It's all in your World Cup

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Day the fourteenth

Italy - Czech Republic 2-0 & Ghana - USA 2-1

The inevitable capitulation of the post-Ghana Czechs continued as they never really mounted a threat in this game. Baros was unfit, and in an aging midfield, it was too much for Rosicky who looked increasingly lost as the burden of fashioning a miraculous escape fell to him. The likes of Plasil and Stajner confirmed suspicions that the golden generation of Czechs was a fairly thin crop, with almost no strength in reserve in the squad. It was an unfortunate and humbling exit from the tournament, and looks likely to signal a similar exit from the top table of international football for some time to come as Nedved, Koller, Poborsky and the majority of the defense shuffle off into retirement.

For Italy it was a routine affair. They looked boring going forward, and hovered between seeming invincibility in defense, and surprising disarray. Italy have a habit of just doing enough to get by during the early stages of the tournament. Only problem with that is, for me, when the questions start getting harder, Italy have no recent history of being able to rouse themselves from their petulant hubris and actually play. They'll grind past Australia, but after that, I don't like the look of this Italian squad.

Ghana were superb from what I saw of this game. As strong and inventive as in their previous games, even without the creativity of Gyan in attack. America were their usual dour flavour, all athleticism, but very little wit or verve. Plus, I just don't like the look of Bruce Arena, so I was pleased to see them get dumped out in this manner. Appiah on the other hand has a quite outlandishly cranial-looking head, which is a fine complement to his impressive game.

Brazil - Japan 4-1 & Australia - Croatia 2-2

Thankfully for my reputation as a pundit, when Brazil made changes to their XI and their formation, they were mostly the ones I've been arguing they should make. Gilberto Silva was a much more assured figure in the holding midfield role, mopping up the ball with fewer theatrics than Emerson, and distributing it with less of a chip on his shoulder about playing the simple ball. Juninho added his metronomic presence to the deeper position in the centre of the pitch, spreading play and ensuring that Ronaldinho and Kaka did not have to drop as deep as in previous games in their search for workable possession. Robinho bristled with pace and intent, and created space all across the front line, something that the lumpen pairing of Ronaldo and Adriano had failed in completely.

Ronaldinho still seems to be having a poor competition when judged against his high standards. He is being marked as tightly as you'd expect for a player with his reputation, but the problem seems more likely to lie in the paucity of movement from the rest of the team. For Barcelona, Ronaldinho can rely on constant quick movement from the rest of the midfield, so even if he is doubled up on, there is still the opportunity to pick a pass to the spare man and hurt the opposition that way. In this Brazil team, whether through ego or tactics, the other players don't seem to view it as their task to play off Ronaldinho, and so frequently he is left looking for space to play the ball into, and finds none.

Ronaldo is still a big tub o'lard, but when he's standing still, boy can he finish...

The other match in this group looked crappy, a fine free kick aside. In comparison to the number of piledrivers that have found a home in the top corner, it seems that fewer free kicks have been scored than in previous competitions. That's probably just wishful thinking though, as I remember bemoaning the lack of free kicks at the last World Cup too. Come back Stoitchkov...

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