Aight…I need, but haven’t had a Gatorade after that fairly thrilling opening game! Hopefully the green tea I slammed will give me the physiological resolve to LIVE-BLOG ON—it’s truly exhausting work!
I have to say I am flagrantly backing Los Uruguayos here, but not financially. They’re bringing a lot of offensive firepower to bear on a disheveled France squad “organized” for battle by the tactically clueless Raymond Domenech. Herrrre’s the teamsheets, freshly stolen from the wire and still piping hot:
Uruguay: Muslera, Victorino, Lugano, Godin, Pereira, Maxi Pereira, Perez, Arevalo Rios, Gonzalez, Forlan, Suarez.
Subs: Castillo, Fucile, Gargano, Cavani, Eguren, Abreu, Lodeiro, Scotti, Alvaro Fernandez, Sebastian Fernandez, Caceres, Silva.
France: Lloris, Sagna, Gallas, Abidal, Evra, Govou, Gourcuff, Toulalan, Diaby, Ribery, Anelka.
Subs: Mandanda, Reveillere, Planus, Cisse, Gignac, Henry, Malouda, Squillaci, Diarra, Valbuena, Clichy, Carrasso.
Referee: Yuici Nishimura (Japan)
Silky-but-sulky striker Nic Anelka is preferred up front, with scarfaced sexxxfiend Franck Ribery providing creative support and Gourcuff & Toulalan in the center (no Malouda about…won’t pretend to understand Domenech’s tactical mind! But looks like Arsenal’s Abou Diaby is on the right side of midfield). Uruguay are lining up with a 4-4-2 (according to ESPN)…but actually have more of a 3-5-2 with Maxi Pereira of Benfica bombing down the right.
Baby’s crap prediction? Uruguay 2-1? Please?
21 seconds!: Keeper boots down to Forlan, who immediately tries to spring Suárez with a saucy backheel—but nope.
3 min: Domenech looks hella tan and is wearing contacts. Could it make all the difference? NB: Uruguay is indeed playing a 3-5-2…’cept it looks like a 5-3-2 right now.
4 min: This game is gonna be really ugly. Uruguayos like to kick folks into the air, as the cultural stereotype goes, but so far France are at the shirt-tugging and ankle-kicking vanguard. Anelka just clipped down Lugano while chasing a ball—pissing off the Uruguay captain doesn’t seem like a great idea, he’s like a dormant volcano (sorta).
7 min: Jinking down the right, Ribery puts in an ultra-dangerous cross but Govou contrives to tap it a yard right of the post.
11 min: Goatee-sporting Philadelphia Phillie Shane Victorino is playing right-back for Uruguay, having naturalized after never receiving a call-up to the Hawaii XI.
Missed a Hugo Lloris bobble there…accidentally tipping the ball over his own head. The man clearly has what it takes to make it at Arsenal!
15 min: France look decidedly more comfortable in possession, and have had the majority of it. They also seem to be sweating a LOT less than the Albicelesters, but could just be the colors of their kits?
16 min: THUMP! Forlan, pushes it onto his right foot and takes a hearty pop from the edge of the box. Lloris is alert to it though and bats it away.
22 min: Editorial stream-woes. Pixels not players…coming back soon!
24 min: Sorta back, but fuck-all happening here. NEED TO FOCUS!
28 min: Diego Lugano, despite being captain and an experienced centerback, is having a helluva time clearing the ball. Uruguay looking a bit tatty at the back here.
40 min: Pareira’s knee has gone all jammy after booting Govou in the foot. He’s seemingly OK though—thrilling!
Halftime!!! My analysis has not been trenchant, but neither team has given me much to work with! My TeeVee commentator just described Uruguay as obstinate—probably fair, but they’ve also looked a little panicky. Sure France have shown composure, but perhaps too much. Hopefully Domenech busts out the star charts and sorts thing out at half time.
Correspondent/Coworker Leigh informs me of this chestnut from the opening ceremonies…a symbolic dung beetle rolling an enormous soccerball! I think this was the lead-in to R. Kelly. This match so far has been a bit more like 22 players rolling a (gradually larger & larger) ball of shit around the Cape Town pitch…but I’m holding out hope!
2nd half is go! Forlan and Suarez half another 1/4 of a chance to push forward…it is but it isn’t, you see. Here’s to hoping Uruguay gain a bit of fluency here in the 2nd half.
