Tag Archives: Slovakia

Dave Hanratty’s Winners & Losers – Round of 16 Finale

Dave, of upcoming band After The Explosions is back with his latest evaluation of the World Cup’s heroes and villains.

Winners


Spain

So it seems the world is still in love with the European Champions. Alan Hansen described it as a “victory for attacking football” and while that point is certainly arguable given Portugal’s suffocation tactics, Spain are looking very shaky indeed. There are holes in their defence and a better team should exploit it. I expect them to ease past Paraguay but once they come against Germany or Argentina, we shall see if they are World Champions material.

David Villa


Barcelona’s new boy can do no wrong.

Holland


Another win, another curious and not overly impressive performance. The question has become whether or not Holland are deliberately not playing at their best. The question will be answered on Friday when they line out against Brazil.

Brazil

Barely broke a sweat. Like Holland they haven’t really been challenged yet which makes their forthcoming clash all the more interesting. I would say mouthwatering but neither team has really excited thus far, despite showing flashes. Hopefully Friday will see the record being changed.

Paraguay

Into the quarter-finals for the first time in their history. Gave us a fairly boring game but deserved their win.

Losers

English punditry


Tuesday saw a new low in the English presentation of the World Cup. It began with ITV’s Adrian Chiles, Andy Townsend and Gareth Southgate openly mocking the Paraguay/Japan game. While the match was undeniably dull, the relentless negativity from the ITV team was unprofessional and unnecessary.

Meanwhile over on BBC, commentator Jonathan Pearce dared to throw out some facts during the Spain/Portugal clash, leading his co-commentator Mark Lawrenson to sneer; “What were you doing before the game?”. Erm I don’t know Mark, his job perhaps? Lawrenson is a joke that is no longer funny, a decrepit and miserable dinosaur who violently lowers the quality of any football match he is allowed commentate on. Of all the complaints in this World Cup (and there have been many, both valid and invalid), my biggest one is the presence of “Lawro”. I’d rather get trapped in a lift full of tarantulas than listen to him again, but then again the alternative is George Hamilton so you can see my dilemma.

BBC also presented a solemn arthouse style film package about the the goal-line technology debate. A patronising easy listening piano plays over various footage of contentious refereeing decisions. The ref in the Germany/England game is jingoisitcally referred to as “England’s nemesis” while we get a cute little interview with nice English referee Howard Webb (who has never ever made mistakes EVER) who says he’s in favour of goal-line technology. There’s a shock.

But leave it to Alan Hansen to take the prize for the biggest idiot on display for offering the following during his analysis of David Villa’s match-winning goal; “There’s a hint of offside, but, who cares?”. His ill-timed, ill-informed and just plain disgraceful comment elicited laughter from Lineker and co but probably couldn’t have come at a worse time. If he was trying to be satirical, he failed. If he was trying to be funny, he failed. Terrible, as the man himself might say.

Portugal

Negative negative negative. With the exception of the mauling of North Korea, Portugal failed to score a single goal in the competition. That game flattered them hugely and gave false hope to anybody hoping to see the attractive attacking football shown by the Portuguese in Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006. It would seem those days are over, with Carlos Quieroz and his team choosing to employ negative anti-football tactics throughout, resembling a Greece side with more flair by the end of their campaign.

The autopsy report will make for grim reading. Ronaldo was ineffectual throughout, Deco signed off his international career with a whimper while once again Portugal were absolutely toothless up front. A lot of work needs to be done before Portugal become just another football team.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Lived up to his reputation as someone who vanishes in big games by entering in several anonymous performances. He also made sure to enhance his reputation as a petulant brat by spitting at the camera as he trudged off the field in defeat. Many are hesitant to place Ronaldo in the elite “best of all time” bracket and it’s disgusting acts like this that hold him back from such greatness.

While many footballers have their dark side, including Lionel Messi who seems to get away with his gradually increasing petulance due to his ability, there is no excuse for lowering yourself to such a level. It’s frustrating because we all know just how phenomenal Ronaldo can be, but it’s times like these that give his biggest defenders no cause to do so.

