Tuesday, June 20, 2006

World Cup Post #7

Report Card – Who’s hot and who’s not

Eleven days into the world cup and we’ve now had an opportunity to see each team twice. Just how are they tracking ahead of the final phase of games which will decide who progresses to round two? The Round Ball Analyst takes you through the groups and identifies who’s making and losing ground.

Group A: Fate sealed, it’s the host and Ecuador that progress. All that needs deciding is in what order. Germany impressed in the first game, a comfortable win over an average Costa Rica that showcased its new-found attacking flair, but also highlighted their deficiencies at the back. Wanchope exposed a defence which was caught too square too often, but going forward their power was too much for Costa Rica. Lahm, Frings, Freidrich, Borowski and Klose caught the eye. Against neighbours Poland, it was a much tougher assignment, the Germans relying on the attribute that has achieved them so much success at this level, mental toughness. A lesser team would have given up, but the hosts did what they do best, fight till the end. The battle to see who joined the hosts in the second round was always the most intriguing aspect of this group, with one team set to make a breakthrough. As it is it’s Ecuador, a team that came into the tournament with question marks about its ability to play away from the high altitude of Quito. They’ve answered that emphatically, thanks largely to a couple of defensively brilliant showings against Poland and Costa Rica. De la Cruz, Hurtado, Espinoza and Reasco have been revelations, an organised unit that has providing the platform for the likes of Delgado and Carlos Tenorio to feel comfortable going forward. Their biggest test will come in the final group game, but if they can do well in that, it will give them the confidence to do well in the second round against a weak looking group B. Poland and Costa Rica have lacked class, particularly the central Americans.

Group B; England have booked a second round birth, but hardly impressively. They were good for half an hour against a Paraguay team that was guilty of showing them too much respect. When Paraguay decided to play, they gave asked England a few questions, but the South American’s tactics of pumping endless long balls into an England defence that relishes the stuff was perplexing. England scrambled well in defence. Against Trinidad & Tobago it was England bossing the ball, but their use of it lacked imagination. Too often it was a case of get it wide to Beckham to cross for Crouch, or get it forward to Crouch and try and pick up the crumbs. It eventually worked, but hardly inspired confidence England can do well in this tournament. The teams that do well are invariably the ones that can sustain some form of possession, and with prized assets like Lampard and Gerrard in midfield, England really should be looking to pass it around better. Thankfully for them they are in one of the softest groups. Sweden stuttered against a determined Trinidad & Tobago, firing blanks, and then had to rely on a very late winner against a poor Paraguay. With two of their main attackers struggling (Ljungberg with injury and Ibrahimovich with form), they could still top the group if they can get amongst England, who hasn’t beaten them for four decades. If Sweden fails, then the door opens for Trinidad and Tobago, a united team that lacks the class.

Group C; So much for the group of death- Argentina and Holland have been too strong and impressive, especially the Argentines, who are clearly playing the best football at this stage of the tournament. Their demolition of Serbia & Montenegro in the second game was breathtaking, and Cambiasso’s goal will live long in the memory. They are quick, in-synch, inventive and lethal. Controlling things at the back and in the middle through to likes of Ayala, Heinze, Sorin and Mascherano, they have been breathtaking in possession, combining the likes of Rodriguez, Riqueleme, Saviola and Crespo to tear the Serbs apart after a closer tussle with a strong Ivory Coast, who have been a little unfortunate to lose both games by one goal. The Dutch have done enough in both their games without blowing either the Serbs or Ivory Coast away. They have stretched teams with Robben and Van Persie impressing, but their biggest test will come against the Argentines, who have been teasing us with the sporadic use of two of their stars, Messi and Tevez. The battle to top the group is vital, as both teams would want to avoid a likely date with Portugal.

Group D; Favourites Portugal did enough in their opener against Angola, without ever really getting into top flight, and then had to rely on another two late goals against Iran, one a stunner from Deco They are warming into the tournament, not yet flowing, but with the likes of Deco and Figo looking impressive on the ball, they have the potency to control games. The jury is still out on whether Pauleta can score enough goals to take them deep into the tournament. Mexico are also doing enough at this stage, knocking off a stubborn and spirited Iran with two late goals, before a disappointing draw with Angola, where they appeared to miss the cutting edge normally provided by Borgetti. Top of the group is still possible, but Portugal would be favoured. Iran and Angola have competed well in both games, but lacked a killer instinct that comes with experience. Surprise packets Angola, with Figueiredo featuring in midfield, can still qualify if they win by two and Mexico lose to Portugal.

