Sixty years on, Uruguay look to repeat history

Uruguay are through to their first World Cup Quarter Finals in forty years. The Charruás defeated the Korean Republic courtesy of a brace from striker Luis Suárez. With Suárez and his strike partners, Diego Forlán and Edinson Cavani, in fine form Uruguay may even by considered as the favourites to progress to the Semi Final.

That Uruguay has made it to the latter stages of the competition is an impressive feat. A country with a population of 3.4 million, Uruguay can not count on the same resources and recent pedigree of their continental rivals. They can, however, count on the efforts of their manager Óscar Tabárez. The veteran coach is currently enjoying his second stint as the coach of the national side, having spent the intervening years at Boca Juniors, Cagliari and AC Milan amongst others. The Montevideo born manager has called upon perhaps the most talented generation of Uruguayan players since the triumph of 1950.

The world has long been acquainted with the talents of Diego Forlán. The striker, twice the holder of the Pichichi, was seen as the only Uruguayan player of world class calibre until Luís Suárez’s astonishing tally of goals for Ajax brought Suárez to the attention of the footballing world. With Forlán playing in a supporting role behind Suárez and Edinson Cavani of Palermo, Uruguay command one of the most prolific attacking trios in the tournament.

Uruguay’s success is not built on these three forwards, however. The Charruás have been organised by Tabárez into a solid defensive unit. Uruguay have yet to be beaten in the competition, despite having controlled possession under 45% of the time in each of their four games to date. Credit must be accorded to team’s captain Diego Lugano. The ferocious defender marshals a back four which is notable for its resolve. Lee Chung Yong’s goal this afternoon marked the first occasion the team has conceded at the World Cup so far.

The back-four of Lugano, Godín, Fucile and Maxi Pereira is protected by a combative and composed midfield. Alvaro Pereira, Diego Perez and Egidio Arevalano do not offer much to Uruguay creatively but are supplemented by the prodigious Nicolas Lodeiro, who has an unrivaled intelligence for a player of his age.

The group stage confirmed what many already believed, that this Charruás team is the most complete Uruguayan side since the side that stunned the Maracana in 1950. In a recent interview, Alcides Ghiggia, the man who scored the winning goal in that tournament, remarked that this team has the capability to mount a serious challenge for the nation’s third World Cup triumph.

Ghiggia himself was speaking in South Africa just after receiving the FIFA Order Of Merit award for his part in the 1950 campaign. The Charruá speaks of that monumental day when Uruguay upset the hosts Brazil and his pivotal contribution with the verve of a man less than half his age.

“Three people have silenced the Maracana”, he said, “the Pope, Sinatra and I”. Suárez, Forlán and co are unlikely to replicate his achievements but they have the talent to pose a significant threat to any side now.

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Dave Hanratty’s Winners & Losers – Day 13

Winners

Holland

Three wins from three games and they’ve yet to really hit third gear. This Holland team seem to like 100% records having also won all their games in qualifying for the tournament. An awful lot is expected of them as a result and they will need to raise their game when they line out against giaint-killers Slovakia on Monday afternoon. The return of Arjen Robben is a major boost and should Holland find their feet there may be no catching them this time.

Robin Van Persie

Following a torrid injury-related season, the Arsenal striker will be delighted to open his World Cup account. Threatening throughout, it is paramount that Van Persie remain fit for the duration of Holland’s campaign.

Japan

A comprehensive victory over a poor Danish side was capped off by the scoring of not one, but two free kicks.

Keisuke Honda

Lived up to all the “hilarious” engine-related humour by running the game for his country. The midfielder has impressed thus far with goals, assists and workrate. Japan will be relying on him to keep, ahem, driving them forward against Paraguay.

The Jabulani ball

Turns out you can score free kicks with it.

Paraguay

Unfancied but in the end unbeaten. The South Americans have shown grit and determination and set up a match against Japan that could surprise many.

