Jabulanis, vuvuzelas and draws – the story of the first round

World Cup fever hits Villa Cafe.

What the 2010 World Cup has lacked in terms of goals it has made up for with closely contested games and baaaarrrggggs from vuvuzelas. It has been enjoyable to hear journalists not want to appear like fuddy-duddy, stick-in-the-muds and come out in support of these infernal racket makers. Tell it like it is: they are horrific! Football fans invent songs and chants and play music, what would you rather have: a Brazilian samba band or some idiot and 20,000 of his mates blowing on tuneless horns?

Some players have complained about the new adidas match ball, the Jabulani, others say it isn’t a problem. What is certain is that many shots have been ballooned over the bar and no-one has yet scored from a free-kick. The only two goals from outside the box have been from goalkeeping mistakes (England & Algeria).

There have also been complaints about the lack of goals and attacking play, but its not really surprising as no-one wants to lose their first game and teams are understandably cautious. 16 of the first games this year have been 0-0 at half-time. This may sound odd but sometimes I prefer a 1-0 or 2-1 or even a 1-1 as it generally means it was an even game between 2 closely matched teams. Lots of goals suggests a mismatch or mistakes and the only real mismatch in terms of ability and application was Germany v Australia so far. I’m enjoying every minute of it! As the group stage progresses games will be become more open as the urgency for victory increases.

Meanwhile, back in Scotland

As the first round of group games is over I will review what has happened so far and take a look at how my picks for qualification are doing.

Group A

South Africa v Mexico was memorable for a great opening goal from Tshabalala and a typically creative and attacking performance from the Mexicans. Mexico could have been 3-0 up in the first half and would have won the game were it not for some profligate finishing. France v Uruguay was disappointing as a spectacle and highlighted the problems the outgoing France manager, Raymond Domenech, has as he tries to organise his undoubtedly talented team. Pre-match disagreements over tactics unsettled at least one of his stars, Florent Malouda and has led to complaints from ex-players and armchair critics back in France. Uruguay play the hosts next and, despite being tough and organised against France, created little. Nicolas Lodiero was sent off in the opening game and Uruguay will have to rely on Ignacio Gonzalez for creativity in midfield. Forlán and Suarez will have to play better as they seek the goals that could put them through.

This group is still wide open after 2 draws and my picks, France and Mexico who play each other next, have a lot to do.

Group B

My picks for group B both won in their first games and will now play each other in the second game. As hoped for Greece were terrible and South Korea were just too creative and quick for them. Park Ji-Sung scored one of the goals of the opening round and the Koreans will make it difficult for Argentina. Greece should lose their next game against Nigeria too. Argentina v Nigeria was an entertaining game enlivened by moments of magic, but no goals, from Lionel Messi. The one member of the Argentina squad I have met, Gabriel Heinze scored the only goal with a diving header from a corner. The Nigerian goalkeeper and man of the match, Vincent Enyeama, deserves most of the credit for keeping Argentina restricted to 1 goal.

If South Korea can maintain the momentum for their final game against Nigeria it will look good for them and Argentina to both make it to the next round.

Group C

And in group C England dominated the opening game and again have some wasteful finishing and a great goalkeeping performance to thank for only coming away with a draw. Tim Howard replicated his Everton form in the first game leaving Alexi Lalas to curiously repeat, “He is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, he just happens to be American”. I’m not really sure why Alexi feels he needs the extra clause at the end of that statement but Tim Howard deserves praise for his performance. Wayne Rooney doesn’t however and England will need a lot more from their best player if they are to progess. It was pitiful to see England start to lump long balls up to the big man at the end of the game, when they had created plenty prior to that with quick attacks particularly down the right wing. Whether Robert Green will play in the next game is debatable, if he doesn’t Capello might as well send him home now and if he does play then Algeria will be justified in shooting every time they get within range. In all fairness England should have won and the US didn’t offer much to really worry England. The problems, as always, were all of their own making, something Capello needs to remedy quickly to justify his £6m a year fee. Algeria v Slovenia looked to be heading for the draw that England and the US would have been pleased with until Abdelkader Ghezzal got himself sent off and the Algerian goalkeeper expressed his solidarity with the England goalkeeper by robertgreening the ball into his own net. Slovenia may present some difficulties to the US but the Americans should win. As should England against Algeria and I believe my two picks will still make it through.

Group D

On June 13th 2010, we witnessed something special though not as special as this. A Germany side full of youth, creativity, movement and attacking verve that continued the good work from Jürgen Klinnsman’s team in the 2006 World Cup. They totally demolished a poor Australia side and so far look the team to beat this year. The interchange of passing and position between Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller, Miroslav Klöse (who is 1 goal away from tying with Pele in the leading scorer in World Cups list…) and Sami Khedira left the Australian defenders bamboozled. This combined with support from the either wing from Lucas Podolski and Philip Lahm, provided 4 goals for the Germans. I can’t wait to watch them again.

