It's all in your World Cup

Monday, June 26, 2006

Day the sixteeth

Germany - Sweden 2-0

So it was the Sweden that played T&T and Paraguay that turned up for this game, rather than the one that was unlucky to have to share points with England. Ibrahimovic was utterly leaden, Larsson squandered his one chance, and a normally well drilled defence decided it was time to start tripling up on Klose on the edge of the area.

Now that the inadequacies of their opponents have been dealt with, we can linger a little on the romantic notion that Germany are actually gathering momentum, and might be in danger of putting on a good showing in this tournament. The hints were there from the first game, when they played with unexpected pace, and with devastating finishing from range. A mid-group stumble to victory against Poland had everyone wondering if they'd consigned the 'You can write off the Germans' headlines to the bins too soon. Brushing under-strength Ecuador aside doesn't really count as emphatic, but it seems to have allowed precious confidence to start flowing, particularly between Klose and Podolski, who are playing as well as either of them can have played so far in their careers. In particular, Klose's control and change of direction in setting up the first goal against Sweden was a move I would have never believed him capable of. It seems that instead of the Bierhoff-esque heading totem, he likes to play with the ball on the ground, a predilection the passing of Ballack is only too happy to accomodate.

The German rear-guard is still shaky when attacked centrally, and as flattering as it is to put Sweden in the group of top European teams, the Germans still haven't faced a truly stern attacking test. As mobile and determined as they have looked, they still don't appear to be as good a side as the Argentines, or Spanish, and so you couldn't make Germany your favorites on those terms. However, in knockout football, the inferior team often wins, if only through the actions of one special player. All it would take is three games of Ballack playing as well as he did against Sweden, and there's nothing in the world to suggest that they could not sneak all the way on to the podium.

Argentina - Mexico 2-1 aet

The breathless tv commentary had this one down as one of the best games they'd ever seen by the time it was over. That's a woeful overstatement, as the game never really ignited beyond the level of cautious fencing. Mexico did extremely well to score early, converting their moment of pressure against superior opposition brilliantly, when so many teams regularly fail. Argentina were quite subdued during this game, a state certainly contributed to by a dire performance from Saviola. He's a player who struggles from one performance to the next, alternatively sylph-like and floor-dwelling. This was definitely one of those games were he was incapable of holding on to the ball for longer than two strides, more often than not muscled out by a determined defender, occasionally just wasting possession with poor passing. After his performance against Holland, I would've liked to have seen Tevez given the starting place, as he has much greater power and strength to ally to a speed that's surely every yard the equal of Saviola's.

Riquelme never really found his range, and Messi seemed tentative in the face of sturdy Mexican tackling (though he did become more authoritative as extra time wore on). Sadly, one player that hasn't impressed me, for reasons that are entirely my fault, is Maxi Rodriguez. I honestly can't remember anything he's done other than score. That said, with 3 goals from 4 games, if you're going to be remembered for anything, it should be that. And what a goal it was.

Argentina's style in this competition operates on extremely narrow margins. Against weaker teams who are not compensating with extra effort, they are able to exploit space and pass them to death. Mexico on the other hand showed that by working hard and closing down, the quick passing favoured by Riquelme becomes much more difficult to pull off. Argentina definitely have players capable of performing that kind of game even when the ball is under considerable pressure, but clearly it becomes a more error prone system, and Argentina don't look like they have a considered alternative to it. Make no mistake, they are possibly the most technically gifted squad in the competition, and they are still my favorites for the title, but against determined opposition with more to offer in attack than Mexico, Argentina will have to play to 100% of the potential their talent provides.

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