Slovakia

Nobody expected them to get this far, especially at the expense of the Italians. Similarly, nobody expects them to give Holland problems on Monday but as the Eastern Europeans have proven, surprises can happen.

Marek Hamsik

By not scoring against Italy, his employers Napoli will probably just hold back on issuing his P45.

New Zealand

Touted as whipping boys, the Kiwis brought pride to their nation by not only finishing their campaign unbeaten, but placing higher in the group than Italy.

Losers

Slovakia

Slightly took the gloss off a famous victory by play-acting and time-wasting at the death. They won’t care though.

Italy

Farewell to the 2006 champions. Then again this Italy was barely the same one that took the crown on penalties in Germany four years ago. While some names remained, the spirit did not. Fabio Cannavaro and Marcello Lippi will wonder just why their country has crashed out of their first World Cup at the group stage in 36 years, but the writing was on the wall even through their qualification.

While they may have topped their group, it was a far from convincing. In truth, Ireland should have taken at least four points off them instead of two. Their frailties were exposed in most of the games they played, frailties

Fabio Quagliarella

The Napoli striker will never win an Oscar with acting that melodramatic. Trust an Italian to go from the ridiculous to the sublime though, netting one of the goals of the tournament shortly after his “I’ve been shot in the face” antics.

Cameroon

Three games, three losses and no points brings a hugely disappointing campaign to an end and leaves only one African team in the last sixteen.

Denmark

Can have no complaints. Not good enough.

Lifeless game in Durban sees Brazil & Portugal advance

Portugal 0-0 Brazil

Brazil and Portugal progressed to the Round of 16 as group winners and runners up respectively. The build up to his game promised us an exciting battle of two teams who knew how to entertain. What we got instead was perhaps the worst ninety minutes of football yet seen at this World Cup.

Brazil started promisingly. Dani Alves, replacing the injured Elano in the starting line up, flashed a bouncing shot just wide of the target.

Portugal were finding it difficult to establish themselves in possession. Brazil vigorously pressed Portugal no matter where Carlos Queiroz’s side had control of the football.

Benfica fullback Coentrão, who was catching the attention of the world’s media with some impressive displays against Côte d’Ivoire and North Korea, once again attacked down the left before sending a cross deep into the penalty area. Internazionale goalkeeper Julio Cesar slapped the incoming football as far as Tiago on the edge of the penalty area. Tiago passed to Ronaldo whose effort was blocked.

Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates were finding it difficult to penetrate the experienced and accomplished Brazilian defence. Tiago’s sliced volley indicative of Portugal’s lack of attacking prowess so far.

Portugal might have breached the wall of Brazilian defenders in the 25th minute. A long pass over the top for Cristiano Ronaldo was deliberately diverted by the arm of Juan. The referee showed the Roma centreback the yellow card and was immediately accosted by three Portuguese players. Benito Archunia did not appreciate the advice of Duda, and added the midfielder’s name to his burgeoning notebook.

Brazil had the advantage in terms of possession and territory and came the closest to opening the scoring in the first half when Nilmar’s close range shot was pushed superbly on to the post by Eduardo. Luís Fabiano supplied an elegant chip for the Villarreal youngster, but Nilmar was unable to convert.

Fabiano himself should have scored. A terrific cross from Maicon on the right was met by the head of the Sevilla striker. Fabiano headed into the ground and wide. His reaction, to lie face down on the turf, was telling.

Brazil should have entered the break with a lead but instead found themselves level with Portugal in a biting encounter, Benito Archunia producing seven yellow cards in the opening forty-five minutes.

If the first half was uninspiring, the second was disheartening. Neither side could muster a prolonged period of pressure in the second half despite a bright start from Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid forward woke a sleeping audience with a blistering run from just inside the Brazilian half, taking the ball as far as the byline. Lúcio was at hand to tackle Ronado but his sliding challenge acted as a cross for Raul Meireles who had broken forward into the Brazilian penalty area. Meireles’ poor effort was poked at Julio Cesar from an angle.

