Friday, June 30, 2006

sprechen sie fußball?

After nineteen consecutive days of at least two games per day, the World Cup field has now been whittled down to just eight teams. This week I review the eight games that produced those quarterfinalists.

GERMANY-2 SWEDEN-0 – If the two early goals and the curious sending off [pictured] didn’t kill this game, the shocking penalty miss by normally reliable Henrik Larsson in the second half definitely did. The last half hour was a snoozefest as the Swedes virtually threw in their yellow and blue towel. Still, the result goes a long way to prove the age old saying that you must never rule out the Germans. Although before the tournament they were expected to struggle, here they are in the last eight on their own soil, so anything is possible.

ARGENTINA-2 MEXICO-1 aet– For those unfamiliar with soccerspeak, the letters “aet” after a scoreline stand for “after extra time”. This was hands down the best game of the tournament so far. Argentina were heavily fancied to progress before the game but once it was over, they knew they had been in a contest. Mexico did their phenomenal support proud with a do or die performance that was worthy of further progression in the tournament. Ultimately it was a wonder goal from Maxi Rodriguez [pictured]. Top of the pile in what has been a string of breathtaking goals at these finals, which proved the difference. The biggest talking point was Argentina’s Gabriel Heinze only receiving a yellow card when he blatantly hacked down a Mexican player in the first half – most referees would have sent him off and the game would have been very different had he done so.

ENGLAND-1 ECUADOR-0 – He may make heavy weather of it, but England’s Swedish coach Sven Goran Eriksson has taken his charges to the World Cup quarterfinals for the second tournament in a row. Watching this match I think I can see what makes the team seem so lethargic. Despite the fact that they have arguably the most powerful midfield pairing in the competition with Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, I wonder if there is room in the engine room of the team for both their considerable gos, particularly Lampard. Gerrard has at least chipped in with a couple of goals, but there is something about the Chelsea stalwart’s attitude that just doesn’t sit right with me. I reckon he has had more shots than anyone else without scoring, but none of them that I can remember appear to have been taken with any real conviction. Perhaps the coach’s braver option would have been to leave one of them on the bench and let the other control things the way they are used to at club level. Still, despite this, they are in the last eight, so maybe I’m making something out of nothing. Beckham [pictured] deserves a mention for his well-taken goal, but isn't that kind of what he's expected to do? As for Ecuador, they appeared more interested in exchanging shirts with their more illustrious opposition at the final whistle than they were at winning the game.

PORTUGAL-1 HOLLAND-0 – As ugly a sporting contest as you are ever likely to see. What is most ironic is that although there were as many as 16 yellow cards and 4 reds brandished [pictured], two of the most flagrant transgressions were missed – the deliberate injuring of Cristiano Ronaldo which could have ended his tournament, and Luis Figo’s shameful headbutting incident. I was glad to see the Dutch bully boy tactic did not work and like most football fans, I cannot believe that when his team badly needed a goal, coach Marco van Basten decided to leave world class forward van Nistelrooy on the bench all because of a disagreement off the pitch. I appreciate why he didn’t start with him, because apparently Ruud has had problems with his Manchester United teammate Ronaldo recently, but by the time the hour mark came round he had been taken off and van Nistelrooy’s introduction really was a no-brainer. I have to assume van Basten will now be seen running the Dutch show again.

ITALY-1 AUSTRALIA-0 – The Socceroos run the Mexicans a close second as the unluckiest team to bow out at this stage of the tournament. They put in a gallant display for ninety minutes, but unfortunately it was an unnecessary lunge from defender Lucas Neill, who ironically had been motioning to his teammates minutes earlier to keep a cool head, which gave the favourites a chance to get through the game. Totti took the high pressure kick extremely well [pic]. I hope the Antipodean supporters back home appreciate what a great achievement their boys have made. It’s not like the rugby and cricket equivalent where they are expected to win every time. This was a REAL World Cup where they reached the last 16 from a field of just under 200, so they can be well proud. The Italians will be delighted to still be in the competition considering all the turmoil that’s happening back home over the match-fixing. It will be interesting to see how far they go and what will happen if any of the squad themselves are found guilty and are expected to receive a World Cup winners medal?

SWITZERLAND-0 UKRAINE-0 aet [Ukraine win 3-0 on penalties] – Gary Lineker called this one perfectly before kickoff on the BBC – “This is a contest between the two most unfancied teams in the last 16, to decide who becomes the most unfacied team in the last eight”. OK, OK, I will hold up my hand – last week I tipped the Swiss to do well in the second phase. I did so because I reckoned they had a strong defense and this could see them through. Pity they didn’t realise that it helps to try and score some goals as well. They played to their superior talents at the back and didn’t seem to mind the prospect of a penalty shoot-out. Well, this notion bit them in the ass as not only did their gameplan make for a boring 120 minutes of football, they also lost their bottle in the shootout, missing all four of their kicks to hand a quarterfinal berth to the Ukraine [pic], who must have long forgotten their 4-0 drubbing to the Spaniards way back when.

BRAZIL-3 GHANA-0 – Undoubtedly the most misleading scoreline of the tournament. It appears to have been a comfortable ride for the Samba boys, but it was nothing of the sort. The Ghanaians were lacking just two things – their star player Michael Essien who was suspended, and defensive maturity. Why they thought holding a high backline against the Brazilian forwards would work I will never know. Even “Who Ate All The Pies” Ronaldo [pic]was able to saunter through and score. Ze Roberto’s extremely well-taken third goal provided us with a glimpse of what we come to expect from the World champions.

SPAIN-1 FRANCE-3 – Cast your mind back to June 14th. Final score from Leipzig : Spain-4 Ukraine-0. If someone told you then that it would be the former Soviet republic that would make the quarterfinals and not their Latin opponents, would you have believed them? Unless you hailed from Kiev, hardly. The French wanted this game more, plain and simple. This was the performance their 30-something generation [eg Zidane seen in pic scoring France's third] needed to produce to justify their reputations, and whatever happens now, they can always point to this game. If Thierry Henry can find some of his va-va-voom as well against the Brazilians, anything can happen. However, it seems the French coach won’t let him run in at the goal from the touchline as he does so well for his club Arsenal.

all photos courtesy of

My predicitons for the quarterfinals…