Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Add Portugal

European teams have disappointed in this tournament, and now Portugal should be added to the long list. The Portuguese never managed to threaten an organised Spanish side with an excellent David Villa, who will now be facing Paraguay in the quarterfinals.
I watched the match in Place Luxembourg in Brussels, and among the many Spanish fans there, there is no doubt that after the initial disappointment against Switzerland they were again thinking of the final, and clearly thinking that Paraguay will be a walkover (something echoed again in the uncritical
No doubt Spain are huge favourites, but don't sell the skin before shooting the bear!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

El fracaso Bielsa

I must admit that what I knew about Chile before the World Cup was from the international news, and only two matches had I seen with them, where they had nevertheless impressed against poor opposition (Denmark and Venezuela). That said, I knew their coach, Marcelo Bielsa: a wanna-be intellectual and Menotista who insisted on offensive football. He was a flop as Argentinean coach in the 2002 World Cup, but his apparent results with Chile were notable, and Chile was highly rated before entering the World Cup.
I was not impressed by Chile finally seeing them in South Africa: a lot of possession; yes, and offensive football; yes; but in all other facets Chile were outright second-rate: they hardly had any quality shots on goal besides their possession, and nice little touches were nothing to handle against defensive teams like Honduras or Switzerland. Against a tougher team like an unconvincing Spain they committed grave mistakes and posed no real threat. And finally, today against one of the best teams in the world, all weaknesses of Chile's and Bielsa's style were simply exposed to the world: Brazil were far superior without even trying, and with a simple organised defence, two outstanding backs and a strong midfield, hardly had to try their best to defeat Chile 3-0.
I don't think it is as much Chile's lack of quality as Bielsa's that has been exposed, just as with Argentina in 2002: he is too focused on the tactics, never adapting it to the team he is playing or his available players. In spite of his positive attitude to the game, football is not a philosophy or way of life, it is a game, and the objective is to win. It is better to win nicely, but still, it is to win, so if you cannot win nicely....
Bielsa was a flop for Argentina, and although he has done more for Chile than most would have expected, his football philosophy has proved a flop in today's modern football, and that is the only conclusion one can draw from Chile's exit of the tournament today!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Wunderbare Deutschland!

After their first match against Australia, Germany impressed. In the play-off match today I was expecting that the English, who have not impressed, would be inspired by their Italian coach to play cynically and defensively to win a narrow victory against the young German side.
However, how delighted am I to have been wrong!
This is surely one of the most exciting German teams ever, and they were far superior to the English, besides being entertaining and cold-blooded at the most important moments. No matter that England had a clear goal disallowed (this was clearly the most appalling refereeing decision of the tournament, and revives what I have been saying for ages: technology or goal-referees), Germany was by far, by far, the best team. In particular the youngsters Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller were spectacular (Müller scored twice) and augur very well for the German future, but also for the match against either Argentina or Mexico.

England... Another huge disappointment. I was also expecting them to do better after their excellent qualification campaign, but they have played awfully, and this defeat just underlines it by being the largest English defeat in a World Cup, and the largest defeat to the German arch-rivals. The speculations about why it is like this, but perhaps the simplest explanation simply is that England are not that good; during this World Cup they have been mediocre to say the least, and they are standing in front of a massive renewal of their team.

But congratulations to the wonderful German team and to their great fans!!!! Cheers!

England versus Germany

Today England and Germany will face one another in one of the most classic rivalries in international football. The matches between these two European giants have always been immersed in drama, and cultural, historical and social associations.

This will be the fifth time that the two countries will be playing each other in a World Cup, which include some of the most legendary matches in football history:
  • The 1966 World Cup final, where England won 4-2 after extra time, and remains England's greatest international triumph
  • The 1970 World Cup quarterfinal, where Germany got their revenge for the 1966 final: England were 2-0 up but the Germans managed to equalize and won 3-2 after extra time.
  • The 1982 World Cup second round group match, which ended 0-0, and was enough to send the Germans through to the semifinals.
  • The 1990 World Cup semifinal: One of the most dramatic matches of all time, which ended 1-1 for Germany to win it in the end by penalty kicks, and going on to become world champions
Other legendary matches the two countries have played are in the European championships:
  • Quarterfinal of Euro 1972 (back then it was played in two-legs at home and away), where the Germans won 3-1 at Wembley (Germany's first victory there) and the teams tied 0-0 in Berlin. Germany went on to win the entire tournament.
  • The Euro 1996 semifinal: England was playing at home and had huge expectations to win the tournament. But the Germans were in the way in the semifinal, which as 6 years before in the World Cup, ended 1-1 and went into penalty kicks, which the Germans won.
  • First round of Euro 2000: England defeated Germany 1-0 in the group stages, but this did not matter to either team, who were eliminated by Portugal and Romania.
For the 2002 World Cup the two teams were in the same qualifying group, and Germany won 1-0 in London, but were destroyed 5-1 in Munich in what still remains the largest victory for England between the two countries.
The last time the two teams played was in a friendly match (as friendly as it gets between the two) in Berlin in 2008 which England won 2-1 on a late goal by John Terry.

