite frankly I don't really care: but perhaps you do! ??

Some Lighthearted humour!

Well given there is a lot of tension now we are in the knockout stages, it's about time I added some humour to the site instead of merely my sometimes dry analysis!

Obviously the Argies are all nancy boys!

Mexico push the Argies all the way!

Argentina 2-1 Mexico a.e.t

As the two teams walked out onto the pitch a few thoughts crossed my mind. As I sat looking at the two teams walking out, one who had put on some wondrous performances in the group stage (Argies) and the other who had scraped through a weak group (Mexico), I sat there reminding myself that what had transpired earlier was practically irrelevant. The dream was now. Regardless of what had gone before anything could happen. Mexico could have the game of their lives, they could score a scrappy winner, Argentina could implode. This was one performance with the winner moving on, the loser going home. Shocks can easily happen because it is 90 minutes of 11 men against another 11 men.

Before the game did anyone seriously believe Mexico would progress? At the group stages they scraped past Iran, were unable to score against Angola, and lost to a Portugal side resting 5 of their key men. They had missed a penalty, conceded a penalty, they were profligate in front of goal and they looked a little devoid of heart. Everyone on the other hand had been raging about Argentina, about Cambiasso's perfect world cup goal as representative of the 'total football', about the 6-0 demolition of Serbia and Montenegro, and about their strength in depth.

Despite all this Argentina required extra-time and a wonder goal to achieve a quarter-final date with the hosts. It was an even game with much fluidity, although after an initial flurry of chances they were soon at a premium.

Argentina were immediately put on the back foot, conceding early corners and looking like they didn't know what had hit them. This was highlighted further when the opening goal went the way of Mexico as the defence didn't pick out Marquez drifting unmarked round the back. However they weren't behind for long. A corner kick was poked home by Crespo although there is a debate as to whether it was he, or Borgetti who got the final touch, perhaps a combination of both? The official stats give it to Crespo I think, possibly in order to spare the Mexican's blushes and to allow more competition for the golden shoe rather than an actual belief it was Crespo who got the decisive touch! Crespo came close again as he lobbed Sanchez but the ball ultimately drifted harmlessly wide. Again they looked weak at the back as Scaloni and Heinze in particular were uncomfortable. The final moments of the first half ended in huge controversy. Abbondanzieri rolled the ball out to Heinze who slipped and allowed Fonseca what seemed to be a clear run on goal until he felled the Mexican forward. The rules state that any offence punishable by a free kick that prevents a clear goalscoring opportunity should be punished by a red card. All but the referee seemed to see it this way as Heinze escaped with a yellow. He perhaps believed that the Argentinian man on the right had a chance to move across and present a challenge to Fonseca. In most eyes though, a red should have resulted. In the second half Saviola was foiled by Sanchez and Abbondanzieri was also very useful in the Argentinian goal, but petty fouls and a slower pace creeped into this fascinating encounter. Riquelme did not quite look at his best either.

Tevez and Messi were introduced at the 75th and 84th minutes respectively, Messi celebrating his nineteenth birthday. There is much debate in Argentina as to whether these two should start ahead of Saviola and Crespo. It is a great problem to have as all 4 are excellent strikers. I perhaps think they should have been introduced earlier. At this world cup Tevez, in particular, has been quite sublime at times. Pekerman's ability to bring these two gamebreakers on would seem to give Argentina the edge. These two did at one point combine to score but the offside decision was (wrongfully) made.

Extra time saw the wonder goal from Maxi Rodriguez finally settle the affair as he controlled on his chest before thundering in a looping volley. The goal was well worthy of separating the two sides and the Argies held on for victory.

Mexico started the game at great tempo, and looked good for their early advantage. For the first time in the tournament the favoured front two pairing during the qualifying campaign of Borgetti and Fonseca was employed. Borgetti was a constant menace having a few headers and testing Abbondanzieri with a good effort from distance. Marquez's goal was taken like a centre forward, and he was impressive throughout the match. Their inspirational captain was not enough to finally give them the spoils though. Mexico looked so much better than they did at the group stage and can consider themselves a little unlucky to be going home. They nearly proved their world ranking was not a result of the vagaries of FIFA's system but because they are actually damn good! Sanchez did very well in goal also and Salcido really impressed. Mexico can at least go home very proud of their efforts.

The Hosts progress.

Germany 2-0 Sweden.

I knew that Sweden had been in bad form generally this year. I knew that their much lauded triumvirate of Ibrahimovic, Larsson and Ljunberg had not been in amongst the goals as they should. I knew that they couldn't score against T&T and I knew that they left it until the last minute against Paraguay. But I thought given that this was Sweden's biggest game since their second round exit against Senegal 4 years ago (what a golden goal from Henri Camara that was!) that they would give Germany a good go, a real fright at least, perhaps push them to extra time or penalties even if they ended up bowing out.

Instead the match was a frustration from the first minute to the last.

Germany: Were on top right from the outset scoring their first goal after only 4 minutes. The ball broke to Klose in space in the penalty area, goalkeeper Isaakson dived in to block the shot only for Podolski to hit the ball home via the head of Teddy Lucic. Podolski doubled the lead after only 11 minutes as Klose pulled 3 defenders with him, creating the space for him to lay the ball off to Podolski who made no mistake with his smart finish. Having ended a mini draught against Ecuador Podolski is now obviously sky high on confidence and the Polish born front pairing will cause any team problems. Germany were very much dominant in the first half with the likes of Ballack, Schweinsteiger and Klose all going close. The Germans were given an extra boost when Lucic was sent off for a second bookable offence, allowing the Germans to play the last 55 minutes with a numerical advantage.

The Germans did look a little shaky in defence at times, their back four often a little too flat, and even with 10 men Sweden did cause the occasional problem. Lehmann had to be alert on a couple of occasions, and Germany also contrived to hand Sweden a lifeline by conceding a penalty that Larsson was unable to convert. Ironically Germany actually looked a little weaker after the sending off, perhaps taking their foot off the gas and Ballack must be wondering when he will score after so many efforts on goal. Admittedly they were all long range but many of them came within a whisker of nestling in the net. jurgen Klinsmann as well as getting plaudits for the unusually attacking nature of a German tea, demonstrated his exuberance and demonstrativeness, celebrating the goals with such delirium that he was asked to calm down by the fourth official. Germany are well and truly doing themselves proud as the host nation so often manages to do.

