For Spain it’s a Case of Better Late Than Never

6 07 2010

Spain 1-0 Paraguay

This wasn’t the usual performance from the well-oiled Spanish machine. This wasn’t an opponent expected to reach this stage. Regardless, Spain played Paraguay in a quarterfinal that people will be talking about for some time.

Paraguay was playing in its first ever World Cup quarterfinal, but didn’t let the occasion overwhelm them as they ran Spain ragged. The South Americans did everything but score, although if you ask some spectators, viewers and pundits they would say otherwise when in the 41st minute Nelson Valdez thought he’d given Paraguay the lead only to be called back for offside when replays showed that was not necessarily the case.

As the game was approaching the hour mark it was as though the events were taken over by a scriptwriter. While Paraguay was taking its first corner kick Oscar Cardozo’s arm was tugged until he was brought down in the box by Gerard Pique and the ref pointed to the spot without hesitation. Cardozo stepped up to take the kick and Iker Casillas in the Spanish net guessed the right way and made the save. A slightly dodgy offside call and a rare penalty save. Forces were conspiring to keep this game scoreless.

You might think I’ve lost the plot a bit talking about a conspiracy, but consider what happened with in two minutes on the ensuing counterattack. David Villa was brought down by Antolin Alcaraz in the box (barely, but he was tackled) for a Spanish penalty. Xabi Alonso took his place at the spot and dually hit it home, but no. Pique was thought to have encroached the area before the penalty and a re-take was ordered.  Alonso regrouped, stepped up again and it was Justo Villar’s turn to guess the right way and make the save. Unbelievably we had two penalty saves, a penalty ordered re-taken and that dubious offside. Maybe I’m not crazy thinking it’s some kind of conspiracy. Under half an hour to play and Paraguay was still very much alive.

It wasn’t until the 83rd minute that we got to see the Spanish attack we had seen before and expected to see again. Andres Iniesta delivered a beautiful cross off the side of his foot to a wide-open Pedro who hammered his shot clear off the post. The rebound came right back to David Villa who also nailed the post and saw his shot bounce off the opposite post before crossing the line. It wasn’t easy, but it was a goal. That it would come so late and in those circumstances was a surprise. That the goal was scored by Villa isn’t a surprise at all.

It wasn’t pretty and now Spain has a semifinal date with Germany who won’t let the Spaniards get away with a performance like that. Paraguay goes home and now the South American juggernaut is down to Uruguay. As the knockout stage has evolved, Europe has shifted the balance of power in the tourney. Lets see what the scriptwriters come up with in the semis.


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.

Ghana’s Black Stars Disappear Under Uruguayan Sun’s Glare

3 07 2010

Uruguay 1-1 Ghana

(Uruguay advances 4-2 on penalties)

Uruguay v. Ghana in the quarterfinals seemed both an unexpected match up and a fairly neutral one as neither side has a large support in the city (although as the lone African side remaining Ghana was more likely to pick up some extra supporters). I decided to watch this one at a most neutral of venues, The Football Factory just south of Queen and Bathurst.

This is the place where two women can sit side by side, one in a Brazil jersey and one in a Netherlands jersey, and chat about the next game only hours after one friend’s side knocked out the other.  It’s the place where people bring their own vuvuzleas and blow them until the bartender jokingly says cut it out (I’d say it was about eight seconds). It’s a place where there’s an open stool at the bar and TV screens in every direction. In short it’s the kind of place for this afternoon.

For the first twenty minutes it seemed the crowd was as neutral as I’d expected as neither side scored. Ghanaian keeper Richard Kingson added to his resume (since he’ll be looking for a club to play for once the tournament is over) with a save off both members of Uruguay’s dynamic duo of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez.

As the half hour mark approached the loyalties of the crowd became more apparent as each growing chance by the Africans was met with louder and louder applause and cheers from throughout the room as both John Mensah and Asamoah Gyan had shots end up on the wrong side of each post.

At the stroke of half time Ghana scored first. Sulley Muntari curled a shot from about thirty-five yards into the corner deceiving the Uruguayan keeper Fernando Muslera for a 1-nil Ghana lead. The decibel level shot up and the Ghanaian flags were unfurled. The crowd had a definite loyalty now.

Ten minutes after the re-start Diego Forlan continued his strong tourney (and strong free kicks, swerving one past Kingson) leveling the score with his third of the World Cup. Now the cheers for Ghana were louder. A pair of Peruvian fans joined the proceedings, one in a red jersey and one in white. If they were behind their fellow South Americans they weren’t making it known. They were just getting ready for 2014 I suppose.

The tension continued building as full time came to its dramatic conclusion. Suarez made his contribution, not by scoring but by deciding to play volleyball with Dominic Adiyiah’s shot on net. He was called for the handball and red carded. As stoppage time was coming to a close Asamoah Gyan stepped up to take the ensuing penalty. With what should have ended the game, with the crowd in the bar up on its feet for the final moment, Gyan hit the crossbar sending everybody into stunned disbelief. Suarez’s move, I have to admit was fairly sketchy, looked genius given how things turned out.

Extra time played out as the tension of the second half continued, leading to the unfortunate penalty kicks to decide which Cinderella story continued on to the semi finals. Ghana seemed to rush through their kicks in my opinion resulting in a pair of saves by Mulsera. Uruguay survived a miss on their first kick and scored on their last four to move on while Ghana saw victory in their hands (if not in Suarez’s hands) slip away. For the 1930 and 1950 Champions, their unexpected renaissance continues on as the Football Factory emptied out.

Dancing the Samba in Wooden Shoes

3 07 2010

Netherlands 2-1 Brazil

Billed as a “clash of the titans” type match up, the Brazil v. Netherlands quarterfinal lived up to the hype if not quite up to the expected result. In all previous matches between the two countries, the scoring came late. There had never been a goal scored in the first half. Eight minutes in and Brazil thought they’d ended that streak when a wide-open Robinho scored only to have the goal called back on a late offside call.

Two minutes later it was a case of fool me once shame on me, fool me twice shame on you when Robinho met the ball on the run right down the middle in front of the net and easily scored to give Brazil the 1-nil lead. The belief was that with an early goal, Brazil would be able to defend successfully and move on to the next week’s semifinals.

With the second half underway, time was not on the side of the Dutch, but a horrendous error by Brazilian keeper Julio Cesar in the 53rd minute brought the Netherlands right back into it. Arjen Robben continued his strong play since coming back from injury finding an open Wesley Sneijder who shot towards the top corner where the ball ended up after going in off Felipe Melo’s head for an own goal. Why Cesar went for a ball that was clearly Melo’s to clear? Nobody knows. It was uncharacteristic play by the Brazilians and it brought new life to the Dutch with the score lever at one.

In the 65th minute Kaka’ continued his disappointing tournament with a miss from just outside the box. This miss was turned into a bigger deal three minutes later when an Arjen Robben corner kick was flicked on by Dirk Kuyt towards Sneijder who with a flick on of his own scored to put the Dutch in front. No own goal this time, Sneijder got all the credit for his third goal of the World Cup.

Five minutes later Felipe Melo’s horrible game came to a premature end when he was red carded for stamping on Robben’s hamstring. If you wanted Robben out of the game, you should’ve struck earlier than with seventeen minutes remaining.

Down to ten men, down a goal and clearly frustrated Brazil was unable to stage a comeback of its own and exit the World Cup way earlier than they or their supporters expected. The samba has stopped while the Oranje Army marches on.