Apologies for lull in B&B coverage here! I’d intended to cover the game this morning, but was overwhelmed by anxiety, and a nagging feeling I needed to be a more diligent spectator, pulling and “praying” for the USA. A frustrating game, but ultimately orgasmic!
So who will The Ole US of A meet in the Round of 16?! Find out, •LIVE!• here starting at 14:30 eastern timmmmmmme!!! I’ll be attempting to relay to you the clash between GERMANY–GHANA, with relevant asides to the goings on in SER–AUS. Cya then!
Nationalistic, soccer-related Stimmung in Berlin is serious right now. The World Cup here 4 years ago was seen as the breaking of a certain flag-taboo: whereas before it was questionable and mildly-shocking to wave a German flag at any time, during the World Cup everyone and their mother gladly smeared the black-red-yellow on their cheeks and hung huge flags from their balconies. It was undoubtedly a case of athletic sublimation of nationalistic/militaristic sentiment. The German flag now symbolizes die Mannschaft more than it does the country.
In my neighborhood of Neukölln, a largely immigrant community, flags are a-flying more so than in most other areas. My friend told me that, when Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon are not taking part in a football competition, the Arabic immigrants support the German national team more than many Teutonic Germans.
My friend and I overheard a funny story last night while waiting for our halloumi sandwiches at a Lebanese sandwich shop. The Arabic proprietors of the building next door were lowering a gigantic German flag from the roof, which stretched 4 stories down to just above street level. The man who seemed to be the owner of the flag said that someone tore the flag down a few days ago. He didn’t know who or why. My friend assumed it was some anti-fascist, left-wing Germans (many of whom also live in Neukölln), to whom the sight of a monstrously large German flag would be poisonous. The man said that now he has arranged security, who would guard the flag throughout the night. Such patriotic sentiment would be rare to find in most citizens of German-descent.
There’s a great piece in the Guardian by David Hytner about the new, young, “multi-kulti” German football generation who have impressed the world in their drubbing of Australia last week:
“We are aware that it’s something new to have German national players with Turkish, Ghanaian, Nigerian or Tunisian roots but for our generation, it’s very normal,” said Khedira, who is the DFB’s poster boy for the liberation generation. “We have some players called Khedira and some called Müller. We don’t know any differently.”
There remains a section of Germany’s support that struggles to come to terms with the multiculturalism, traditionalists who complain about some of the players not singing the national anthem. Ozil murmurs verses from the Koran when it plays. But Aogo says “people shouldn’t attach too much importance” to this. “I don’t sing the national anthem and I am still proud to play for Germany.”
Over and above the socio-political benefits, there are also those of a footballing nature. “Up front, we exude a bit of Latin or southern ease but defensively, we are incredibly disciplined, very German,” said Khedira. Ozil noted that “my technique and feeling for the ball is the Turkish side to my game and the always-give-your-all attitude is the German part” while Aogo said that “the mixture of African physical strength and European tactical awareness can be very good for the DFB”.
That last part is a bit funny. It seems that if nationalism, in a nu-politically-correct world, is given new life through football, then the same happens with cheap cultural stereotypes?
… with their matching jacket/hat/scarf combo and synchronized flag-waving celebrations?:
Relatives of the Dear Leader? Escaped ex-pats, unable to escape the athletic element of Juche? Someone also told me they were all Chinese.
I also enjoyed the sight of these two mugs who seemed to have sneaked their way into the North Korean fan-section. The one on the left is madly waving a PRK flag. Effective, defensive football spreading the light of Juche to the hearts of the corrupted West?:
As for North Korea’s star striker, he is the Japan‑born Jong Tae-se, who plays in Japan’s J‑League, drives a Hummer and finds his team‑mates appealingly quaint. Writing on his blog earlier this year, Jong described a stopover on a team trip from Switzerland to Austria, during which his team‑mates were stunned to discover you had to pay to use the gents in a station. “They turned to me,” recalled Jong, “and said, ‘This is truly what capitalist society is like.'” It’s a reasonable point.