Sweden have to be devastated by their performance. In the first 20 minutes or so they seemed to have forgotten they were at a football match as they handed Germany far too many opportunities. After an encouraging second half against England, and being a solid team that has proved itself capable in both offence and defence, they will be very upset at the manner of their loss. Perhaps Lagerback only giving his troups a light training session the day before the game and ordering them to sleep backfired. The sending off decision was perhaps a tad harsh and affected the flow of the game. Isaakson had a magnificent game in goal, a couple of his saves were breathtaking and world class, one shot from Ballack in particular seemed destined to be a goal until the magical fingertips of Isaakson intervened. Larsson and Ibrahimovic found themselves with a couple of chances they could have profited from but it was not to be. Larsson's penalty miss was also unfortunate, the TV commentator I listened to perhaps put the curse on him as he extolled Larsson's penalty taking prowess, in particular being one of the one's to convert in the penalty shoot out against Romania back in the 1994 quarter final, the year in which Sweden did exceedingly well to finish 3rd. He completely and utterly stuffed the penalty up, the ball going high and wide, Larsson even admitting later that he was actually aiming for the other corner! For me the penalty miss was enough to tell me that destiny was at work, not that I believe in that garbage! Sweden ran out of any ideas and almost let Germany in with more goals especially in the last ten minutes. Back to the drawing board for the Swedes, will Larsson retire, is Ibrahimovic past his best, is it time for Allback to take the mantle as #1 striker, can Kallstrom finally deliver the goods he always promises ???? , answers to these on a postcard: we will see if you are right at Euro 2008!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The second round!

So the knockout stages are on us, exciting stuff. We have two big games to look forward to tonight.

Germany - Sweden is a big one, hopefully the Swedes will knock out the hosts, a close one is on the cards. Sweden will have to be more clinical in front of goal to get through this game, they could be helped by a possible return to action for the injured Ibrahimovic. Germany have never been defeated at this stage of a world cup so far, can the Swedes be the team? Germany have looked fairly good against weak opposition so far but Sweden provide a real test. I can see this one going to penalties perhaps. A fascinating battle: Shit, bring it on!

Argentina - Mexico: can't really see past the Argies for this one even if Borgetti is back (I don't yet know if he is). Mexico have been creating a few chances lately though and if they find their shooting boots for once could cause an upset. Stranger things have happened but I very much doubt this will eventuate.

Group H

Going into the last games these were the requirements.

Spain: Already through needed only a draw to make certain of top spot.

Ukraine: needed a minimum of a draw to progress.

Tunisia: needed a win to progress.

Saudi Arabia: needed a big victory over Spain coupled with a draw in the other match.

These were probably the two most boring games of the finals so far, leaving me wondering why I was the kind of person who has to watch every game. It was probably worth it in the end because who knows when a game will be good and when it will not. We have to just get up, watch the game, and find out!

Ukraine 1-0 Tunisia.

This was a soporific match punctuated too readily by the referee's whistle. There wasn't much action or entertainment and the crowd responded with a fair number of boos in the second half. Jaziri was sent off for a second bookable offence in the closing stages of the first half which stunned Tunisia to have their main man unable to return to produce his magic. Trabelsi was the best of the Tunisians as they did show a bit of spark in the second period. They will feel hard done to as they had a good penalty appeal turned down and then conceded one when it appeared Shevchenko had simply tripped himself up. For the Ukrainians Voronin must be wondering when he is going to score as he was repelled on numerous occasions by his own wastedfulness and 40 year old Boumnijel's top efforts in goal. Ukraine now have a date with Switzerland but will be without suspended defenders Vyacheslav Svidersky and Andriy Rusol for the occasion.

Spain 1-0 Saudi Arabia

Spain put out a virtually second string side for the match but with the quality in depth they have they were far too good for a poor Saudi Arabian outfit. Fabregas was the key player in midfield and Joaquin looked exciting every time he got the ball - probably because he ran at the defence so much. Spain could have easily had many more goals in the first half as Zaid denied Joaquin, Reyes and Albelda with big diving saves and it was left to defender Juanito to score the winning goal. Raul was a plus point for Spain as he emerged from the game unscathed and looked pretty good. Saudi Arabia could have got an unlikely draw as they made a few forays forward in the second half but they never seemed to seriously trouble the Spanish goal. They will be going home without a win in world cup finals 10 games on the trot. For Spain a date with France in the second round.

Group G

Going into the last games of group G these were the requirements:

France: Nothing less than a victory would do. Any kind of victory would be enough if either Korea or Switzerland won. A 2 goal margin would be required if the other match was a draw.

Switzerland: A win or a draw was enough to progress as they had a better goal difference than Korea. A loss would be sufficient if France failed to beat Togo.

Korea: Realistically needed to win to progress, a draw would be enough if France failed to beat Togo by at least 2 goals. Even a loss could have seen them through if France had failed to beat Togo.

Togo: already eliminated.

Switzerland 2-0 Korea.

A dingdong battle, but the right result in the end.

Switzerland looked very good. Barnetta looked menacing and all of Frei, Senderos, Degen, Yakin and Cabanas played particularly well. Yakin had been unlucky to miss out on the original 23 man squad but sneaked his way in due to an injury to one of the original party. He is an experienced and wily campaigner who always seems to attack with promise. It was Hakin Yakin's perfectly flighted free kick in the first half that found the head of Senderos who headed home with perfect precision only to bloody his nose in the process. Switzerland defended adroitly on the whole as a desperate Korean side surged forward with regularity in the second half, and on the few occasions in which they let off admittedly decent efforts Zuberbuhler was equal to it. Losing Senderos to an arm injury on 53 minutes could have been a big blow but Djourou stepped effortlessly into the breach. Frei missed a couple of good chances in the attacking third (including one that rattled the crossbar) but finally got the second goal in controversial circumstances - the referee rightfully overruling the linesman's flag. Switzerland were also happy to avoid picking up any suspensions as about 5 of the team went into the game on yellows, and they finished the group stages as the only team not to concede a goal, although they have had 2 circumstances in which the opposing team have had reasonable penalty shouts for handball only to be turned down for the probably correct interpretation that they were accidental.

Korea did not go down without a fight. They are an amazingly fit team who run and run and never seem to get tired. Chun-Soo Lee was probably their man of the match as he had some good shots and ran himself into the ground in both defence and attack. Korea just lacked a little in quality to find any goals in their game but they can at least reflect that they gave their all. Woon-Jae Lee did a pretty good job in goal as well. Overall though the Koreans looked vulnerable at set pieces as Yakin made some telling crosses from these positions. For Korea the luck that they had in abundance in 02 had finally run out, and it's back to the drawing board for them as a dangerous Swiss march on to a meeting with Shevchenko and his boys.

France 2-0 Togo.

France were desperate for the win, and despite a goal-less first half got the 2-0 scoreline they were after.

