Jul 112010
 

Spain World Cup
Spain 1-0 Holland
Andres Iniesta (116′)

Fernando Torres was once again on the bench as Pedro got another start. Holland had their suspended players back and therefore had a full first choice side. The game started unevenly with small fouls, especially by the Dutch, dominating the proceedings. English referee Howard Webb was influencing the game somewhat with a succession of yellow cards. It was not so much a question of the cards themselves but if or not they would be awarded by all referees for the same fouls in a consistent manner. Despite the so-called chippy play neither team adapted a defensive stance but they did manage to almost neutralize one another. Spain’s Sergio Ramos was the first to produce and get good chances when he headed the ball once low and then crossed well into the Dutch area. The best chance of the first half fell to Arjen Robben but he failed to beat Iker Casillas in the Spain goal. The second half was more open with more chances but again neither team had a stranglehold. Spain continued to enjoy better possession stats however. The introduction of Jesus Navas for Pedro livened up Spain further as his wing play opened up space on more than one occasion. Robben had another clear chance but again failed to get it past the Spanish goalie. So extra time was needed with the threat of shootout looming yet again. Substitute Fabregas had a chance to end it before that but failed on a clear chance. John Heitinga somewhat inevitably received a second yellow and reduced the Dutch to 10 men. Torres finally came on very late, for David Villa, and was part of a move that freed Iniesta who in turn placed the ball well and just beat Maarten Stekelenburg for the winning goal.
Spain became the World Cup champions for the first time and deserve a place in the best teams of all time list if for nothing else than holding the European and World Cup trophies at the same time.

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Jul 072010
 

Spain 1-0 Germany
Carles Puyol (73′)

Thomas Muller was missing from this second semi-final due to suspension and that put the so far successful German 4-2-3-1 in doubt. Piotr Trochowski got the start instead. Spain featured Pedro and David Villa with Fernando Torres on the bench. The early signs were not positive for Germany as they sat back and Spain deployed their possession and passing game. Jerome Boateng was not having a comfortable night as Sergio Ramos was taking advantage of the right wing. The game was slow with the Germans surprisingly not pressing for the ball. The first half featured very little real chances on Manuel Neuer and the feeling was that the Spaniards needed to convert their possession into something or regret it later. The second half showed glimmers of liveliness but again the Spanish were playing their game without getting their goal. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski were rarely seen and would perhaps be the disappointments of the night. Joachim Low, the German coach, seemed to realize mistakes and made two changes which he probably wasn’t expecting to need to. Marcell Jansen and Toni Kroos came on for Jerome Boateng and Piotr Trochowski. The game changed little however and it was left to Carles Puyol to show determination as he rose ahead of team mate Gerard Pique to head in from a corner. Germany woke up and opened up leaving wide open spaces behind them. Pedro could have easily made it 2-0 if he had taken advantage of one of the openings. Amid apologies to his team mates he was soon replaced by David Silva. Germany came close to punishing Spanish misses but never really too close and so Spain will play Holland for what will be a first World Cup crown for either team.

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Jul 032010
 

Germany 4-0 Argentina
Thomas Muller (3′) Miroslav Klose (68′, 89′) Arne Friedrich (74′)

Germany exposed the defensive frailties of Argentina and at the same time managed to frustrate the South Americans to shots straight into the hands of Manuel Neuer. A defense still featuring Nicolas Burdisso and Martin Demichelis in the center and Nicolas Otamendi on one side was exposed as early as the third minute when it failed to deal with a German freekick. Germany’s 4-2-3-1 featuring Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski, and Thomas Muller behind a lone forward has been trouble for most and with the aid of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Samir Khedira did its job and even more against the Argentinians. On the other side Lionel Messi had a World Cup he would like to forget as in this game he was limited to moves far away from the German goal and when he did manage to get closer two or three German players blocked any progress. Carlos Tevez worked hard as usual but didn’t really come close to the required. Gonzalo Higuain’s World Cup ended almost as disappointingly as the rest because the German defense did an even better job than before considering the talent it was facing.

Spain 1-0 Paraguay
Xabi Alonso (pen miss 61′) David Villa (83′) Oscar Cardozo (pen miss 59′)

The first half produced little as Spain were frustrated by the Paraguayans who had made six changes from the team that started against Japan days earlier. The new starters which included the likes of Jonathan Santana and Dario Veron were solid but if the changes were to inspire more goals it failed to materalize. The second half seemed to be headed in the same direction as the first but a series of back to back to events added excitement as well as question marks. First Gerard Pique granted a penalty to Paraguay when he almost blatantly held on to Cardozo. The same Paraguayan took charge of the penalty and had it saved, some players seemingly insisting on shooting low and off center. Barely two minutes later David Villa found a 50-50 penalty and Xabi Alonso scored, but the ref demanded a re-take (because of players moving into the box early?) and this time it was saved. Spain found slightly more impetus from the events but it took them a long time to convert. Substitute Pedro ran into the area and shot towards the corner of the net, his ball hit the post and came back to the feet of Villa, his shot in turn bounced off the post and just made it inside the goal at the other post. Spain held on and made their way to a semi final meeting with the Germans.