55 min: No hay mucho para contar…Uruguay have steeled things up at the back, looking a bit more resolute in repelling the French attacks. They’re still looking to Forlan to create his own chance, receiving the ball with back to goal. Nothing wrong with that, and it may well work!
59 min: French free kick on the left from 30 yards out, and Gourcuff tees it up horizontally for Ribery. He fizzes pretty far over.
63 min: 21 year-old creative mdifielder is on Nicolad Lodeiro is on in place of Gonzalez—an offensive change.
66 min: Sagna slips on the pitch and loses the ball to Forlan, and Uruguay break on a 3-on-2…Pareira gets in a cross, but its too close to the keeper Lloris.
68 min: There have been a couple of random yellows here, and now its Toulalan’s turn after he wipes out Pareira with a late tackle. The camera cuts away and Diego Lugano’s eyes have started to flash with the craziness I alluded to earlier. He’s nearly headbutting Toulalan as he talks shit…
70 min: Leggy pensioner Thierry Henry is set to come on, with the attendant hoo-haa from the crowd here. He’s on for Anelka.
72 min: The ball falls to Forlan after a Uruguay corner, and Forlan tries to hit it on the volley. He makes contact but screws it way wide. A juicy chance, squandered.
73 min: El Loco Abreu comes on for Suárez. A nice option to have coming off the bench, and poses a bit more of an aerial threat than the man he’s replacing.
74 min: World o’ change here, Gourcuff making way for as Florent Malouda comes on. Domenech is a bit of an idiot isn’t he?
80 min: RED CARD! One of those random yellows I casually mentioned but didn’t flesh out was Nicolas Lodeiro. Well he’s just collected his 2nd yellow for a late n’ crunchy tackle on Sagna. Cue the Minor Threat…RED! I’M SEEIN RED! I’M SEEEEEEIN
88 min: There’s a semi-legitimate claim for handball after Uruguay have trouble clearing, and Henry tries to roundhouse in a high-bouncing ball. The ball struck his arm, but was totally unintentional. Write your own headline re: Henry shouts for handball…
90+1 min: Rearguard action for Uruguay, who just need to hold out here…France are knock-knock-knockin’ though.
90+2 min: Lugano’s eyeballs are about to burst as a flimsy-ass freekick is given to the French about 5 yards outside of the box.
PEEEEP! PEEEP! PEEP! Uruguay hold out, despite playing with 10 men for the final 15 or so minutes. They didn’t offer a whole hell of a lot going forward, but they’ve snatched a point from what is perhaps the most difficult game of the group (wait, fuck that, Mexico is tougher! point rescinded! [ed. my “point”, not the one earned by Uruguay]). However, Forlan looked capable of creating something out of scratch, once Uruguay cohere a bit and find some slightly more inventive services for their frontmen—though he did semi-fluff the match’s most clear-cut chance @ 72 min.
This result leaves everyone in Group A with a point a piece. Next Group A action will be next Wednesday the 16th with South Africa–Uruguay, then Mexico–France the day after! What more can a man say except…get Alexei Lalas off my TeeVee!
What is there to say about hosts the Bafana Bafana, except that they will get well and truly tonked by their Group A brethren. They DO have a World Cup winner in the squad though! That’ld be coach of the 1994 Brazil squad Carlos Alberto Parreira (the last man to lead mighty Fluminense to a Brasilerão title [1984!]…but a distinctly unimpressive journeyman/mercenary at the international level these last 15 or so years). Parreira is know for conservative tactics and organizational prowess, useful qualities when raw talent is lacking. But let’s not get too patronizing with the host nation. Cornrowed playmaker Steven Pienaar will surely be the most likely source of aesthetically pleasing hijinks in attack, and striker Katlego Mphela has a not-scoff-at-able international strike rate (15 goals in 31 appearances, including a brace against Spain in last summer’s Confederations Cup) and scored the winner against the Danes in their last friendly. Player most likely to deliver the unexpected? Well that would have to be second-striker Surprise Moriri, •GONG•!!! Perhaps their fans’ enthusiasm and the atmospheric hum of vuvuzelas can lift the Bafana Bafana…but I’d say there is absolutely no chance they’ll qualify ahead of Uruguay, Mexico, or even the French.
