Saturday, June 19, 2010


Unheralded Epic

This second cycle of matches has produced plenty of fine games already, but last night's Slovenia v. USA match topped the lot. It had everything you could want from a football game: four fine goals, plenty of goalmouth action, positive play from both sides, subtle shifts of the initiative, and...a talking point.

In short, it was marvellously exciting throughout, and a great advertisement for the World Cup. Neat skills and impeccable organisation faced speed, physical power and an unbending spirit, and the two finished deservedly equal.

It's particularly enjoyable when two of the tournament's unheralded teams produce a spectacle like that, since one is left with the feeling that there might be even better to come. But both teams looked very much on song at different periods of the game, and both are now a reasonable bet to progress from Group C, which has been much tougher than expected.

Slovenia were totally in control for the first half-hour, dealing with the physical threat of Jozy Altidore and the speed of Robbie Findley almost contemptuously. Although the USA enjoyed a brief period of dominance after the half-hour, when an equaliser looked quite likely, Zlatan Ljubijankic's sucker-punch just before the break would have been decisive against most teams.

But Bojan Jokic's unfortunate slip let Landon Donovan through on the right early in the second period, and once the USA star had scored his remarkable goal, it was game on at both ends. Curiously, Donovan probably only elected to shoot rather than play a ball across goal due to the lack of support in the box...had a helpful attacker been running through the central channel in anticipation of a quick cut-back, the Americans might not have scored!

The final half-hour was absolutely thrilling, with plenty of chances at both ends and the momentum swaying between the two sides. Michael Bradley's equaliser was a much better finish than it looked; half-volleys are never easy to keep down, and to steer it between an advancing keeper and the crossbar would not have been easy.

The USA were certainly moral victors given the bizarre annulment of Maurice Edu's goal. If anything, there appeared to be more pushing and shirt-pulling from the Slovenians in the area, although plenty of the underhand fouling that goes on at set-pieces goes unpunished. But the attacking side never, ever, gets the benefit of the doubt in such situations.

Speaking of things that referees constantly refuse to do, just when are we going to see a goalkeeper actually punished for sneaking off his line at a penalty? Serbia's Vladimir Stojkovic was the latest culprit, and indeed Lukas Podolski's weak penalty was saved; it should have been retaken, as Stojkovic had clearly moved, as even the commentator, Gary Bloom, noticed.

Not that Germany really deserved to get back into a game they never quite got to grips with. The card-happy, officious Spanish referee tipped the scales a long way in Serbia's favour with the harsh dismissal of Miroslav Klose, but the Serbs already looked very comfortable. Keeping the sort of deep defensive line that the Socceroos should so obviously have employed, they limited the space available to the likes of Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield, and made full use of the wide avenues in attack. This time, Milos Krasic was a torment on the right, and his mastery of Holger Badstuber was directly responsible for the only goal of the game.

The group is at an interesting stage. If Australia can get a result against Ghana tonight, things will be open wide for the final game. I still rate the Socceroos' chances of doing so as quite reasonable, despite the absence of Tim Cahill and the childish media spat surrounding Harry Kewell. The injury to Vince Grella is the ultimate blessing in disguise.

England? Very ordinary once again, with the midfield never linking properly with the front two, Wayne Rooney looking a long way off full throttle, and Steven Gerrard badly out of form. Fabio Capello must surely be thinking twice about the use of Emile Heskey as the point-man as well: he may be an aerial nuisance, but his first touch let him down regularly against the Algerians. The North African side looked more lively than against Slovenia, with Karim Ziani out-pointing any of the English midfielders throughout the game, Gerrard and Frank Lampard included. Given the imperturbable manner in which Slovenia have approached the tournament, England must be seriously concerned about their prospects of even making the last 16.

Nice summary. I really enjoyed the match between Serbia and Germany and I actually thought Germany did pretty well with 10 men and had enough chance to win the game.

In any case, tonights match against Ghana. I'm less optimistic. Especially after reading Pim's brand of sport psychology here

You know I had defended Pim from criticism about his comments on the A-league as well as his "hopeless" comments. Now I concede that you were probably right Mike in the past that he was saying self-serving comments to protect himself from criticism when the team loses.

Pim reputation in Holland as a manager was at stake after he lost 4-0 to Germany. Now he's putting down the player of our team in a self-serving manner trying to salvage it. It's a disgrace
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