Tag Archives: New Zealand

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.

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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.

The upsets continue as New Zealand hold Azzurri

New Zealand 1-1 Italy

A controversial goal from Shane Smeltz gave the outsiders the lead inside of ten minutes. Italy attacked the All Whites for the remained of the first half and earned an equaliser from the penalty spot. Vicenzo Iaquinta, played out of position by Marcello Lippi in the opening game, converting the spot kick. A brave defensive effort followed from Ricki Herbert’s side, with goalkeeper Mark Paston and captain Ryan Nelsen each performing valiantly in the face of tremendous pressure from the reigning world champions.

Paraguay’s 2-0 victory over Slovakia in today’s early kick-off meant that Italy would need to beat New Zealand by three goals to claim the top spot in the group. The Azzurri started brightly with Juventus’ Vicenzo Iaquinta showing much improvement from his turgid display against Paraguay. Shockingly, despite Italy’s early attacking intent, New Zealand took the lead. A diagonal free-kick was sent by Elliott towards the centre where it was flicked on by Winston Reid. The ball ricocheted off the thigh of Fabio Cannavaro before falling to Shane Smeltz. The A-League’s Golden Boot winner kept his composure to finish past Federico Marchetti.

There were no complaints from the Italian defenders. However, replays showed that Smeltz was in an offside position when Reid’s leapt above Alberto Gilardino to glance the ball forward.

Italy would need to come from behind against Ricki Herbert’s expertly organised side.

The Italians controlled possession and territory for the next half-hour or so. New Zealand resorted to the physical approach in order to frustrate their illustrious opposition. Striker Rory Fallon led with his elbow on numerous occassions against Fabio Cannavaro and Giorgio Chiellini and received a booking.

Chiellini is known as an aerial threat from corners but, as we saw in the first half, his shooting is less than threatening. A corner fell to the Juventus defender at the back post. Chiellini had ample time and space to strike but poked a dismal effort high to the left of the goal.

The Azzurri fullbacks Domenico Criscito and Gianluca Zambrotta posed a considerable menace to New Zealand. Criscito was willing to move into advanced positions while Zambrotta blasted a long range shot just over Mark Paston’s goal.

Italy had a committed to testing Mark Paston with long range efforts, perhaps noticing the goalkeeper’s unexceptional outing against Slovakia. Riccardo Montolivo, of Fiorentina, had the best attempt. His low, curling effort from twenty-five yards left the Wellington Phoenix goalkeeper motionless as it cannoned off his right post. It appeared that an equaliser was brewing for the Italians and they earned it just two minutes later.

A penalty was awarded to the Azzurri following Tommy Smith’s foul on Daniele De Rossi. Smith, a representative of England at underage level, hauled the Roma midfielder to the ground in the penalty area. Vicenzo Iaquinta took the penalty taking responsibility in the absence of Andrea Pirlo. Iaquinta had been the subject of much criticism in the wake of the 1-1 draw with Paraguay but he did not let that condemnation dissuade him from firing a fine penalty after sending Paston in the wrong direction.

Italy continued to press forward. They found it difficult to create any chances through crosses with Ryan Nelsen having such a fine game at the heart of the All Whites’ defence.

Iaquinta was quietly having a fine game for Italy, leading the line with some astute movement and passing. For all of his qualities, his striker partner was having a putrid first half. Alberto Gilardino has been a sufficiently good striker in Serie A for many years now, but his form for the national team has never corresponded with his turns at Fiorentina and AC Milan.

This realisation may have dawned on Marcello Lippi who withdrew Gilardino and the equally ineffective Simone Pepe at the break with one of Serie A’s finest ‘marcatori’ Antonio Di Natale and Mauro Camoranesi replacing the pair.

Lippi did not budge from the 4-4-2 formation he had fielded from the start of this game and Ricki Herbert must have been delighted to see no change in tactics from Italy after half-time.

Di Natale quickly found himself involved in the action, hooking an imaginative volley over his shoulder only to see Paston beat it away.

Further crosses fell on Nelsen and Smith in the New Zealand defence but the duo were good enough to deal with every threatening delivery sent their way.

In search of a potentially vital goal, Lippi brought Sampdoria striker Gianpaolo Pazzini on in place of Claudio Marchisio. Lippi reverting to the 4-3-3 approach which dwindled against the Paraguayans. 4-3-3 was probably a wise move against Herbert’s defence, allowing the Italians more space to create as the All Whites tried to cope with more attacking threats.