It’s hard to tell if the negative press about the official 2010 WC match ball, the Jabulani, is just posterior-covering by goalkeepers who might get caught out, if it’s documenting legitimate complaints, or if its just a lazy meme for the press to riff off of.
One context in which I’ll find absolutely no sympathy is the new wave of English excuse-making, with some Brave English Lions (in particular Emile Heskey, who blew a chop-licking chance to win the England-USA game) blaing the ball for their less than stellar performance. The Germans seemed to have no problem with it! Turns out, like everything else football-related in England, it’s an issue of $$$ & corporate sponsorship!
Regardless, England’s toils against the USA contrasted markedly with Germany’s 4-0 dismissal of Australia some 24 hours later. That game was played at sea level in Durban, though England’s players noted the Germans’ success in taming the much criticised Adidas Jabulani ball, with the Bundesliga having adopted the World Cup ball, which had been launched last December, this year. The Premier League has a deal with Nike and could not follow suit, while the Football Association is contracted to Umbro for international fixtures, thereby preventing Capello’s side experimenting with the new ball in the friendly with Egypt in March. England have been using it every day since they gathered in Austria for a pre-tournament training camp, barring the Wembley friendly against Mexico.
The Jabulani was, however, used in domestic leagues in Switzerland, Portugal, the United States, South Africa and the Netherlands last season, and in the French Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations. No complaints over its performance were received, with tests in sessions at Chelsea, Real Madrid and Milan also producing positive feedback.
There has been an ominous amount of overhit crosses, crap corners, and misplaced passes. Hopefully those who are just now acclimatizing to the Jabulani will start to master it.
But I’ve seen a lot of conflicting info…did Iker Casillas, as has been frequently quoted, compare the Jabulani to a beach ball or did he “produce positive feedback” while testing it at Real Madrid?
Editor’s Note!: I’m at superintensive archivist’s camp this week, all day every day, so there’ll be no live-blogging for me and I will be watching games mostly on replay. Surely my co-bloggers will have something to say during my radio silence. That said, I’ll try to have some evening ruminations up for you. Particularly in the next two days, with the tournament debuts of favorites Brasil & España! Bear with us, loyal readers!
Apologies for the lack of B&B coverage of yesterday’s historic England—USAUSAUSA matchup! I was far too busy partying IRL to bring our loyal readers a blog-based interpretation of events—my attentions were spent drumming, drinking PBRs, shooting roman candles, and screaming “HOMO!” at the TeeVee when they’dcut to David Beckham thoughtfully sulking—the things we do for Country!
All in all, the US acquitted themselves fairly well. It was a fair result for us if not an inspiring one. (Though it was inspiring enough to earn a tiny lil’ image & mention on the front page of The Paper of American Record!) This was kinda the outcome I was expecting, though I had optimistic mental-flickers of a 2-1 victory (almost realized through Altidore’s late chance at 66 min). Without a doubt, our most obvious weakness going into the tournament was our shaky centerback pairing of Onyewu & Jay Demerit, both of who were recovering from injury and thus missing the mental sharpness that comes from playing regularly. Although England actually weren’t terribly incisive, Gooch & Jay D were put to the test, by Emile Heskey (still cannot believe he starts for Capello up front) and to a much lesser extent Wayne Rooney. Though there were plenty of fist-clenching moments, we emerged unscathed and secured a valuable point in the process! Plus a bit of battle-tempered match experience for our newly reformed defense.
Ambient jubilation most definitely interfered with my ability to overturn new ground in terms of tactical analysis, but let this post serve as the recollections on a hazy dayAfter…
The English press today isn’t going for Robert Green quite as venomously as I thought they might this morning. Perhaps they have learned SOME minor lessons about hatefully turning on their own players! The NYT Goal! blog helpfully gathered all the UK headlines though:
- The Sunday Times: “Green Fingers”
- Mail on Sunday: “Calamity”
- The Independent: “Hand of Clod”
- Sunday Mirror: “Tainted Glove”
- News of the World: “Stars and Tripe”
The crappy punning I had seen so far all revolved around “British Spill” themes—nothing screams an opportunity for punning LAFFs like a once in a lifetime environmental disaster!
