Goals a Plenty and Maybe Two Pairs of Golden Boots

11 07 2010

(Toronto FC 1-0 Colorado)

Germany 3-2 Uruguay

The final weekend of the World Cup and for me it started out at the most fitting of venues. I hadn’t been to either of the Toronto FC games during the tournament, but I had my ticket for the game against Colorado under the sun.

BMO Field had its usual full house, but for most this game was part of a bigger picture. Whether it was people getting into the stadium, people walking along the concourse or those in line for food and drinks, thoughts were on where to watch the third place match following the game and which team was going to win the big match on Sunday.

The jersey of choice amongst the crowd was naturally the TFC red, but as it World Cup time a few people came out in their national colours. There was the usual smattering of England jerseys and the woman in the Swiss jersey can look back on her side’s win over Spain. The guy in the Austrian jersey must have been dreaming, but at least you can say it’s red so it fit in around here. The pair in the Xavi and Iniesta Barcelona jerseys showed their loyalty for the final, but without doubt the second most popular team at BMO after the home side were the Dutch as best exemplified by the block of fans in the north grandstand all in the now familiar oranje with van Persie, van Bronkhorst and even an Edgar Davids retro jersey amongst the dozens and dozens that clearly stood out when viewed from the other stands.

My last three appearances to BMO all ended up scoreless draws so when Fuad Ibrahim muscled a shot into the Colorado net in the 61st minute it was an even better sight than usual. The TFC win put me, and thousands of others, in the right frame of mind as we all made our way out quickly to any available TV screen to watch the third place match.

What can you say about the third place match? Two sides that only a few days ago still thought they had a shot at winning the whole thing have to stick around and play each other just for the right to say they finished third. One positive is that unlike the second place team, one team here gets to win their last game of the tournament.

Another plus is that with no pressure on either side and only pride at stake this game has proven to be an entertaining match with its share of goals as this year’s edition proved. It also provided some interest amongst the football fans in these parts as Winnipegger Hector Vergara was manning the sidelines making his fourteenth officiating appearance at the World Cup. We can’t produce a team capable of playing but we have developed one of the best amongst the match officials.

Germany opened the scoring in the 19th minute when Bastian Schweinsteiger fired on net from well outside the area. Fernando Muslera gave up a big juicy rebound to Thomas Mueller to fire home for his fifth, and probably easiest, goal that brought him level with Spain’s David Villa and Wesley Sneijder of the Netherlands for the tournament’s leading scorer.

With so little actually at stake in this game Uruguay wasn’t going to defend and play cautiously. In the 28th minute Edinson Cavani struck beautifully from inside the area sliding away as he watched his shot go in against far post to level the score at one.

While the sun gave everyone at BMO a bit if a tan, the rain fell heavily down in Port Elizabeth as the first half came to a close. With the sky opening up so too did the goals. Six minutes after the re-start Diego Forlan continued his outstanding World Cup with a beautiful volley from the top of the box that put Uruguay up 2-1. Like Mueller in the first half, Forlan now had five goals and had really given his campaign for the Golden Boot and Golden Ball a real shot in the arm.

Five minutes later Germany again drew level. Marcell Jansen found himself the only German player in the crease challenging Muslera for the ball. Jansen’s head won the battle and surprised everyone, including himself, by scoring the goal.

With eight minutes to go Germany went back on top. Mesut Oezil delivered a corner into the box that confused the Uruguayan defense. In the ensuing scramble Sami Khedira headed it home for the 3-2 German lead.

In stoppage time the stage was set and the script seemingly written. Uruguay was awarded a free kick dually taken by Forlan. The chance to equalize with the last play of the ninety minutes. The sixth goal that would have given him the outright scoring lead. How did it play out? Forlan came about as close as you can to this fairytale finish, but nailed the crossbar. Alas, it wasn’t to be and the Germans hung on to win it 3-2.

Two weeks ago the world was singing the praises of the South American sides, now with Spain and the Netherlands in the final and Germany winning the third place match it is Europe that swept the podium showing how quickly fortunes can change at a tournament such as this.