That the teams will be facing each other already in the 2010 World Cup is perhaps a bit of a surprise: England was probably expecting to win their group, while the young German team (it is one of the youngest German teams ever to play in a World Cup) surprised positively by winning their group. Because of the relative inexperience of the Germans, England is probably a slight favourite, although there is no doubt that Germany played far better than England in the group stages. The English will have to play far better if they are to have a chance against this German side, although I would not be surprised if they will have set themselves up for the challenge.

This match should be obligatory for everyone, as it will only add another drama to the long history of football rivalry between England and Germany!

The best African team

I am an unapologetic fan of the Black Stars and I wish I had been in Accra for the post-match celebrations! Instead I was in a pub in Copenhagen, but still delighted at the Ghanaian victory after extra time.
I have for ages been saying on this blog that Ghana is the best African football nation, and now they are among the top eight in the world, something I was nevertheless not expecting: I thought USA had shown stronger fighting spirit and that the Americans would ultimately prevail against Ghana's inefficiency and personal mistakes. But I could not have been more wrong: Ghana's young players have learned to pace themselves in such a tournament from their already strong experience in Africa's Cup and diverse youth world cups (and they are u-21 world champions, let us not forget!), and play with the at-times necessary cynicism. Even when USA put pressure on the Ghanaians, these did not lose their heads, and even better, they punished the US mistakes that I was expecting the Ghanaians to make.
Playing like this Ghana could go all the way, but it will certainly not be easy in a quarterfinal against a Uruguay side that is also extraordinary in pacing their game, experience, and some extraordinary strikers!
In the meantime, congratulations Ghana!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The best and the worse of the group stages

The group stages are over of an interesting World Cup but with some observations:
  • The African teams have disappointed, with only one, Ghana, progressing on to the next round.
  • While Africans have disappointed, Europe has as well: only six European sides have made it to the last-16 which is also the worse performance of Europe ever. And it is certain that only three teams from Europe will make it to the quarterfinals, so this is already the worse World Cup for Europe ever....
  • All South American teams have progressed to the last-16 and thus this has been by far the best continent. South American is the powerhouse of the world! With USA and Mexico there as well, the western hemisphere has emerged as the dominant footballing power.
  • Asia, with two teams, is doing surprisingly well, but the continental power is surely Oceania (Australia is now qualifying through Asia), whose only participant, New Zealand, has been undefeated!
  • All this said, this has been a very low-scoring tournament, with an average in the first round of 2.10 goals per match, potentially making it the tournament with the least goals ever.
In my view, the best teams of the tournament have been:
  • Argentina: has been excellent under Maradona
  • Uruguay: surprised many, but their attacking power and strong and organised defense should be a surprise to nobody.
  • Spain: Started badly, but certainly deserve to be in the last-16, and remain huge favourites as true strength is shown in the face of adversity.
  • USA: Won a difficult group, with disciplined and organised football, as well as a good fight. They will be extremely difficult to defeat.
  • Germany: I was very surprised about the young side who cruised through Australia, was unlucky against Serbia and organised against the Ghanaians. They are surely one of the most exciting teams.
The most disappointing sides have in my view been:
  • France: simply a soap opera and a lousy joke.
  • Italy: they have been absolutely pathetic in their matches, and deserved the loss to Slovakia, although they showed some will towards the end of the match.
  • Serbia: Serbia was awesome in qualification and came in with a very experienced and strong team. Nevertheless, they played poorly and their early exit was well-deserved but unexpected.
  • Cameroon: African sides have disappointed, but perhaps most of all Cameroon, with three consecutive defeats.
  • South Africa: The first hosts ever to get eliminated in the group stages, and that says it all.
The last-16 will be really exciting!

Friday, June 25, 2010

The last-16 and predictions

The World Cup has passed the initial group stages and there are 16 teams left for the following play-off matches:
  • 26/6: Uruguay-South Corea
  • 26/6: USA-Ghana
  • 27/6: Germany-England
  • 27/6: Argentina-Mexico
  • 28/6: Netherlands-Slovakia
  • 28/6: Brazil-Chile
  • 29/6: Paraguay-Japan
  • 29/6: Portugal-Spain
It is a wonderfully diverse group of teams, with 5 South American sides, two from North America, two Asian, six European (who will all be facing one another...) and disappointingly only one team from Africa, Ghana, who will have all the support of Africa and from most of the world for their match against the USA.

