Wednesday, June 21, 2006

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.

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