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 about Andy Cole, that he needed “seven chances to score once”.
On Friday, I predicted Argentina to win this competition below, and I didn’t see much in this performance to shake my conviction. In Riquelme, Saviola and Crespo, they have a trio of players that are capable of performing against the very best, and they haven’t even unleashed Lionel Messi on the world yet. The Ivory Coast have three or four terrific individuals, but appeared defensively complacent. With Holland still to come, they’ve now got their work cut out if they want to do as much as get through the first stage.