My tips are the following:
I believe that Uruguay, who has been strong and disciplined, will defeat a Corean side that has not been convicing, although they have been well-organised. Still, I believe Uruguay are by far the better team.
I support Ghana, but their poor striking force will be their doom against a strong USA side, where Landon Donovan has been the saviour. USA will make it to the quarterfinals.
Germany-England will be a repeat of one of the most classic matches of international football, and the match will be another drama to go over to history. That said, neither team is as brilliant as their history, but I believe that a slightly more cynical England side will win against a German team that I would nevertheless much rather see through.
Argentina has been great, and I believe that they will carry the day against Mexico, although as in 2006, it will not be easy, and likely be a close match where the Mexicans will be their usual dirty.
The Netherlands should be in the quarterfinals, and I see them as the greatest favourites in the last-16 against Slovakia, although the Slovakians showed that they should not be underestimated!
Chile and Brazil will be a great South American encounter, but Brazil will surely win. Chile are charming and offensive, but as inefficient up front as a team full of grandmothers, and with so many mistakes in defense that Brazil will surely win.
Paraguay-Japan is sure to be an exciting and close match, but an organised Japan team, with some extraordinary and quick players, should carry the day against an organised but at times inefficient Paraguayan side.
Portugal-Spain is, with England-Germany, to be one of the most exciting matches of the tournament. Spain is by far the better side than the Portuguese, but the latter will be very excited for this match. I believe the sensation will be there, and Portugal will win a close match, perhaps after extra time and penalties.

Thus, my predictions for the quarterfinals are these:
  • Uruguay-USA
  • England-Argentina
  • Netherlands-Brazil
  • Japan-Portugal

Thank you Honduras!

Spain managed to defeat Chile 2-1 in a match that in the end did not turn out as dramatic as one was expecting. Still, Spain's victory could put Chile out of the tournament in case Switzerland, as most expected, could defeat Honduras by at least two goals (unless Spain had scored more against Chile). But the mighty defenders of Switzerland were unable to create a match against Honduras, who in the end came closest to winning.
In spite of the sympathy with the Swiss victory against Spain, Swizterland is a boring defensive side, and the World Cup is only better without them in the last-16, where Chile and Spain are the wish of any football fan!
Thank you Honduras!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Denmark run over by a Honda

I was in Copenhagen today and the city was as always wonderful in a gorgeous sun and people were expectant about today's important match against Japan: Denmark had never been eliminated before in the first round of a World Cup and Japan did not seem an awfully frightening opponent although Denmark had not been too convicing in the first two matches.
Better and easier to be an optimist on such a beautiful day in Copenhagen!

However, the Japanese were far superior to a Danish national team that was indeed eliminated for the first time. The Japanese were very organised, disciplined, ran like machines and scored three beautiful goals, two of which were on free kicks, something that has not been done often in this World Cup! In particular the CSKA player Keisuke Honda ran around the Danish players, and stands out as one of the players to continue watching during this tournament.

It is always disappointing to see your team fall, but it makes it easier when it happens to a far better team, such as Japan was today (well, just grab a beer!). Congratulations to Japanese fans, who will see their team with very good chances against a Paraguayan side that could only manage a 0-0 with New Zealand and which is looking far less dangerous than Japan! I think Japan will make it to the quarterfinal!

The champions are out

The defending world champions of Italy have been a huge disappointment during this tournament, where in particular their match against New Zealand was a pathetic display. However, Slovakia had not been much better, and everyone expected that Italy, only needing a tie (in case New Zealand didn't defeat Paraguay), would pull their usual result and progress to the next round. However, I am not sure what the greatest surprise of the match was: that the Slovakians were so aggressive, or that the Italians were so poor.
What Italy did in the first half was simply one of the worse performances of this world cup, and the Slovakian 1-0 lead was fully deserved. Only in the second half, when Slovakia went ahead 2-0, did the Italians seem to wake up, and the entrance of Andrea Pirlo surely helped. The last minutes of the match were some of the most exciting we have seen in this World Cup, but the Slovakian victory of 3-2 was surely not expected. In any case, I really wish that I were in Bratislava as the party must have been a blast!

The defending world champions are out in the first round, and Italian fans have every reason to be angry with their national team, and I am certain that the reception of the team in Italy will not be quiet!
Congratulations to Slovakia though, who will be facing the Netherlands in a very difficult last-16!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Thank Argentina Greece is out

Before today's match against Argentina Greece actually had a chance of going to the next round: defeating Argentina and/or hoping that Nigeria-South Corea would go in its favour. However, at no point during the match did Greece seem like a team that wanted to continue in the tournament, and as such are the most deserved team to be sent home so far, for either lack of quality or lack of ambition. Although with 11 men in defence the Greeks made it difficult for the Argentineans to score, it was clear that the development of the Nigeria-South Corea match (which finally ended 2-2, sending the Asians through) would demand more risk from the Greeks. However, this never came, and it seemed only a deserved punishment when Argentina finally scored by Demichelis.
Greece is probably the team that will be least missed.
Argentina in the meantime has gone through with 3 victories, and will be facing Mexico in a repeat of the 2006 quarterfinal. It will surely not be easy, but Argentina has indeed looked strong, and has won the last 8 matches they have played under Diego Maradona, whom many continue to doubt, more because of spite than because of his results!