Although the game was level overall, Green was obviously at fault for the US’s equalizer (though it did seem just for us to get back into the game with a goal as cheap as the one WE have away at 4 min!). The English tabloids have variously termed Green’s bobbled ball as a HOWLER or a CLANGER. Cue the inevitable speculation about either the more experienced goalkeeper David James or Young English Hope Joe Hart starting in goal for The Colonizer against Algeria!
For the US, it’s pretty clear who’ll be between the sticks against Slovenia next Friday—yesterday’s Man of the Match Tim Howard!!!
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!
The day is finally upon us! After 4 years of waiting, let all work grind to a halt! Should I set up a WC-themed autoreply to my work email???
On paper, Mexico come into this as the rank favorites, but obviously there is no discounting the home field advantage the Bafana Bafana will enjoy here. Handy dandy Opta stats twitter informs me that “The host country has never lost its opening game of the World Cup : 14 wins, 5 draws”—good to know! Have to say, despite the thrill of the occasion, I can’t see the South Africans getting a result against an Mexican team that’s recently added some incisive attacking options to what has been a traditionally well-marshaled side. Starting lineups are in!!!
South Africa: Khune, Gaxa, Mokoena, Khumalo, Thwala, Tshabalala, Dikgacoi, Letsholonyane, Modise, Pienaar, Mphela.
Subs: Josephs, Masilela, Ngcongca, Sibaya, Davids, Booth, Parker, Nomvethe, Moriri, Sangweni, Walters, Khuboni.
Mexico: Perez, Aguilar, Rodriguez, Osorio, Salcido, Torrado, Marquez, Juarez, Giovani, Franco, Vela.
Subs: Ochoa, Barrera, Castro, Blanco, Hernandez, Moreno, Guardado, Magallon, Torres, Bautista, Medina, Michel.
Officiating this match will be Tashkent-based ref Ravshan Irmatov! Uzbek pride. No real surprises in the starting XI (for me!)—Mexico start with former Villareal & Rayas de Monterrey man Guillermo Franco up front, with a pairing of baby-Gunner Carlos Vela and rapidly-developing, globe-trotting Giovanni Dos Santos on the flanks. Looks like South Africa are playing a 4-4-1-1 with Mphela spearheading the attack, while wily winger Steven Pienaar starts behind him.
I’m slamming an editorial bagel real quick, so am missing out on what are sure to be some culturally-sensitive and incisive opening statements from fattened FIFA goose Sepp Blatter. If you want ACTUAL coverage, turn over to Paul Doyle. I hope to provide more laffs though…
WE’RE OFF! Mexico are in black jerseys here and the Bafana Bafana in yellow…¡vamos ya!
PIENAAR HAIR WATCH: Cornrow fusion looking good…dreadlocks flowing all over him.
2 min: Candidate for first African goalkeeping error of the tourney as Khune unwisely comes off his line to bat away a skimming cross…Dos Santos alllllmost bundles it in.
6 min: Bafana Bafana looking might nervous, and having trouble controlling the ball. Can’t blame ’em for letting the emotion get to them.
EL TRI HAIRWATCH: Kinda hard for me to recognize Mexico capitán Gerardo Torrado without his trademark hair poof/headband.
19 min: After some choppy moments and several S. African set pieces, Dos Santos leads Mexico on the counterattack. He has either Vela (or Franco??? sorry!) in support but elected to take a pop himself…floated high and wide. Gio’s the most dangerous man on the pitch right now…
25 min: Parreira’s South Africa are looking less conservative than I’d figured…but their passing in the final third has been sloppy and a bit too ambitious…
31 min: Mexico have had 61% of the possession so far, but are looking far less dominant than they had in the opening 15-or-so mins.
