One day into the World Cup, and we’ve already had a wonder goal, a red card and Raymond Domenech has managed to fight one of his own players. On top of that, our eardrums might never recover. An entertaining first game followed by a fairly terrible second one, memorable for an absolutely atrocious performance by France’s front three and Nicolas Lodeiro’s red card.
We’ll start in Johannesburg, and the naturally crazy opening ceremony. The highlight of which was the giant beetle stating his claim for a starting spot in the South African side. It couldn’t have played much worse than anyone else did in the first 10 minutes of the tournament. Thankfully they came into the game and showed us that they are not to be underestimated in this competition, particularly on the counter attack as they have considerable pace throughout the team.
Mind you, had Guillermo Franco not been doing a fantastic Emile Heskey impression in the first half, Mexico could have won the game comfortably. Two poor headers under minimal pressure really should have been buried, and it reinforces the point that if they had someone who could score goals consistently they would be a really quality side. They also showed their vulnerability from set pieces again, as they did at Wembley. Better sides than South Africa will exploit them. In fact, the ‘Bafana Bafana’ did not cover themselves in glory with some of their defending either, particularly for the equaliser. Not only Rafael Marquez, but 2 other players were unmarked at the back post when the cross came in. They aren’t going anywhere with defending like that.
Mexico shaded the first half, Giovani Dos Santos repeatedly troubled the defence, and if he didn’t take one extra touch too often he’d have created many more chances for his teammates. They were helped a lot by some very poor passing by the South Africans, perhaps the occasion got to them slightly, a number of times some really lazy play in midfield gave Mexico the run on goal. They were much improved in the second half, a 45 minutes capped by a truly brilliant goal from Siphiwe Tshabalala. It wasn’t just a wonderful finish, but the speed of the build up was exceptional. What we learned about South Africa is that on the counter attack they look dangerous, and on a number of occasions inexperience let them down when they had men over in space. They of course only missed out on winning the game by the width of the post in the last minute - a chance born out of utilising the pace of Katlego Mphela, a tactic they perhaps should have tried using earlier.
A thoroughly entertaining first game was followed by an extremely poor second one. Much of the blame for this must be laid at France’s door, they were the bigger side and should have taken the game to Uruguay. As it was, Sidney Govou missed a sitter early on and then decided to participate in Nicolas Anelka’s ‘Who can have the worst game in World Cup history’ competition. Let’s call it a draw. How they lasted beyond half time, never mind until 15 minutes from the end is unbelievable. Perhaps it would have been better for everyone if Malouda had hadn’t been restrained from lamping Domenech in their team meeting last night.
Nothing in that game persuaded me to change my opinion about the French, a first round exit still beckons unless they completely sort themselves out before their match with Mexico in 6 days time.
As for England, Group C is just about as good as they can have hoped for. Algeria and Slovenia should pose very little threat. I also think it’s probably better for England that they play the US first, as there has been a tendency for them to completely underestimate the opposition and either fail to win or just about scrape through. The USA themselves are not a bad side, if a little tactically naïve. They are no longer a joke and I wouldn’t be surprised if they drew with England. The Algerians are unlikely to cause too many problems, they showed in the Cup of Nations semi final how ill-disciplined they can be - ending the game with 8 men having completely lost their heads once the game was lost. Slovenia beat Russia to get here, so should not be ruled out completely but in reality their team is quite limited. Despite this, they are well organised and it’s important that both England and the US are patient when trying to break them down. If England panic and start smashing long balls at Crouch’s head after an hour then they could have a problem.
Can’t see any surprises in this group, England should win the group and the USA come through in second.
Tomorrow is unlikely to be dull, Maradona will see to that, but let’s just hope England haven’t been taking tips from France.