After a shambolic qualifying campaign and the misguided appointment of Sven Goran Eriksson as coach, El Tri is finally getting its casa en orden. The man chosen to undo the damage of the culturally at-sea Svelte Swede is Javier Aguirre, the former Atlético Madrid skipper taking his second crack at managing the national team. After losing to El Salvador in his first game back in charge, he’s been undefeated at the helm of the Selección Mexicana.
El Tri are propped up by some increasingly creaky workhorses—centerback and captain Rafa Marquez has begun to fall out of favor at Barcelona due to his lack of pace, Cuahtemoc Blanco is 37 but still offers creative flair, and longtime holding midfielder Pavel Pardo is 33. However, there is undoubtedly una infusión fresca of young attacking talent. Former Barça/Spurs whippersnapper Gio Dos Santos has begun to progress since playing regularly at Galatasaray, as has Arsenal bit-player Carlos Vela. Most intriguing, however, is 22 y/o striker Javier “El Chicharito” Hernandez. His goal-scoring prowess at hometown club Chivas de Guadalajara recently earned him a move to Manchester United, as well as a call-up to the national squad—he’s speedy and scores a LOT of headed goals, despite the the fact that he’s just 5’7″. Mexico has long lacked ruthlessness in front of goal, but if Vela or Hernandez click into gear they should have no problem getting out of their admittedly tricky group.
The Albiceleste have won the World Cup twice, let us not forget!!! Sure, it’s been 62 years since they last hoisted the cup…only 16 years less than England, who people (The Sun & attendant delusional pasty Englishmen) still take somewhat seriously! What’s undeniable is that Uruguay have the most well-defined set of abdominals in the Cup (Ronaldo be damned!) in the form of frequently-shirtless sensation Diego Forlan. He’s scored 50 goals in the last 2 seasons at Atlético Madrid, and will be joined in attack by young Ajax starlet Luis Suárez. After scoring 35 goals in the ’09-10 season (2 gols in 4 appearances for Uruguay since breaking into the starting XI) he has a host of clubs swarming to sign him. Another Ajax youngster (formerly of Nacional), Nicolás Lodeiro, threads the needle as a speedy attacking midfielder with excellent close control. Coming off the bench is Sebastian “El Loco” Abreu, the leading scorer at club level in this World Cup with 305 career goals (just nudging out Thierry Henry)—though 33 he’s experienced a mild revival since moving to Botafogo last year. Defensive affairs are managed at the back by captain Diego Lugano, a poetic embodiment of the stereotypical Uruguayo hardman.
It’s an odd World Cup for Les Bleus, with the post-tournament exit of astrologer-coach Raymond Domenech already confirmed. Despite France’s fortuitous run to the 2006 final, RD has been a long-running joke for his semi-inept formational thinking, with total devotion to a 4-2-3-1 system despite the circumstances yielding sparkling results, such as their 0-0 draw with Romania at Euro 2008 (which earned them their sole point of that tournament). There’s also the total lack of respect he commands among the players, who rightly recognize and mock his eccentricities. His final squad of 23 surprised some with its exclusion of Karim Benzema (admittedly a sulky bastard coming off a crap season at Real Falangista), Jean-Alain Boumsong, and tiny midfield craftsman Samir Nasri. The current configuation of Les Bleus marks the end of a generational era, with midfield stalwart Patrick Vieira out of the squad and Thierry Henry relegated to the bench (a position he’s occupied with aplomb in the second half of Barcelona’s campaign!).
Domenech has started to mix things up a bit in the last several friendlies, introducing a 4-3-3 system just in time to confuse his talented squad and sow general disorder! France weren’t exactly delivering flowing football in their 2-1 victory over Costa Rica and have looked rickety in the last week, drawing 1-1 to Tunisia and losing 1-0 to China. France’s greatest hope perhaps lies in Player Power, as the talent at Domenech’s disposal is unquestionable—if only he knew what to do with it. Should the players channel their passions and break their tactical chains, the attacking talents of fullbacks Patrica Evra and Gael Clichy, silky midfielders Toulalan and Gourcuff, and incisive wingers Franck Ribery and Florent Malouda would be indeed difficult for opponents to negotiate. This humble editor doesn’t see it happening however—the only points they’re likely to see are against South Africa.