32 min: Carlos Vela, about 25 yards out and moved over to the right side, chips a ball in over the top for Guillermo Franco. He chests it down but he’s too close to keeper Khune by the time he can get his shot off and it’s swatted down.
34 min: Vela again popping up on the right side, looks like he’s switched with Dos Santos, and he put in another dangerous cross on the ground…no one on the end of it though.
37 min: GOAL DISALLOWED! Corner to Mexico, and Vela backs off his marker and is free at the far post. He chests it down and dispatches it into the net…but the linesman raises his flag. Couldn’t have been offside as S. Africa had a man covering the line. Posssssibly thought it was handball, but Vela chested it down cleanly. First FIFA conspiracy-style talking points!
42 min: Corner to South Africa…keeper Perez backpedaling and comes out to punch clear (unconvincingly), but it sails over his head. When did Ochoa stop being first-choice keep for El Tri?
44 min: Great move down the left side for South Africa, a TASTY cross comes across but Mphela can’t quite get his noggin on it. GET IN man!
45 min: Another corner for Mexico, and Kagisho Dikgacoi nods one juuust over the bar. Mexico looking pretty vulnerable from these corners—keeper Oscar Perez is only 5’7″.
HALFTIME!!! Vela and Dos Santos both looking capable of tipping the game Mexico’s way, but those set pieces might the the undoing of El Tri. Sadly I don’t have a cushy, buffering PPV stream for the World Cup like we did for CAN ’10, so there will be less jubilant screengrabbing than back in January—apologies for not having the funding to have a dedicated BOLAS & BANDEIRAS cameralady pitchside? Any volunteers willing to donate their duties to our journalistic cause? Hell, I’ll settle for a bootleg password for a photo agency password so I can steal someone else’s fotos!!! B)
46 min: We’re back! I’ve visited the aseo, I’m on my 2nd coffee, and ready for the 2nd half! I’m sticking with my predictions (made on twitter, but not formally here) from this morning: 2-0 to El Tri.
51 min: I’m drinking coffee here.
54 min: GOLLLLL 1-0 SOUTH AFRICA!!! The first of ’10 as Siphiwe Tshabalala, who has broken down the left several times, makes another run and blasts one from about 15 yards out. The net is a’bulgin and it rifles into the upper right hand corner. About that prediction…
55 min: Attacking midfield Andres Guardado, who had a quality season at Deportivo La Coruña comes on in place of Aguilar.
59 min: Dos Santos shimmies in from the right side, shuffles past two defenders and thumps a rising shot…which Khune does well to tip away from danger.
61 min: Shit is set to get livelier and livelier here, as Mexico are really starting to throw men forward. That’s what created the situation for Tshabalala’s excellent counter attack and riotously thump’d goal…
63 min: I wanna see El Chicharito!!! Will Javier Aguirre call on new Mexican striking sensation Javi Hernandez today?
66 min: Bafana Bafana are brimming with confidence here, they just had another chance which my semi-lagging stream prevents me from articulating in detail. Carlos Alberto Parreira is looking on with grandfatherly approval from the South Africa bench.
68 min: Experience-for-youth substitution here as Cuahtemoc Blanco comes on for Carlos Vela. His first World Cup appearance since 2002. Let me just say how culturally crucial I think it is to have a player named Cuahtemoc in the Mexican side…
72 min: ¡El Chicharito aparece! Javier Hernandez comes in to replace Guillermo Franco. Aguirre’s 3rd sub has pulled out basically all of his offensive stops now…
78 min: GOLLLL de MEXICO!!! 1-1! Guardado has time to pick out a cross, and with 3 Mexicans waiting in the box he finds an unmarked Rafa Marquez at the far post. He takes one touch and buries it…and we’re level.
