Thursday, June 22, 2006

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.

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