Farewell France and Bafana Bafana

As Uruguay defeated Mexico 1-0 to take the first spot of group A, South Africa remained with a chance to qualify for the last-16 if they could defeat the hapless Frenchmen 4-0. It went well, 2-0 up, but it was not to be as the Bafana Bafana only managed to win 2-1.
South Africa is now the first host ever to be eliminated in the first round, a not too flattering historical first for the first African hosts of the World Cup, but not too surprising: the fans have been charming, and South Africa deserves all the best, but South Africa is simply not a football nation (or soccer, as they apparently insist to call it in South Africa...), and their national side in this World Cup was mediocre at their best, not worth a dime at their worst. In particular Uruguay managed to expose them as the poor side they are, and indeed the Bafana Bafana are light-years away from making it in any World Cup.
While the fans will be missed, the South African team will not. That said, it is clear that already empty stadiums will be even more empty, and that is only FIFA to blame for putting the World Cup in a country that is more interested in cricket, and where the people who are actually interested, cannot afford the prices of a match.

France have been the joke of the tournament, and will exit the tournament almost as pathetically that they entered it. They are undoubtfully one of the most talented sides in the world, but they are an example that a team is not just about good players, but more about having a harmonious side. Raymond Domenech has surely been a disaster as national team coach, and one may hope that this leads to his replacement that will put the outstanding French sides back on the top of the world stage where they surely belong.

In any case, neither South Africa or France belong among the world's 16 best teams and it is fully deserved that Uruguay and Mexico are there.

Monday, June 21, 2010

World champions in missed chances

Chila and Spain are two of the most see-worthy teams of the World Cup. Chile, under Marcelo Bielsa, is considered one of the outsiders for the title, and has started rather well with two 1-0 victories before their final crucial encounter with Spain. However, in both their matches, Chile has created many chances, but made so many misses that it will probably cost them the progress to the final 16, and surely will not make them world champions.
Another team that has stood out for its missed chances is Spain: against Switzerland they made no goals, and their 2-0 victory against Spain hides the fact that Spain missed tons of chances, including a rather poorly shot penalty by Daid Villa (whose first goal was nevertheless extraordinary!). This is very thoughtful considering that Portugal scored 7 goals with less chances against a better team than Honduras.
One cannot become world champion by merely creating chances!

Obrigado and gracias

A World Cup is exciting partly because in the first round you sometimes have some smaller nations come and make a great result against some of the big teams, like it happened recently for New Zealand against Italy. It is fun, and everyone feels a certain rejoice at the "big guys" getting taken down. And as much as I agree with this, it is an awful fact that it takes excitement out of the World Cup's later stages: teams like New Zealand or Australia would just get to the play-off matches to defend and hope for penalty kicks. And while this often happens with the big teams as well (notably Italy) there is surely a much higher quality in the game.
Football is the only loser when too many second-rate teams progress.

It is therefore refreshing that, at a time when "smaller teams" just defend (heroically or not) against bigger teams, suddenly, a great team comes along to put things right. Portugal did this today against North Corea. In spite of the matches' historical precedents, there was no doubt who was the greater team. In their first match the North Coreans had defended 11 man against Brazil and managed only to lose 2-1. This tactic was fortunately not followed against Portugal, and in spite of a fine first half, Portugal showed that they are hugely a better team than the hapless North Coreans: 7-0, and I would have loved for the Portuguese to put the ageing Eusebio on the pitch and score four goals again! (I am certain he could have done it!).
In spite of the sympathy North Corea may have because of their 1966 exploits, today they are simply a poor side that will not be missed in the World Cup.

Switzerland is another matter: they are a brilliant team that plays the most boring defensive style, and who surprised everyone playing exactly like that against Spain. In fact, in today's match against Chile, Switzerland managed to go into the history books of World Cup football, as they set the record for most minutes played in World Cups without conceding a goal (565 minutes).
However, the Swiss did lose 1-0 anyway to an offensive, entertaining but inefficient Chilean side that contrary to Switzerland plays the kind of football every football fan wants to watch! No matter how much sympathy one may have for the Swiss, their style is such a bore that I don't want to see them in a play-off match like the one we saw in 2006.
Life is simply too short for matches like that.