81 min: Was that Joe Mothereffin’ Biden on camera just now? He looks nervous at hell…does he have a dog in this fight?
83 min: Striker Bernard Parker comes on for Steven Pienaar…is Parreira pushing for a winner here, or just trying to keep one of his best players fresh?
89 min: Ohhhhh my…a looong ball over the top bounces several times as Mphela chases, he controls despite being marked/chased by two Mexicans…and puts it against the post from 5 yards. Hearts in throats for South African fans here in Soccer City…
90 +2 min: One final attack for El Tri after several South African throw ins. Almost everyone back to defend for the Bafana Bafana…
PEEEEEEEP!!! Uzbek ref calls full time right on the dot. Not a bad result for the South Africans. They could have been down a coupla goals in the first half had the finishing of El Tri been a bit more deadly (Franco in particular had several headers he should have converted). Despite all the expectation, you have to think Parreira’s squad will be happy to have started off the Cup with a valuable point. I was especially impressed with Tshabalala, who scored a CRACKING (we’ll be using that one a lot, sorry) goal and also was playing provider with excellent creative passing vision in the 2nd half.
Mexico, however, will really feel they should have won this. Aguirre did some productive tinkering however…I’d like to hope Guardado starts against France next week, as he really added something else in attack. Promising performances from Santos, and to a lesser extent Carlos Vela.
IT’S OFFICIALLY ON!!! Gonna slam some wistful tacos here, and I’ll be back for Albiceleste v. Les Bleus @ 2pm or so!
No one can decide whether Brazil or Spain are the odds-on favorites to lift the cup on July 11. The bookies seem to favor Spain just a little bit: bet365 and Paddy Power have Spain at 4-1 and Brazil at 9-2. The belief comes from Spain’s strong showing in the Euros of two years ago, where they won all 6 of their games, scoring 12 goals and letting in only 3.
Xavi finished as the Player of the Tournament, but there were similarly strong performances from almost every other member of the team as well. David Villa got the Golden Boot with 4 goals, Fernando Torres scored the crucial winning goal against Germany in the final, Iker Casillas stood strong throughout, including the penalty shootout against Italy, and Carlos Puyol was a monster in defense. Most notably, however, was the quietly controlling holding-midfield work of Brazilian-born Marcos Senna. Many thought the Villareal midfielder, and not Xavi, deserved to be named Player of the Tournament after a near flawless performance, acting as a stabilizing lynchpin, grounding Spain’s attacking flair through tireless ball-winning and exquisite distribution. Though Senna’s past season has been hampered by injuries, many were surprised by Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque‘s omission of the midfielder from the 23-man national squad. It remains to be seen if the new Spanish lineup will be able to compensate for the absence of such a quietly important player.
Judging from the performance in a friendly with Poland a few days ago, Spain are looking very strong indeed. The 6-1 win was magnificent, with this absolutely bonkers second goal inciting fawning praise from journalists around the world:
This kind of cohesive, technical, and effective team play will need to be flawless to cut apart defenses stronger than that of the Poles.
Apart from the familiar faces from the Euros, Sevilla winger Jesus Navas and his alien eyes have been having a breakout season, and will be looking to cement his rapidly-growing reputation with a strong international showing. Barcelona tumbling champion Sergio Busquets, will be looking to somewhat make up for Senna’s absence, playing a holding midfield role behind denter-mid tag-team of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, although Xabi Alonso is probably the more solid (and balanced) man for the role. Cesc Fabregas was given the number 10 shirt, which seems to indicate the certainty of his position in the starting lineup. I can’t really figure out where he’ll play, however. Maybe in a more attacking midfield position? Or maybe next to Xavi, with whom he shares the same DNA, allowing Iniesta to operate more as a winger?