‘Toto Di Natale was causing the resolute New Zealand defenders problems. His expressive approach to the forward role has long been admired in Serie A and it was exhibited beautifully here with the Udinese attacker eager to rush out to the flanks in search of possession as he tried relentlessly to force a killer pass.

Italy’s best option, however, still appeared to be long shots. The All Whites had dropped what seemed like their entire midfield on top of their defence in a concerted effort to earn another point at the World Cup. Riccardo Montolivo tested Paston once more with another powerful strike from thirty yards.

As the match reached it’s conclusion the All Whites, helmed by the magnificent Ryan Nelsen, stood firm. They had to deal with some accomplished crosses for the duration of the game and they were not beaten by any of them. In a post-match interview Vicenzo Iaquinta offered his praise to the All Whites.

“New Zealand defended very well and got almost all the headers in the box”, admitted the Juventus’ striker.

The surprise result leaves the All Whites very much in contention for a place in the Second Round. A victory over group leaders Paraguay might be enough to see them through. Italy also face a ‘do-or-die’ game against Slovakia. If they fail to win against Vladimir Weiss’ side then they will fail to progress from the group, a miserable outcome for a defending world champion.

There is little doubt that changes will be made by Lippi for the encounter with Slovakia. It would appear that his patience with Pepe and Gilardino has worn out, albeit belatedly. The Azzurri manager will retire after the tournament and you can be assured that the ‘Silver Fox’ will be hoping for the same adventurous spirit from his Azzurri side against Slovakia but with much improved finishing.

Round One in Review

The first round of group stage fixtures at the 2010 World Cup is complete. Every team has now taken their World Cup bow in South Africa and we’ve already been left with some intriguing permutations for qualification to the last sixteen. World Cup Daily will now take a look back at this mini-milestone stage of the competition.

Group A:

Group A is a bit different by way of having already completed one game of the second round of fixtures. The result was a potentially crippling one for the Bafana Bafana, as they lost to Uruguay 3-0 while also losing their first choice goalkeeper to suspension. France play Mexico tomorrow with the winner of that game taking a massive step towards the next round. Here is the table as it stands.

Group A MP W D L Pts
Uruguay 2 1 1 0 4
Mexico 1 0 1 0 1
France 1 0 1 0 1
South Africa 2 0 1 1 1

The hosts, South Africa, achieved what may yet be their best result in the competition in the tournament’s opening game against Mexico. Siphiwe Tshabalala’s incredible strike will live long in the memory of all who witnessed it. 1998’s winners France stuttered in a 0-0 stalemate against Uruguay. Although they failed to impress against Les Bleus, Uruguay now control Group A courtesy of their victory over Bafana Bafana in Pretoria this evening. Diego Forlan lead the line with conviction and scored two goals, taking him to the top of the goalscoring standings for the tournament.

The outcome of Mexico v France is key to the future of the group. If there is a winner to that game then the hosts will be all but eliminated and the victor should progress to the last sixteen alongside Uruguay. A draw will throw open a range of possibilities and will ensure an exciting climax, with South Africa’s participation in the World Cup still very much alive.

Group B:

The Republic of Korea and Argentina sit loftily atop Group B at the moment courtesy of victories over Greece and Nigeria respectively. The two sides meet tomorrow in the early kickoff at Soccer City.

The Republic of Korea were comfortable victors of Otto Rehhagel’s Greece. The Euro 2004 champions were both lethargic and sloppy and possessed none of the defensive nous that saw them capture the European Championships six years ago. On the other hand, Korea were excellent. Their captain, Park Ji Sung, has excelled in the playmakers role for South Korea for years and demonstrated his immense capabilities in their 2-0 win.

Lionel Messi was at his dazzling best in the Albiceleste’s 1-0 success over Nigeria. The tight scoreline flattered the Super Eagles and Nigeria will need to improve drastically if they are to have a future in the competition. Nigeria will face elimination from the competition should either South Korea or Argentina win and they are defeated by Greece. Lars Lagerbäck will refuse to accept a group stage exit and Nigeria should get the better of a Greek side devoid of ideas.

