Wednesday, June 16, 2010

World Cup cheat sheet: Day six

Tuesday's action
New Zealand 1-1 Slovakia - Group F - Rustenburg

Fans who tuned in for one of the least glamorous games of the tournament were rewarded with a mercifully vuvuzela-free soundtrack and a thrilling finish. Robert Vittek headed a lacklustre Slovak side ahead five minutes after the break (he looked offside) but the All-Whites levelled in the last minute of second-half stoppage time with a Winston Reid header. Slovak coach Vladimir Weiss called it "a minor sporting tragedy". It is a major blow to their hopes of qualifying.

Ivory Coast 0-0 Portugal - Group G - Port Elizabeth

Considering the other two teams in the group are Brazil and North Korea, a win for either side in this one would have given them one foot in the second round. But both sides seemed paralysed by fear, apathy or boredom in an absolutely atrocious spectacle, and managers Sven-Goran Eriksson and Carlos Queiroz must bear the blame. The highlights  lasted all of five seconds - Cristiano Ronaldo shifts the ball cleverly on to his right foot and crashes a 30-yarder off the post. The end.

Brazil 2-1 North Korea - Group G - Johannesburg.

Rumours suggested this game would only be shown in Pyongyang if the North Koreans won, but the Asian team can take tremendous pride from this performance. They were well-organised, committed, and Japanese-born Jong Tae-Se (who wept uncontrollably as the national anthem was played) showed spark and enterprise up front. After a goalless first half, Maicon scored with a shot/cross (more below) from wide on the right, which bent wickedly past goalkeeper Ri Myong-Guk. Elano added the second from a brilliant Robinho pass, before Jun Yun-Nam fired a late consolation. The temperature dropped below zero on a bitter night at Ellis Park.


Wednesday preview
Honduras v Chile - Group H - Nelspruit

Chile are very much under the radar, but they finished second in South American qualifying, a point behind Brazil. Both teams could have a player called Suazo up front. Chile have Humberto, Honduras have David, although the latter is an injury doubt. It is the first game at the Mbombela Stadium, whose seats are designed in an animal print pattern to make them look like either a zebra or a WAG's handbag, depending on your point of view.

Spain v Switzerland - Group H - Durban

Enter the favourites. Spain are so loaded with talent it makes you faint just looking at their squad list. With Fernando Torres, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas still short of fitness, Vicente Del Bosque (win ratio as coach: 96%) can still call on Xavi, David Silva, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso and David Villa and will probably switch to a 4-5-1 formation. Switzerland are without injured striker Alex Frei, and experienced coach Ottmar Hitzfeld must ensure they do not receive a battering. Midfielder Gokhan Inler is very highly rated.

South Africa v Uruguay - Group A - Pretoria

And here we are again. The second round of group games begins with the hosts again, and a match for which they will no longer be big underdogs. Expect a unholy racket in the Loftus Versfeld stadium, and only one South African change - Tsepo Masilela replacing Lucas Thwala at left-back. Uruguay could be unchanged, but Nicolas Lodeiro, who was sent off after coming off the bench against France, is suspended. The South Americans may find their much-vaunted strikers Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez get more space than they did against France.


Water cooler chat: Those empty seats
Some people are never happy. The first five days of the tournament has been peppered with whinges that fans are blowing plastic trumpets and doing Mexican waves instead of of behaving like proper supporters - presumably waving rattles and threatening to send opposing fans home in an ambulance. Now the World Cup is catching heat because those same irritants are not turning up to games in sufficient numbers. Empty seats have been a major feature, particularly in the last two days, with Cameroon v Japan and New Zealand v Slovakia particularly under-subscribed. The latter game was so sparsely-attended it didn't even sound like satan's beehive. FIFA have blamed overseas fans for buying tickets and simply failing to turn up, but that only accounts for around 1,000 of the 10,000 bums not placed on seats at Cameroon-Japan.


World Cup jargon: ‘Did he mean it?'
The first question asked whenever a player scores a slightly jammy goal, like Maicon's against North Korea. The right-back appeared to be attempting a cross, but the ball swerved to the right and found the net from a tight angle. As he is Brazilian, he is much more likely to get the credit than a counterpart from any other nation. The question raised philosophical issues about the nature of intent that are well beyond me. Surely all players are trying, whether directly or indirectly, to score a goal? And why should the contents of a player's brain when he strikes the ball affect the way we judge the outcome? I take the Yoda line: "Do or do not. There is no try."

No comments: