Day: June 11, 2006

Portuguese Men Of War

Angola 0-1 Portugal One can only presume that, tomorrow morning, the Portuguese press will be howling, gnashing their teeth and writing off their team’s chances going much further than the second round of the tournament. Because they would do if Portugal were England. Of course, there were one or two differences. For one thing, Angola are a way inferior team to Paraguay. For another, Angola created chances that could have got them back into the game. In other words, Portugal, who had gubbed their former colony 6-0 and 5-1 in recent friendlies, were poor. It didn’t look as if it was going to that way at all. Judging from the first five minutes, Portugal looked like they were going to run up a cricket score. Straight from the kick-off, Pauleta raced through and shot across the face of goal when, frankly, he should have scored. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, considering that they’d only been playing for barely ten seconds. There was no repeat of this barely four minutes later. Figo was the provider, and the finish from Pauleta was perfunctory. The scoreboard manufacturers must have been concerned that they might not have put enough space on the display for the possible score. But then, something weird happened – Portugal failed to capitalise on their great start, and Angola began, slowly, and almost seemingly in spite...

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The Persian Gulf

Mexico 3-1 Iran I should be careful. I’ll be using up all of my decent title puns before the end of this week. Mexico are possibly even worse than Spain in terms of their under-achievement in the World Cup. It’s a big country, and it’s football mad. Thanks to having hosted two World Cups, it’s got an excellent infrastructure. But the best they have ever managed is two appearances in the quarter-finals, and these both came when they were hosting it. Their location, I think, does them no favours. CONCACAF simply doesn’t provide them with the week-in-week-out competition at the very top level that successful national teams need. Added to that is the problem that all bar three players play at home, which I’m not certain that Mexican domestic football is the best that there is, and we have a problem. Prior to a win against Bulgaria in December, as Jonathan Pearce tells us, Mexico hadn’t beaten a European team for three years. Iran, if you believe the ever-condescending press, are here for shits and giggles. The most press interest in them has come from the story that their rabidly anti-Semitic president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is intending to fly to Germany should his team reach the second round. There is a chance that, should his team get through, they’ll have to second round match in Nuremberg. Nice. On the evidence...

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Going Dutch

Holland 1-0 Serbia & Montenegro We’re always going to feel to down by the Dutch. You see the luminous orange shirts on a football pitch, and instantly your mind turns back to Cruyff & Neeskens in 1974, Arie Haan and his fabulous long-range strike in 1978, and Marco Van Basten coming from nowhere to become, briefly, one of the greatest strikers that Europe has ever seen, before injury robbed us all of his best. The Dutch allowed us to dream. In 1974, they played “total football”, the nearest that the game has ever embracing hippiedom. In 1978, they allowed the story to circulate that Johann Cruyff was boycotting the tournament on account of the Argentinian military junta, although popular belief now has it that his wife insisted in him staying at home after his extra-curricular activities four years prior. As recently as 1998, Dennis Bergkamp brought about a near-universal gasp with a goal of sublime individual brilliance in the last minute of their quarter-final against Argentina. Nowadays though, they’re just the same as everybody else. Workmanlike, solid, and, on this display, not playing to their full strength. Robben looks as impresssive as he does in the Premiership but is, as I understand it, flakey. They can’t depend on that level of performance from him in every match. Van Nistelrooy just looks bored with football full-stop. Having said that, Serbia...

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The Real World Cup Starts Here

Argentina 2-1 Ivory Coast If you believe the press reaction to this match, football has been taken to a new plane of skill, athleticism and excitement. Like so much press reaction, the case has been overstated to a frankly disproportionate level. It was, to be fair, an entertaining game. Both teams set out with an intention to attack and score goals. Argentina were, simultaneously, unfortunate not to win by three or four goals, yet at the same time were lucky not to come away from it all with a draw. What I did see were two teams that were attractive going forward, but occasionally suspect defensively. The first goal came about as a result of panic in the Ivorian defence. They lost control of the ball inside the six yard box and, momentarily, of marking Hernan Crespo. You can’t really afford to do that if you want to win the World Cup. Even for the second goal, even though it was a delightful pass to set up Saviola to score, the Ivory Coast’s defence appeared singularly lead-footed as the ball was threaded through to him. The Ivory Coast’s attackers also wasted too many chances. Didier Drogba may be able to do this for Chelsea, where he has a seemingly infinite number of perfect passes put through to him, but at this level one is reminded of Glenn Hoddle’s remark...

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The Perfect Result

Trinidad & Tobago 0-0 Sweden From a jingoistically English perspective, we couldn’t have asked for much more than this. Trinidad have lost a man for a game. Sweden have now got something of a mountain to climb, and could be out by the time they play England next Saturday. And, as per the post below this one, England now only need a win on Tuesday night to secure their passage into the knock-out stages. It was, of course, a fantastic result for Trinidad & Tobago. Sweden didn’t play well, and missed far too many chances to suggest that they are going to make the sort of major impact on these finals that many people seem to think they will. Trinidad were defensively well-organised, though they did rely on profligate finishing from the Swedes and a once in a lifetime performace from Shaka Hislop, who only started because regular first choice Kelvin Jack injured himself in the warm-up. Trinidad did, of course, break away a couple of times and contrived to hit the crossbar, but for them to have snatched a win would have been utterly unfair on a clearly superior Swedish side. Sweden have learnt a lesson, and they’ve learnt it the hard way: you can’t waste a dozen chances and expect to win at this level of football. Not even against the tournament’s rank outsiders. They need to...

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