It had appeared as if Ronaldo was going to seize control of the game and test Brazil. This was not to be, over the next forty-five minutes the Portuguese’s only meaningful contribution was a succession of poorly executed free-kicks.

The second half petered out with no sign of a goal at either end until stoppage time. The decision of the referee to award five minutes of extra time was a questionable one but it did provide Brazil with their only chances in the second half.

Ramires, who was brought on to replace Julio Baptista, tried a shot at goal from twenty-five yards. His attempt was subjected to a wicked deflection which almost caught Eduardo out. The Portuguese goalkeeper had been dependable throughout the Group Stage and had to reach to fend off the dipping football.

The draw allows both sides to progress at the expense of the Côte d’Ivoire, who beat North Korea 3-0. Both Brazil and Portugal will certainly be watching with interest tonight as Chile face the European Champions, Spain, for top spot in Group H. Should Spain qualify as runners up then, in Spain versus Brazil, we may see the kind of breathtaking football that this match failed to deliver to us and the capacity crowd in Durban.

The Ellis Park Post-Mortem

It was coming. Italy exited the 2010 FIFA World Cup on Thursday, despite a dramatic attempt at a late comeback against Slovakia. The Azzurri failed to muster a single victory. While they were not expected to successfully defend their title, even Lippi admitted as much, no one could have foreseen the humiliation suffered by Marcello Lippi’s team in Ellis Park. “This is Italy”, we were told. And Italy always found a way. In South Africa, from the opening whistle against Paraguay in Cape Town on June 14, there were blindingly evident failings.

The most likely criticism which will be aimed at Lippi’s side is age. Nowhere was this more noticeable than in their captain, Fabio Cannavaro. At the age of thirty-six, having not been offered a new contract by a struggling Juventus, Cannavaro has been pilloried by Italian fans and the Italian sporting newspapers for months. It is a shame to see such a gifted footballer as the former Ballon d’Or winner wither into a spectre. In South Africa, Cannavaro was culpable for at least two of the five goals scored against Italy. The Azzuri captain could only  watch despairingly as Kamil Kopunek galloped past him to score Slovakia’s third. That Lippi was steadfast in his loyalty to Fabio Cannavaro was a tragedy.

Cannavaro was not the only member of the squad entering the twilight of his career. Gattuso, Pirlo, Di Natale, Zambrotta, Camoranesi, Iaquinta and more are all in their thirties. The squad did not have the vivacity or energy to tackle a World Cup tournament played mostly at altitude.

When Lippi first named his provisional side and later his full, 23 man squad there was outrage in the Italian media. The Tuscan manager was seen as being too loyal to his old club Juventus, despite their inauspicious season, with nine making the provisional squad. The selection of Pepe, Di Natale, Gilardino, Iaquinta, Quagliarella and Pazzini as his forwards was lambasted.

In every previous Italian squad for a World Cup there has been a fantasista, a trequartista, a gifted, creative attacker playing just off the strikers. Cast your memories back as far as Gianni Rivera, Sandro Mazzola, Gianluca Vialli, Roberto Baggio and even, most recently, Alessa Del Piero and Francesco Totti.

Lippi controversially opted against offering Totti a recall. This decision looking even more absurd when you consider that the Italian coach decided not to bring any of the following replacements for Totti’s guile and much coveted ‘footballing I.Q.’: Fabrizio Miccoli, Antonio Cassano, Mario Balotelli, Alessandro Del Piero and Giuseppe Rossi.

Stranger still was Lippi’s insistence that Italy should play with an attacking tridente of three forwards, usually with one of the three fulfilling the trequartista/Number 10 role. With none of the forwards brought by Lippi capable of fulfilling the role, the closest thing Lippi had to a visionary playmaker was Pirlo. The injury sustained by the AC Milan stalwart in training just before the tournament was fatal.

