It's all in your World Cup

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Day the ninth

Portugal - Iran 2-0

Portugal always afford better opportunity than most teams for discussing the shortcomings of the lone striker tactic. I've heard a couple of commentators state repeatedly that Pauleta is a brilliant exponent of this position, but in this World Cup, as in Euro 2004, he seems totally inadequate for the task. His talents seem to lie in finishing easy chances created by the inadequacy of inferior opposition defences, rather than in holding up play to bring onrushing midfielders into the game, or alternatively making chances for himself through individual brilliance.

Moreover, it's apparent that the Portuguese midfield either doesn't have the quality, or the discipline to play this formation well. The only time Christiano Ronaldo appears in the penalty area is during corners and free kicks, and it is telling that his most threatening contributions have been from attacking set-pieces. I'll own up to be being enthused the first time I saw Ronaldo's step-over routine a couple of years ago, but in my defense, I wasn't quite prepared for the spectacle of a player employing such elaborate means of deception in pursuit of so little end-product: the footballing romantic in me assumed that anyone prepared to throw in 5 or 6 tricks to get past a defender must have something special in mind when it came to distributing the ball, or striking on goal. More times than I care to remember during Portugal's two games, Ronaldo has wasted possession in good positions, occasionally due to the fact that none of his team-mates barring Pauleta had bothered to get into the box, but also frequently just from the sloppiness of his final ball. An emphatic penalty does nothing to disguise this.

Deco's excellent shot deserves praise through, but ultimately it was a game unworthy of such a goal.

Ghana - Czech Republic 2-0

It's tempting to seek explanation for this result in the decimated Czech front line, but that would be to pay the Ghanaians far too little credit. Although with Koller and Baros absent, the Czechs were noticeably inadequate up front, by far the most telling factor in this game was the athleticism and skill of Ghana. Essien and Appiah equalled, if not dominated Rosicky and Nedved in midfield, and coupled with the determination of the Ghanaian defense, and the pace and tenacity of Gyan and Amoah up front, the game rarely looked in doubt. Rosicky came up with several slinking runs from deep midfield, and his ability to move with the ball under control at pace is as good as anyone I've seen (with the possible exception of Ronaldinho, apologies to any Brazil haters reading) but even he was incapable of breaching a fairly disciplined and extremely strong Ghanaian backline. And to cap it all, the move for their second goal was quite lovely.

Italy - USA 1-1

Another underwhelming performance from Italy. While the game was interesting from a dramatic point of view, with plenty of incident, it was mostly bereft of interesting football. Italy strike me as a team with too much presence, and not enough guile. They seem content to assume that they will be able to outmuscle other teams, and so display very little in the way of smooth passing or movement. Pirlo doesn't get on the ball enough, and I have never really rated Totti, even though he's a regular contender for 'best player in the world' if Pele happens to visit Rome that month. I'd be tempted to say that the Italians are an early contender for an unexpected first round exit, but with the Czechs now having all three of their first choice strikers unavailable for the final group stage game, Italy will probably sneak through.

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