Group B MP W D L Pts
South Korea 1 1 0 0 3
Argentina 1 1 0 0 3
Nigeria 1 0 0 1 0
Greece 1 0 0 1 0

Group C:

To everyone’s surprise Slovenia sit in pole position in Group C. They capitalised on England’s 1-1 draw with the United States, beating Algeria 1-0. Slovenia were vulnerable on the flanks, where Ziani was a constant threat. The United States’ Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan could pose similar problems to the Slovenians should they be allowed to transgress deep into Slovenian territory. Slovenia’s goalkeeper Samir Handanovic carried his remarkable Serie A form into the World Cup and will prove a difficult obstacle for Bob Bradley’s side.

The United States themselves were lucky to escape from Rustenberg with a point, Robert Green’s now infamous catastrophy allowing Clint Dempsey to score. USMNT are capable of producing a much superior performance against Slovenia. The Americans’ defensive core of Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit were solid against England, a huge boon considering Onyewu’s terrible recent history of injury. Bob Bradley will need to consolidate that defensive strength with a more potent strike force if the United States are to wrestle command of the group out of Slovenian hands.

England’s performance has been evaluated countless times since that night in Rustenberg. Last minute call-up Jamie Carragher was beaten easily on occassion by the pace of Jozy Altidore and if the rumours of him starting the next game are proven to be correct then John Terry will need to be on top form.

The conundrum of who is the best candidate to partner Wayne Rooney in attack has not yet been solved by Fabio Capello. Emile Heskey’s performance against the United States was bafflingly praised by some pundits in the immediate aftermath of the game. The reality is that Heskey is not a striker of genuine international-quality. Perhaps the best solution for Fabio Capello would be to move new captain Steven Gerrard forward into a support role for Rooney with a four man midfield behind the two.

Group D:

It is no surprise that Germany are the stand out performers in Group D thusfar. Their 4-0 demolition of Australia was founded on individual brilliance from Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski and fantastic distribution and holding from Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger. It will be a great relief to Jogi Löw to see Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski performing so effectively after both had endured difficult seasons for their club sides.

Australia on the other hand seem destined for elimination. They were powerless to prevent a drubbing at the hands of the Germans and to make matters worse their talisman, Tim Cahill, has been suspended. They must now face Ghana, who were better than their 1-0 scoreline indicates.

Stade Rennais’ Asamoah Gyan gave the Black Stars victory over Serbia. The real star performer, however, was Kevin Prince Boateng. The Portsmouth midfielder was busy, creative and determined against the Serbs and if he can continue that form against Australia then Ghana will stand on the brink of qualification for a second successive place in the last sixteen.

Serbia were predestined to be the tournament’s dark horses. They were abject against Ghana. Their celebrated defence was challenged by an under-strength Ghana and it is forgivable to think that they will have even greater difficulty against Germany’s multi-pronged attack.








Group D MP W D L Pts
Germany 1 1 0 0 3
Ghana 1 1 0 0 3
Serbia 1 0 0 1 0
Australia 1 0 0 1 0

Group E:

Holland failed to reach their potential against Denmark but still managed to escape with a comfortable 2-0 victory. The return of winger Arjen Robben will only add further strength to their challenge and they may yet become the swaggering champions that a large section of the world’s observers reckon they were born to become. The revelation of the game against Denmark was Eljero Elia. The young Ajax winger replaced Rafael van der Vaart and made an immediate impact. His energy and innate skill were clear to see and further appearances for the youngster are almost a certainty now.

Japan were everything their reputation told us they were. They were organised. They were boring. And they numbed Cameroon into submission. Keisuke Honda’s goal gave them a 1-0 victory over the Lions. They will not be so fortunate against Holland.

Cameroon’s performance was toothless (pardon the pun). Samuel Eto’o was the only player to emerge with any credit and even he seemed powerless to prevent Japan from hanging on to a clean sheet and a victory. Cameroon should improve against Denmark, they have too many players of high quality not to. A victory is required. Anything less may spell an embarrassing early exit.

Group E MP W D L Pts
Netherlands 1 1 0 0 3
Japan 1 1 0 0 3
Cameroon 1 0 0 1 0
Denmark 1 0 0 1 0

Group F:

Paraguay 1 0 1 0 1
Slovakia 1 0 1 0 1
Italy 1 0 1 0 1
New Zealand 1 0 1 0 1

The immediately striking aspect of your first glance at the Group F table is Italy’s absence from top spot. The World Champions were perhaps the better side against Paraguay but could not convert their superiority into sincere shooting opportunities. If Marcello Lippi insists on keeping the 4-2-3-1 formation then he will need to remove Iaquinta. The Juventus forward was unthreatening throughout the encounter with Paraguay and his place in the starting line-up ahead of Antonio Di Natale is ponderous at best.

