It's all in your World Cup

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Day the eighth

Argentina - Serbia & Montenegro 6-0

Utterly comprehensive, Argentina built on what was good in their victory over Ivory Coast, and added to that mixture of patience and pace some utterly ruthless finishing. Their first goal was brilliantly worked, combining the flair of Sorin's backheeled pass, with the potent directness of Saviola's run into the box and Maxi's toe-poked finish. From such an audacious start it would have been foolish to predict that the standard of the game could be elevated, but in scoring what is undoubtedly one of the great team goals of international football history, Argentina did just that. The unhurried rhythm of the team when playing in the middle of the pitch was wonderful, but they were put under limited pressure there - however, instead of falling apart when they got closer to the penalty area and the line of Serbian defenders, the control just got better, the passing more accurate, and the move gathered pace and threat. The backheel and thumping finish crowned the move in almost fictitious style.

Add to this the triumphant emergence of Messi, showing brilliant control when running at speed, and demonstrating his lethal combination of vision and finishing, and Argentina have become an outstanding contender for this World Cup. Tevez came off the bench to score a brilliant solo goal, involving a nutmeg and the sweetest of curled finishes, to prove that there is considerable attacking strength in this squad (Aimar didn't even make it onto the pitch). I thought a few days ago that Spain had set the standard, and I stick by my judgment that of the first round of games, their performance was the most complete. Today though, Argentina accelerated away from the pack, and it remains to be seem whether anyone has the desire and the skill to keep pace with them.

Holland - Ivory Coast 2-1

I remain to be persuaded of the Dutch threat in this World Cup. They definitely have a talented squad, and a couple of reliable finishers, plus an excellent goalkeeper. However, they still haven't managed to translate this into any extended periods of dangerous looking football. Robben and Van Persie have periodically made penetrating runs over the course of their two games, and van Nistelrooy's finish today was typically brutal, but they did not dominate the game, and had Ivory Coast shown a touch more composure, or the crossbar a touch more generosity, Holland might be fearing the consequences of facing the rampant Argentines next week.

Kone's goal was superb, and I thought Drogba was excellent throughout; full of invention and intent. However, it was unfortunate that the majority of good chances Ivory Coast created did not fall to him (primarily as he was the creator) and so it was left to the weaker links in the side to try and keep the team alive. It's unfortunate for the competition that Ivory Coast weren't gifted a slightly easier draw, as the presence of Zokora and Drogba in later rounds will be missed. Bad goalkeeping and wastefullness in front of goal cost them, and let the Dutch off the hook, and it may well transpire that the latter stages of the tournament will be all the weaker for it.

Mexico - Angola 0-0

Again, if this was a traditional footballing review, I'd congratulate the plucky underdog for securing a brave draw. However, in doing so they contribute to a despairingly boring match, and so will get none of that warmed-over praise here. Dire.

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