Too Much Too Young Too Fast

4 07 2010

Germany 4-0 Argentina

All things being equal a quarterfinal between Germany and Argentina at the World Cup shouldn’t be an unexpected match up, but this year it was a bit of a surprise. Argentina waited until about the ninth or tenth hour, if not the eleventh, to book their place in South Africa and the German team features several newbies to the national team fresh from a 2009 U21 European Championship, but lacking experience at the full international level.

Germany opened up impressively with a 4-nil trouncing of Australia in their opening match, but for their doubters Australia was an aging team and their best player (Tim Cahill) was red carded so skepticism still lingered. Those doubts didn’t go away when Serbia won 1-nil in their second game. A 1-nil win over Ghana gave Germany the group, but it didn’t give a lot of followers the faith that this was a German team capable of the results of past World Cups.

Ever since Diego Maradona took over the coaching reins of this Argentine side, there have been doubters questioning his credentials as a coach and about his ability to handle a game when his side is trailing and requires a change in tactics.

Argentina got off to a winning start holding off Nigeria 1-nil. They put South Korea to the sword to the tune of 4-1 before wrapping up the group with a 2-nil take down of Greece. With the exception of parts of the game against Nigeria they were in complete control of their matches which is why questions were asked about what could or would Maradona do when he and his side had their backs against he wall.

Besides an abundance of inexperienced players, Germany was also without their captain and arguably their best player in Michael Ballack, So, with Ballack and all that youth what chance did they have? I have written before in this blog about how the former champions of the World Cup keep finding a way to win and with both of these sides it had been that way.  For me it wasn’t a surprise that we had this match up, but for others not so much and when it was all said and done we had answers for one side, but for the other we still had questions.

In the knockout stage Germany got a few people off it’s back with its 4-1 demolition of England, but doubters would still argue what if Lampard’s goal had counted? Argentina took out Mexico 3-1, but what if Tevez’s first goal was called back? Something had to give at this stage.

It only took three minutes for the scoring to start. Thomas Mueller, one of the key contributors to the English slaughter, headed in Bastian Schweinsteiger’s free kick and it was 1-nil to the Germans. A goal by one of the young guns off a set piece by the guy who has more than filled Ballack’s shoes. Germany was doing just fine.

In the 68th minute, Miroslav Klose did what he does best (which is score in a Germany shirt). His last season with Bayern Munich was a disappointment, but he has more than saved his reputation with another fine World Cup goal scoring campaign. Lukas Podolski crossed to the wide-open Klose for a simple walk in on goal and it was 2-nil. People may have had questions about Germany, but when your two forwards have contributed in almost every game like Klose and Podolski have you win. It’s rather simple. Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Franck Ribery and others should watch and learn. That goal by Klose was his 13th all-time at the World Cup moving him past Pele.

Six minutes later, Schweinsteiger moved the ball forward to the goal line before cutting back slightly to find an open Arne Friedrich who scored to make it 3-nil in favour of the Germans.

In the dying minutes of the second half, another of the outstanding youngsters, Mesut Oezil, crossed to Klose in the centre of the crease for a simple chip for his second and Germany’s fourth on the day. A celebration was underway. Klose is now second all-time tied with fellow German goalmeister Gerd Muller with 14 goals in the World Cup, only one back of Brazilian Ronaldo.

Argentina were humbled a day after Brazil’s shock exit and now all the early talk of impressive South America play has all but evaporated. Germany moves on to familiar territory as it is the only country to have played in the past three World Cup semi finals. For those German sports fans under whelmed by the Michael Schumacher comeback in Formula One, there is a successful return to prominence unfolding.





1986 All Over Again (Kind Of, Sort Of)

30 06 2010

Argentina 3-1 Mexico

With England and Germany busy remaking 1966 with an alternate ending, Argentina was working on a 1986 redux with Mexico filling in for the part of the English. Starring as Diego Maradona? Carlos Tevez.

In 1986 Argentina faced England in the quarterfinals in one of the World Cup’s most infamous games. Argentina won 2-1 thanks to two completely different goals from Diego Maradona. His first was punched in as seen by millions of TV viewers, but not by the officials who awarded the goal no question. In a post match interview Maradona said the goal was scored, “with the head of Maradona and another bit with the hand of God.” Only el Diego could get away with a quote like this and the goal had its nickname.

Four minutes later Maradona picked up the ball near the centre of the pitch and proceeded to dribble past five English defenders in an unbelievable run. In 2002 in a FIFA poll it was voted Goal of the Century.  Madness and genius in four minutes and it was enough to knock out the English while Argentina went on to win the tournament.

Fast-forward to 2010 and Argentina took on Mexico in the knockout phase. In the 26th minute Argentina took the lead. Lionel Messi fired on goal only to have the shot stopped by Mexican keeper Oscar Perez. The rebound came right back to Messi who lobbed the ball over Perez where a clearly offside Carlos Tevez flicked on off his head into the open net. 1-nil Argentina on a goal seen to be illegal by millions of TV viewers, but missed by the officials. Maradona looked on with a mix of pride and jubilation for the touchline.