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Jun 292010
 

A distraught Yuichi Komano after the final whistle

Paraguay 0(5)-(3)0 Japan

This was one of the quieter matches of the World Cup with chances and moments of magic or skill sparse. Paraguay had the edge in possession in the first half but Daisuke Matsui probably had the best chance when he collected the ball and hit the crossbar. Eiji Kawashima and Justo Villar were rarely troubled in the respective goals and nothing of great note transpired, the match went into extra time with a few relatively lively moments but it ended perhaps rather predictably. Japan’s third penalty was by defender Yuichi Komano, he hit hard and at the crossbar. In the end Oscar Cardozo clinched it with his penalty to make it 5-3 leaving Komano the most distraught of the Japanese contingent.

Spain 1-0 Portugal
David Villa (63′)

The match featured some good but not overly impressive passing displays by the Spanish and some if not spectacular defending and forays by the Portuguese. Portugal threatened to open the scoring when they moved forward and Iker Casillas somehow pulled the ball behind him and into the net. The Portuguese’s main impetus was occasional runs through Fabio Coentrao down the left hand side but the Spain penalty box was not often in any big danger. Spain had the more possession and Andres Iniesta was often the offensive catalyst but mostly to no avail. When Spain threatened they were equaled by Eduardo in the Portugal goal. In the 63rd minute however, Xavi passed to Villa, who all night was cutting in from the left side, his first shot was well saved by Eduardo but he then received his own rebound and directed it into the net. Cristiano Ronaldo was not heard from or seen often and his World Cup ended perhaps more disappointingly than his country’s. And so a Spain vs Paraguay quarter final match up was set.

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Jun 252010
 

North Korea 0 – 3 Ivory Coast
Yaya Toure (14′) Romaric (20′) Salomon Kalou (82′)

Ivory Coast had to over come a mountain in terms of goal difference to possibly overtake Portugal in the standings and qualify for the second round. The mission seemed impossible and although the Africans dominated it was never really likely to be. Yaya Toure scored off a Arthur Boka cross, Romaric missed one and then soon after scored his goal off a rebound from a Drogba shot and Kalou made it 3-0 late. The Asians had showed promise against Brazil earlier in the competition but did little else after their first match. The Africans returned home as well and were part of a disappointing World Cup for the African continent.

Portugal 0 – 0 Brazil

A tie would suit both teams well and that is how it ended. The first half was somewhat chippy and it looked like a red card was coming sooner or later. In playing terms Brazil dominated possession but had no lock on real chances. Nilmar had a chance and so did Luis Fabiano. Raul Meireles was again the danger man for the Portuguese while Ronaldo didn’t do too much. The second half was tamer with few chances to occupy Julius Cesar and Eduardo in the goals but they were solid the few times they were called upon. As it turned out the suspended Kaka probably could have used the rest anyway as Brazil also rested Robinho.

Chile 1 – 2 Spain
Rodrigo Millar (47′) David Villa (24′) Andres Iniesta (37′)

Another match with a red card, two yellows for Chile’s Marco Estrada, resulted in both teams qualifying and more questions about refereeing consistency. For some lengths its seemed that Spain had a chance to run away with the game as they attacked repeatedly. David Villa’s goal came from 40+ yards when Chile goalie Claudio Bravo ran out to stop an attacking player and was stranded far and wide. Iniesta’s goal came not long after from the edge of the box. Early in the second half Chile made it 2-1 after a shot, again from the edge of the box, deflected off of Pique and in. Spain’s grip waned slightly as the second half went on and the last 10 minute was played like a light practice as Spain kept the ball in midfield apparently very happy with a 2-1 win. This match was the first loss for South American teams in 15 World Cup 2010 matches meaning that all 5 CONMEBOL representatives are through to the second round.

Switzerland 0 – 0 Honduras

Switzerland failed to get the goal or points that may have given them the chance to overcome either Chile or Spain for a place in the last 16. Eren Derdiyok had a chance early for the Swiss and Blaise Nkufo probably had the only others for the rest of the game. Later in the game Honduras had one really dangerous chance to deny the Swiss even the solitary point but it was not to be for the CONCACAF representatives. The Europeans departed the World Cup in a generally disappointing tournament so far for their continent.

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Jun 212010
 

Portugal 7-0 North Korea
Raul Meireles (29′) Simao (53′) Hugo Almeida (56′) Tiago (60′, 89′) Liedson (81′) Cristiano Ronaldo (87′)

A Carvalho early header hit the post. Not too long after a Tiago pass opened it for Meireles to score. North Korea were on the brink of losing it in many early exchanges though it wasn’t a total loss. On a day when the Korean were less defensive and less organized – perhaps the rain wasn’t helping – the Portuguese were opportunistic and close to every thing was going in for them. As the match moved on it became more and more like an exhibition match and the Koreans only threatened from wide and rarely at that. The midfield was conceded to the Portuguese more as the game went on as well. So the Portuguese made it almost impossible for Ivory Coast to catch them with the odd chance that the Africans can replicate a similar result to this game when they meet the North Koreans in the last group match.