An Unfamiliar Goal Scorer and Unfamiliar Territory

7 07 2010

Spain 1-0 Germany

For the second semi-final I decided the Football Factory was as good a location as any for the big occasion. The only problem was that I showed up an hour before kick-off and the place was full. It seemed a Spain-Germany match up with a spot in the World Cup final on the line brought out a large crowd of Spanish, German and general footy fans on this hot and humid afternoon.

A block away Hoops had a few remaining empty seats and thankfully air-conditioning. I took my spot along the bar in front of the mammoth screen they had in the middle of the wall next to several Spanish fans in red jerseys and t-shirts, German fans and a few Dutch supporters who just sat back feeling good knowing that their team was in the big game. They just wanted to see whom they’d be playing on Sunday. With the amount of blackberries out on the bar it would seem more than a few people here had brought the office with them on their ninety or so minute “break”.

The first half saw Spain dominate possession but not necessarily the chances as Iker Casillas for the Spaniards, his German counterpart Manuel Neuer and their respective defenses were called into action repeatedly.

As the second half kicked off it was still anybody’s match to win. The German fans were chatting away in German and English getting more animated with each miss at either end, the Spanish fans were cheering their side on in between sending messages on the blackberries. The Dutch fans sat back and just enjoyed the ride. In the 74th minute Carles Puyol met Xavi’s corner kick with a header off his lion’s mane and Spain had its lead. That was all that was needed as Germany after a flurry of goals eliminated England and Argentina didn’t have the attack necessary. For Puyol his third goal in Spanish colours was a just reward for his ten years of loyal service to the National team.

Two years ago at the European Championships Spain exercised some demons by winning an international tournament after forty-four years of disappointment and failed promise. Now they can exercise whatever demons are still lingering on Sunday when they take on a Dutch side who’s looking to right their own historical wrongs. Whatever the result, the group of World Champions will welcome only its eighth member to the club. Oranje versus La Roja. It’s going to be hot, but if you’ve been around Toronto the past few days I don’t have to tell you what’s hot.

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.

I’m Not Looking For A New England; I’m Just Looking For Another Team

27 06 2010

Germany 4-1 England

When the draw was made for the 2010 World Cup, England and its fans were licking their lips. Matches against the USA, Algeria and Slovenia would act as the perfect warm ups for the knock out stage and what looked like a clear path to the semifinals. A pair of meek draws over the Americans and Algerians and an efficient win over Slovenia moved the English on, but as group runners up meaning a detour on that road to the semis and a giant familiar roadblock in the round of 16 in the form of Germany.

This wasn’t Ghana (or maybe Serbia) as was predicted. This was Germany with its pedigree of going far in these tournaments (and usually eliminating England along the way). This would be more of a test. It would also be a field day for the British tabloids that never shy away from attention grabbing headlines when it’s England v. Germany (in football, in grands prix, in EU disputes, in wars, in well… anything)

It wasn’t quite as rhetoric heavy coming out of Fleet Street, but you get the idea. The Sun had, “Revenge Time” with pics of John Terry, Fabio Capello and Mesut Oezil. The Daily Mirror had,  “3 O’clock High: England Ready To Rout Old Enemy” with headshots of Wayne Rooney and Oezil.  News of the World offered, “All Out Roar: Our Boys are Ready for Battle” featuring Steven Gerrard, Terry and Rooney and a lion all flashing front fangs.

The English supporters were in full voice again as God Save the Queen and the theme from The Great Escape battled with the vuvuzelas (I’d say it was a draw) for the stadium’s soundtrack. Things got a little quiet in the 20th minute when Miroslav Klose put the Germans up 1-nil. He fought off John Terry and Matthew Upson one after the other before he fired past David James. For Klose it was his second of the tourney (and twelfth World Cup goal overall) and he missed a game due to a red card. Wayne Rooney you may want to follow in Klose ‘s footsteps and deliver on the big stage once in a while.