France: attacked, attacked, attacked but a combination of committed Togolese and French profligacy kept the scoresheet untouched during the first period. Trezeguet, finally getting a start, being the one making the least use of his chances. Ribery also unable to make hay as the sun shone. France were also guilty of too many misplaced passes. 2 goals from the unlikely source of Viera and then Henry were enough to settle the affair in two nicely worked moves. It was perhaps an irony though that France looked the most dangerous in this game without their influential playmaker, Zidane, although perhaps the nature of their opposition had something to do with this. A very tricky encounter with Spain now looms large on the horizon.

Togo, already eliminated, were playing for pride and they certainly gave a pretty good showing of themselves. They repelled most of the French attacks and had a few good moves themselves. Again Mohammad Kader was probably the best of the bunch and Agassi was inspired in goal. Togo go home with 0 points but will learn from the world cup and come back stronger for it.

Group F finished.

Brazil finish first as expected, Australia have a memorable day and book a second round date with the Italians.

Australia 2-2 Croatia.

Needing a draw to progress the Aussies showed their battling qualities to come from behind twice and gain a deserved draw. It was a thoroughly entertaining game, end to end stuff, worthy of a knockout clash.

Australia are making a habit of coming from behind in games as they famously did against Japan in their opening group F game. On the back foot within the first few minutes as captain Viduka pulled out a needless strikers challenge, only for Croatia to convert the resulting free kick. From this moment on the Aussies dominated although perhaps not creating enough clearcut goalshooting opportunities although Pletikosa had to be alert on a few occasions. Viduka was unlucky not to be given a penalty as he was rugby tackled to the ground but they were awarded later in the half as yet another world cup penalty was awarded for an inexplicable handball. Craig Moore was given the duty off converting (surprisingly chosen ahead of the likes of Viduka, Kewell, Cahill and Neill) and he duly obliged. The second half saw disaster strike. Kalac had been given the goalkeeping duties ahead of Schwarzer, the rationale being his height would be more imposing for a team that relied on crossing the ball for Prso to head home. However in this selection Hiddink was shown to have dropped a bit of a clanger as Kalac was unable to stop a tame shot from Nico Kovac. What Schwarzer was thinking as he looked on goodness only knows. Australia again streamed ahead looking for an equaliser, Hiddink brought on some very attacking substitutions. Kewell smashed a shot straight at Pletikosa who did well to turn it over. The goal eventually came as Kewell hit home from close range after subs Bresciano and Aloisi combined to set him up, although there were suspicions of Kewell and Viduka both being in offside positions. The Aussies then managed to hang on. Viduka worked manfully hard upfront, Kewell was crowned King Harry, Kalac's blushes were spared and the likes of Culina played very well. Emerton's red card one of the blemishes. It was a marvellous day for Aussie sport and the Aussies celebrations all over the world reflected that.

Croatia played their part in this pulsating match. Srna sweetly dispatched the early free kick and while the Aussies were progressing could have scored more on counter attacks, Prso blasting wastefully over. Once the Aussies had the equaliser the Croats pressed with menace and were on top for the early period of the second half before Kovac's lucky strike. Croatia couldn't hold their lead though. Tomas may have conceded one penalty for handball but he could so easily have conceded another late in the second half for the same offence. Croatia appeared rattled late on as they were desperate for a winner, losing their cool and ending up with 9 men by the end of the night.

Referee Poll had a bit of a shocker. He handed Simunic three yellow cards failing to send him off after his second, and missed a couple of good penalty appeals. Apparently his performance will be analysed thoroughly and thus his tournament may be over sooner than he expected.

Brazil 4-1 Japan.

Japan needed a big win, instead they were outclassed. On the back foot for much of the first half they took a lead against the run of play as Alex played a lovely ball for Tamada to finish with some class. Ronaldo levelled just before half time though as a lovely flighted header from Cicinho found his own head two yards out. The second half was pretty much all Brazil as they played the beautiful game the beautiful way. Robinho, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Ronaldo and co all played some sumptuous football. The men who came in for the likes of the rested Adriano, Cafu and Carlos all had great games to demonstrate Brazil's depth. Ronaldo's second goal was perhaps the goal of the tournament as lovely interplay found it's way to Ronaldo who manoevred into some space and sidefooted artistically into the corner of the goal. Juninho's goal went straight through the previously excellent Kawaguchi who had perhaps made the save of the tournament earlier from the very same person, who had hit a thunderous 20 yard drive only for it to be magnificently tipped over. Gilberto also scored a great goal as he clinically found the bottom right hand corner. Brazil could have had more goals but they were quite outstanding on the night. And Ronaldo had a top game to silence his critics and equal Gerd Muller as the all time leading scorer at world cups with 14.

Group E decided.

So Italy finish first and Ghana second. The Czech Republic become probably the biggest name to fall at the group stage hurdle and go home with a whimper.

Italy 2-0 Czech Republic.

Hardly the blood and thunder classic one might have expected.

Italy were not exactly impressive but they certainly did enough to claim what was in the end a straightforward victory. Italy did their usual trick of taking the lead after being under the cosh before holding out for the rest of the game, scoring the decisive second when another in vain Czech attack created enough space for the Italians to punish. In some ways it paralleled their 2-0 win over Ghana earlier in the competition. Nesta came off with an injury but the blow was lessened as substitute defender Materazzi made an immediate impact with a precision header from a Totti corner midway through the first half. This spurred Italy on to a comfortable victory, helped by a numerical advantage in players in the second half. Inzaghi was profligate in front of goal but was confident enough to score the second goal as he calmly rounded Cech to sidefoot home. Cannavaro had a top class game in defence and Buffon had a stupendous game in goal. Totti started to look more comfortable as he continued his quest for full fitness and had one fizzing shot from range that came close.

Czech Republic, I would argue, left the tournament with a bit of a whimper. Nedved had a brilliant game, instrumental in all their attacks and having a number of shots parried by Buffon but he was a bit of a one man band. Baros's rustiness in managing to shrug off his injury for the game showed as he was continually isolated upfront. Rosicky was unfortunately rather anonymous during the game but the Czechs weren't helped by Polak's red card at the end of the first half. Cech also did well in goal but in the end the Czechs were eliminated. After a fantastic opening match against the US, one of the pre-tournament favourites failed to fire in a tough group and left the world cup early. I would have expected more desperation from the Czechs as their world cup dream came to an anti climactic end.

Ghana 2-1 US

Ghana became the first (and possibly the only depending on Tunisia's game with the Ukraine) African side to make the last 16.