However Spain lines up, they are probably the most talented side in South Africa, and judging on their pre-tournament performances, the bookies are justified in picking them as favorites. There are still some doubts, such as questions about the tiredness of the squad, which was blamed for their embarrassing defeat to the USA in last summer’s Confederations Cup (USA! USA! etc.). If all goes according to plan (or probability), it could end up Spain v Brazil in the final: Nu Brazilian Pragmatism vs. Hyperactive Spanish Rebirth… Could be majestic.
Before thinking about the 2010 Chile team, let’s take a trip down memory lane to 1989, the infamous “Maracanazo” incident. Losing 1-0 to Brazil in a World Cup qualifying match at the Maracana, Chilean keeper Roberto “El Condor” Rojas took the opportunity of having a firework thrown in his vicinity to remove a razor blade hidden in his glove and slice upon his face. The referee abandoned the match. When the trick was later discovered Rojas was given a lifetime ban by FIFA, and Chile were banned from taking part in the 1994 World Cup. Classic stuff!:
In 2010 Chile are coming off a spectacular qualifying run, finishing second, just one point behind Brazil. Despite having a head shaped like a bowling ball Humberto Suazo finished as top scorer of the qualifying rounds, netting 10. Despite such a strong showing the international press seems completely oblivious of Chile’s presence in South Africa. I guess this makes them actual dark horses, as in horses that are so dark that a team of 11 horses can enter an international football competition almost invisibly.
Apart from Spain’s inevitable top position, competition in Group H is pretty open for the second slot. If Chile continue their fine form, they could easily edge out the Swiss and the Hondurans.
Apart from Suazo’s goals, Chile rely on their speed, such as that fro exciting youngster Alexis Sanchez. They’re a bit shaky at the back, and will have to solidify their tactics to get through their group. Their games should be attractice to watch, at least. Also I like their chants:
“Somos los hinchas, más anarquistas, los mas borrachos, los más anti-fascistas ..”
It’s getting close to deadline time and I don’t have much to say about Swiss football. Apologies to the Swiss people. but this will be brief.
Switzerland are a young, organized and efficient side coached by German legend Ottmar Hitzfeld. Big man Gokhan Inler will work alongside Tranquillo Barnetta to retain possession in midfield. Their strength could make it hard for teams like Spain and Chile to ping the ball upfield with their usual panache. Young guns Gelson Fernandes and Eren Derdiyok could provide the Swiss with, for lack of a better word, firepower going forward.
In short, this young Swiss side will probably prove more of an obstacle to some of the pretty possessors they’ll come up against, although I don’t see them making it through.
It is wonderful to see Honduras in the World Cup again, having only qualified once before, way back in 1982. Honduras has produced some exciting new talent in recent years, and they could be the most promising little fish to make a proverbial splash in the, uh, big international pond? (Sorry)
Midefielder Wilson Palacios is Honduras’ high-profile player. After an impressive season anchoring the Wigan attack, Palacios was bought by Tottenham, where he has continued to impress. Rumors abound now of Barcelona’s interest in Palacios to fill the Yaya Toure role, the gobbler-up of loose balls, the sparker of attacks, the supplier of emergency tackles. Palacios’ efficient midfield work, alongside his very-old-looking ex-Wigan teammate Hendry Thomas will be key to Honduran progression.
Maynor Figueroa, also of Wigan (very curious to know ore about the Wigan-Honduras connection… is Tegucipalga a sister city or something?) is very strong in defense as well.
Up front, as we learn from this grammatically-extraordinary headline, Carlo Costly is not available! Cagliari legend David Suazo and the ancient ex-Napoli striker Carlos Pavón will be responsible for getting the goals.
This is really the best Honduran side of all time, and with Group H’s second spot seriously up for grabs, don’t be too surprised to see these ultimate dark horses making some waves in the knockout stages.
