Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Wednesday World Cup Report

The World Cup finally lives up to the hype!

Tuesday, June 13

Korea 2 Togo 1

Togo was the least likely of any country to field a World Cup squad and yet, here they are, beating out traditional African powerhouses like Nigeria and the Congo. Unfortunately, they ran into a buzzsaw of a Korean team after drawing first blood in the 31st minute on a goal by Mohamed Kader, which hit the post before careening in. In the 53rd minute, Togo was forced to play ten men as Jean-Paul Abalo was sent off with his second yellow card of the match for a tackle just outside the edge of the penalty box. The ensuing free kick from Chun Soo Lee was the equalizer for Korea. Twenty minutes later, Jung Hwan Ang slid a looping shot over the Togan goal keeper, Kogi Agassa.

France 0 Switzerland 0

I must confess that this game features my favorite player, Thierry Henry, arguably the best player in the world. France is shedding ghosts of its 2002 disappointment (she won in 1998, but then lost every game in the defense in 2002, not even scoring a goal). France pressed its game against a passionless Swiss team that seemed reluctant to even shoot the ball, perhaps fearing scuff marks on their boots. Perhaps their vaunted neutrality isn't just limited to warfare and diplomacy? The closest the Swiss came to scoring in the first half was on a missed corner kick that tickled off the inside of the French goalpost in the 26th accident! But France was infected with the dispassionate play of the Swiss and the game, fairly boring, lingered on like the dying rich aunt that no one liked, into four minutes of extra time. Still no score. No life. Nothing.

Brazil 1 Croatia 0

As expected, this game featured free-wheeling play and basically no defense except for the goal posts. Brazil departed from character early on, and swung long wild passes upfield, rather than rely on footspeed and ball control. Just at half time, Kaka drove home a wonderful strike into the upper left corner of the goal, and beat the Croatian keeper, Stipe Pletikosa. The Croatians pressed the attack in the second half, and Brazil responded by altering their game to be more close in to goal on the attack. This game even included a fan running out onto the pitch. A very exciting and fun game to watch, in sharp counterpoint to the France-Switzerland match earlier.

Wednesday, June 14

Spain 4 Ukraine 0

No surprises here, Spain is a powerhouse in European soccer, and passed the United States for the number 5 ranking in the world. Spain had 19 shots to Ukraine's 5 and dominated play from whistle to whistle, scoring their first goal at 13 minutes on a header by Alonso Xabi off a corner kick, and then again four minutes later on a free kick from David Villa which deflected off the Wall. A penalty kick in the 48th minute by Villa and a quick goal by Fernando Torres in the 81st minute sealed the game off.

Tunisia 2 Saudi Arabia 2

WOW! Perhaps the most exciting game of the tourney, with two goals scored in the last eight minutes of play! Plenty of fouls in this hard fought game which saw two yellow cards handed out to Tunisia within a minute of each other. Tunisia fought off some intense Saudi pressure in the 23rd minute, and an acrobatic goal by Zied Jaziri broke the scoring drought as he went horizontal at about shoulder level to slap the ball home for Tunisia. The second half saw Yasser Al Kahtani pull the Saudis level in the 56th minute off a quick, low pass just at the top of the penalty box, drilling a shot into the roof of the net. In the 84th minute, the Saudis went end to end and on a beautiful finishing pass, Sami Al Jaber shanked a shot that hopped over the outstretched foot of Tunisian keeper Ali Boumnijel. Boumnijel came up big as the game slipped into stoppage time with what may be the save of the tournament off a deflected free kick. Tunisia then turned around and in a flurry of passing in front of the Saudi goal, Jaidi Radha headbutted a perfect pass from Zied Jaziri to tie the game just ahead of the final whistle. Who said soccer is boring?

Germany 1 Poland 0

Two European soccer superpower collided in this second match of the preliminary round, although Poland have not beaten Germany in World Cup play and in preliminary action, were 1-0-1 against Germany and did not score a goal. The first half ended in a tie, despite numerous chances for Germany, and some unlucky bounces for the Poles. In the 92nd minute, Germany finally broke a 0-0 tie as David Odnokor slid a cross over to Oliver Neuville who slipped it past goal keeper Artur Boruc as the home crowd went wild.