Ghana: Opened the scoring in the 22nd minute when Draman dispossessed Reyna before cooly and adeptly slotting home. They conceded an equaliser unable to cope with the direct US approach play but were soon back in front as Appiah dispatched a controversially awarded penalty moments later. Some consider Pimpong's fall as worthy of an oscar. The Ghanaians were a little bit naive in becoming too defensive in the second half as they had to cope with wave after wave of US attack looking rather nervy at times. Appiah had a brilliant display in the midfield. He provided an impetus going forward and distributed the ball wonderfully. Essien did likewise, and will be a huge loss in the round of 16 as he will be suspended for the Brazil clash, picking up a second yellow card. Ghana were useful on the break in the second half, Amoah crashing a shot that Keller did well to parry. Ghana probably deserved their win and move triumphantly forward to a meeting with the world champs.

US: showed a lot of guts and passion knowing a minimum of a win was in order, and probably a big one needed. Reyna did poorly in losing the ball immediately preceeding the opening goal, it was tough on the midfielder who has regularly featured as the US rock and crucial performer. The direct approach worked best and this came off for their goal as Beasley's delicious cross allowed Dempsey to volley home. McBride had a good game as the target man upfront, consistently flicking balls on with his head, and had a header come unluckily off the post during the second period. The US were unlucky not to manage a draw and cried foul over the penalty decision, but even had they come away with a draw they would still have been going home. Bruce Arena unable to live up to the heroics of 02.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Groups E and F finish tonight.

The most open group with a seemingly endless number of permutations is clearly Group E. It is such a shame for me that the two crucial matches will be played simultaneously but it really is fair enough and far more exciting this way. Which game will I watch first and which as the replay I haven't quite decided yet. Hopefully whatever I choose the outcome of the other will still be a mystery as I watch the replay! Group F is pretty exciting too with our Antipodean cousins ready to make history!

Group E

Czech Republic vs Italy:

If Italy wins they go through in first place. If Czech win they likely go through in first but could end up second if Ghana win by at least one more goal than they do

A draw will see Italy go through - in first place if the other game is a draw or US win, in second if Ghana win. A draw will see Czech Republic through in second place unless Ghana win, or US win by at least 4 goals, possibly 5.

Ghana vs US.

A Ghana win will see them through: In first place if the other game is a draw or if the Czech win by 1 less than they do (or possibly 2+ depending on scorelines). In second place if Italy win or if the Czech win is sufficient to keep ahead of them on goal difference/goal scored. A draw will see Ghana through in second should Italy win or if Czech win comfortably over Italy (a narrow Czech win combined with a Ghana draw will lead to Ghanaian heartbreak). A US win will knock Ghana out.

US only have a chance if they win. If they do they will go through if Italy also win. If it is a draw or Czech Republic win the US will need a big victory to get through.

I have tried to go through the possibilities but even then I have not properly covered or explained all permutations. Obviously though the group is so delicately poised that almost anything can happen. The games will be huge. My head will be whizzing with permutations all night.

Shit yeah, this is what the world cup is all about, thank God one group has provided me with the chance to be a constantly readjusting calculator!

What do I want? Victories to the Czech and Ghana would be nice. However both teams are missing key players through suspension/injury!

Group F:

Brazil are through. They will finish first unless the combination of an Australian win over Croation and a Brazilian loss to Japan allows Australia to overtake them on goal difference.

Australia: A win or a draw will ensure the Aussies are through. They will finish second unless the scenario described above occurs and then they will finish first.

Croatia: Will be through in second place if they win. Nothing else but a win will do.

Japan: Nothing but a win will do, and even then it may not be enough. A win and Aussie win will see Aussie through. A win and a draw in the other game will require a big enough win to overturn Aussies 2 goal better goal difference. A win and a Croatia win will also have to be big enough to overcome their superior goal difference. Thus NOTHING LESS than a 2 goal, and more realistically a 3 goal win will give Japan ANY CHANCE of going through. And this is against the world champions Brazil. They should pretty much start packing, their chances are miniscule, but I suppose as Adidas says, nothing is impossible!

A big night of action ahead. Back to bed soon I guess for another crazy night in Germany.

Group D decided

Portugal finish first with the perfect record, Mexico sneak into second place in what I perceive as the weakest group of the tournament.

Portugal 2-1 Mexico.

Without 5 of their notable star names (rested because they were on yellow cards), Portugal were worthy victors.

Portugal: Ironically enough Portugal's first half performance was probably their best at the tournament, this without the likes of Ronaldo, Pauleta and Deco. Scolari was so adamant not to have suspensions that he said none of them would come on even if Mexico were winning 3-0! Simao played Maniche in who obliged with an unstoppable finish after less than ten minutes. Then midway through the half Marquez inexplicably handled in the box, Simao making no mistake with the pen. Portugal were a bit nervy though for the rest of the half, conceding a goal and looking a little flustered. In fact they didn't look comfortable for the rest of the game, perhaps missing those 5 key men, and could easily have conceded an equaliser. The goal they did concede could have been avoided had Portugal had a defender on the line at the corner! Miguel looked a little suspect in defence but made up for it in some way with his surging runs forward. 9 points out of 9 though as Scolari races to 10 consecutive world cup victories.

Mexico: Looked weak in front of goal. During the second half Bravo the two goal hero against Iran missed a penalty blazing over the bar and also hit a one-on-one way over the top. Fonseca was the only one to score with a quality header from a corner kick and there is no doubt they are missing Borgetti. Will he be back for the Argentina match? There is a chance but who knows?? They will need him! Mexico bossed the second half but Portugals fleeting dominance was enough. Perez got himself sent off for two yellow cards but was even fortunate not to have got another yellow card earlier. Sanchez dived the right way for the penalty but he started from too far to the other side, had he dived from a more central position a save may have been made. Mexico were unlucky not to get at least a point from the game but will need to improve their resourcefulness in front of goal.

Iran 1-1 Angola.

Angola needed a good victory coupled with a Mexican loss to grab a second round berth. Ultimately they could not achieve this. They were wasteful in front of goal. It was an entertaining match though as both teams had plenty of chances and the keepers were pretty busy. Akwa and Daei really should have both been on the score sheet. Instead only a bullet header from Flavio and another headed effort from Bakhtiarizadeh went in. Mendonca had two efforts go excruciatingly close at the close of the game but had to be content with a draw. Both sides conceded too much possession in midfield though and it was readily apparent that these were two weaker teams at the FIFA world cup.

Group C decided.

So Argentina top the group and make their way into the supposedly easier section of the tournament. For Holland second place and a difficult date with destiny in the form of Portugal await.

Argentina 0-0 Holland.

A fascinating, rather cagey battle. Not the blood and thunder we've come to expect from matches between the two nations but in many ways this was to be expected both having qualified. Memories of the dingdong affair in 1998 when Bergkamp scored an amazing winner after a thrilling quarterfinal game came flooding back even if those scenes weren't emulated.