A couple of minutes after the half our mark and Germany’s other half of their dynamic duo up front, Lukas Podolski, wasn’t to be outdone by Klose as Oezil, Klose and Thomas Mueller neatly moved the ball up to Podolski who was unmarked Germans have knack for being clean, efficient and precise.

Five minutes later and England had life. Steven Gerrard received the corner and put in a shot on net that Matthew Upson headed perfectly right into the back of the net. It was a whole new game. To say England and Germany have a history is an understatement, but in football alone they have enough history for their own university class. When they met in 1966 at Wembley for the final of the World Cup one of the lasting memories was Geoff Hurst’s second goal of his hat trick that hit the cross bar and dropped immediately before bouncing right back out. It might have crossed the line, it might not have. Watch the video and it’s inconclusive. The ref said it did and England was world champions thanks to a 4-2 win.

Flash forward to today and Frank Lampard is the anti-Hurst. He fired from just outside the box nailing the cross bar and dropping down. The referee said no goal. A look at the replay and its across the line (certainly way more than Hurst’ s shot ever was) but in the 44 years since there is still no replay in football so the ref’s decision is final. Kevin Keatings summed it up best with his call, ”It’s Wembley 1966 all over again!”

Seven minutes after the break and Lampard has a free kick from thirty yards out which hit the crossbar and went wide.  No controversy, but no goal either. Fifteen minutes later he had another free kick, but this one went off the wall.  On the counterattack Mueller found a wide-open Bastian Schweinsteiger who has loads of time to pass back to Mueller to finish the job properly (what else would you expect form the Germans) and it’s 3-1.

In the 70th minute Klose found Oezil alone down the wing who made a routine cross into the middle to Mueller for his second and it’s 4-1. Route one football never looked this good.

4-1 is how it ended. The big surprise being that the game didn’t go to penalties. The Three Lions can now go off into the sunset and lick their wounds while the Germans look to improve their efficiency and precision. A scary thought for Mexico or Argentina.

For the record, here’s what the tabloids thought of things.

News of the World, “Mullered: England’s Shameful Surrender”

Daily Mirror, “Muller-ed: Three Lions Muller-ed by Germans… and the Ref”

The Sun, “Franks For Nothing: Fabio’s flops are battered in Bloemfontein”

Black Wednesday

24 06 2010

Germany 1-0 Ghana

Australia 2-1 Serbia

My afternoon was spent at the Dark Horse pub, a very English pub in Bloor West Village. It’s the sort of place that must have been in a very good mood earlier in the day. I say this because most of the crowd seemed to be holdovers from the morning dressed in their England jerseys giving stick to one of their friends about the current plight of Middlesbrough.

The setup is perfect as one wall has two big screens with Germany-Ghana on one and Serbia-Australia on the other and me sitting right in between.

Much like the earlier pair of games, it was all up for grabs as Group D concluded. Any combination of wins, losses or draws could put any of the four teams in the knockout phase. The sentimental pick was Ghana, as they seem to be the last of Africa’s sides capable of qualifying (although Ivory Coast may have something to say about that on Friday).

Johannesburg was the venue for Germany-Ghana and you could call the stadium Chance City as both sides were going for it, creating scoring chance after scoring chance. It was all for naught as they went to the break scoreless.

Over in Nelspruit, Australia kicked off against Serbia with both sides knowing a win might not be enough, they’d have to score a lot to help their plight. Tim Cahill, back form his red card suspension, took his team’s cause on his shoulders coming up with the best pair of chances in the first half. Like Group D’s other finale; this one was scoreless at the break.

In the second half the picture became a little clearer regarding who would move on. On the hour mark, Mesut Oezil volleyed home after a quick touch from a Thomas Muller cross that put the Germans in the lead. With results the way the were, Germany would be advancing to a match up with longtime rival England. The fans in the pub were licking their lips at that proposal. With these two countries having fought on the football field and the battlefield a few times which has led to some outrageous tabloid front pages, I can only imagine what the headlines of The Sun, Daily Mirror and News of the World will be like in the next few days as this match up was confirmed at the final whistle.