No matter your favourites, Portugal and Chile deserve a big thank you today from all us fans of good football around the world!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The circle is complete

North Corea and Paraguay are playing tomorrow in the first round of the World Cup. This is a repeat of one of the most legendary matches in history, the 1966 World Cup quarterfinal where Portugal defeated North Corea 5-3. But besides being a legendary match, it was also a match that symbolized the globalization of football that has led us to where we are today, at the first World Cup in Africa, and thus, there is a strange symbolism around this match tomorrow.

In 1966 all African nations decided to boycot the World Cup as it was a virtual arrogant monopoly between Europe and South America, who, besides Mexico, allowed only one participant from "the rest of the World". This participant became North Corea amid the African boycot, who qualifed and was not given much of chance against the USSR, Chile and Italy. But North Corea tied Chile, and in one of the most sensational victories in history, defeated Italy, to make it to the quarterfinals.
Nevertheless , the "rest of the world team" had only half-quieted Europe and South America, but this was to change: after only 30 minutes, the unknown Asians were ahead 3-0 against the "Europeans" from Portugal, and had the unconditional support of all fans in Liverpool, as well as most of the football fans of the world, who far ahead of FIFA wanted to see the rest of the world succeed in the sport that in spite of it all belongs to the fans (and not to FIFA...).
Portugal ended winning 5-3, but the player who led the way was Eusebio, a Mozambican and African, who played for Portugal because Mozambique was Portuguese colony at them time. However, a person from "the rest of the world" had shown the way for Portugal, against a stunning football nation from the "rest of the world". The globalization of the game really started then, although FIFA really only started it when they saw money in it...

The World Cup is now a world event: it (currently) belongs to Africa, and Europe and South America is no longer the owner of what it long considered itself to be.
Although it seems unlikely that we will have such a match tomorrow, it would be proper to remember the Asian and the one African pioneer of 1966!

Kiwis rock!

It was only a non-existant penalty that gave Italy the 1-1 against a charming a fighting New Zealand side. While Italy was outright pathetic (and so... they will probably become world champions...), nobody could but help but to support the Kiwi's who could have plausibly drwan one of the most sensational victories in World Cup history.
Paraguay won 2-0 against Slovakia and now has it all in their hands to win the group.

The first team out

Don't get me wrong: I was absolutely delighted that Denmark won 2-1 over Cameroon, and that we are now looking forward to a thrilling match between Japan and Denmark about who gets to the last-16. Howver, the lions of Cameroon proved quite domitable, and are the first team of the World Cup to be certainly out (Nigeria for instance, still has a theoretical chance). It is a pity that it is the great Cameroonian side, and well, it certainly augurs badly for African teams: South Africa and Nigeria have a slim chance pf progressing ; Ghana will be facing a tuff match against Germany; Algeria are up against a difficult USA, while Côte d'Ivoire will have to do their best against Brazil and North Corea.
It is looking difficult for African teams during the first World Cup in Africa. I heartily hope Ghana makes it though!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Some things never change (but others do)

I had big expectations to England in this World Cup, such as many, but apparently England has the same problem as Spain: they cannot handle expectations! While one has to be critical of England's match against Algeria, one has to credit the ever-underestimated Algerians, whom I cannot but have sympathy with because of their 1982 World Cup when they were unfairly eliminated by Austrian and German collusion.
But while Spain and England seem to be unexpectedly fighting for their progress to the next round, other things do seem to change: in their first match Germany played a very offensive style that gave huge expectations to their second match against Serbia, instead of the usual more controlled offensive that many connect with a "typical" German team. Another thing many connect with Germany is that they always have the luck and coldness to win a match, but their 1-0 loss to Serbia was not such a match: a rather harsh red card against Miroslav Klose limited their possibilities, but even, in the second half they missed a penalty, something Germany has not done for ages. The group is quite thrilling now, after Ghana and Australia tied 1-1, and Ghana and Germany will be one of the most interesting matches of the next round!


My holiday started this Friday, and now I can dedicate myself entirely to the World Cup: I watched all three matches on Friday, in particular the dramatic USA-Slovenia, where the North Americans were stolen by the victory, and the England-Algeria match, which I watched in the airport in Caracas before boarding a plane across the Atlantic.
Managed the first half ofthe Netherlands victory against Japan at the airport in Frankfurt, and got to Copenhagen for the second half of Ghana-Australia. Ghana was disappointing in the sense that they didn't take more advantage of their numerical advantage, but Go Black Stars anyway!
I am now in Copenhagen, and looking very much forward to watching tonight's Cameroon-Denmark with friends and beer!
And holiday has started!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Why support Paraguay?

There are many reasons, but this is a very good one...

The good thing about France...

