It's all in your World Cup

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Day the second

England - Paraguay 1-0

England didn't exactly look 13% fitter than they had in Japan four years ago - a typical performance. Plenty of early hustle and a set-piece goal, followed by a gradual collapse of intent and the conceding of possession at every opportunity. It would be tempting to ascribe this to confidence on England's part (justified in this case) that a weaker team like Paraguay would be unable to translate that possession into chances, but the culture of defending deeply and inviting pressure is far more entrenched than that. For all Crouch's novelty value in attack, he is nowhere near good enough to hold up the ball regularly while the England midfield races 20 yards to catch up with him. Whether the problem is managerial, or just down to the lack of imagination on the part of the players (what's that Steven? you want to play another 30 yard pass in the hope that Michael will triumph over his dodgy hamstrings and sprint off the last defender?) is hard to discern. The cynic in me suggests that the players probably have the manager they deserve.

Still, at least the lack of swerve when Lampard attempted a few pot-shots might go some way towards reassuring commentators that the ball is not going to defy the laws of physics every time it is struck in anger.

Trinidad & Tobago - Sweden 0-0

Really. How much romance is there in securing a draw?

None.

Argentina - Ivory Coast 2-1

The second properly enjoyable game of the tournament. Sad not to see Messi fit enough to play in this game, as he'd definitely add an element of non-Riquelme related threat to the Argentinian team. Both scored, but I don't rate Crespo and Saviola as an especially potent front line, though the squad does have a number of striking options, notably Tevez. Incredibly well drilled defensively, with Burdisso an impressive figure throughout, both winning tackles, and bustling out the Ivorian runners when they attempted to get down his wing. A solid defense is the most cliched foundation to a winning team, and a slight lack of inspiration up front didn't do France any harm 8 years ago.

Ivory Coast are possibly the most accomplished African side I've seen. Kalou looked under the pace of the game in the first half, and I was happy to see him replaced. Dindane wasn't a whole lot better, but Aruna Kone looked a more potent attacking companion for Drogba, with slightly more skill and pace than either of those. I full expect to see Zokora and Toure playing for second tier Premiership teams next season. It was also a pleasure to hear ITV's commentary team avoiding any reference to historically naive defending...

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