Argentina looked the better team overall, some lovely passing moves. The closest they came to a goal was Dutch defender Boulahruz almost converting a Riquelme free kick into his own goal, diverting it onto his crossbar. Maxi Rodriguez has started to come into his own having a couple of flashing shots go wide of the target. Riquelme was again the influential figure in midfield, and both Messi and Tevez showed off some scintillating skill at times. Argentina were only afforded a small number of chances but they did look very good, full of flair and running. Only Burdisso made a notable mistake with a defensive stumble which almost led to a goal. They chose to leave strikers Saviola and Crespo on the bench but the Argies have an amazing strength in depth. A 0-0 draw suits Argentina fine as it enables them to have top spot in the group and thus an easier second round game against Mexico (if one is allowed to make such a judgement!)

Holland: Van Basten rested many key men in Robben, Van Bommel and Van Bronckhurst, and seemed reasonably content to let the game finish a draw.

What to make of these tactics: The idea was obviously to give their key men a bit of a freshen up, make sure they avoid suspensions and get through to the next stage with a minimum of fuss. But would they have been better going all out for a win in order to face Mexico rather than Portuagal? Arguably yes. Playing against Mexico without a couple of their better players would in my opinion be better than facing Portugal at full strength. But then perhaps Van Basten was being ultra conservative. What if he had gone all out, lost a couple of men for the next round, and ended up facing Portugal anyway (as it would still have been difficult to face Argentina). Interesting scenarios, but if I was Marco Van Basten (well that would be great because then I could say I was one of the best ever football players every night before I went to sleep!) I would certainly have been tempted to try harder for the win. Now to win the world cup they may have to defeat Portugal then England then Brazil then Argentina as one reasonably likely scenario. What a challenge that would be!

Anyway in terms of the Dutch performance Holland hustled and harried well, and were very good in not allowing Argentina much room on the ball in which to wreak havoc and devastation. They created few chances, Dirk Kuyt going closest when perhaps shouting from a narrow angle after dispossessing Burdisso, when a perhaps a cut back pass was more on. Cocu also came close. Overall Holland were content to keep the Argies at bay and now have a huge challenge of Portugal awaiting them. What a game that will be!

Ivory Coast 3-2 Serbia and Montenegro.

What an amazing dead rubber match was this! A plethora of yellow cards, 2 red cards, 2 penalties, dodgy defending, and not a small amount of skill - this was more exciting than many of the games which have had something riding on it. An amazing stat is that the Ivory Coast had roughly 70% possession in this game.

Ivory Coast conceded two early goals due to dodgy defending. This I put down mainly to Michel opting to rest his solid centre-back pairing of Kolo Toure and Meite. In fact there were a lot of changes to the team. Drogba's absence was enforced but the others were made to give a range of players experience of the world cup finals. Perhaps this is why the Ivorians needed to come back from 2 goals down and took 86 minutes to complete the comeback. There is also some naivety in the Ivory Coast defending, a bit kamikaze you could say, and hence they have found themselves 2 goals down early in all 3 of their matches. They have also been very wasteful of goalscoring chances at the tournament. They could have had a hatful of goals today. Dindane was particularly impressive in this game. Had the Ivory Coast been in most other groups I have few doubts they would have gone through to the round of 16.

Serbia and Montenegro after qualifying with the best defensive record go home with the worst. This is mainly due to Argentina's 6-0 thrashing. The serbs were in a very difficult group but were disappointing on the whole. They also made it hard on themselves when Nodj was dismissed for a second bookable offence and were thus at a numerical disadvantage for a good portion of the game. Dudic made the crazy mistake of conceding two penalties due to 2 crazy handballs.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

My blog getting big.

Wow, it's crazy to see that now not all my posts show up on this page. If anyone really feels like reminiscing about the first few days of the tournament they will have to delve into the archive!

Groups C and D finish tonight!

Group C:

Argentina and Holland are both already through and now face each other. A draw or win will see the Argies finish top, Holland require a win. For the top of this group is a potentially easier road to the final. This will be a huge game from which we should be able to gauge better how both sides will fare as the tournament progresses.

The other game is a dead rubber for Ivory Coast and Serbia and Montenegro. Ivory Coast have been my 'unfortunate team of the tournament' and will hopefully finish off giving S & M a lively thrashing.

Group D:

Portugal are already through. To finish top of the group they require a draw or a win.

Mexico will qualify first if they win, second if they draw, and second/eliminated if they lose.

A Mexican loss combined with an Angola win will see goal difference decide which of these two teams goes through. The current margin of goal difference between the two sides is in favour of Mexico by 3 goals.

I expect Portugal to finish first and Mexico second, although I am naturally not writing off Angola. Whether Portugal or Mexico finish first or second may not matter too much to each of them as one of them will have to face the Dutch. The other the Argies. Both would be incredibly stern challenges.

Group B decided:

So England finish first, and Sweden second with Paraguay and a finally eliminated T&T bringing up the rear. Both England and Sweden remain unbeaten at WC06 and move onto new challenges.

England 2-2 Sweden

A great game for the neutral. End to end stuff!

1st off - an England injury update. Owen crawled off the pitch in the opening minutes, was stretchered away and is due for a scan on Wednesday. The likelihood is that his tournament is over. Rio Ferdinand was subbed for Sol, after suffering a minor groin injury and is doubtful for the clash with Ecuador. Neville looks like continuing being out as well. Rooney looks fighting fit touchwood but came off after 70 mins so as he wasn't overworked. How big a factor will the loss of Michael Owen be? He's looked ring rusty and not match fit at the tournament but he's a player with a big match temperament - remember rge old adage: form is temporary, class is permanent. It is a big blow, but how big? Who knows! And will Sven be bitten on the bum for only taking 4 strikers: Now no Owen (possibly), Rooney on the road back, Crouch doing a decent job (for a giraffe!) and Walcott who Sven seems loathe to introduce. No Bent, Defoe or Ashton? Well I guess England will have to rely even more heavily on the midfield for goals.

The game

England: An impressive first half performance. Joe Cole was excellent, liking to run at the defenders (with more stepovers than Christiano Ronaldo!) and generally having a stormer. And what an outrageously brilliant goal. I could watch that one over and over again! Floated lob, ah sizzling indeed. An element of luck? Regardless, a touch of class! England deserved their 1-0 lead but how long is it going to take Lampard to score. 8 shots in the last game. 4 in the first half of this, surely the floodgates will open soon, he never misses so many for Chelsea! And even though Crouch was forced to come on early the tactics didn't change, the ball passed nicely along the ground. Rooney showed England had been missing a link man and ran his socks off for the cause.