••• Official BOLAS & BANDEIRAS Qualifying Picks: Spain, Honduras
Touted as the great African hope at the first World Cup to be held on the African continent, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect of of Côte d’Ivoire. From back to front, they are undoubtedly the most star-studded African side, boasting many players from the famous ASEC Abidjan academy. They also sport a bit more solidity in defense, with Kolo Toure commanding things at centerback, and the fairly trustworthy Boubacar Barry in goal. Though perhaps not the tightest markers in the world, the can call on Arsenal’s Emmanuel Eboue on the right and the 5’5″ left back, “The African Roberto Carlos” Arthur Boka. Indeed, the grit continues in central midfielder, where Barcelona’s Yaya Toure lines up aside Romaric of Sevilla (who missed out on the CAN ’10 in Angola and whose return to the side will be welcomed). Yaya is becoming an increasingly mature midfield boss and box-to-box runner, not unlike a young Patrick Vieira. However, it is their offensive firepower that is most remarked upon, with Salomon Kalou, Arouna Dindane, Kader Keita, and goal-scoring youthman Gervinho fighting for a place in attack.
It’s the latter that might be the most potent new addition to the Ivorians attack—he is quite pacy and coming off an excellent season at Lille. Obviously, there’s also captain Didier Drogba leading the line. Drogz is undoubtedly one of the finest players in the world (and it’s increasingly looking like the elbow injury he sustained last week will not prevent him from playing), however it’s been said that his desire to lead the team can sometimes undermine The Elephants larger tactical plan. Perhaps that will all change under new gaffer Sven-Goran Eriksson, the former Benfica/Lazio/England manager who took over in March. A bit more tactical steel and organizational maturity is definitely what Ivory Coast have lacked in their last several years of international soccer.
Although they failed to get out of their group (admittedly the most difficult in the tournament) in the 2006 WC, The Elephants impressed in hard-fought 2-1 defeats to both Argentina and The Netherlands—no shame in losing to either of those two—and beat Serbia & Montenegro 3-2. However, their performances in the 2008 and 2010 African Cup of Nations were decidedly less convincing. 2008 saw them start promisingly, but get dismantled 4-1 by Egypt in the semifinals. 2010 was yet more embarrassingly, as they utterly collapsed against Algeria in extra time.
That most recent defeat is what really sows seeds of doubt—centerback Souleymane Bamba in particular was totally at sea, 100% at fault for two free headers which helped Algeria equalize and then take the lead in extra time. They showed a total lack of heart in that game as well, letting a late goal reduce them to rubble. They have a very, very difficult group, so they will need a bit more mental clarity and determination to eek out of the group ahead of Portugal.
It’s perhaps unavoidable that analysis of the qualification of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (hereafter North Korea!) would mostly certain around political themes. This is only the second time they have ever qualified for the finals, the other being their (cliché watch) FAIRYTALE 1966 campaign in which they knocked out Italy and led 3-0 against Eusebio’s Portugal, only to lose 5-3. The actual footballing prowess of the 2010 has been overshadowed by various scandals, including their failed attempt to use a player as both a goalkeeper and striker—but also by the fact they are the odd man out in a very, very difficult group. An exceptionally in-depth look at the tactics and approach of this current squad comes via zonalmarking.net’s seriously in-depth investigation, detailing not just their tendency to play with almost 6 men at the back but also the attacking threat they pose.
“If you expected them to be well-organised at the back but lacking technical quality upfront, think again. Their front two are the two best players in the side – Hong Yong-Jo plays a classic trequartista role, playing between defence and midfield and looking to play through balls for the striker. And what a striker he is – Jong Tae-Se makes intelligent runs starting from wide positions and has a lethal shot on him.”
It’s enough to give one pause, and perhaps the North Koreans are capable of pulling off a surprise—but against Brazil or Portugal?
