Group C: Colombia 1 Australia 1; Turkey 3 El Salvador 0; El Salvador 2 Australia 1; Turkey 0 Colombia 1
Group D: Greece 2 Mexico 1; Paraguay 1 Mali 1; Paraguay 1 Mexico 0; Mali 0 Greece 0
Group of Death? You want a group of death? Group D’s the name. Gaziantep’s the place. In the interests of fairness, it must be said that this jaundiced view is based on incomplete evidence, thanks to some ‘alternative’ editorial decisions by those responsible for the British Eurosport scheduling. But three-quarters of Mali v Greece provided compelling evidence – a game worthy of its status as the competition’s first 0-0 draw. Commentator Tim Caple’s effusive declaration that the tournament would not disappoint, and would be on Eurosport “from start-to-finish” left out a significant factor. All games are available “across all platforms” – as other commentators have noted. But as one of those ‘platforms’ is Eurosport International, those of us with only British Eurosport and Eurosport 2 on our otherwise extensive Cable TV package – and no access to Eurosport Player at such short notice – were left struggling for coverage on Saturday afternoon/evening.
Thanks to a tennis tournament in a wind tunnel in Sussex, us British Eurosporters were left with the second half of Mexico’s opening game against competition debutants Greece to keep us warm. But even that went by the board as two European semi-nobodies with rackets took three hours to complete three sets of tennis, one of which ended six-love. Still, there was an hour between the end of the tennis and British Eurosport’s coverage of host nation Turkey’s first match, against El Salvador. Snooker highlights (itself an oxymoron) were scheduled. But the Zzznooker had been shown live that morning, and would be repeated on another ‘platform’ soon enough.
So it made sense to show the scheduled second half of Mexico/Greece. Or show hastily-edited highlights (there is no other kind on Eurosport, as I’ve probably whinged before) of the whole game – four o’clock kick-offs have filled this six-till-seven spot on every other day. After all, they must have paid for some coverage, because it was scheduled. And Eurosport bloody International (and Eurosport bloody Player) had shown it, so there was commentary available. Blimey, I’d even have paid a ‘Mark Bright’ for access. But no. Bloody snooker. Thanks British Eurosport.
Right. Rant over. You can come back now. Those of a Mexican inclination were probably grateful for a bit of Classic Wuxi Snooker. At the moment, the Group D table must look upside-down to them. Despite coming to the tournament as CONCACAF champions, only they and the hopeless Cubans from that confederation are without a point. The Mexicans have flattered to deceive on an industrial scale, succumbing to a late Greek goal of unlikely quality and a Paraguay goal of similar but more predictable class. Jorge Espericueta has justified the hype surrounding his dead-ball abilities – scoring against Greece and the width of the crossbar from salvaging a point in the 93rd minute against Paraguay. But it has been style-over-substance otherwise.
Mexico do have the tournament structure and Mali’s apparent attitude on their side, however. A convincing win against the North-West Africans would leave Mexico with three points and a positive goal difference, which should be better than third-place finishers in at least two of the other groups. That might also leave them with a second round fixture against Spain or Portugal. But, hey, let’s be selfish and hope for such a potentially stylish tie in an otherwise superfluously congestive part of the tournament. I defy Eurosport to scheduled snooker highlights ahead of that. (don’t give ‘em ideas – ED).
Mali’s attitude in the closing stages of their Greek bore draw suggests that they are happy to rely on, and fancy their chances of, getting something from Mexico in order to qualify. Some neutrals, this neutral certainly, will be hoping that a Mexican backlash awaits. Mali are far from this tournament’s worst team – they were certainly impressive in the twenty minutes before deciding a draw against Greece was enough. But there has been a style deficiency in their senior team’s progress to third place in consecutive African Cups of Nations. And the juniors are clones, without a Seydou Keita equivalent to provide relieving shafts of class.
Paraguay produced a goal-of-the-tournament contender to beat Mexico, Derlis Gonzalez finishing off the swiftest of counter attacks, instigated by Jorge Rojas, by converting the most pinpoint of passes from Arnaldo Sanabria with a precision side-foot volley from 15 yards. And they just about deserved to benefit from Mexico’s fraught relationship with the frames of the Gaziantep goals – Armando Zamorano hitting the post in the first half and wondering, like we all were, how the ball ricocheted to complete safety via unaware goalkeeper Diego Morel’s heels.
Greece, though, produced a miss-of-this-and-most-international-tournaments-ever-played to deny them the lead against Mali. In fact, Andreas Bouchalakis did remarkably well, though he won’t be thinking it for a bit, to hit the crossbar from…there. He could try that in training another 99 times and he’d score each time. Maybe he was weighed down to the point of imbalance by the beard which seems to be all the rage among Greek boys emerging from their teenage years.
El Salvador capitulated so readily against Turkey in their opening fixture that you expected them to be vying with CONCACAF cousins Cuba for the worst team in the tournament title. So when Australian wolfman (he’d be known as ‘beardie’ even in the Greek team) Joshua Brillante lived up to his name from over 30 yards in the sixth minute you feared that worst. Half an hour later it was the Aussies you feared for. Even in a sporting week as bad as theirs (especially bad when you remember that, as Eurosport’s Leroy Rosenior put it, Australia “is an outdoor country”), it was something of a low point to be losing 2-1 to these “El Salvadorians” (Rosenior again). Even Salvadorian beanpole centre-forward Jose Pena appeared overcome by the emotion of it all, as he lay flat out across most of the six-yard box, hands over his face after sliding home Miguel Ochoa’s low cross from the left. Australia barely managed so much as a shot in the second half until Jamie McLean pinged a 93rd minute free-kick past the post. And the shock of the tournament, thus far, was complete. As someone commented at the foot of the FIFA website’s match report: “Goo El Salvador.” Well, quite.
Group C has, though, been the ‘Group of Weird.’ Australia had held South American champions Colombia in their opening fixture, their goal coming from what appeared to be a 12-year-old pitch invader but was apparently 16-year-old Daniel Da Silva – who is, as appearances suggested, the youngest player at the tournament. So when Colombia faced Turkey, convincing dismantlers of El Salvador, you expected the biggest crowd of the competition (by thousands) to be celebrating qualification for the knockout stages long before the end. Instead, after monopolising possession for 11 minutes, the young Turks (sorry…but at least that is out of my system now) crumbled long before the end.
This was thanks to the very occasional but very spectacular genius of the one of the tournament build-up’s ‘players to watch,” Juan Quintero. The Turkish TV producer tried to focus attention on – and thereby blame – keeper Aykut Ozer for Quintero’s stunning 52nd-minute winner. But even this bias TV technician must have taken the hint from the net bulging before Ozer could even twitch – the ball a blur even in slo-mo. Quintero’s shots from free-kicks were more of a threat to the, for-once, packed stands. But in open play, he fizzed three or four efforts inches off target either side of his terrific winner. And Turkey simply had no-one of that class in their ranks. In that, they are far from alone. Only a fool would predict the outcome of this group. So, here goes. Australia to go home. As my English mate said after the El Salvador game: “Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha” and so on, for a long time.
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