Monday, June 28, 2010

Group F final group games

New Zealand 0-0 Paraguay

Paraguay knew a draw was enough to qualify. New Zealand knew they needed a win. This was a dour match as Paraguay seemed content to play out a 0-0 draw and the New Zealanders, whilst wanting to win, just lacked the quality and creativity to make it possible. For a neutral this would have been a boring game, but for us in New Zealand every moment was tense as we dreaded conceding and hoped like hell for a winner.

For New Zealand Paston did well with a couple of good saves. Nelsen was the Kiwis best player as always and Reid and Smith did everything they needed to at the back. Bertos showed a little more moving forwards than he has done previously and Elliott continued to do well. Having bagged Elliott before the tournament I was pleased to see he has done well. Up front Killen and Fallon again showed nothing of note and Smeltz always looked dangerous.

My criticism of the New Zealand approach is focused on Herbert and his tactics in the last half hour of the game. New Zealand were in a situation where they knew one goal would probably be enough to take them through to the second round for the first time ever. They knew they may never be in such a position again. This was the time to take the bull by the horns and just go for it - leave no regrets. This was the situation where Herbert needed to throw on Chris Wood much earlier. He needed to get Tim Brown on for Vicelich for a while. Brown is a natural centre-mid who can make good darting runs into the box as well as breaking up the play nicely. What was the point of him returning to fitness from his shoulder injury if he wasn't going to get considered for a run. We could also have looked at changing the tactics. Perhaps switching formation to a 4-4-2 or a 3-5-2 to try something different. If we'd lost going down fighting it would have felt much better than the tepid way the match drifted to its inexorable conclusion.

Having said that I am very proud of the All Whites for the immense achievement of 3 World Cup draws. They became the fourth team in history (after Belgium, Scotland and Cameroon) to be eliminated after being undefeated. We finished a point ahead of Italy on the rankings and we showed ourselves as a proud nation able to compete on the world stage.

Slovakia 3-2 Italy

Italy needed a win to guarantee qualification and Slovakia knew that even that might not be good enough.

This was an enthralling contest. Slovakia led 1-0 at half-time after De Rossi's pass lost possession near the edge of the box and the ball was fed to Vittek who finished clinically. For the remainder of the half Slovakia were mostly in control of the contest and Marchetti did well to save on a couple of occasions.

Both sides had chances in the second half with Slovakia counter-attacking at every opportunity when Italian pressure broke down. With 17 minutes remaining it looked all over for Italy when Vittek stole in to score at the near post - this not long after Quagliarella had a volley blocked on the goal-line by Skrtel. Di Nitale pulled one back with nine minutes remaining however as he steered into an open goal after Mucha had blocked a shot.

Italy looked for an all important equaliser and thought they had found one. Di Nitale had the ball in the back of the net again but he was correctly adjudged to be offside, even though it was a tight one. A super smart throw in from Slovakia ensured it was actually they who skored again. Substitute Kopenek deftly lifted it over Marchetti's head. The goal of the match came moments later when Quagliarella lobbed in a delightful long-range shot. It was perhaps even the goal of the tournament but it was to no avail as Italy ultimately lost.

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