The Cup so far…
All 32 teams in the World Cup have now had a chance to play. Two teams have played twice with one team (Poland) all but eliminated. So a good time to jot down some thoughts. Thanks to a small TV in a nearby conference room, set up by kind souls, I have been able to watch at least parts of almost all the matches.
1. Let’s begin with the latest action. As an unabashed supporter of the German team, yesterdays game almost gave me a heart attack – especially in the last few minutes with that header and the subsequent shot both ricocheting off the inner-edge of the top post. Before that, there was intense frustration as Klose, Poborsky et al kept missing the easiest of chances. At times it felt like the German coach Klinsmann was itching to don a jersey of his own, come on the field and show these young guys a thing or two about striking. He might have actually done a better job. But Ballack I thought was superb in the midfield with some great accurate passes.
A draw would have been okay for Germany – but I so wanted them to win. I feel a little sorry for the Polish team but they have themselves to blame. Their offense was speedy; the German defense was having a tough time stopping their breakaway counter-attacks and couple of times, had to resort to yellow-card earning fouls. So why then, pray tell me, did they set into such a defensive mindset and adopt a time-wasting tactics as early as the 10th minute of the second half ? Jans Lehman probably just dozed off in the second half. He did touch the ball once late – around the 36th minutes or so – and the Spanish commentator got so excited to see him on-screen that he cried out – SENOORRRRRRR JAAAAAAANS LEEEEEEEHMAN !!!
2. Worst refereeing I have seen so far: the send-off of the Ukranian player, Vashuk in their match against Spain. As Torres was speeding into the Ukranian penalty area, there was some pulling of shirt – but Torres had shaken that off. He eventually lost control of the ball and fell down on his own (not a dive either) and there was daylights between him and the defender. Why the Swiss referee sought the red card in that situation, we won’t know.
Spain hardly needed the help of that penalty or the man-advantage. They were good. Imagine scoring three goals with your top striker (Raul) on the bench ! Torres, Villa and perhaps Raul at the front, Xabi Alonso in the midfield and Puyol manning the defense – that’s headache for any team.
I enjoy the skillful, attacking Spanish style of play – and I hope this team does not underachieve as the Spaniards are often guilty of.
3. Along with the Spaniards, the Czechs and the Italians are the teams that looked the most impressive in their opening games. Rosciky’s first goal is a easy nomination for the best goals of the tournament. Hopefully Koller will be fit for the later stages.
The Italians surprised me. I hate their usual dour defensive play and the score one goal and protect the lead strategies (I was so happy when that plan backfired during the ’00 Euro Cup Final). But this team is much more attacking. Even with the 1-0 lead, they did not withdraw into an defensive shell.
The Italians, btw, are hands down winners of the World Cup Oscars for best diving, acting injured (till card is given to the opposing player) and ‘ooooh that was so close hand on the head’ mannerisms.
4. Argentina and Netherlands looked good, if not impressive, against some plucky opposition from Ivory Coast and Serbia & M. respectively. And as has been noted elsewhere – note to Robben: please pass the ball.
5. Most disappointed by: the French side. This is another team I usually like. I hope they go far and provide a fitting farewell for Zidane. But they seemed so lazy on the field. Except Zidane that is – even at this age – the guy’s still got it. Don’t know if everyone noticed Zidane arguing heatedly with Wiltold and others during a stoppage in the second half. That won’t do. Fortunately, their group is not very tough (South Korea and Togo are the other teams) and France can soon break their World Cup scoring drought.
6. Brazil did not have a good game by their exalted standards – but I expect the team to gel together and play better as the tournament progresses. No mistaking it – this team has champions written on them – unless they get freakishly eliminated in one of the knockout rounds. Haven’t followed the Spanish league for a while – so it was a shock to see Ronaldo – at first I thought it was Roberto Carlos who had somehow gotten taller. Seems like the Brazilian president, Lula noticed too and said something about it – only to regret it later. 🙂
7. England did not play well either. They have a good team and as usual their media and fans are predicting that this will be The Year (its a four-yearly British tradition you see). But there seems to be too much dependence on Wayne Rooney’s fitness. England would do well to focus on playing each group game the best they can instead of being distracted by the attention to whether Rooney will play or not. Even if he does play, there will always be a niggling doubt at the back of his mind and I don’t think he will be able to give 100% that way. The team has fire-power to win against Trinidad and Tobago without Rooney and that’s what they should do, hoping for his return in the later stages.
8. Among the so-called ‘smaller/weaker’ teams, Ivory Coast was probably the most impressive. Angola and Ghana played well too and of course, Trinidad and Tobago pulled the upset. I hope the latter develops some kind of an offense and does not keep depending on its keeper to earn a tie every day. Did not see Costa Rica play. Also missed the most amazing turnaround game – the Aussie versus Japan match.
6. Most spine-less performance I saw was from Ukraine. Spain played well and got two quick goals – but I haven’t seen any other team so clueless about attacking than the Ukranians. Their strategy seemed to consist of lobbing the ball from mid-field and hope that somehow Shevchenko would have a go at it. Surprising from a team that had one of the best qualifying records.
7. I also wish that USA played better than they did, if anything for the sake of popularizing the game in this country so that we can get some decent TV/media coverage. What happened to those blazing Landon Donovan runs down the flank ?
8. Apart from the Trinidad and Tobago versus Sweden match, there weren’t any big upsets this World Cup, quite unlike the last one. I guess Poland losing to Ecuador was sort of an upset.
Predictions: Having had a feel for most of the teams, I think I will be trying to predict the daily results from now on. Let’s see if I can keep it up consistently.
For today, predictions are: Ecuador wins over Costa Rica (2-1), England wins over T & T (1-0), and Paraguay wins over Sweden (1-0). The last is a crazy prediction for an upset.