Tuesday – June 15th, 2010
Slovakia vs. New Zealand review
Another apparently unattractive game starting at 7 AM, but hey, it’s the World Cup, I’d watch anything. Throughout the first half, you could see that Slovakia had the better team, with better players creating better plays and having better touches, however New Zealand had the first chance to score at the 4th minute with a muffled header by Killen. But after that, it was Slovakia with the best chances, including Hamsik’s curling shot at the 22nd minute and Sestak who sent a strike just wide at the 28th minute.
Still it seemed Slovakia needed to improve their organization and positioning on the attack if they wanted to score. New Zealand feeling that Slovakia started taking control of the match started fouling (9 in the first half), and was able to create one more chance at the 38th minute with Smeltz hitting the side netting. Overall, Slovakia had more shots on goal and more ball possession but ended up empty. And just like magic, Slovakia came into the second half doing everything I said; better possession and better passes. And it paid off in the 50th minute, with a good exchange of passes, followed by a perfect Sestak cross and a good header by Vittek to give Slovakia the lead.
Slovakia continued to play better, now with more patience, while New Zealand lacked the firepower to threaten Slovakia. New Zealand’s only real chance came only at the 88th minute with a Smeltz header that went wide. With the game at hand, Slovakia would earn the three points and rise above Italy and Paraguay. The referee gave three extra minutes, but surely, it’s just a technicality since the game is almost over. And that’s all she wro….hmm….I’m not sure I just saw what I did…I’m pretty sure both benches didn’t believe it either…with less than one minute left…did New Zealand’s Smeltz just cross the ball into the area…..and did Reid just head a perfect ball into the back of the goal? Did they just tie the game, and give New Zealand its first ever World Cup point? Yes. Yes, they did. How about that!? Score: 1-1.
Ivory Coast vs. Portugal review
One of the most anticipated first round matches and you could feel the excitement in the crowd. The first half included some extremely good scoring chances and many hard fouls.
At the 11th minute, we had our first real scoring chance with a world class shot by Ronaldo off the post, Ivory Coast responded with a dangerous free kick by Tiene at the 16th. Despite the enormous talent on both sides, the scoring chances were minimal since both defenses were solid in disrupting the attack and every touch was challenged by the other team. The first half was a bit disappointing in scoring chances, but it was a disputed and competitive game, and with 15 fouls by both and 3 yellow cards, the second half promised some excitement. At the start of the second half, Ivory Coast came back better and played better than Portugal, with a couple of scoring chances right at the beginning with Gervinho (47th minute) and Kalou (54th minute). Unsatisfied, Portugal then made a few substitutions to balance out the match, and they did, with Liedson coming close to scoring with a header at the 58th minute.
Both sides were now a bit more offensive, looking for the score, it opened up the game a bit, but still few scoring chances. At the 67th minute, Drogba comes into the game. Though I was a bit surprised that he was ready, it could’ve been just the spark Ivory Coast needed. After the 70th minute, Portugal seemed to have an edge, forcing various free kicks/ corner opportunities, most were badly taken, except for Ronaldo’s free kick attempt (80th minute) which just went over the bar. Near the end, the momentum shifted again, as Ivory Coast went on a flurry and put pressure on Portugal, though it created few scoring chances (Drogba at the 91st minute). Disappointing tie but it wasn’t completely dull. Score: 0-0.
Brazil vs. North Korea review
Know about David vs. Goliath? This is it right here. Except in real life, Goliath kills David by stepping on him, then proceeds to take a dump on his whole family. In soccer, when the highest ranked team faces the lowest ranked team, you expect something like that. North Korea qualified by playing sound defense and capitalizing on the counter-attack. However to hold Brazil’s offense, you’d need more than just “sound” defense. You’d need complete discipline to not break off formation, you’d need the perfect mixture of man-to-man with zone coverage, you’d need a mistake free match, you’d also need to threaten their defense just a bit (12th minute with Tae Se, 18th minute with Jong Hyok, 32nd minute with Kwang Chong)….And I’ll be damned, but that’s exactly what North Korea did the entire first half. Sure Brazil had 66% ball possession, sure they had 9 total shots on goal, sure they had everyone involved (Shots by Robinho, Elano, Michel Bastos, Luis Fabiano), sure the majority of the game was played in front of and around Korea’s area, sure they had three corners and three first kicks….but what were they able to do with all that? Nothing.
Credit is due to North Korea, however there was still 45 minutesleft to the match, and how long could they keep this pace? The second half started much in the same way, except now Brazil was able to get more dangerous shots: Michel Bastos’ bomb off a free kick at the 52nd minute just wide and Robinho’s shot narrowly missing the net at minute 54. Alas, those previous questions were answered at the 57th minute: near the goal line to the left, with almost no angle, Maicon shot a missile that crossed the goal and hit the side net on the other side, most beautiful goal yet. North Korean defense was beat, after all, David wasn’t superhuman, just a midget. Now with the lead, Brazil had the tranquility to work more patiently since North Korea’s attack wasn’t able to threaten. And Brazil did just that (72nd minute) with a perfect pass by Robinho to Elano who timed it perfectly and put it past goalkeeper Myong Guk.
Brazil now had full control of the match with the third goal looking to be close, however it was North Korea who had a great chance (87th minute) and if it wasn’t for a diving tackle by Juan to disarm Tae Se, he’d be one-on-one with Julio Cesar. The game opened up alot more with both teams being able to penentrate the defense, and at the 89th minute, Korea’s Yun Nam dominated the ball got to the penalty area and sent one past Cesar to cut the lead in half! Tae Se still had one more shot at the 91st minute but unfortunately the game ended. It was a very entertaining match and a more than respectable loss by North Korea who suprised and impressed many (including me)! While Brazil did just enough and played great for a few minutes, but you’d come to expect more. Great match and my only regret was that it didn’t go on for ten more minutes. Score 2-1.
Wednesday – June 16th, 2010 Preview
Honduras vs Chile (7:30 AM EST.)
Interesting match-up here. Historically, South American teams have always been superior to Central/ North American nations, however Honduras has some quality on the attack and the way some underdogs have been performing this World Cup, we could see another surprise. Still, Honduras has many issues, especially on defense, much more than Chile, and Chile is the better team. Prediction: Chile win.
Spain vs. Switzerland (10 AM EST.)
Spain is the heavy favorite to win this group and they should. They are also favorites to win this match and they should. The main question is how well will the Swiss defense be? In 2006, they were perfect, and they should still be pretty good considering many familiar names are back. But can they hold back Spain’s attack. Maybe if this was the third round, but I see Spain wanting to come out swinging. Prediction: Spain win.
South Africa vs. Uruguay (2:30 PM EST.)
Ah, the second round begins and things start to get alot more interesting. Both teams tied their first game and the group is still up for grab. South Africa played sound defense and surprised Mexico in their first game, while Uruguay also held France in check but didn’t create much on offense. I still believe Uruguay is a better team and has more of a goal scoring threat but South Africa will be riding the hype. Prediction: Tie.