Monday, June 21, 2010

World Cup cheat sheet: Day 11

Pre-tournament favourites Spain must win against Honduras or they can start packing their bags. Plus more from the French... 


Sunday's action
Slovakia 0-2 Paraguay - Group F - Bloemfontein

An assured performance from the Paraguayans maintained South America's unbeaten record at the World Cup and put them in reach of the last 16. Enrique Vera opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark shooting deftly with the outside of his boot. They were unable to convert their dominance into goals until late on, when Cristian Riveros fired home from the edge of the box. Slovakia were as poor as Paraguay were impressive, and they need to beat Italy to have any chance.

Italy 1-1 New Zealand - Group F - Nelspruit

Even by this tournament's standards, the world's 78th-ranked nation holding the World Cup holders is quite a stunner. Shane Smeltz opened the scoring in the seventh minute with a goal that owed much to both a friendly linesman (he was offside) and a horrible piece of defending by Fabio Cannavaro. Vincenzo Iaquinta whacked in a disputed penalty to equalise, but the All Whites were arguably the stronger side. Their manager Ricki Herbert said of their final game against Paraguay: "We're going to be bloody hard to beat."

Brazil 3-1 Ivory Coast - Group G - Soccer City

A strange mixture of good and bad for Dunga's Brazil. The good? Two goals from Luis Fabiano, ending a nine-game goal drought (even if the second required two handballs), and some slick passing football. The bad? A serious-looking injury to Elano and a controversial red card for Kaka, who picked up a second booking after Kader Keita collided with him and went down clutching his face. But the Brazilian should not have got involved in a scuffle a minute earlier. Sven-Goran Eriksson's Ivory Coast need to beat North Korea well to have any hope.


Monday's preview
Portugal v North Korea - Group G - Cape Town

A rematch of the quarter-final from 1966, in which the Koreans led 3-0 before four goals from Eusebio inspired a dramatic turnaround and a 5-3 win. Portugal were desperately poor in their opening game against Ivory Coast and need more from Cristiano Ronaldo, who complained about a lack of protection in that game. Even North Korea's official press agency was impressed with their 2-1 defeat to Brazil, and they have the fitness and organisation to make like difficult for their opponents.

Chile v Switzerland - Group H - Port Elizabeth

The Group H pacesetters go head-to-head. Chile, inspired by Udinese forward Alexis Sanchez, played some of the most attractive football of the tournament against Honduras, but face an altogether sturdier proposition in Ottmar Hitzfeld's Switzerland. The Swiss are on a high after shocking the favourites Spain 1-0, and have striker Alex Frei available after injury, although he is expected to start on the bench.  

Spain v Honduras - Group H - Johannesburg

It is win or bust for the much-vaunted favourites after their loss to Switzerland. The good news is that Honduras's display against Chile suggests they will not provide too much resistance. Better still for Vicente Del Bosque, he has Fernando Torres back and the Liverpool striker should start up front - probably at the expense of David Silva. Jesus Navas and Cesc Fabregas are also pushing for inclusion. Wigan left-back Maynor Figueroa, deployed in the middle at international level, could be in for a busy evening.


Water cooler chat: England's crisis meeting

We weren't supposed to know about this Sunday night summit, but John Terry let slip about it in a press conference that cannot have pleased Fabio Capello. The former captain not only revealed the whole squad would be sat down in front of the 93-minute video nasty that was the 0-0 draw against Algeria, he also claimed players would not be shy in voicing their opinions on what went wrong. He even drew parallels with the French squad, from which Nicolas Anelka was sent home in disgrace for insulting the manager. Terry said: "Maybe a few of us will be sent home after this evening." While we do not yet know the outcome of the crisis meeting, we certainly know what the papers think of Terry's performance: It's mutiny!

What to say: "‘Maybe a few of us will be sent home after this evening.' How's Wednesday?"

What not to say: "Not the first time an England squad have sat down to watch 93 minutes of filth."


World Cup jargon: Cauchemar

French for 'nightmare', which is exactly what the French are having. Here is their weekend in a nutshell:

Thursday: Nicolas Anelka and coach Raymond Domenech have a blazing row at half-time during France's 2-0 defeat to Mexico. Anelka is promptly substituted. 

Saturday morning: Sports daily L'Equipe reveals the row, claiming Anelka told Domenech to: 'Go f*** yourself, dirty son of a whore'. 

Saturday afternoon: Anelka is kicked out of the squad after reportedly refusing to apologise. He denies the words attributed to him and states his anger that the argument was leaked from the sanctity of the dressing room. 

Saturday evening: France captain Patrice Evra appears at a press conference with French Federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes and team director Jean-Louis Valentin. Evra says: "The problem of France is not Anelka, but the traitor among us." 

Sunday morning: The team press conference is cancelled, yet bizarrely Domenech and an emotional Franck Ribery appear on French television, where they get a grilling from 1998 champion Bixente Lizarazu among others.

Sunday lunchtime: Armageddon. Evra scuffles with fitness coach Robert Duverne, the man believed to be the 'traitor' by the players, and Domenech separates the pair. The players refuse to take part in a public training session and Evra hands a prepared statement to Domenech, who bizarrely reads it out to the assembled media. In it, the players voice their unanimous opposition to the banishment of Anelka, and hit out at the Federation for failing to protect the squad. They return to the team bus and draw the curtains. Rumours abound that Domenech has been denied entry.

Sunday afternoon: Valentin quits his position with the Federation, saying: "It's a scandal for French people, for the youngsters who came here to watch them train. I'm resigning, I'm leaving the Federation. I have nothing more to do here. I'm going back to Paris."

Sunday evening: The Federation releases a statement apologising to fans for the players' "unacceptable behaviour". It also disputes the players' claim that Anelka did not get the opportunity to explain himself, claiming Evra was present at a "long interview" with Anelka before his expulsion. Somebody is lying.

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