In the 33rd minute Argentina doubled their lead when a lazy turnover on behalf of the Mexican defense gave the ball back to Gonzalo Higuain The slack defending left Higuain with a wide open net to score his fourth goal of the tourney.

Seven minutes after re-start Argentina booked their ticket for the quarterfinals. The ball came out to Tevez just on the edge of the box. Tevez played the bounce off the Mexican defender and launched a beautiful strike into the top corner. A goal of pure genius in the same game where he scored in a moment of madness. Again Maradona was beaming on the touchline.

Just after the 70th minute Mexico got a consolation goal from Javier Hernandez much like England did courtesy of Gary Lineker that day twenty-four years ago.  Maradona’s Jekyll and Hyde goals helped paved the way for him winning the World Cup as a player. Maybe Tevez’s pair will end up making Maradona a winner as a coach as well?





Argentina Won’t Bail Out Greece

23 06 2010

Argentina 2-0 Greece

South Korea 2-2 Nigeria

Not to be out done by their Italian, Portuguese and Brazilian counterparts, the Greeks along the Danforth are completely behind their team and with a chance at qualifying for the second round on the table today, they were behind their team more than ever.

Coming up the escalator from the subway and the sky was dark. The rain I thought was done for the day had come back and I’d left my jacket and umbrella at home. Oh well, I’d have to find an open seat quickly and not waste too much time outside. It was just over an hour before kickoff so I liked my chances. Half a block later I was on the Danforth waiting at the red light. Amongst the crowd at the corner were two fans in Greek jerseys. I crossed the intersection and started to see a few flags on the cars and a couple more people in jerseys. I also heard the car horns. They weren’t due to impatient drivers or avoided accidents; this is World Cup fever Greek style. The cars honking their horns featured passengers waving Greek flags outside their windows. A few fans had umbrellas (blue and white of course) but as I saw more and more Greek supporters in their jerseys I saw they were putting up with the rain as they made their way to the dozens of restaurants, bars and bakeries all of which had multiple screens showing the end of the South Africa-France game. Two blocks in to my walk and every other person seemed to be wearing the blue and white jersey. The scarves were out on display, the flags were waving and more and more car horns were honking. Two guys were passing the time before the game keeping dry under an awning dribbling a ball back and forth. A Greek win and the right result form the South Korea-Nigeria game and they’d be into the round of 16. I remember Greece’s Cinderella run to the Euro 2004 title (especially being down here during and after their semi-final win over the Czechs), but this seems like a bigger deal.  Last week Greece was a team that had never won a game or scored a goal at the World Cup, now they were within distance of a match-up with Uruguay.

The usual spots are full up with more blue and white clad fans, but the Brass Taps has an open seat so I have my spot. It’s not authentic Greek, but it’s in the neighbourhood and the jerseys on the stools are blue and white so it will do quite nicely. As the bartender says, “we get all the overflow.”

Walking up here I’d heard the local kook across the street telling whoever would listen as he rode his mountain bike that, “Greece will win 2-1 or it will be 1-1” and that, “God had told him so.” I liked his optimism of not his credibility. The security guard outside the bank hearing the car horns thought that game was already over. After hearing kick off was still an hour away he said, “they aren’t gonna win so they might as well enjoy it now.”

By kickoff the Brass Taps is as Blue and White as any of the Greek restaurants. Our friend on the mountain bike has come in and told us his premonition. They don’t doubt the message, just the source. Much like along College Street when other sides are playing, all blocks by the wall from free kicks, all corner kicks and any sniff of a good scoring chance are met with anticipation and cheers. Georgios Samaras missing what seemed with a sure goal, at least according to those around the TV, causes groans of frustration, as the score stays nil-nil.

Eventually Argentina breaks through the Greek defense. In the 77th minute Martin Demichelis scores and Martin Palermo adds a second a minute from fulltime for Argentina to finish as Group B winners with a 3-0 record and suddenly Diego Maradona’s credibility as a coach is on the upswing. The final nail in the Greek coffin was getting ready to be nailed. All that was left was the final whistle form the South Korea match with the Nigerians.

So an afternoon on the Danforth brought no celebration. Maybe if I’d gone to Bloor and Christie I could have witnessed some celebrations as a draw against Nigeria was enough for the South Koreans to snag a spot in the knockout stage as Group B runner up.

Nigeria came into this game with a slim shot, but a shot nonetheless of advancing and came out attacking. In the 12th minute Kalu Uchu sent a Chidi Odiah cross into the net for the early 1-nil lead. In the 36th minute Uchu nearly added a second goal when he struck from outside the crease only to see it rattle off the crossbar.

