Author: Ian

Czech Mate

Czech 0-2 Italy / Ghana 2-1 USA You have to respect the Italian fans. They’re the only set of fans in the whole of the World Cup that are even more pessimistic than England’s. They dropped two points against the USA (whose sole tactic appeared to be kick the Italians very hard), and the country was plumetted into depression. There was nothing really to base this on, of course. They had been unfortunate (the sort of own goal they conceded happens to any team once in a decade), and, on balance, it was a match that they deserved to win. All Italy really needed was a point, so why did they decide that this would be the team that would become the first Italian not to reach the group phases since 1974? This is, after all, an Italy team that hasn’t lost a World Cup match in ninety minutes since 1986. Incredible, but true. They needn’t have panicked, of course. The Czechs had put in real Jekyll & Hyde performances against Ghana and the USA respectively. A team that had gone from one being talked about to reach the quarter-finals (or possibly to go further) was suddenly in trouble. Their confidence had been shot to pieces by the Ghana match and, by half-time, they were as good as on their way home. Materazzi’s header from a corner (from which...

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Dutch Courage

Argentina 0-0 Holland / Ivory Coast 3-2 Serbia May I just be the first person to say… WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT? As some of you may remember, in Euro 2000, Holland and France had qualified before their final match, against each other. They were amongst the favourites to win the competition, and, released from the worry of whether they’d make it through or not, they played out one of the matches of the tournament (Holland edged it 3-2), and everybody was happy. Skip forward six years, and what do we find? Argentina (suberb, albeit against a Serbia team that would struggle to get into the Premiership at present) and Holland (workmanlike against Serbia, somewhat fortunate against Ivory Coast) play out a turgid 0-0 draw – one of the worst matches of the tournament. It was if neither of them want to miss out on the bonanza of possibly playing England in the quarter-finals. Holland created more or less nothing in the first half, and only a couple of shots that even half tested Abbondanzieri, whilst Argentina weren’t much better – a couple of shots from Riquelme that flashed just wide, and a low shot that was deflected onto the post. As it was, Argentina take on Mexico in the second round (a tricker game than one might imagine, if the Mexicans show up with their “positive sombreros” on,...

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Mexican Waves

Mexico 1-2 Portugal / Angola 1-1 Iran Well, they made their fans sweat. I’ll say that much for them. Mexico came within an inch of getting themselves knocked out, in spite of being seeded and, apparently, the fourth best team in the world (before you start complaining, this is FIFA’s view, and not mine). They didn’t even manage this in a “Group Of Death”. They managed to go to the wire against Angola. Those giants of international football. Fortunately, though, Angola threw away a win against Iran thanks to some lame finishing. I’m thoroughly enjoying Mexico’s stay at the World Cup, because, in an era when everything else often appears to be becoming more and more homogenized, Mexico are inscrutably, indefatigably, defiantly mad. Well, they’re inscrutably, indefatigably, defiantly Mexican. But it’s the same difference. This is, after all, the country that gave the world tequila, chili, peyote and the sombrero. Why should we expect anything less? What is particularly great about Mexico as that they are a good team, but still an unknown quantity. Almost all of their players are domestically based, and they can play, but are singular in the way that they do it. Against Iran, they were solid, then momentarily dire, and then outstanding. Against Angola, they couldn’t for all their attacking flair, break down a team of determined under-dogs. This afternoon, they showed their best...

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Today In Germany…

Today’s matches are all about the subtleties and finer points of what the group phase will look like. This afternoon, Mexico play Portugal, and Iran play Angola. Portugal are already through, but first place is their minimum aim – the runners-up in this group are likely to be playing Argentina in the second round. So, don’t expect Portugal to put out a reserve team for this match, and don’t expect Mexico to either. If they lose and Angola can beat Iran by three goals, they’re out and the Africans are through. If Portugal were to beat Mexico by two clear goals, Angola would just need a two goal win. And so on. I can’t see Mexico massively upsetting the apple-cart here, though they’re likely to put their own supporters’ nerves through the mill on the way. Portugal should beat them (and may do it comfortably), but Angola haven’t shown any real attacking instinct so far and, although Iran have been poor in their first two matches, I’m not sure that I can see where these two or three clear goals are coming from. Tonight, it’s exhibition match time. Neither Holland nor Argentina will be over-concerned at the prospect of playing Mexico or Portugal (both of whom have looked out-of-sorts so far), and will be still less worried about any potential threat from Angola. Having said that, though, other countries...

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A Mixed Bag

England 2-2 Sweden / Trinidad & Tobago 0-2 Paraguay A mixed bag indeed, but at least the Sven-bashers haven’t got quite as much of a leg to stand on as they had previously. His hand was forced by the horrible first minute injury to Michael Owen. Well, I hope that the Owen-bashers are happy too. There’s a good chance that he’ll be out for the rest of the tournament. And! (I can only hope that this feels them with glee and delight) He suffered a tremendous amount of physical pain, as well! DOUBLE BONUS! The injury to Owen not only forced England to more or less throw their attacking plans out of the window, but also meant that theyessectively lost a substitution. Don’t tell me for a second that this didn’t make a difference in the closing minutes. As it turned out, the first-half performance was, considering everything, outstanding. Rooney looked sharp, latching onto Beckham’s superb long pass and almost scoring. If a Brazilian had scored the goal that Cole did, we wouldn’t hear the end of it for the remainder of the tournament. I’ve already seen his goal described on another blog as a “fluke”. Make of that what you wish. It was an excellent team display, with Lampard and Rooney peppering the Swedish goal with long-range shots, but the pick of the crop was… hold your breath…...

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