Friday, June 23, 2006

sprechen sie fußball?

Plenty of goals, fiercely loyal and remarkably colourful support [a fact hopefully proven by the pictures courtesy of], never-ending talking points… the 2006 World Cup has somehow managed to eclipse my expectations and the first round isn’t even over yet!

GROUP A – This is a very difficult group to judge. Though the host nation Germany have done well to win all three of their first round games, you have to allow for the fact that they won 3-0 against an Ecuador team that was happy to have clinched qualification at all and didn’t want to pick up any unnecessary injuries. The eating that will prove this group’s pudding will be their performances in the second round. Poland and Costa Rica didn’t bring much to the tournament I’m afraid and deserve to be on their way home.

GROUP B – Well, they won their group, but I have to say, my tip to go all the way England need to do a lot better if my prediction is to come true. Michael Owen was very unlucky to be injured against Sweden, but I can’t for the life of me work out why the coach didn’t bring on Walcott instead of Crouch because surely the latter move meant changing the entire game plan just a few minutes into the contest. And as for the dodgy defending which led to Sweden’s second goal, you are told even at schoolboy level that you should never let the ball bounce in your own penalty area after a set-piece. Having seen the replay I found John Terry to be at fault for jumping for a header he was never going to win, but since he is the heir apparent to the captaincy, the English press seem unwilling to cite him. Elsewhere in the group, Sweden will be happy to have gone through, Paraguay will get consolation from picking up a win, and poor Trinidad Tobago were unfortunate to have gone three games without scoring a goal.

GROUP C – Everyone was bigging up the clash between Holland and Argentina in this group, but since both were guaranteed a spot in the next round, it turned out to be a dull 0-0 draw. I still reckon both will make at least the quarterfinals, however. Serbia have been the tournament’s biggest let-down, and all the experts are saying the Ivory Coast are the best team not to reach the knockout stages.

GROUP D – This has been an extremely second rate group if you ask me. Portgual are extremely flattered by their three wins out of three, and should get a rude awakening against the Dutch. Mexico were also a disappointment. Angola and Iran should be happy to have at least registered a point.

GROUP E – Now this is what frustrates me about soccer in the USA. My nation of birth put in a really gutsy tactical performance to come out with a 1-1 “tie” with Italy and any other country would be delighted with the result, but no doubt it was uzerped in the yankee doodle press by Miami winning the national basketball title. A team representing the country does well on a world stage less important than a mere city doing well on a national stage? Says it all really. The Italians themselves have shown little to convince me they can get over their match-fixing scandals back home, but I am delighted that Ghana will be representing the African contintent in the next round. The Czech Republic never got over the injury to their big influential striker Koller in their first game.

GROUP F – Ronaldo may have proved the theory that even at 60% fitness he is worth having on the park with two goals against Japan last night, but I still think his overweight appearance is a disgrace to sport in general. Best quote of the tournament so far has been the suggestion that his theme song should be “I Predict A Diet”. In fact, it’s that Nike insist that he play that’s an even bigger disgrace. Yeah, I know, that can’t ACTUALLY be proven, but anyone who knows anything about the game will tell you the sports manufacturers are pulling the strings on this event even more with each tournament that comes around. It’s a bit like Michael Jordan having to wrap the stars and stripes around himself while he stood on the podium with his Olympic gold medal because Nike didn’t want him seen in his Reebok tracksuit. Also in this group, Australia’s fair advancement beyond the first round can only be good for the game, since it raises awareness for soccer in a market dominated by rugby, cricket and Aussie Rules. Croatia never capitalized on their gutsy performance against brazil and Japan just didn’t cut it I’m afraid.

GROUP G – Even after two disappointing draws, the French can still get out of their group if they beat Togo today, something they must surely do, though only a win by two clear goals will guarantee this. The Switzerland/South Korea encounter could be the most exciting match of the round, since it’s a real all-or-nothing battle. I predict the European’s superior defence will win the day.

GROUP H – Ukraine did exactly what I predicted and gave the Saudis a pasting, and I can’t see them doing much less against Tunisia, to prove that a 4-0 loss in your opening match is does not mean the end of your tournament by any stretch. The Spaniards will no doubt win their third game, but they will be all too aware they still have much to prove in the knockout stages.

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