Monday, June 19, 2006

Group E wide open!

Portugal 2-0 Iran

A fascinating encounter eventually won by a Portugese side we should expect more from as the world cup progresses.

Portugal created a reasonable number of opportunities and always looked the better side. Brazilian born Deco was inspirational in the middle of the park, and Ronaldo and Figo showed their trickery, although none managed to give Pauleta the incisive ball he required to open the scoring. Ronaldo was particularly ebullient, shooting from a few narrow angles but ultimately having to wait for a late second half penalty for him to open his account. Despite their superiority it wasn't until the 62nd minute when Deco scored a long range strike to put Portugal in the lead. Miguel also had a good game at left back.

Iran proved a difficult opponent for Portugal, Mirzapour having a cracking game in goal and also threatening sporadically through the likes of Nekounam and Mahdavikia. Golmohammadi did though commit the needless foul that allowed Ronaldo to take the penalty and ensure the 3 points.

Ghana 2-0 Czech Republic

A hugely entertaining game that keeps Group E well and truly alive. There was enough incident in this 1 game to suggest we had just witnessed 3 football matches!

Ghana were extremely impressive perhaps gaining confidence from opening the scoring in the first couple of minutes as Gyan controlled Appiah's throughball beautifully before firing home. Essien and Appiah were instrumental in midfield both in negating the threat of Nedved and Rosicky and in creating goalscoring opportunities themselves. Amoah, Gyan and Mustari all had plenty of efforts on goal and it could have been an avalanche. Finally Muntari got the second goal which ensured victory slamming an unstoppable shot from 12 yards out. Gyan's penalty came at a cost, not only did he hit the post having beaten Cech, he was also booked for previously taking the penalty without the referee's permission. His booking, and also Muntari's mean that they will be suspended for the crucial final game against the US. As both were major players in this game this is potentially a big blow that Ghana will have to recover from.

Czech Republic were not afforded space to play their own game as the main creative thrust from Rosicky and Nedved were missing as Ghana made life difficult for them. Petr Cech was amazing in goal, justifying claims that he is the best in the world. Had he not had such a blinder a 4 or 5 goal loss would not have been unrealistic! Part of their lack of expertise upfront can be explained (though not excused) by the lack of Koller and Baros due to injury, and with this expected to continue until at least the knock-out stage, and with Locvenc also suspended for the final group match against Italy, Bruckner will certainly have some problems. Poborsky will have to step up, and no doubt Stajner will come in for a rare start. It is unfair to simply berate the Czech side however as they contributed to a very entertaining affair, indeed having a few chances of their own, including Nedved scoring only to be called offside at the beginning of the second half. Ujfalusi's red card for conceding the penalty added to the gloom. The Czechs, despite injuries and suspensions, will still have a team capable of beating Italy as the last group game looms as all important.

Italy 1-1 USA

A crazy match packed with incident, leaving group E as probably the widest open group, all 4 teams with at least some sort of realistic chance of qualifying.

Italy: Started slowly and looked to have done the typical Italian thing of scoring against the run of play as Gillardino headed in Pirlo's precision cross. However they then had an uncharacteristic few moments of madness as first Zaccardo turned a relatively innocuous ball into his own net whilst slicing a clearance, followed by a disgraceful elbow from De Rossi resulting in a red card. Whilst having to play the last 10 mins of the first half at a numerical disadvantage, reds to Mastroeni at the end of the first half and Pope at the start of the second gave them a one man advantage to exploit in the second period. Exploit they were unable to as although they pressed Italy looked second best overall.

USA: started the game clearly looking to avenge their abject showing in the first match, Convey blazing over the top early, and Donovan slicing wide. Their equaliser was naturally a lucky break given that it was an own goal, they then however pressed the self destruct button as Mastroeni was red carded for a reckless two footed lunge before Pope was given his marching orders for a second yellow card. The decision to send of Mastroeni was technically correct as that is the punishment for a two footed challenge but it was the kind of tackle I've seen quite a few people get away with. It was perhaps a tad harsh but the US can have few complaints about it. Pope's second yellow was rather harsh as it was the kind of challenge that often gets away with conceding just the free kick, and compared with some of the unpunished challenges in this game it was undeserving of the card. However again, it was a rather rash tackle that Pope should not have attacked in the way he did. In the cauldron of a world cup game it's difficult to balance commitment with overzealousness however. Donovan had an excellent game as he attacked and defended with ferocity, and Convey played very well on the left. DaMarcus Beasley must have thought he'd struck the winner however others in the penalty area were adjudged to have been offside.

Group E is a wonderful group, and perhaps more worthy of the name 'group of death' than group C, the group generally thought of in this way. The final games in the group will certainly be full of passion and intrigue!

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