Group E; The group that has attracted much of the attention, it is the most open. Any of the four can either make it or miss out, with Ghana catching the eye. The Italians sit top by one point from the Czechs and Ghana, but have hardly been impressive. Efficient is probably the right word, but you have to respect the way they were able to control a Ghana midfield that had threatened to run riot in the early exchanges. The Azzuri are the masters at absorbing pressure and have enough options up front to get the job done. It was a case of the mighty, mighty Czechs, against the USA, followed by the ghastly, ghastly Czechs against Ghana. This is all down to one man, Jan Koller. When he limped off against the USA, the Czechs chances of doing well in this tournament may just have gone with him. Lokvenc looked a lumbering dinosaur in comparison. Koller is the king of their attack, providing the likes of Nedved and Rosicky the space to run riot, as they did against the States. Against Ghana it was the amazing midfield trio of Essien, Appiah and Muntari, combined with the movement and power of Gyan and Amoah up front that was too much for the Czechs to handle. As hard as Nedved tried, he didn’t have the support or the bouncing board that is Koller.. As poor as the USA were against the Czechs, they were much better against Italy, troubling them with the pace of Dempsey and Cherundolo on the right. They are still in with a sniff, but would do well to knock off a Ghana team that looks too powerful, both technically and physically. While I haven’t been surprised about their attacking potency, their organisation and athleticism in defence caught the eye against the Czechs, and it would be a shame if they didn’t progress to the second round.

Group F; Brazil have done what they do best, build themselves into the tournament with tough victories over Croatia and the Socceroos. While they haven’t been entirely impressive, they have kept two clean sheets and scored three goals against teams that have defended in numbers and denied them space. Brazil has show the patience and the defensive steel required to do well in a tournament like this, and while the likes of Ronaldo and Ronaldinho have at times struggled to find the room, Kaka, Adriano and Robinho have stepped up. The battle for second is much hotter and likely to be decided by the final game in Stuttgart between Australia and Croatia. Our boys have been the more impressive of the two, fighting back to win a game we dominated against Japan, before an ultra impressive performance against Brazil where the likes of Bresciano, Kewell and Viduka got in behind the Brazilians more times than they would have liked. Under Hiddink Australia is playing a technical passing game with a certain physical steel that could frustrate the Croatians. The Socceroos are also flexible enough to play a more direct style and Hiddink is the master of the mind games. The Croats were impressive and organised against Brazil but showed their characteristic enigmatic nature against Japan. The Japanese would need a minor miracle to get through – beat Brazil by a couple of goals and hope the Socceroos don’t win.

Group G; Another group which is open thanks to some far from impressive work by a French side which has too many old legs in midfield (thus not enough drive). They were lucky to survive the Switzerland game with a point after the Swiss hit the post and had a Frei header denied by Barthez’s feet. Against South Korea they also failed to show the requisite strength, conceding a sloppy equaliser late. Switzerland and the South Koreans have been far more impressive, deservedly sitting atop the group on four points. The Swiss have been solid defensively, well organised and strong through the middle and create chances through Barnetta and Frei. They are an emerging team. The Koreans have showed they have fight, bouncing back after going a goal behind to Togo and then France. If the French finally click into gear against Togo, they will end up on five points, and if the other two teams cancel each other out, this group could be decided on goal difference. The Swiss are in the box seat at this stage, on plus two. There would be little sympathy for the French if they bowed out, they are a shadow of the side that won France ’98 and Euro 2000.

Group H; Is this to be Spain’s turn to make an impression? On the evidence of their first game against Ukraine, the answer is yes. On the evidence of their first half against Tunisia, the answer is no. On the evidence of their second half against Tunisia, yes. So which Spain will turn up when the crunch games are on? They need to be more consistent and respect all their opponents, from the opening whistle. Against Tunisia they were half asleep, expecting to comfortably win. No such thing in modern football. Impressing have been the likes of Torres, Alonso, Xavi and Villa, but they will need to remain focussed. The Ukraine, in their first world cup, can be excused their first up hiding at the hands of Spain, but they bounced back in style against Saudi Arabia and their final game against Tunisia will decide who goes through with Spain. They will need to be weary of Jaziri. Lemerre’s team have been hot and cold, good in the first half against the Saudis, poor in the second, excellent in the first half against Spain, average in the second. The Saudis have had one good half, the second against Tunisia, and appear outclassed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

hope your going well TT

from JT @ work

Wed. Jun. 21, 11:16:00 am AEST  

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