This World Cup is turning into a similar nightmare for France as the one in 2002, when the then-world champions opened by losing 1-0 to Senegal, then tied Uruguay 0-0, and ended by a humilliating 2-0 defeat to Denmark. This year has seen a repeat of the 0-0 to Uruguay, and today France lost 2-0 to Mexico (this was also the first time France lost to Mexico in a World Cup match).
Considering the difficulties that France had qualifying, only making it by a hand-goal and the scandals surrounding the team, the defeat was perhaps not too surprising (I tipped Uruguay and Mexico to go to the next round!). But to this, one has to add the perhaps worse coach in French national football history, Raymond Domenech, who has been unable to forge a strong team from a country that truly spits out hugely talented players, who play in the best clubs in the world. With its solid clubs and a league that does not overly rely on buying players, France is one of the greatest footballing nations on earth, but has been appallingly bad.
So the good thing about France losing is that Mr. Domenech will hopefully end his way too long career as French coach!

Diego Armando Maradona's team

There have been and still are many bad things said about Diego Armando Maradona. The latest was from Pelé, who in a strange and unnecessary spat of gossip spoke very badly about the controversial Argentinean coach, who has also been heavily criticised for his (apparent lack of) tactical skills, arrogance, inexperience and former drug addiction (funny how people who live in countries where recreational drugs are very normal, and where addiction to any drug is often considered a disease, has no qualm about raising a man's previous addiction as a definite proof of his character - no wonder people are treated badly in those societies! I have no doubt Mr. Maradona has a bigger Heart than any of the people who criticize him about this!).

Notwithstanding that I wholeheartedly support Argentina, I am also delighted to see Mr. Maradona being vindicated after the first two matches, which have both been won. Against Nigeria, Argentina should have won more than 1-0, but against South Corea today, the Argentinean 4-1 victory was not one goal too small. And today, Maradona even chose to spare his midfield general Juán Sebastián Verón, and played with Messi a bit more behind the strikers, where Gonzalo Higuaín with three goals showed his skills for being at the right place at the right time. Angel Di Maria was ever-present on the Argentinean left side, while Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano and Gabriel Heinze fought with a spirit that can take Argentina far. They commit mistakes, surely (Demichelis...), but they are all confident enough to see it as part of the game.
And perhaps Maradona's greatest achievement is that after many wonderful players that have never really hit it off on the Argentinean national team, Maradona has consolidated a team of more than stars, but also friends, who obviously feel comfortable with one another and about their skills. Maradona, himself the star above them all knows his own controversial image, and like another great coach, José Mourinho, uses his charisma to take the attention and pressure away from the Argentinean super-stars. Nobody is interested in hearing what Messi, Verón, Tevez or Higuaín has to say: everyone wants to hear Maradona! Instead, the players can focus only on football, while Maradona does and will take all the attention and blame.
Finally, I was originally fearing that Maradona would be more "Bilardista" in his style, but in truth, he has used the fact well that he has an awesome attacking power by concentrating there. The four central defenders still look too slow and shaky (and may still be Argentina's bitter downfall against the defensive counter-attacking style of the tournament so far), but their experience is unquestionable, and that seems to be Maradona's creed: experience in defence and creativity in attack.

There is still a long way to go, indeed, and Maradona's Argentina could still fall apart. But what has been seen in the first two matches is surely a delight to Argentina and Maradona fans like myself, but should also be good to watch for fans of good football in general.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The best and the worse of the first round

