Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Group F's second set of games

Paraguay 2-0 Slovakia

Paraguay were by far and away the best team in this game. Slovakia didn't have a shot on target until the 92nd minute. By contrast Paraguay dominated, attacked fearlessly and with purpose and kept the ball very skilfully. Both goals they scored were very good but the first one in particular. Barrios played him in with a deft pass and Vera's finish was sublime. Slightly off balance, under plenty of pressure from the defender, Vera curled it into the top right hand corner, expertly using the outside of his boot to get the curve and the direction just right. It was one of those moments when you say, wow, how good would it be to be able to do that.

The first half afforded the most opportunities for Paraguay. The second half offered much less but they were comfortable nevertheless. Riveros scored the second goal with a quality (but probably straight-forward) strike from the edge of the box. Vera and Barrios in particular had a good game.

New Zealand 1-1 Italy

The All Whites were massive underdogs going into this game but emerged with a very creditable draw that could have easily been a win. Smeltz grabbed the lead on around 7 minutes. Elliott floated in a free kick which skimmed off the head of Reid, deflected slightly off Cannavaro and was poked in by Smeltz. There was a very real whiff of offside about it, but nevertheless a goal was given.

From this moment onwards Italy dominated. Not to say New Zealand didn't have chances, nor did we stick ten men behind the ball at all times. But it was certainly a domination which can be demonstrated by stats. Italy had 57% to 43% possession, they had 15 corners to zero and they had 23 shots to 3 (7 on target versus 1).

After the initial goal by New Zealand Italy set to work and warmed to their task. They were unlucky not to score just after the 20 minute mark when Montolivio hit the post from distance but their equaliser was to come not long after that. The referee blew for a penalty after Tommy Smith had had a hold of De Rossi's shirt. It is true that he briefly held it but De Rossi dived, did a Hollywood, "went down quicker than Paris Hilton" (Martin Devlin). In other words the penalty was harsh. Were a penalty given for every mild tug there would be a penalty every free kick or corner. Smith was naive in his actions however. Anyhow, Iaquinta converted with a quality penalty.

After highlighting De Rossi's propensity to dive, now is the opportune time to lament Italy's constant diving. Almost every tackle an Italian would drop to the floor and start writhing around and they were encouraged to do so by the fact the ref was conned and gave free kick after free kick. Fallon was booked early for an alleged elbow and so every time he gave himself some elbow leverage the Italians would drop to the floor in a dive. He was substituted with half an hour to go to avoid being sent off.

In the second half Mark Paston in goal for New Zealand, pulled off some excellent saves from full stretch dives. The former Bradford City and Walsall stopper was in top form and was ably assisted by the fantastic performance of skipper Ryan Nelsen and his fellow centre-backs Reid and Smith. Elliott also had the best game I've ever seen him play and Smeltz looked dangerous upfront.

The only two chances we had (other than the goal) was a sweetly timed but misdirected volley from Vicelich and a wonderful chance from Chris Wood who expertly turned one of the world's best defenders, Cannavaro, in the box, and flashed his shot wide of the post. It was desperately unlucky as the replay showed it arrowing in before curling away in the wrong direction at the last second.

New Zealand, a country of only 25 professionals had kept World Champions Italy to a 1-1 draw. It was (as an All Whites fan) the moment of the World Cup. And both sides still have it all to play for in their final group games (NZ v Paraguay, Italy v Slovakia).

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