Back in Nelspruit Tim Cahill’s efforts were rewarded in the 69th minute with the game’s opening goal. Unfortunately the Aussies only had just over twenty minutes to score a few more goals. Brett Holman added a second four minutes later and it looked like we might have another dramatic qualifying grasped form the jaws of elimination. Marko Pantelic brought Serbia one goal back and pushed the Aussies to the sidelines as a 2-1 win in the end wasn’t enough for the Socceroos to move on. Africa is still alive as Ghana moved on as runner–up. I can only imagine what sort of support they’re going to receive as they have the hopes and dreams of a whole continent behind them. South Africa is now they’re home field.

D is for Death

20 06 2010

Serbia 1-0 Germany

Ghana 1-1 Australia

When the draw was made for the 2010 World Cup many labeled Group G as possibly the most difficult with Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast together with North Korea. The other group that had many thankful they weren’t included in it was D with Germany, Serbia, Ghana and Australia. So far after its two rounds of games Group D is living up to its reputation as one of the “Groups of Death”.

Serbia gave up a foolish penalty after a handball in the box, which was duly converted to give Ghana a 1-nil win. Germany kicked off against Australia and kicked them right off the pitch to the tune of a 4-0 thumping. How would the formbook play out the second time around?

Serbia kicked off against Germany and in the ensuing days off after their loss to Ghana they must have procured a copy of Switzerland’s playbook against Spain because for most of the first half their play was very similar to the recent Swiss defensive performance. The Serbians also had the benefit of Alberto Undiano as the referee, who had a penchant for handing out yellow cards. He issued six in the half for what seemed like little more than routine tackles. Miroslav Klose certainly thought they were routine tackles and was surprised when he was given two of those six yellows resulting in a red card. Germany was down to ten men after 37 minutes and without one of their star strikers who scores goals regularly in World Cup games.

Things got worse for the Germans a minute later. Serbia learned from the Swiss and North Koreans and improved the situation by scoring earlier than those other upstarts. Milan Jovanovic put the Serbians in the lead 1-nil. Germany came close (but not Klose) to equalizing when Sami Khedira nailed a shot off the crossbar in stoppage time and the half ended with Serbia leading 1-nil.

As the game approached the hour mark Lukas Podolski missed on two decent chances and there was a distinct momentum change in favour of Germany. In the 59th minute Nemanja Vidic must have heard wrong in the last post-game coach’s talk because he was called for a handball in the box. Germany was gaining the advantage in the run of play and now Serbia was committing the same error from its pervious game. Certainly this would be déjà vu? Podolski stepped up and nailed a shot low at the right corner only for Vladimir Stojokovic to guess right. Serbia hung on for the remaining half hour and pulled off the upset throwing the group wide open.

At this point you could say the only thing consistent for Germany is head coach Joachim Low’s “unique” fashion sense. No suit or team parka for him. No no. Low an his assistant have appeared on the touchline versus Australia in matching purple v-neck long sleeved t-shirts under black sport coats and against Serbia showed off a pair of rather interesting black form fitting cardigan sweaters. I can only imagine what will be on display from Low against Ghana, maybe something with a scarf and beret?

With Germany rapidly brought back to earth and Serbia brought back to life, Ghana took on Australia with lots to play for. As this was a Saturday morning I decided on a little World Cup brunch. I settled into my French toast (kind of fitting since it appears that the French are toast in this tournament?) and orange juice and before I had finished my bacon Australia was in the lead. In the 11th minute Mark Bresciano took an awarded free kick and fired on Richard Kingson only for his parry to land at the feet of Brett Holman who took advantage of this gift and gave the Socceroos the 1-nil lead The crowd was almost exclusively Dutch fans in their various orange shirts who hadn’t gone home or didn’t want to go home after their earlier victory on the day so the goal wasn’t really met with cheers, just a few muttered ”wows”.