Of more immediate concern to ‘gli Azzuri’ is the fitness of Gianluigi Buffon. The decorated goalkeeper has suffered a recurrence of a herniated disc and may play no further part in Italy’s quest to retain the World Cup. Into the breach will step young Federico Marchetti. The Cagliari goalkeeper was a revelation in Serie A this past year and may yet prove to be a worthy replacement to one of the world’s greatest shot-stoppers.

Slovakia controlled the game against New Zealand but concentration lapses ultimately proved to be their undoing. Marek Hamsik, their captain and Vladimir Weiss were stand-out performers against New Zealand and must retain their creative flair if they are to overturn Paraguay as the second side to progress from the group.

There is a feeling that New Zealand have already achieved what they set out to do in drawing with Slovakia. It is unthinkable that they may claim another point against Paraguay or Italy despite their obvious strenghts in defensive organisation.

Group G:

Brazil showed their usual flair but were unable to score more than two goals against North Korea. Robinho and Maicon were the outstanding performers on the night for the Seleçao. They should prove too strong for Portugal, who were terrible against the Côte d’Ivoire, but may yet be tested by the Elephants.

North Korea were the unknown quantity in the ‘Group of Death’. Their star player, Jong Tae Se, garnered a lot of attention for his tears at the national anthems and his subsequent display which culminated in an assist.

Côte d’Ivoire were far more structured than they were in the Cup of African Nations. In Gervinho and Salomon Kalou they have players to supply the now fit Didier Drogba and also to beat fullbacks. If they can achieve a draw against Brazil and proceed to thrash North Korea, then the Brazilians may yet face an unlikely elimination from the World Cup.

Brazil 1 1 0 0 3
Côte d’Ivoire 1 0 1 0 1
Portugal 1 0 1 0 1
North Korea 1 0 0 1 0

Group H:


This group looked to be all about Spain. The European Champions and favourites to lift the World Cup were expected to breeze through this group with minimal fuss. They did not expect to encounter the managerial powerhouse that is Ottmar Hitzfeld and his appropriately strong Switzerland defence. The Swiss demonstrated the frailties within this otherwise exceptional Spain side.

Spain were unable to show the requisite cutting edge and for all of their possession, they mustered very few threatening attempts on goal. They will have a chance at redemption against Honduras, who were disappointing against Chile.

Chile were every bit as entertaining as we were led to believe. Marco Bielsa has created an attacking side with a remarkable flair and creativity to it. The tactical decision to field only three players was not exposed as folly by a blunt Honduras but achieving the same result against Spain may prove to be too difficult a challenge.

Dave Hanratty’s Winners & Losers – Day 5

Winners


Brazil

Two moments of magic did little to disguise a fairly rote and disappointing Brazil performance. Fantastical scorelines were predicted before kick off, and while anyone who paid attention to Dunga’s defensive tactics throughout their qualifying campaign would have known not to expect a massive rout but 2-1 is a shocking result despite the best defensive efforts of the North Koreans.

Consider that Brazil are second favourites while North Korea are currently listed with odds of 2000/1 and you would expect a routine and comfortable victory from the five-times champions. The jury is still very much out on Brazil and the knives are already being sharpened for Dunga.

Maicon

Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant it. (Ed: Definitely meant it)


North Korea

Lost the game but won our hearts. From Jong Tae Se crying during his national anthem to their gritty determination to a well-deserved consolation goal, North Korea tore up the script and while their game was undoubtedly defensive, they played with conviction and spirit that was unexpected from everyone who wrote them off.

Ji Yun Nam

A statue to commemorate his “winning” goal against Brazil is no doubt being erected in North Korea as we speak.

New Zealand

Provided some much-needed drama with their late equaliser and felt like winners in the process.

Losers


Dunga

He’s no Joachim Low.

