Sunday, June 13, 2010
Day (Two Thousand and) Two
I'm referring, of course, to some first-up matches at the 2002 World Cup.
The parallels are very close. Poland went into the 2002 tournament as potential dark horses but fared very poorly; Argentina played much thoughtful, incisive football against the Nigerians in Ibaraki but were thwarted constantly by the obscure keeper Ike Shorunmu, who played out of his skin that day. Oh, and England went into the lead early against Sweden but a silly giveaway by Danny Mills allowed Niclas Alexandersson to score a fine left-footed goal.
Greece really were awful in the first half against South Korea last night, and only came to life after the hour, when they were already 2-0 down. Overall, they made the Koreans look a lot better than they were; during that concluding period of the game, when the Koreans were being outmuscled with worrying ease by the Greeks in their own half, their efforts on the breakaway were stilted and ineffective.
Otto Rehhagel clearly believed that hoisting the ball into the area was enough to get a result against an Asian side, and although one might say that this is an outdated attitude...the final thirty minutes might have given him the impression that he was right.
After a fluent and exciting opening ten minutes, Argentina simply didn't quite click. Messi posed danger, as expected, but he found Vincent Enyeama in fine form. As in 2002, a certain Juan Sebastian Veron was at the heart of the midfield, and as in 2002, he didn't have the best of games. Nor did Angel di Maria, who could well be replaced for the South Korea game.
There were a few troublesome moments in defence for Argentina as well, with Jonas Gutierrez looking ill-suited to the right-back role and Sergio Romero having some difficulties in goal. For the Nigerians, there was plenty of power in the forward line but not much in the way of direction; they should really have equalised twice. South Korea v. Nigeria will be a fascinating game, probably the group decider.
The England goalkeeping problem continues. No-one of real international class has emerged to replace David Seaman (Paul Robinson was not really up to it in 2006), and it will be hard for Robert Green to pick himself up for the rest of the tournament after that shocking blunder. Otherwise, it was much the same as the England of 2002. Nine years on from the glory of Munich, the obsession with Emile Heskey's head continues: although he remains laudably unselfish and a constant problem for opposition defences, he is hardly a terror in front of goal.
The lack of pace in central defence, which was exposed badly by Jozy Altidore in the second period, must be a worry for Fabio Capello. The USA looked a well-organised, competitive side in the main, just as they did against Australia. Without wishing to demean Slovenia or Algeria, whose debut we will get to see tonight, the Americans must still be favoured to get out of the group along with England.
Beyond the quarter-finals for Capello's men this time? On this morning's form, they will be lucky to make it past the last 16. But there's a way to go yet.
Is it too late to get onto the Messi bandwagon?