A game of 2 halves though has never been a more apt cliche! In the second period England were for the most part diabolic. Shambolic. A pub team. The defence was shaky, unable to cope at corners and could have conceded a few. Robinson whilst pulling off a top class save typically never commanded his penalty area. Gerrard's introduction for Rooney proved to have some good consequences even if TV cameras showed the world Rooney at his angry, petulant best. Good to see the passion in his bodylanguage though. Anyway, Gerrard --> a goal line clearance and a well taken headed goal on a rare foray forward (from a Joe Cole pass too - although he didn't have a great half overall). Surely they would win at 2-1? No, a very very sloppy goal that wasn't dealt with by Terry, Campbell, Robinson or Ashley Cole ensured the match would finish a draw and England would have to wait more than 38 years for a victory over Sweden. Hargreaves had a good game as he tried to silence his critics, most of whom have never seen him play for his club side Bayern Munich.

Sweden: offered little in the first half, offered more in the second. However perhaps this was a result of England's shoddiness rather than any real improvement on their part. Allback, Ljunberg and Larsson started to give glimmers of the form of which we know they are capable. Allbacks headed goal went at such a speed Ashley Cole was unable to clear. The introduction of Wilhelmsson also aided their attacking threat. I don't know if Sweden will be able to match Germany, I sincerely hope they can give them a good run for their money and win but there are doubts. Maybe Ibrahimovic can make it back for this game. People talk about Sweden too little. They are an underrated side with quality players although the team has lacked form this year. Most people forget but they did finish 3rd at the 1994 world cup and are always a tough game. It should be a fascinating second round affair!

Thankfully as I recall, no-one picked up suspensions for the round of 16 game.

Paraguay 2-0 Trinidad and Tobago.

This match could have had a bearing on the group. Had England beaten Sweden a win here fo T&T would have given them a chance at qualifying. However this was never going to happen. Kelvin Jack in goal did mighty well to keep the game at 2, and Paraguay finally showed what they are capable of. A Brent Sancho own goal and a well worked effort from Cuevas after good interplay with Santa Cruz gave Paraguay the win. Caniza's effort was wrongfully disallowed too. The crowd went crazy every time T&T attacked, and again Dwight Yorke looked at home in his new midfield role. But they never really looked like scoring.

So both these teams eliminated. Paraguay were disappointing overall, unable to emulate their heroics of the last two world cups in which they qualified for the round of 16 only to suffer late 1-0 losses. Trinidad & Tobago can return with their heads held high. Mostly made up of players from England's lower leagues they certainly did not disgrace themselves!

Group A decided:

So Germany finish first and play Sweden, Ecuador finish second and will face England! A couple of interesting clashes, but that's for the future, let us consider the immediate past!

Germany 3-0 Ecuador.

Almost a training ground run for the Germans who were worthy 3-0 victors.

Germany: were up for the game right from the start. They created many opportunities, and as you can see scored 3 of them. Goal 1: A looping cross from Mertesacker was expertly kept in and cut back from Schweinsteiger, leaving Klose to expertly fire home from close range. Goal 2: Ballack picked out Klose with a sumptuous through ball; he still had a lot to do to win hold of the ball, put himself in the shooting position and finish. But this Klose did with skill, picking up a brace that puts him top of the 2006 world cup scoring charts...for now at least. Goal 3: Podolski got the goal he needed to restore his confidence after a disappointing tournament thus far. A lovely cross from Schneider was given the finish it merited. Germany could have easily scored more, and probably should have with the likes of Ballack, Klose and Podolski all having shots that disappointingly were off target. Germany were comfortable and purposeful in the middle of the park, menacing going forward and virtually untroubled in defence. After having shone in the first couple of matches Lahm however demonstrated some of his fallibilities at the back as he was beaten/dispossessed on a couple of occasions. For some strange reason Germany were glad to avoid England, obviously they were feeling in a benevolent mood, not wanting to inflict yet more penalty misery on the ever suffering English fans!

Ecuador: Whilst disappointing certain factors must be noted. The most important of which was their starting lineup. 5 quality regulars in Delgado, Carlos Tenorio (both having scored two goals at the world cup), Hurtado (who has been brilliant at centre back, Castillo and Reasco (who have both impressed): All rested either because of minor knocks or suspension worries with both Castillo and Hurtado sitting on one yellow card. Or maybe just to keep them fresh. This 5 is pretty much the backbone of the team, and so to have them missing put them at a huge disadvantage in this game. At least they should be able to play the 5 against England, but will the loss have knocked their confidence too much? Managing is a fine balancing act, so hard to get right. Ecuador were also unworried about who they faced in the second round. They were happy to get this far and felt that should Sweden and England qualify, both are quality European teams who can score goals, what difference will it make?

In terms of the game Ecuador lost possession regularly in the midfield, and apart from a couple of half chances were limited to shots from distance which Lehmann was able to cope comfortably with. They were not too flash hot in defence either. But was it just the missing tight five so to speak? Surely the other factor was that they were playing a fired up quality German side instead of the not so flash Poles and Costa Ricans??? A pity that the choice of starting lineup meant we were unable to see how their top team really could cope with the hosts. There also appeared to be a demonstrable lack of passion. But through to the second round for the first time ever, who knows how far they can go!!??

Poland 2-1 Costa Rica

A dead rubber maybe but a bit of pleasure for the Poles and especially manager Janas Pawel who was surely worried (and probably still is) about the possibility of being sacked. Gomez scored the opening goal for Los Ticos, Gomez's free kick squirming past Boruc, but Poland fought back from an unlikely goal source, Bosacki grabbing 2 never having scored for his country before.

Poland came to the tournament with high hopes, but as in 02 two early defeats sent them packing. Most people's pick to progress they were disappointing. Maybe next time eh?

As for Costa Rica this was their worst showing in 3 world cups. Wanchope at least had a 2 goal return to prove that his excellent goals to games ratio was no fluke, and they contributed to a very entertaining opening game, but Guimaraes must be bitterly unhappy after what has transpired.


How will suspensions and the threat of suspensions affect the final group games?

Some teams have key players suspended for the last game. Names like Gyan, Mustari (Ghana), Zidane (France) stand out immediately but there are others. Without their superstars will teams fail at the final hurdle or will they find the inner strength to overcome these difficulties? And then the teams who have already made it, some will no doubt rest their important players who are on yellows to ensure they are allowed to play in the second round. This again could affect results. Suspensions will play a key part in this world cup, make no bones about it.

The worst thing is when refs hand out harsh or needless yellow cards and we are deprived of seeing the best players in the most important games. Some of the refs have made poor yellow card decision. Gyan was unlucky for getting one for taking a penalty when he thought he could, but apparently he hadn't been given permission yet. Some refs should be a bit more lenient towards dissent also. These are matches fought with fraught emotion, the language is bound to get a little colourful at times.