On the immediate counterattack South Korea snuffed out the growing Nigerian momentum evening things up when Lee Jung Soo tapped in off a free kick after initially missing it with his head. Now instead of 2-nil Nigeria it was level at ones.

Park Chu Young put the Koreans in front four minutes after the re-start bending a free kick past the wall for a beauty goal. Yakubu Ayegbeni was successful from the spot after a foul in the box to draw the Africans even but there would be no more goals and the South Korean are on their way to the round of 16 while Africa had a disappointing day overall as two more of its teams went home after the group stage joining Cameroon on the sidelines.





Messi Gave Us Everything But A Goal

18 06 2010

Argentina 4-1 South Korea

Greece 2-1 Nigeria

Group B played its second round of matches where for both victors it was a case of raising your game a couple of levels. Argentina got off to a winning start on Saturday, but Nigeria had given them everything they had so there were still a few questions for Diego Maradona and his players. Greece was coming off a lackluster 2-0 loss to South Korea. Coupled with their winless and goalless performance in their only previous World Cup appearance, they were trying to end a growing streak of futility. If both of these teams had seen Uruguay impress against South Africa following their own mediocre draw on the tournament’s opening day, they might have been inspired. It may not have been the Uruguayan result, but something motivated the Argentines and Greeks to great things today.

Argentina kicked off against South Korea first and picked up the gauntlet Germany had thrown on Sunday and then threw is down themselves. Lionel Messi had been impressive in their win over Nigeria doing pretty much everything but score. Today he showed all those same skills repeatedly having a hand in all four of Argentina’s goals. Gonzalo Higuain was the man with the magic foot on the receiving end of passes or crosses provided by Messi for the first hat trick of the tournament. This was as solid a performance as you will see which should send a few shivers down some spines since Messi has yet to score. He may not have to if the results still go Argentina’s way. The questions should start to go away for Maradona as a coach as well. He may never be a good coach. He may never actually show he knows what he’s doing, but he’s winning so that is all that really matters.

In the second game of the day Nigeria was looking to go one better after just coming up short on Saturday. Things looked promising for the Africans as they managed to take the lead in the 16th minute. All those Jabulani detractors had to briefly eat crow as Kalu Uche fired home from a free kick. The ball didn’t sail upwards and over the net it actually ended up in the net.

All the momentum was lost in an instant in the 33rd when Sani Kaita was red carded. Reduced to ten men and Nigeria’s performance went south. Eleven minutes later Greece got one of its World Cup monkeys off its back when Dimitrios Salpingidis scored his country’s first ever goal in the tournament in their fifth ever match. The other monkey jumped off shortly after Vasileios Torosidis scored a second goal and Greece had its first ever win at the World Cup.

You have to pity Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama. What’s he got to do to get a win? Two matches, two man of the match awards and two one-goal losses. Several high end saves though and he’ll need a few more of those in their last game for any chance at the round of 16.





A Surprise Leader in Group B

13 06 2010

South Korea 2-0 Greece

Argentina 1-0 Nigeria

Group B kicked off today and if you’d said to me one team would dominate its opponent and another would do enough to win I might have answered South Korea and Argentina but not for how it played out on the field.

South Korea faced Greece and dominated their European rivals in an impressive display in Port Elizabeth. Lee Jung Soo in the 7th minute and Park Ji Sung in the 52nd minute provided the scoring, as South Korea became the first team in the tournament to both win a game and score multiple goals. The Koreans looked compact, efficient and highly organized throughout the game and sent a message that a spot in the knockout stage is within the realm of possibility for the Asians.

Greece is a side that surprises me. It is a country with a pair or moderately big clubs in Panathinaikos and Olympiakos and it repeatedly fails to achieve more on the international stage (a hot streak at Euro 2004 aside). They were clearly the lesser side and have now run their world cup futility record to 0 wins in 4 games with 0 goals scored (take heart Canada should you qualify again there is someone with a lesser record than yourselves at this stage).

Meanwhile, in Johannesburg the always-newsworthy Argentina opened up with a win over Nigeria, which will be all that really matters in the end, but they were somewhat lucky to leave the field 1-0 victors. The microscope was out for Diego Maradona as a coach and Lionel Messi as a superstar. Maradona as a player virtually won the World Cup in 1986 single handedly (something Messi could be capable of in 2010) but his record in charge of Argentina still left many with questions. Their qualifying campaign seemed like it was a train almost going off the rails a few times so a result like today seemed fair considering they haven’t been all that solid for a while.

Messi, whose performances in Barcelona’s shirt far outshine his time in the sky blue and white stripes, impressed in giving and receiving crosses all game. He did everything but actually score (that honour went to Gabriel Heinze in the 6th minute). In fact you could say that about most of the Argentina attack as they did everything but score s second goal. With Nigeria coming close on a few of its chances coupled with a spectacular performance in net by Vincent Enyeama, results might have gone the Africans’ way. As I said the final result shows an Argentina win, which for Maradona and all concerned is what’s important.