The question now is, where is the next generation? Which players will be promoted under the incoming regime of Cesare Prandelli. It was a cruel blow to Italy that one of the goals that sealed their demise was gifted to Robert Vittek of Slovakia by one of their stars of the present and future, Daniele De Rossi. De Rossi, who plays a dual role as a snarling, combative defensive midfielder and as a pass-machine in the mould of Pirlo, will be a focal point of Prandell’s Azzurri. Recalls may finally be offered to Mario Balotelli and Giuseppe Rossi in attack, while defenders Bonucci, Bochetti, Gamberini and Criscito offer Prandelli some intriguing combinations.

Looking even further into the future the likes of Di Silvestri, Forestieri, Macheda, Paloschi and Petrucci may yet realize their potential talent.

The future is not as bleak for Italy as many feel. However, the bitter anguish of Ellis Park and 2010 will live long in the memory and Italian calcio may take some time to recover.

Slovakia progress in 3-2 thriller

Slovakia 3-2 Italy

Marcello Lippi’s Italy became only the fourth defending World Champions to fail to progress past the group stage at a World Cup finals. Slovakia, having failed to impress in their opening two games, came from nowhere to stun the Azzurri and took a 2-0 lead deep in the second half courtesy of a brace from Robert Vittek. Antonio Di Natale pulled one back for Italy before Kopunek gave Slovakia an incredible 3-1 lead. Fabio Quagliarella, who had battled admirably since coming at half-time, chipped in a magnificent goal to gave Vladimir Weiss’ side an scare. The Slovakians held on, however, to register a famous win and progress to the Round of 16.

Italy got off to a very slow start. The passion they displayed at national anthem time had apparently deserted them within minutes of Howard Webb’s opening whistle. Vladimir Weiss’ Slovakia were not making it easy for them, committing fouls to break up any spells of possession.

Italian hopes looked to be dashed when in the twenty-fourth minute Daniele De Rossi’s misjudged pass to Riccardo Montolivo was intercepted before Robert Vittek, Slovakia’s record goalscorer, slotted the ball past Federico Marchetti. It was a dreadful mistake by De Rossi, one which could be seen as a manifestation of a poor World Cup for the Italians.

Italy needed answers. Andrea Pirlo, the brilliant but injured AC Milan midfielder was on the bench. Balotelli, Cassano and Totti were at home in Italy. The lack of a dedicated ‘fantasista’ for Italy in the mould of Totti, Del Piero or Baggio was sorely missed by the Azzurri, who had always depended on a Number Ten to provide creativity and incision.

In the absence of a these players, Italy squandered possession and in truth, did not create many chances in the first half. With Italy at least needing a goal to progress, Marcello Lippi produced his gambit. On came Fabio Quagliarella and Cristian Maggio in place of Gennaro Gattuso and Domenico Criscito respectively.

With the Slovakian goalkeeper, Mucha, dedicated to wasting time just minutes into the second half, Lippi attempted to bring further impetus to his side with the introduction of Pirlo. The AC Milan midfielder’s introduction was granted a rousing reception from the Italian fans in Ellis Park, who sensed that a comeback would hang on the midfielder’s ability to mastermind attacking sequences.

Italy’s chance arrived just after the hour. Quagliarella shot from an angle with the goalkeeper out of position only to see his effort hacked off the line by Martin Skrtel. The Napoli striker was adamant he had scored. The referee and his assistants were decidedly less than convinced. Replays failed to clarify whether the ball had indeed crossed the line.

Slovakia made Italy pay for that missed opportunity. Robert Vittek was once again the hero as he slotted past a bewildered Federico Marchetti. In the Italian technical area, Marcello Lippi looked crestfallen.

Despite their failings, Italy did mount a valiant comeback. Antonio Di Natale capitalising on a rebound to slot past Mucha with just over ten minutes remaining.

Substitute Kamil Kopunek looked to have ended the Azzurri challenge with a late third for Slovakia. The forward dashed past Fabio Cannavaro and on to a throw in before producing a sublime finish to beat Marchetti.