Ref: If the guy deserves it, fair enough, he is justified in his suspensions. But think carefully before you flaunt the card. Maybe you are not justified. And if you are not I will be pissed off. And hopefully others will follow suit in feeling pissed off too!

A bit of a dilemma!

With the final group games played simultaneously television viewers face a bit of a crisis as to which game to watch live. With a few groups having 'dead rubbers' it becomes obvious as to which to watch. But for other groups both games will decide the outcome. I'm pretty sure I know which I'll choose for most, but a few of the choices are a bit difficult.

But it's once the choice has been made that the dilemma gets more difficult. Is it possible to then watch a replay of the second game without at least having a vague knowledge of what has just happened? If I watched England beat Sweden I would be able to tell on the faces of the Swedes how Trinidad and Tobago had gone in their final encounter. They would be distraught had T&T won 3-0 and sneaked into second spot. They wouldn't be too worried though if that game had petered out into a 0-0 draw. So how can we the television viewer avoid knowing the group standings before watching a replay of that other game played simultaneously? Is it even possible? It's going to be particularly horrible when it comes to group E.

Perhaps I should turn the TV off with ten minutes to go, and then wait to watch the other game. Or perhaps I should just listen to the last ten minutes of the game so I have less of an inkling of what is happening in the other. Or maybe I should simply bite the bullet, not give a damn, and have to watch the other game having a rough idea what has happened. I would hate to do this though. Perhaps I should even flick between the two sky channels but this would interrupt my viewing of both games.

Dilemmas, dilemmas.

Groups A and B

Two rounds of matches have been completed and who will qualify, and what match ups are likely are beginning to become more apparent. Although there are still many unanswered questions!

June 20th sees 2 match ups for the round of 16 decided.

Group A: A draw or win will see Ecuador top the group, Germany need a win to do so. Costa Rica and Poland are already eliminated and play a dead rubber.

Group B: England have qualified. A win or draw will see them top the group. A Sweden win will have them top the group, a draw will see them finish runner up. Should Sweden lose Trinidad & Tobago could sneak through on goal difference with a win over Paraguay although they are currently a margin of 3 worse off in terms of goal difference. I see very little chance for T&T progression but who knows!

The questions: Will Germany and Ecuador be bothered about finishing top or will they choose to field weakened sides to rest knocks etc? Were Ecuador to finish first would England contemplate losing in order to avoid Germany? But would a loss be worse in terms of a knock in confidence? Surely if Ecuador were to finish first this would demonstrate they are a team to be feared, so why would a team deliberately try to set themselves up for a game with them?

I think all will be hoping for wins but will rest key players if they are suffering from a knock or have a suspension looming over their head. If I was Sven for example I would play neither Gerrard or Lampard as they both sit on a yellow card, a further one would see them sitting out in the round of 16. Should they avoid this however remember all yellow cards are wiped once the group stage is over and would start with a clean slate in the knockout stages. Resting both would be a bit of a gamble I guess, but you could play Cole on the left, Lennon on the right, and Carrick and Beckham in the centre of the park.

I expect both England and Germany to top their groups in the end but we shall see.

Smiles for The Swiss, Ukraine and Spain!

Switzerland 2-0 Togo

The fact that Switzerland won 2-0 and not 1-0 could be absolutely crucial. The TV commentator did not seem to understand the importance of the late second goal as he was surprised by Switzerland's attacking substitution when they brought on striker Streller for midfielder Cabanas. I was pleased by this substitution and the Swiss attacking intent as it showed that Kobi Kuhn had, like me, done his maths. The fact of the matter is that by winning the match 1-0 they would have moved alongside Korea on 4 points with the same goal difference but behind them due to the number of goals scored. This would have meant than unless France couldn't manage to beat Togo they would have required a win in their final match against the Koreans. A 2-0 win moved the Swiss ahead of Korea on goal difference meaning they only need to draw the final game. If the final game is a draw France will need victory by a 2 goal margin against Togo to join the Swiss in the last 16, otherwise it will be Korea. Naturally if the Swiss Korea game gives either side victory a win of any sort will be acceptable to the French.

The game was in danger of not being played at all as Togo seriously considered striking due to their pay dispute as they allegedly demanded US $196000 appearance money in a country whose average income is only $1000. Apparently their bonuses were overdue, but it's not a good picture of footballers who are as a bunch renowned for their mercenary nature. Where is the pride in the shirt lads? It's difficult to comment though without knowing all the ins and outs of the situation. Thankfully sense prevailed, or rather FIFA decided to pay them their money directly!

Finally, to the game!

Switzerland: A very european style of play - they were (as expected) well drilled, structured, physical and effective, without too much flair. Senderos uncharacteristically looked like a liability in defence but the rest of the team had a good game. Magnin, Barnetta and Frei combined well for the early goal which led to scenes of unconfined joy by the players, perhaps realising they had a long time left in the game to find a second goal. Frei had an excellent game overall, despite being the main striker he consistently dropped back to the left wing position to help the attacks develop. The second half introduction of one of the Swiss's better known players Hakan Yakin sparked more zest into their play. He linked up well with the midfield and attack as well as hitting a long range effort just over and having a shot saved from point blank range. He was surprisingly left out of the original 23 man squad and only came on because of a painful injury to Gygax, but he sure let everyone know he was playing! Barnetta hit a very well struck finish for the late second goal. It wasn't all sunshine and roses though as Switzerland were rather fortunate on the odd occasion not to concede. A good victory for them however.

Togo were not overawed by the occasion and put together some nice moves. Adebayor had a penalty appeal waved away, amusingly leaving him to react histrionically as if he were a 3 year old who'd had his toy snatched away from him. Kadder again looked excellent, and Adebayor had a good all round game without really troubling the keeper. Togo were a bit naive in defence at times though, lacking some basic man marking skills at times, but they brought a typical African flair to the tournament, and whatever happens in their final game can return home with their heads held high!

Ukraine 4-0 Saudi Arabia

A game in which Ukraine put their troubles of the previous game behind them and let the world take note, that they are actually quite good!

Ukraine: Were all over Saudi Arabia like a rash, nerves calmed by virtue of an early goal Oleg Blokhin's troups set about obliterating their opponents. Where their crosses in the first game were abject and well wide of their targets this time they were useful and dangerous. Their passing and movement was swift and sharp, and Shevchenko, more an isolated spectator against Spain, started to look like Chelsea's 30 million pound man. This included a moment when he looked to profit from referee Poll inadvertently laying it into his path. A poor finish though saved the English man's blushes. The goals: The first was bundled in by Rusol from Kalinichenko's a corner, the second was a 30 yard screamer from Rebrov. The third saw Kalinichenko deliver an inch perfect cross for Shevchenko to head home. The fourth was Kalinichenko's as he sidefooted home from Shevchenko's centre. The goal was what he deserved from an exceptional performance that involved lots of running and creating. Shevchenko, Kalinichenko and Voronin all played with verve and menace and could even have had more goals to show for their efforts. They were also advantaged by the weather conditions which were wet and greasy, a situation the Ukraine as opposed to the Saudis would have been used to.