Hopeful spectators

From blogs to forums to the man in the pub, it seems South Africa 2010 is being viewed as something of a letdown thus far. On the evidence of the last two days it is difficult to argue. The highly anticipated contest between Portugal and the Ivory Coast promised much but delivered a tedious and irritating scoreless draw. The optimists among us are speculating that teams are playing their opening matches with extreme caution out of fear of coming away with no points. That theory remains to be seen but gives added spice to the forthcoming second round of group matches. Fingers crossed.

Portugal

How the mighty have fallen. Dreadful in qualifying, barely scraped through their playoff and lifeless in their opening tournament match, Carlos Quieroz and his players need to stop the rot very quickly before they find themselves booking flights home on June 25th.

Cristiano Ronaldo

It took just six minutes for Portugal’s petulant prima-donna to hit the deck, exaggerating the contact made by Didier Zokora and urging the referee to book the former Tottenham player, which he duly did. Fifteen minutes later he “won” a foul but received a yellow of his own for his reaction to the challenge.

Aside from one stunning shot that rattled the post, the most marketable player in the world was a shadow of his former Manchester United self and looked every bit the footballer who hasn’t scored for his country in sixteen months. Disinterested, childish and lethargic, Ronaldo made a fine captain for a team that are rapidly disintegrating.

Deco

Hauled off after sixty ineffectual minutes, the occasional Chelsea midfielder marked his last major tournament with the type of painfully average and anonymous display he is becoming known for.

Clive Tyldsley

Apparently Maicon’s “did he or didn’t he mean it?” goal was actually a North Korean own goal. Cheers for clearing that up for us Clive.

Robbie Earle

And speaking of bumbling ITV; pundit Robbie Earle was given his marching orders when tickets to games in his name somehow found their way in the hands of 36 women clad in orange mini-dresses. The women were part of a Dutch marketing attempt. Robbie Earle denies he had anything to do with the situation, but he’s an idiot.

Last Gasp goal gives All Whites shock draw against Slovakia

Slovakia looked to be coasting to victory against New Zealand until Winston Reid rose above Martin Skrtel to score in the second minute of injury time. The Slovakians took the lead nine minutes after the break when Róbert Vittek converted a cross from Stanislav Sestak. The Slovakians controlled the game from that point until Chris Wood went close ten minutes from time and then Winston Reid went one better. The Auckland-born defender rising above the Slovakian centre-halves to head Shane Smeltz’s wonderful cross into the net with stoppage time nearing completion.

A dour first-half was noteworthy for the organisational awareness of the All Whites. Ricki Herbert’s coaching efforts reflected well in his team, who frustrated a Slovakian side featuring Serie A wonderkid Marek Hamsik.

The game only really took off in the second half as Slovakia began to assert their superiority. Hamsik, Vittek, Sestak and the coach’s son Wladimir Weiss combining to control possession and create opportunities for Slovakia.

The game’s opening goal came in the 54th minute. Striker Sestak received the ball deep before launching a curling cross towards the New Zealand six-yard box. The All Whites’ goalkeeper Mark Paston was unconvincing throughout and was powerless to prevent Róbert Vittek from powering a head home for Slovakia’s first ever World Cup Finals goal.

Slovakia dominated the game for the next half hour and should have been 2-0 up when Hamsik broke up rare New Zealand possession in the Slovakian half. Hamsik then raced forward alongside Vittek and Sestak. Sestak played Vittek through on goal put the Lille OSC player’s first touch brought him too close to Ryan Nelsen.

New Zealand finally began to threaten Jan Mucha’s goal in the final ten minutes of the game. West Brom striker Chris Wood must have thought that he had missed the crucial opportunity when he headed a slowly moving cross inches wide.

The All Whites’ moment came in the second of three minutes of stoppage time. New Zealand’s star player, Shane Smeltz, twisted before delivering an astonishing cross in between Martin Skrtel and Radoslav Zabavnik. Winston Reid, who plays his club football in the Danish league, rose superbly to equalise. Slovakia’s players were incredulous. New Zealand punishing Vladimir Weiss’ team for slackening in the latter stages of the second half.

For Slovakia it was a missed opportunity to take initiative in a difficult group. For the All Whites it was an historic sporting occassion. Coach Ricki Herbert was part of the side which participated at the 1982 World Cup. There they lost all three games, conceded twelve and scored none. New Zealand is traditionally regarded as a rugby nation. Moments like this will do little to dampen the expectations that football is about to overtake it as the most popular game on the islands.