Thursday, June 17, 2010

 

Swiss Tease

In the midst of the best day's football at South Africa 2010 so far came the upset of the first round. In many ways, though, the signs were there: but for a breathtaking goal, Brazil might have suffered a similar fate against the totally unfancied North Koreans.

Picture this: a team knocking the ball around nicely, creating intricate patterns in midfield, holding onto possession with consummate ease, almost teasing their opposition. But said opposition is powerful in the air, so working the ball out wide for a cross isn't likely to work. Similarly, shuttling it through the middle with a series of one-twos is a low-percentage option, because the enemy has stacked that area. Shots from distance, then? The aerodynamic qualities of the Jabulani beachball will militate against them. What to do, then?

In Brazil's case, it took a fullback to hit the byline and actually shoot rather than cross or cut the ball back, but the goal was a freakish one. Alas for the Spaniards, Sergio Ramos couldn't do the same. The commitment to the short pass was total, and given the strength of the Swiss defence and the lack of height throughout the side, long balls would have been a waste anyway. Once or twice, Spain did force their way through the middle, but Diego Benaglio knew he would have to be quick off his line, and he was. One shot from distance, from Xabi Alonso, came down off the underside of the bar, but the others went into the now familiar Jabulani orbit.

By the end of the game, after their messy goal, it was the Swiss who were doing the teasing. Jesus Navas did make an impact, but it wasn't quite enough. And Fernando Torres appeared to be at only 50% of his full capacity, if that.

Spain could now be in real trouble: Chile looked menacingly effective against Honduras despite the low score, and the Swiss proved awfully hard to beat at the last tournament. I sincerely hope that Vicente del Bosque's team can pull themselves together and make it to the Round of 16; the tournament would be much the poorer for the absence of the European champions from the knockout stage.

The Spanish are not in quite as much trouble as the hosts, however. In a pleasingly open game (a marked contrast to Uruguay's opener), the South Americans always looked to have just a little more football nous than their opponents. Credit to Oscar Tabarez for fielding a more attacking line-up, including Edison Cavani, which allowed Diego Forlan and the talented Luis Suarez to see much more of the ball. Suarez could yet be one of the stars of the tournament; certainly, South Africa found his swift turns too much to cope with at times.

Comments:
Hi - I'm in Switzerland at the moment. I have a food blog and don't usually post about sport but they have intersected today. I just posted these pics of the 'celebrations' here. Very low key.
http://tiffinblog.blogspot.com/2010/06/swiss-roll-all-over-spain.html
 
The Spain v Switzerland game was really strange. For my lay-observer's money Spain put on the best team performance of the tournament so far. They completely dominated the Swiss on every part of the park. And they did break the defence a number of times, and had 28 shots on goal.

I'm sure you have a more sophisticated view Mike, but the only explanation that I can come up with is that the football gods intervened, for their own amusement or some other reason.

As for the North Koreans, we have to watch that space I reckon. We have a Stalinist state adopting and militantly implementing the most modern coaching methods and tactics available. Their system looked impecable (and would have done so even more in attack if they could keep the ball from the wily Brazilians). What such an institutional effort might have difficulty producing however is the individual flair that ultimately won it for Brazil.
 
That was by far the best football night. Absolutely loved every game (yes all the way to wee hours of the morning).

Last night wasn't too bad either, but god damn what was Kieta thinking (or not).
 
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