Switzerland 0-1 Chile
Mark Gonzalez (75′)

Chile continued their offensive, going for goal ways. Switzerland their organized ways too. Referees their inconsistent ways as well. Status quo all around then. Therefore it came as no surprise that Chile came close often, were denied often and Behrami was sent off early (in the 31st minute). Successive semi-breakthroughs by Chile were occasionally interrupted by the Swiss moving forward. Finally and unlike the previous Swiss match, versus Spain, the former Liverpool man Mark Gonzalez managed to score well and his goal was predictably very much not against the run of play. Swiss haven’t done anything to deserve wins (or losses) and should be happy with their three point haul from two matches. Chile on the other hand deserve their six points from two matches if for nothing else than going for the attack.

Spain 2-0 Honduras
David Villa (17′, 51′)

The very early minutes of the game produced possession for Spain and a Torres ball hit the crossbar to emphasis that point. Those first few misses also hinted at another frustrating night for them. On the other end of the pitch Iker Casillas, in the Spain goal, didn’t look very confident the few times times the ball was brought to him. Spain buzzed and swerved around the opposing box for long stretches and finally David Villa cut in towards goal and scored into the middle-far end of the net. Spain nerves were therefore calmed early and more chances flowed. The occasional semi-dirty and play acting continued to rear its ugly head as well. Early second half featured another Villa goal not too unlike his first. A Villa penalty miss – ball was shot to the right and inches wide of the net – came later and was followed with Cesc Fabregas and Juan Mata making their first appearances. In the end little more than three points was achieved and the final score though it could have been more was also another warning that Spain must be less wasteful.

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Jun 162010
 

Chile 1-0 Honduras
Jean Beausejour (34′)

Honduras’ squad, for the first time at a World Cup, featured 3 brothers. Wilson Palacios in the starting line-up with Johnny and Jerry on the bench. Chile missing Humberto Suazo to injury and therefore less of an scoring threat, Honduras missing a good scoring chunk as well with Carlos Costly and David Suazo missing. And therefore the offense left in the hands of veterans Carlos Pavon and Jorge Valdivia for Honduras and Chile respectively. Early possession and half chances were almost exclusively for the attacking Chileans with Alexis Sanchez and Matias Fernandes doing some good work. The 65%+ possession paid dividends with Beausejour scoring from a low cross. The domination mostly continued and had the Honduran goalie, Noel Valladares, making one of the nicest saves so far in the 63rd minute. In the end Honduras produced little and Chile came reasonably close on many occasions, dominated possession and showed more attacking intent than most, as promised by coach Marcelo Bielsa.

Spain 0-1 Switzerland
Gelson Fernandes (52′)

The game had Frei and Behrami missing for the Swiss while Torres not starting for Spain. For the second game in a row one team had a good lock on domination as Spain controlled the ball for long stretches. Early in the second half we witnessed one of the bigger shocks of the World Cup when the Swiss, through Fernandes, scored first. Iker Cassilas, Pique and the whole Spanish defense made a meal of a high ball. The Spanish were then forced to bring on Navas and Torres for Silva and Busquets. Of the many close calls that followed Xabi Alonso’s crossbar was perhaps the closest. Not long after the Swiss themselves were a post away from making it 2-0 and the game turned into one Puyol and Pique would want to forget. Iniesta left the field due to injury and was replaced by Pedro but half and full chances amounted to little as Switzerland changed the face of group H. Criticism of Spain’s starting line-up followed.

South Africa 0-3 Uruguay
Diego Forlan (24′, pen 80′) Alvaro Pereira (90′)

Uruguay started with more of an attacking line-up in this their second game as all three of Forlan, Suarez and Cavani started. The advantage of the earlier exchanges went to the South Americans but Tshabalala wasn’t shy to shoot when he could. The game wasn’t the most exciting but Forlan did his part with a long range shot that showed that the Adidas Jabulani ball is not all bad. Uruguay had the better of chances with Cavani in particular very wasteful with those few chances. In the last quarter of the match the South Africans became more desperate knowing a loss would make second round very unlikely. Soon after however a debatable penalty and red card resulted from Khune’s slight contact with Suarez, the South African goalie perhaps too harshly judged. Forlan scored and as the crowd was leaving in dismay Alvaro Pereira finished it off right at the whistle.

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Apr 202010
 

A brief post about the World Cup which is now less than eight weeks away.

This reviewer supports Italy but feels that their team is either too old or not very spectacular. Under the guidance of Marcello Lippi, who was the winning coach four years ago, Italy can still do very well. With the likes of Giorgio Chiellini in the heart of the defense, Daniele De Rossi in the heart of the midfield and the likes of Antonio Di Natale moving forward the team has a chance.

It remains to be seen if the fitness of Fernando Torres and others in the Spanish team hurts their favorites tags. And if Brazil can truly deliver with Kaka either injured or disappointing at Real Madrid.

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