That was not to be the end of the drama. Fabio Quagliarella, who had made an impact since coming on for Gattuso, has a reputation in Serie A for only scoring spectacular goals. The Napoli striker lived up to his billing. Quagliarella received the ball on the edge of the ‘D’, from there he took a touch before unleashing a perfect chip over Mucha.

The Italians had one last chance to complete a stirring fightback. Giorgio Chiellini’s long throw was flicked on to the backpost. Simone Pepe attempted to fire home a reaction shot with his right foot but failed to connect.

The miss prompted scenes of jubilation in the Slovakian dugout, Vladimir Weiss’ side progressing at the expense of New Zealand who could only draw 0-0 with Paraguay. The negative football that had characterised Slovakia’s opening two games was overhauled in this afternoon’s match. In a damning indictment of Italy’s World Cup, the Slovakians were the better side.

The defeat marks the end of Marcello Lippi’s decorated career in management and also the international career of one Fabio Cannavaro. The defender, whose contract was not renewed by Juventus at the end of last season, bowed out with ignominy.

Slovakia will progress to meet Holland in the Round of 16.

Dave Hanratty’s Winners & Losers – Day 13

Winners


England

Scored early and proceeded to defend their lead. Critics would call it suffocating the opposition and negative football while fans and sympathisers would refer to bravery and necessity. In reality it was a little bit of both, but the end result sees England through to the last sixteen, and the preceding results largely cast aside.

Fabio Capello’s post-match interview painted the picture of an emphatic Three Lions victory but the reality is somewhat different. While this was certainly an improvement for England, it was far from convincing. Slovenia barely turned up while Capello’s men were content to cancel out any opposing threat and retain their slim lead.

Following a week of embarrassment, mutiny and knee-jerk pessimism, England will be delighted to bring some positivity to their camp, but the threat of the old enemy awaits them on Sunday, and the Germans, like sharks, will smell blood in the water.

James Milner

Answered his critics by setting up the decisive goal and lived up to the task presented to him. Not  especially outstanding but solid, which was enough on this occasion.

USA

It would probably have been brought to court had the Americans not gone through. As it turned out they end up top of the group and will avoid Germany in the second round. It was nearly a very different story but for Landon Donovan’s late rescue.

Woodwork smashed, open goals missed and another perfectly valid goal disallowed, it seemed luck was against the good ol’ US of A, but good things come to those who wait and while Donovan’s winner was very much a final act twist, it was no less deserved. The resulting pile-up personified the team spirit that has been present throughout, and their presence in the final sixteen is very much welcome.

Landon Donovan

One wonders where the Americans would be without the invention and determination of the man they affectionately refer to as “LD”. While he may have faltered when previously employed in Europe, his brief stint at Everton at the close of last season, combined with his predatory prowess at South Africa 2010 has showed that Donovan has matured and developed into an exceptional footballer, capable of winning big games. His tears in the post-match interview were as genuine as his attitude throughout.

Germany

While their opponents put up a decent fight, the Germans had the edge. It’s been a fairly interesting campaign thus far for Joachim Lowe’s young team. The initial demolition of Australia sent everyone running scared, until Serbia got lucky and exposed weaknesses in the process. The victory over Ghana wasn’t convincing enough to cement Germany as unstoppable, but they should fancy themselves against England, who have had plenty of problems of their own. It remains to be seen just how far this youthful team can go, but the early signs are promising.

The ghosts of Bierhoff and Ballack do not seem to hang over the team and as such an attacking threat is ever present. It seems instinctual to associate Germany with rigid and dull football but it has anything but so far. Hopefully it shall continue.

Ghana

While they may have gotten lucky, they showed enough spirit and conviction to deserve their spot in the second round.

Losers


Wayne Rooney

Showed signs of improvement but still way off his best. His frustration was intensified when the unthinkable happened and Fabio Capello substituted him for Joe Cole.

Slovenia

Failed to turn up for their most important game.

Samir Handanovic and Lounes Gaouaoui

Two goalkeepers who really don’t deserve to be going home.

Jozy Altidore

Sleepless nights ahead for the American striker following the miss of the tournament.

