Saturday, June 10, 2006

World Cup Recap, Part I

Well, the first two days of the 2006 FIFA World Cup are in the books, and so let's take a quick review:

Germany 4 Costa Rica 2

A surprising result. Not that Germany won, they'd have to be considered the favorites in the tournament, but that they gave up two goals to Costa Rica. Germany has a reputation for stellar defense....ya,hullo, this IS Germany, after all...but Paulo Wanchope, who had a spectacular tournament in 2002 in Japan, made it a much more exciting game than it had any reason to be, leading into the biggest upset so far in this tournament...

Ecuador 2 Poland 0

Make no mistake, this was no "lucky win". The Ecuadorans played gritty defense and tough attacking football close into the Polish goal. This was a must-win for Poland as they are in the same group as host Germany, who should walk through the group easily. As two teams from each group advance, Poland will now need two wins to guarantee advancement to the next round. Four points, meaning a win and a tie, would not necessarily guarantee a place in the elimination round. Ecuador need only a tie against Costa Rica or Germany to give themselves a 50-50 shot at the next round, and a win against either (most probably Costa Rica) would pave the way for them.

England 1 Paraguay 0

England practically disappeared in this game, and the side must be concerned about their lack of attack and spotty. ragged and selfish play. Their sole goal came about three minutes in and even that was an "own goal" by Carlos Gamarra of Paraguay, whose head magically appeared just under a David Beckham free kick, deflecting the ball just out of goalie Justo Villar's diving reach. Villar left the game five minutes later with what appeared to be a pulled muscle in his lower leg. This game had some firsts: the earliest replacement of a goal-keeper, and the first 1-0 World Cup game ever decided by an own goal. Wayne Rooney, the player England looks to for the offensive spark (and a real hooligan to boot) was listed as a possible substitute, but did not play, still smarting from the broken metatarsal in his foot, suffered at the end of the EPL season at Manchester United.

Sweden 0 Trinidad & Tobago 0

This was about as big an upset as Poland losing to Ecuador. T&T is the smallest nation ever to field a World Cup team and this was its first World Cup appearance, qualifying out of the Americas on what was basically a backdoor opening after only securing one tie in their first three matches, changing coaches and winning the next three and then crossing fingers. Faced with this enormous challenge of Sweden and having only one or two real bona fide international level players, one of whom, Marvin Andrews, was shelved with an injury, Trinidad & Tobago lost their primary goal keeper Kelvin Jack in warm ups to an injury, and had to bring on West Ham legend Shaka Hislop, the oldest goal keeper to ever play in the World Cup.

As if that wasn't enough work cut out for them, shortly after halftime star midfielder Avery John was sent off after two yellow cards, forcing T&T to play ten men for more than half the game. Freddie Ljundberg and his mates struggled hard, and were active and attacking, but somehow T&T, led by the incomparable Dwight Yorke in a showdown of two of Arsenal's heroes from recent history, kept the ball out of harm's way for the full 90 minutes.

Incredible story. Incredible match.

Argentina 2 Ivory Coast 1

The Ivory Coast team is quite the story: the country was divided by an extremely nasty civil war because of a militarey junta in 1999 and rigged elections in 2000 (gee...why does that sound familiar?). Rebels claimed the northern provinces. But now that the country has qualified for the World Cup, a truce has been called. One hopes that they will take the hint and take the next month to work out a permanent cease fire and solution.

Despite an aggressive defensive posture taken by Ivory Coast, led by the Arsenal star, Kolo Touré, Argentina slapped home a goal at 24 minutes (Hernan Crespo) on a marvelous rebound off a free kick that was blocked off. The Ivory Coast counterattack, led by Didier Drogba stormed on goal time and time again, but Argentina put away another goal on a beautiful feed from Juan Riquelme to Javier Saviola in the 38th minute. Saviola had about a mile on any side of him when he slid the ball under the goal keeper. Saviola then ruined the beauty of his goal by taking a yellow card.

Drogba drove home a ball in the 82 minute off a pass from Karay Kone. Chelsea of the English Premier League thus accounted for two of the three goals (Crespo is a Chelsea striker). Ivory Coast earned, but didn't not score, at least a point for this massive effort, particularly in the closing minutes when they threw everything they could at a far more talented Argentine side.