With Spain and Switzerland's match today all the participants in the World Cup have been in action, and we get an idea of the best and the worse so far.
Let me start with the worse:
  • Defensiveness and goals: 25 goals in the first 16 matches gives an average of 1.56 goals per match, an incredibly low average, which is only a sad showing of teams that are afraid to lose (good post on this on, take risks, and playing awfully defensive football. Add to this the fact that many of the goals followed grave mistakes, and the quality of many matches have been outright second-rate, barely reaching levels of a second-tier European league.
  • The goalkeepers, or the ball? English goalkeeper Robert Green made a huge blunder giving away a goal to the USA, but he is not alone, as other goalkeepers have given goals away and had problems. It may be the controversial ball, and this seems likely, as many players have also seemed to struggle with the jumpy ball.
  • Gonzalo Higuaín's misses
  • Zlatko Kizmanovic's handball that otherwise gave the Black Stars a well-deserved victory.
  • The many injured players.
  • Empty seats in the stadiums.
  • Pelé talking about other people for no reason whatsoever.
The biggest worry is the low quality of the football and few goals. But there are many great things to be happy about.
  • Mesut Ozil, the German youngster was in my view the revelation of the first round (
  • Victor Enyeama was the sole reason Argentina didn't destroy Nigeria, and he has by far been the best goallie of the tournament.
  • Lionel Messi was great, giving hopes to see his brilliance in the tournament, that surely will be a joy for any fan, although the Nigerians made it easy for him.
  • The fans: All fans have been great, in particular the South Africans making noise with vuvuzelas. But the best and happiest have been the Ghanaians: "Feel it! Ghana is here!"
  • The referees: Totally unexpected, the referees have been great - the off-side calls have been outstanding (yes, you Mexicans, the annulled goal against South Africa was correct), and although there have been controversial calls, I tend to see them all as vindicated.
  • South American teams: on a continental basis, not a single of the South American teams lost, and the unlikely fact that all five South Americans will go to the last-16 seems a bit closer to reality.
  • A quote from the great Diego Armando Maradona, Argentina's coach, after their victory against Nigeria, commenting on the many missed chances and why they needed to concentrate more in the next matches: "In football it is never the one that deserves it who wins. It is the one that scores the most goals."
I have the top five of what I found the most disappointing teams.
  1. Cameroun: they are having internal problems and played really bad against Japan. A huge African disappointment.
  2. Greece: The way they played against South Corea one questions how in the world they qualified, as there are many better European teams.
  3. Nigeria: Played with fear against Argentina, and gave the Argentineans too much space. An African giant that should do better, but I doubt they will get beyond the first round. But a great goalkeeper!
  4. Spain: Has seemed to forget that all teams are good, and that they need to win against "smaller" teams to get to the next round. Their mind was already in the quarterfinals. But the loss to Switzerland may wake up "la furia".
  5. Australia: They were up against the best team of the tournament, but considering the qualified as the best of Asia, they were a huge disappointment.
What I found to be the top five best teams:
  1. Germany: Played extraordinary attacking football, the only team to do so, against Australia. They don't play what people connect with "typical" German style, and are with many young players, but they surely put themselves at the center. Will be exciting to watch them!
  2. Ghana: Surely the best African team until now, they won an important victory against the strong Serbians. They are the youngest, and surely one of the most exciting teams of the tournament.
  3. South Corea: Although up against an appalling Greek side, the South Coreans were efficient, physically superior and disciplined. Anyone who underestimates them will have difficulties.
  4. Chile: They won their first match in a World Cup since 1962, and although only winning 1-0 against Honduras, they were faithful to a possessing and attacking style that got them to South Africa. Will surely be interesting to watch.
  5. Argentina: they were good against a poor opposition, but missed too many chances. Maradona's team nevertheless seems confident and with a very optimistic attitude that can carry them far. In spite of all the negativity against Maradona, I am certain that he is a good coach (with the reservation that is not always enough to win a tournament... But I could write an entire post on this...)
Anyway, this is only the first round of an epic tournament. For the next matches everything may be totally on its head!

Bafana Bafana badabam!

What a pity to see South Africa lose 0-3 today to Uruguay, mostly because of their amazing fans (and the vuvuzela!). However, the side is not that strong, and they now very much run the risk of being the first host nation ever to be eliminated in the first round of a World Cup. France will not make it easy for them...
Uruguay on the other hand has confirmed that they have come to South Africa with one of the strongest teams they have had for many years, and it should come to no surprise that they are now very close to advancing to the next round for the first time since 1990. Whether they are strong enough to make it further is a big question, but surely possible with their attacking power.
In any case, even if Bafana Bafana is eliminated, South Africa remains the winner of this World Cup because of its fans and people!

Viva Esuiza!

Spain has always entered World Cup's as favourites, but disappointed.
This year has been no exception, but rather been hailed everywhere as Spain's World Cup after they apparently broke their curse by winning the Euro 2008, and obviously has one of the best and see-worthy teams in the world, that has cruised through qualification and friendlies with entertaining and technically skilled football, something that is more and more absent from national football teams than ever before.
With this, Spain undoubtfully remains a favourite, in spite of the mishap today of losing 0-1 to Switzerland. The Swiss victory was perhaps healthy for a Spanish national team that has historically never handled the pressure of expectation well, and who too obviously ignored the weariness that most Spaniards do have about their team: like a Spanish friend of mine said, "I don't think there was a single Spaniard who, deep down, didn't know this was going to happen. We've been beaten too many times". This was obvious after years and years of disappointments (where the Euro 2008 is the sole exception to the rule!).
In spite of this, Spanish press and even many of the players have been very guilty of overestimating themselves, by talking more about Portugal or Brazil in the last-16, rather than actually trying to get there past Chile, Switzerland and Honduras. In that sense, Spain's loss was refreshing, and may in the end do them good by reminding them that one has to play one match at a time, and that all teams are good!