Serbia were a lot people’s picks for the “dark horses” of the tournament, and with good reason. They are a talented, organised squad, however so are Ghana. These two looked like cancelling each other out until an inexplicable handball in the area from Zdravko Kuzmanovic, which followed a second yellow card for Alexander Lukovic. Ghana converted the penalty and probably deserved the win. Creative attacking play from Kwadwo Asamoah, Prince Tagoe and goalscorer Asamoah Gyan and a powerful performance from Kevin Prince Boateng meant Ghana on the whole outperformed Serbia’s more vaunted team. Serbia play Germany next, while Ghana should beat Australia, meaning it looks unlikely Serbia will qualify unless they can get an unlikely result against the Germans.

Group E

This group is looking good for the Japanese and the Dutch. Japan battled and fought their way past a disjointed Cameroon. Some bizarre tactics from French manager Paul Le Guen saw Samuel Eto’o out on the right wing and midfielder Stephane M’bia playing at right back. Even more bizarre was criticism of Eto’o from Cameroon legend Roger Milla before the game. Japan didn’t create an awful lot but got the one goal that counted through CSKA Moscow’s Keisuke Honda. Cameroon play group leaders Holland next and will need to get the best out of Eto’o to beat the Dutch. Holland themselves were slightly fortunate to get a 2-0 victory against Denmark, the first goal being deflected from Simon Paulson via Daniel Agger into the net, leaving the Danes on the back foot from there on. Particularly impressive was substitute Eljero Elia, coming on for Rafael van der Vaart to great effect, he will give the Dutch another option if Arjen Robben is unfit again for the next game. Denmark will look to rebound from that loss by beating Japan and will be confident they can still qualify from this group, I am still confident my picks will do it.

Group F

Each match finished 1-1 in this group leaving everyone on 1 point. As even as you can get after the first game. The big surprise was New Zealand getting a 1-1 draw with virtually the last action as Winston Reid arrived unmarked in the Slovakia penalty area to head home. This was Slovakia’s first World Cup game as an independent nation however they didn’t make the most of their independence. This should have been 3 points for them and unless they improve they will struggle to beat the Italians or Paraguayans. These two teams played an entertaining game with Paraguay surprising the Italians by taking the lead. In the absence of Andrea Pirlo, Riccardo Montolivo played well only to get kicked at every opportunity. New Juventus loan signing Simone Pepe had a lively second half, changing wings and attacking with verve. However the Italians had to rely on one of their World Champions to pull them level, Daniele De Rossi steering home after the Paraguay goalkeeper completely missed a cross from the left wing. It looks more likely that Paraguay and Italy both will now qualify.

Group G

Ivory Coast v Portugal kicked off the Group of Death and played as if they were half dead. Cristiano Ronaldo hit the post with a long range strike but generally ran around throwing himself to the floor at the slightest touch from an opponent. Didier Drogba started the game on the bench and didn’t look like himself when he came on in the second half, his one chance was fired across the goal like he intended a cross rather than a shot. Portugal play North Korea next and the sterling performance from the Koreans will have left Portugal concerned for their prospects. Brazil scored 2 great goals from Maicon and Elano following a delicious Robinho defence-splitting pass. Kaka was disappointing, misplacing many passes and generally being harried of the ball by the industrious Korean team. This group is nicely poised with Brazil looking to seal qualification by beating Ivory Coast in the next game and Portugal needing to lift their game if they are to join them.

Group H

Chile impressed in their 1-0 win over Honduras with some inventive possession and incisive attacking play. Although they only managed one goal due (again) to some wasteful finishing. The story of these opening games, Germany apart, has been about the failure of supposedly superior sides to turn that superiority into goals. Chile entertained with their build-up play but had the same problems as the others. That said it is looking good for Chile to go through, they play Switzerland next while Honduras face a tough task against Spain. Switzerland’s result against Spain is surely the big shock of the tournament so far. In another entertaining game that could have gone either way, Spain came up against a team determined to defend in numbers and attack on the break. For all Spain’s neat passing, inventiveness and talent they were unable to break down a resolute Swiss side marvelously organised by Ottmar Hitzfeld. The goal was slightly fortunate but they they were equally unfortunate when Eren Durdiyok beat 3 defenders and Casillas only to see his shot rebound off the post. If Switzerland can repeat this performance against Chile then they look good to go through. Spain should be confident they can at least take second place although this would probably leave them with a game against Brazil in the next round.

Goals of the first round – in no particular order…

Park v Greece

Tshabalala v Mexico

Gerrard v USA

Podolski v Australia

Maicon v North Korea

Elano v North Korea

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Lisa says:

    i love it! i'm going to read your predictions before each game i watch.

  2. Alistair says:

    Thanks! Although I often get my predictions wrong…

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