Carlo’s Queiroz‘s squad struggled during the qualifying rounds, but are gradually cohering as a team in their recent friendlies. Queiroz is not everyone’s favorite as a tactician, and during his time at Manchester United was frequently criticized for his overthought conservatism. Indeed, Portugal’s most disappointing run of results in the qualifiers were a string of three nil-nil draws (two against Sweden but also against Albania!). One man who Queiroz knows well from his days coaching ultra-odioua Man U is Cristiano Ronaldo. Despite all the Nike marketing buxxx and media hype, Ronaldo has not played well and has not scored a goal for the national team since Feb 2009 (a penalty in a friendly against Finland). The time is nigh for Ronaldo to start producing, especially with last week’s costly injury to Nani (the man “replaced” him at Manchester United). I find “CR9” to be an obnoxiously petulant diva, and am definitely capable of offering objective analysis regarding him! What his first season at Real Madrid has proved, however, is that he is not much a team player—he can be a great distributor of the ball, but tantrums ensue if the result of the build-up play doesn’t immediately re-include him. Let’s not dwell on unpleasantries though, as there is a lot more to the Portuguese seleção than one brat with too much hair gel.
Portugal have a reliable centerback partnership in Chelsea’s Paulo Ferreira and Bruno Alves of Porto, both tall and with excellent positional sensibilities. They certainly do not lack experience or creativity in midfield, with Deco and Tiago lining up in the center. They’re backed by the newly fit-again Pepe, a centerback at Real Madrid who fills a holding midfield role when playing for nation. Another offensive threat who will be looking to assert himself in the absence of Nani is Atlético Madrid’s Simão Sabrosa. Finally, normally playing as a sole striker, is Liédson. Born in Brazil, he was controversially given Portuguese citizenship (after 6 years of residence there playing for Sporting) and called up to the national squad in late 2009—just in time to score some crucial goals in Portugal’s stuttering pursuit of World Cup qualification. The seleção‘s first match against Ivory Coast will be crucial for both teams to claim early points in a deadly difficult group. I’d love to see Portugal win it all—provided Ronaldo break his leg in the first game. B)
That other seleção can’t seem to ever avoid being tournament favorites, despite lacking some of the flashier starpower of the 2006 squad. Dunga‘s charges come into the tournament looking dramatically more pragmatic than Parreira’s “magic rectangle” of Ronaldo (the one without abs), Ronaldinho, Adriano, and Kaká. The three points of that polygon who are casualties that time around epitomize Dunga’s philosophy—there will be no flashy, partying passengers under his watch.
Dunga, a man who sports a flat top and served as the no-nonsense holding midfielder who captained Brazil to the 1994 cup, is not fucking around—he’s looking to win, not to package some sort of cultural advertisement for Brazilian “samba style” soccer.
Dunga’s footballing philosophy is perhaps best embodied in his choice of captain, the knuckle-dragging, kick-up-arse-delivering centerback Lúcio. It’s also highlighted in his choice of Maicon (before he became the Hotttttest Right Back in The World™ through his performances at Inter Milan) over Barcelona’s right-side bombing Dani Alves; the latter simple doesn’t play enough defense to be Dunga’s frist choice. Between the posts is who many consider the best goalkeeper in the world, Inter’s Julio Cesar. Where Brazil might be the most vulnerable is in Dunga’s old position. The rapidly aging Gilberto Silva provides cover in front of the back four, with the only alternative being Felipe Meio (and exciting prospect coming off a nightmarish season at Fiorentina). The Brazilian media clamored for the inclusion of the partially resurgent Ronaldinho, who has regained some form since his move to AC Milan, if not Santos youngsters Neymar and Ganso. The team was supposedly too dependent on Kaká, a player admittedly not at the height of his powers at the moment, for creativity. However, I feel players like Benfica’s Ramires (formerly at Cruzeiro) or even Josue, can be counted on for moments of inspiration pushing forward.
There was basically only one surprise call-up, and that was Wolfsburg’s Grafite (formerly of São Paulo). He offers another option in attack, although many are tipping fleet-footed target man Luis Fabiano of Sevilla to be the tournament’s top scorer. Brazil should obviously qualify with ease—though they might struggle against more defensively resolute teams (perhaps even North Korea), unlike in the past this is a seleção that knows how to grind out ugly wins.