Saudi Arabia were really not in the hunt at all. Goalkeeper Zaid had a bit of a shocker right from the off, needlessly conceding a corner almost straight away, which led to a second corner and the first goal. He also appeared to slip when Rebrov scored from his so-called wonder strike. The slip calls into question whether he might have had a chance of saving it had he reacted better. The Saudis were rarely sighted in promising areas, and with a final group match against Spain to come, with a convincing win needed to have any chance of making the last 16, they will surely head home disappointed.

Spain 3-1 Tunisia

Spain become the eighth team to qualify for the round of 16.

Spain: Behind from very early on, Spain never seemed to panic. They played with a patience and self belief which belies their perennial under achievers tag. This became rapidly more apparent with the second half introduction of Cesc Fabregas and Raul at the expense of Garcia and Senna. Fabregas played a mature, cultured and confident game that gave the appearance of a man who had taken the game by the scruff of the neck, and it almost became inevitable that Spain would not lose the game. Cesc had a 20 yard shot parried away before 20 or so minutes later he had another shot that this time was palmed straight into the path of Raul who was naturally delighted to score his fifth ever world cup goal. The half-time subs from Aragones had obviously worked a treat. Minutes later and Fabregas provided Torres with the through ball, who rounded the keeper and flicked the ball into a vacant net. Torres forged ahead in the race for the golden shoe when he converted a penalty kick, although the strike was a poor one which should have been saved. Having been in the ascendency for much of the match they had also been behind for most of it, they showed a will to win and some good attacking prowess however to resurrect the situation.

Tunisia: Scored an important early goal after excellent work from Jaziri to keep hold of the ball, dribbling round 3 or so players before crossing the ball to Mnari who finished after the second attempt. From this point on Tunisia were pegged back in defence, however they defended very effectively. Jaziri again having a great game, as did Trabelsi who was all over the park, and Jaidi marshalling the back four. They couldn't hold on forever though and would have been disappointed to concede twice in the space of a few short minutes. Goalkeeper Boumnijel will be annoyed with himself for the second goal as his run out of the area was a little reckless and made it rather straightforward for Torres to finish. Overall a good effort from the Tunisians.

Aussies come of age, Koreans show their spirit.

Japan 0-0 Croatia

An entertaining game despite the scoreline (isn't a world cup game enjoyable by definition anyway?). Ultimately a point keeps both teams alive although does neither much good. Japan have the more difficult task of beating Brazil by a minimum of two goals and hoping that Australia do not beat Croatia to have any chance whatsoever.

Japan in the main were thankful to their goalkeeper Kawaguchi who had a stunning match keeping the Croatians at bay, including an impressive penalty save diving low to the right after a clumsy foul from Miyamoto had presented the Croatians with the opportunity. They created only one real chance of note in the first half and a handful in the second, perhaps instigated by the introduction of Inamoto. Yanagisawa had the best chance of the game after good work down the right from Kaji. A matter of only a few yards out, and only the keeper to beat, he shanked it with a miscue however. Nakamura again looked superb in midfield as he barely seemed to make an inaccurate pass.

Croatia were the more dangerous having a number of good opportunities but were denied in the main by the heroics of Kawaguchi. Kranjcar and Klasnic were quite busy in front of goal but ultimately they failed to deliver. Kranjcar's long range effort that slapped against the crossbar was perhaps the closest they came. People should not be too harsh on Srna whose penalty was well taken, only for it to be stopped in spectacular fashion. Croatia were physically strong, played some nice football and were unlucky not to win however it was Japan who finished the strongest and could have taken the three points in the end.

Brazil 2-0 Australia.

A slightly flattering scoreline as the Brazilians survived a difficult encounter.

Brazil still do not quite look like the team that oozes talent from every pore, despite their superstar personnel. Ronaldo was a disconsolate figure in attack, a shame what is happening to the one time world's best striker typified by a shot early in the game in which he completely missed the ball. He still has the class though and who knows if and when he will come back into his own. He did do some excellent footwork to set up Adriano for the first goal so his night was not an unparalleled failure. There were flashes of brilliance from the team through the likes of Kaka but they were also guilty of allowing Australia room to create good openings. Carlos, having difficulties with the nature of the football, is also yet to find his free kick shooting range. Perhaps rattled by the physicality and confidence of the Australians Brazil will be pleased to emerge unscathed without having set the world alight. They could though have opened the floodgates in the last few minutes after Fred gave them the second goal which would have been harsh on the Aussies.

Australia came of age in this game as they competed with Brazil in almost every department. Craig Moore marshalled the defence in excellent fashion and Australia worked hard, and could (perhaps should) have had one or two goals to show for their efforts. Examples include: substitute Kewell missed an open goal after Dida dropped the ball, Viduka's lob went on top of the net, Bresciano had a good volley well saved. Striving to find an equaliser they allowed Brazil a second goal that gave them a flattering 2-0 win. The Aussies were definitely not overawed and are well placed to progress to the last 16.

France 1-1 South Korea.

France scored their first goal in 5 world cup matches to avoid equalling Bolivia's unwelcome record for the longest time in the world cup without scoring. However it proved to be a frustrating day for the French as victory managed to elude them. France need victory by a 2 goal margin against Togo to avoid the embarassment of being knocked out at the group stages of a second successive world cup.

France: Looked good in the first half, perhaps settled by Henry's classic finish that gave them the lead on 8 minutes. They played with a good tempo and Malouda and Viera seemed particularly good. Zidane was disappointing and also picked up a booking that will leave him suspended for the crucial last game against Togo. France seemed to go to sleep towards the end of the match and were made to pay in conceding a sloppy equaliser, Barthez who had little to do throughout the game, flapped indecisively at the ball which squirmed into his goal. It was harsh on the French but they only have themselves to blame. They then managed to waste a couple of last opportunities to find themselves a winner.

Korea were second best for much of the game but the Koreans are a spirited bunch who never give in, and were rewarded with a late equaliser. The goal led to amazing scenes as their red army of fans made huge amounts of noise stamping their feet in delight as the stadium manufacturers breathed a sigh of relief that their engineering skills were up to speed! It was perhaps appropriate that it was the lynchpin Park Ji Sung who got the all important goal. They were also unlucky that Viera's header which clearly crossed the line was not awarded a goal. Had that been awarded as it should I doubt Korea could have come back from a 2 goal deficit. This defining moment revived calls for technology in football. A debate I shall no doubt return to at some stage!