Nevertheless, in a footballing sense, it is a pity.
As any football fan will know, it will be much, MUCH more fun to see a team that plays good football like Spain go through, than such a defensive bore as Switzerland, whom I personally remember for one of the most boring matches I have seen in my life during the last World Cup. In a tournament where most teams have been defensive and afraid to lose, Spain eliminated will be a huge loss, and just for that, Spain should go through.
That said, congratulations to all Swiss fans for this victory - they have every reason to be proud and to celebrate!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Of all the unimportant things in the world, football is the most important

I was listening to a BBC World Have Your Say Podcast where they asked whether the World Cup was as important as Mandela's release.
Oh my God! Compare a football tournament with an event that changed not only a country but the entire world...!?!?

Don't get me wrong: I love and live football!
I have a pretty average dull life of a middle aged single man, no particular talents, charms or looks, so for someone like me, football is what my life revolves around. It is surely pathetic, but in some weird sociological way I am aware of the strangeness and lack of meaning of having my life revolve around a game where 22 people kick a ball.
But isn't that the nature of passion, of love itself: I can feel it, but I cannot explain it...?
Hey, that's probably why I am single.

Football may give me meaning (to me as well as to many other fanatics), but we should not forget that this passion is joined by the rest of the world only every four years, and this year the hype is as big as ever!
Of all the unimportant things in the world, football is indeed the most important, but as such, it can and should not be compared to the important issues in this world. Perhaps the world cup can bring attention to them, build bridges between peoples (but we all know football can also create divisions!), but it should never overshadow them!

In the meantime, I shall continue living football, and during this month more than ever!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I want a Vuvuzela!

I think the vuvuzela rocks!
And that is one reason to cheer for the Bafana Bafana to progress to the next round, besides the fact that South African fans rock!
I would love to have a vuvuzela!

The own-goal, the surprise and the usual...

Denmark's defeat against the Netherlands wasn't as bad as I had feared: in fact, I felt quite good at some point, feeling I might even have a little celebration with myself in the restaurant in Caracas I was having breakfast at during the match.
But it wasn't to be; after a fine first half the Danes went one down by a silly own goal by Daniel Agger/Simon Poulsen, and after this, Denmark was unable to create a chance, and lost 2-0.
And the group is not looking easy: Japan surprised many by winning 1-0 over Cameroon, and the Africans are now playing an all-or-nothing match with Denmark on Saturday (and I will be in Denmark then!). But just shows that there is no reason to underestimate the Asian teams (although Australia got killed by the extraordinary Germans), and it will be interesting to see North Corea against Brazil tomorrow!
Finally, Italy and Paraguay tied 1-1. While a fine result for the South Americans, the world champions were probably expecting more, although they often seem to start a world cup with rather poor results (just remember 1982...). Everyone is rightfully expecting that Italy will take care of it all in their next matches against New Zealand and Slovenina, and things will be as usual.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Good luck to Denmark!

With my World Cup fever raging, I am even dreaming football. Last night I had a very vivid dream that Denmark lost 6-1 to the Netherlands, whom they will be facing tomorrow. I guess it is nerves about the fact that Denmark has been playing poorly in the friendlies before the tournament, and that many of the Danish stars are fighting with injuries.
At least history and the tournament so far tells us that Denmark is unlikely to lose 6-1, so I rather trust this than my dreams!
And well, just for a little luck, the Danish team's song, sung by the great band Nephew:
The Danish Way to Rock.

The Start of the World Cup

I was in Colombia for the start of the world cup, with serious concentration problems; all my focus was on June 11th! Colombia is funny, as they like football, but as their team has not qualified, people seemed at least as focused on Shakira and Juanes, playing a central role in all the pre-tournament blah-blah, as they did on the football.
But the World Cup started, and I am currently with serious case of high football fever (although it is a pity I am not going on vacation until next Friday, and will have to miss some matches....).

That said, I have some observations about these first few days of the tournament:
  • Matches have been disappointing in terms of quality and excitement, except for Germany today, who was amazing in destroying Australia 4-0. I have not rated Germany highly, and must admit I was very wrong.
  • And the Black Stars from Ghana won a hard-fought victory against Serbia! The group may be exciting, but Germany must be the highest rated after their victory today!
  • Mexico was arrogant and I was partly disappointed Bafana Bafana didn't win.
  • Uruguay was a disappointment and France was better than we thought. The group is open, but the "traditional" nations have started well.
  • Except England: I was expecting much more of England (perhaps as little as I was expecting from Germany), and notwithstanding Green's giveaway, they didn't look unbeatable.
  • Argentina won a small victory that should have been larger. That said, they weren't impressive against a pathetic Nigerian side that gave too much space to the Argentineans, notably to Messi. Nobody else will give them such space, and then Argentina suddenly looks weak. Their true test will come against the bigger teams.
  • Watch out for South Corea!
Bah! I cannot wait for the next weeks!