Mark Lawrenson and anyone who had the misfortunate to listen to him

Awful. Just awful. It’s hardly a new and groundbreaking observation but seriously, Lawro has to be the worst commentator/analyst/pundit in the business. From his disgraceful bias to his painfully unfunny one-liners, I wanted to stick large knives through my eardrums the more he bleated on. Vuvuzelas are more appealing.

Germany beat Ghana to secure top spot

Germany 1-0 Ghana


Germany beat Ghana by a single goal in an enthralling contest in Soccer City. An unexpected win for Australia means that both teams progress to the Round of 16. Germany will now face England in what might prove to be the tie of the round, while Ghana will play Group C’s winners, the United States. In an entertaining match, both sides played for the win and created numerous chances. Mesut Özil, an early contender for player of the tournament, scored the crucial goal for Die Nationalmannschaft with a scintillating strike from just outside the penalty area.

Both teams, as they had displayed in their earlier games, played engaging, attacking football in the early stages. Both teams seemed eager to soak up pressure and unleash it back upon their opponents on the counterattack.

The best of the early opportunities came when Mesut Özil was played through on goal. The surging rush out by Richard Kingson smothered the Bremen midfielder’s shot before it could threaten his goal.

At the other end, Asamoah Gyan’s goalbound header was cleared off the line by German captain Philipp Lahm. Replays suggested that the Bayern München defender’s arm may have diverted the ball from it’s path but in any case it was accidental.

Tidy interplay between Thomas Müller and Sami Khedira allowed Cacau to get a volley away. Unfortunately for the Brazilian-born forward, his shot bounced into the arms of Richard Kingson in the Ghanian goal.

Ghana only needed a draw to progress but displayed plenty of vigorous intent in the first half but were unable to find a way past Manuel Neuer and his rigid defence.

The teams headed down the tunnel at the break with the scores somehow still locked at 0-0. Germany would need to be patient. They had looked menacing in the attacking third but had thus far been thwarted by a strong performance from the Mensahs, John and Jonathan as well as a much improved showing from Kingson.

The second half began with both teams showing the same offensive ambition. Asamoah was one-on-one with Neuer but failed to adequately control the bouncing ball and could only watch the Schalke 04 ‘keeper get his body in the way. The end to end marathon here was probably only bettered by the phenomenal duel at Wimbledon. Both sides taking turns to attack and break.

When it came, the breakthrough went Germany’s way. Philipp Lahm and Thomas Müller exchanged tentative short passes before Müller, with his back to goal, turned and progressed with the football into the penalty area. He spotted Mesut Özil on the edge of the 18-yard box and slipped a pass back to the Werder Bremen midfielder. The ball bobbled and sat up perfectly for Özil, who unleashed a blistering shot into the top corner. Kingson, who had until then been exemplary, could only watch.

The goal put Ghana in a precarious situation. A goal for Serbia in the match at Nelspruit would doom their hopes of becoming the only African team to qualify past the group stages. News of a goal did come soon after Özil’s strike. However, it was the Soccerroos and Tim Cahill that were celebrating.

With the lead secure and Ghana still posing an accomplished threat to their goal, Germany were content to control possession and the flow of the game. Terrific spells of passing were instigated by Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger, whose transformation from pacy winger to a central-midfielder has been seamless. The importance of Schweinsteiger to Germany’s chances cannot be understated, which is why it was so worrying for German fans to see him limp from the field of play clutching at his thigh.

With Australia holding on to a 2-1 lead against Serbia, the game ended with both Germany and Ghana progressing. The results presented an accurate representation of the group. Ghana will now carry the hopes of the African continent as its sole representative in the knockout phase while Germany have reached the Second Round yet again.

England lie in wait for the Jogi Löw’s youthful squad. The German personnel will look at England’s performance today against Slovenia and have nothing to fear. It should make for an entertaining match. This talented German side will be boosted by the return of Miroslav Klose and could be on the verge of making an unexpected run into the latter part of this World Cup.