Tuesday, 15 June 2010

This is getting silly now

I think I'd like a break from low scoring, defensive, tactical battles now. Aren't we due a thriller? Day four of the World Cup and still only one game has seen more than two goals. We need some excitement!

Holland and Japan will be delighted with their starts, but neither game was anything to write home about and both sides profited from a considerable amount of luck. In their defence, the Dutch were quite clearly missing Arjen Robben. Rafael Van Der Vaart insisted on drifting inside and constantly getting in Wesley Sneijder's way, which eventually caused Sneijder to be moved wide just to give the team some shape. Liverpool have a similar problem with Kuyt on the right if they don't have a genuine left winger on the other side as an outlet. Once Elia came on, and gave Holland something different - i.e. a player who would run at the Danish defence - they looked much better. Kuyt is excellent at what he does but he will never be a 'touchline' winger like Robben is, which makes the side very narrow if the player on the opposite side likes to drift into a more central position as well.

What's been frustrating about the tournament so far is that the so called 'bigger' sides have been well contained by their less fancied opponents. It's not surprising that teams like Denmark, Japan and Paraguay have played defensively, because they know that starting the tournament with a draw is much more preferable to getting slaughtered in the first game as Australia were. The real blame must fall to the sides they have been playing. I have no idea what Paul Le Guen's been smoking, but Cameroon's team selection was bizarre, and until Japan scored they showed no ambition at all. They, like Algeria, Greece and France seemed happy with a 0-0 from the start. It's probably worked out well that these sides (France excepted) ended up losing their games because in the second round of matches they have no choice but to attack. Another defeat means certain elimination, and even a draw leaves them in deep, deep trouble.

As for Italy, they did at least try to get forward, even after De Rossi had equalised. They were simply not good enough to break Paraguay down. Marcelo Lippi appears to be trying to rebuild the 2006 side with anyone left from that success and new players who aren't quite as good. Up front they look toothless, they haven't replaced the bite of Gattuso or the creativity of Pirlo (though he will be back) in midfield and at the back Cannavaro and Zambrotta look like this is one tournament too far. I imagine they'll get away with it because Group F is not a strong one, but you never know. And come on, we'd all love it if New Zealand stuck a few past them.

Looking ahead, everyone's favourite Military Dictatorship is in action tomorrow and we can assume that whatever happens here, in North Korea they'll be showing images of a glorious victory at Soccer City on July 11th. My knowledge of how they play is limited to Youtube and a couple of screamers they scored against Greece in a friendly. Other than that all we know is that they are an incredibly organised side (funnily enough) and that they are unlikely to come out all guns blazing. Well, not the football team anyway. That match will be worth watching not only for them, but also as it gives us a first look at the Brazilians. I doubt we'll get to see much of this tomorrow but they are scarily good on the counter attack, so look out for that in their group games over the next week or so.

Finally, let's hope Didier Drogba is fit to play, and that Carlos Quieroz hasn't been sacked by tomorrow afternoon. That should give the Ivory Coast a chance of getting something out of Portugal. I don't think I'm alone in hoping an African team goes a long way this year, and only Ghana have looked genuinely impressive so far. In addition, the 'Golden Generation' (I hate that phrase) of Ivorians has yet to really justify that tag, and this probably represents their last chance of doing so.

I feel like a broken record, but surely tomorrow will finally see the tournament explode into life. New Zealand go for their first ever World Cup win, North Korea taking on the might of Brazil, and the biggest match of the group stage all on one day. That has got to give us something.

Hasn't it?

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