Joan Capdevila

The worst piece of simulation to get a player sent off this World Cup will (hopefully) see. Absolutely shameful, but not surprising considering the actions of Torres in the previous round and Sergio Busquets for Barcelona against Inter Milan in the Champions League semi-final.

Fernando Torres

Substituted just shy of the hour mark after another poor showing. He is clearly unfit and by starting him repeatedly, Vincente del Bosque risks harming both his player and his team. It will be interesting to see if  Fernando Llorente lines up alongside golden boy David Villa on Saturday night.

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World Cup Daily – International Press

Das Bild (Germany): Germany’s most popular tabloid reacted with glee to Die Mannschaft‘s victory over England. Das Bild proclaimed, “Jungs, we love you!”, a reference to the Jogi Löw’s young side and their phenomenal performance against the Three Lions.

Die Welt (Germany): Jetzt sind Deutschland and England quitt” (Now, Germany and England are even):

Die Welt described Frank Lampard’s controversial effort as ‘revenge for the Wembley goal’, referring of course to Geoff Hurst’s equally contentious strike against West Germany in 1966. In that case, the goal was given when perhaps it should not have been. The broadsheet prints a dizzying and unconventional match report, which emphasises the dream-like quality the result had for German fans.

The Mirror (United Kingdom): “FABIGO”


The Mirror pulled no punches in its evaluation of the defeat. Fabio Capello, they say has to go. The Mirror bemoans the new contract offered to the former Real Madrid manager just before the tournament which, they say, will entitle him to a vast sum in compensation.

The Sun: “Time to go Fabio. Clear off and take your players with you.”

The Sun also subscribes to the idea that the Italian is at fault while also offering partial blame to the players who they say “shamed the shirt”. The Sun argues that England’s results in the Group Stage were indefensible, referring to the 1-0 victory over Slovenia as “scraping through”, despite having praised Capello and England after that particular performance in previous editions.

El Universal (Mexico) : Se van de la peor manera – Un gol que no debió contar abre el camino de la debacle tricolor y la despedida para varios veteranos que no volverán a un Mundial”

“Gone the worst way – A goal that should not have been opened the way for the tricolour’s meltdown and a farwell to several veterans who will never grace the World Cup again.”

The Mexican broadsheet criticises Italian referee, Roberto Rosetti, for allowing Argentina’s opening goal which was shown to be clearly offside. The World Cup ended for Mexico where it had all begun in , Soccer City. El Universal bid its farewell to Blanco, Perez, Torrado and Rafael Marquez and damns the Argentine performance as showing ‘no spectacular football’.

It was an all too familiar end for El Universal. The newspaper drew parallels with Mexico’s demise in 2006, also at the hand of the Albiceleste.

De Telegraaf (Netherlands): Column Cruijff: Chili neemt rol Nederland over

In his regular and always insightful column, Johan Cruyff states that he believes that Chile have taken over the Netherlands’ role as a ‘trendsetter’ of beautiful football. Cruyff lends his ardent support to Marcello Bielsa’s side which he says create more chances than anyone else and entertain more fans than any other side at this World Cup.

Cruyff also considers the new push for technology in football in the wake of yesterday’s events. He firmly believes that goalline video technology is fine but in other instances, such as offside, handball etc, Cruyff firmly believes that technology should be avoided. The former Barcelona manager argues that football is a ‘game of mistakes’ and that placing too much emphasis on video technology would hinter the sport rather than help it.

And finally

The Daily Mail, which in the lead up to England v Germany purveyed a lot of copy offensive to Germans took it a step further in the aftermath of England’s 4-1 defeat to Jogi Löw’s side.

Outspoken, right-wing columnist Richard Littlejohn had this to say:

And finally….again:

Our old friends in the New York Post have been at it again. Following the United States’ 2-1 defeat to Ghana after extra-time, ‘The Post’ has this to say about The Beautiful Game.


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.

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.

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.