As quickly as it looked like Australia might win, they were met with disappointment and frustration. In the 24th minute Harry Kewell was called for a handball in the penalty area and red carded. For Ghana it was a case of two matches, two handballs in the area and two penalties. Asamoah Gyan stepped to the spot like he did against Serbia and scored easily and we had a 1-1 draw.

On a day when Cameroon would later be eliminated you have to tip your hat to Ghana who remain the only unbeaten African side, but they’ve only scored two goals and both have come off of penalties. They’ll have to do better if they want to make a serious run at the World Cup. However, Group D is so tight right now they may not even get the chance to advance.

Not Quite What Was Expected

14 06 2010

Slovenia 1-0 Algeria

Ghana 1-0 Serbia

Germany 4-0 Australia

Two former parts of 1990 quarterfinalists Yugoslavia both kicked off their World Cup today. One dominated its qualifying group finishing ahead of France and wrapping up a spot in South Africa with one game to spare. The other had to overcome arguably stronger competition in its group in the form of Poland and the Czech Republic to earn a playoff match-up against Russia, which it won against the odds to book its place in the tournament. One of them managed to win while the other fell short and now finds itself behind the eight ball early.

Having qualified for both Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup, Slovenia are actually relatively experienced with recent major tournaments, but with population of just over 2 million (it is this World Cup’s smallest country) it is and will usually be seen as an underdog. Not much was expected of this team and it’s opening match against Algeria may just have been what the doctor ordered, rather than opening up against group powerhouse England or the dark horse Americans. Riding the wave that carried them past their Eastern European rivals all the way to South Africa, Slovenia took the lead in the 79th minute when Robert Koren fired an innocent enough shot on goal that beat Faouzi Chaouchi. In hockey terms we’d say “the puck had eyes” and this ball had eyes as it tucked in past the right post. Chaouchi probably should have saved it, and while I won’t say his gaffe was anywhere near as bad as Robert Green’s, it sealed Algeria’s fate with them already down to ten men with only eleven minutes left to play.

At the final whistle Slovenia was the first European team to record a victory in the tourney and thanks to the England- US draw now lead Group C. I’m not necessarily saying this team will go far, but Slovenia has been defying the odds for the past year and a half and today showed no reason why that trend can’t continue.

Serbia opened up Group D play with their match against Ghana. This group is one of the so-call “groups of death” so it was important to get off to a great start for both teams. For the majority of the game this evenly matched showdown seemed as though it was going to run its natural course and end nil-nil, however a handball in the box by Zdravko Kuzmnovic meant a spot kick for Ghana in the 85th minute. Asamoah Gyan nailed the penalty and Ghana had a one-nil lead it wouldn’t surrender, giving it and Africa it’s first 2010 World Cup win.

Coincidently, both coaches in this game are Serbian and having to beat his compatriots seemed to take a bit of a toll on Milovan Rajevac, as he hardly seemed happy with what was accomplished by his team. Already disappointed with the loss, Radomir Antic now faces an even tougher test going up against the Germans in what may already be must win territory.

I say must win because Germany looks as though it already owns one of the spots in the knockout phase from this group if its performance against Australia is anything to go by.

After the first seven games of the tournament we had yet to see a truly dominant world class performance. France had drawn, England had drawn and Argentina’s win was only one-nil. The only game featuring more than one goal was South Korea’s two-nil victory over Greece. As impressive as the South Korea performance was, Germany versus Australia set he record straight on what is a dominant display. The Aussies are quite capable of reaching the knockout stage and are a dark horse to reach the quarterfinals so they are no pushovers, but the Germans simply rolled over them to the tune of four-nil with four different Germans providing the goals. The usual suspects of Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski scored in the first half while youngster Thomas Mueller and Cacau doubled the lead in the second. With four goals against and lone striker Tim Cahill sent off with a red card there was never going to be an Australian comeback. Like the Serbs they now have an uphill climb to move on after steamrolling through qualifying and booking their place early on as well.