Monday, June 12, 2006

World Cup Recap, Part II

Sunday, 11 June

Netherlands 1 Serbia/Montenegro 0

An early goal in the 18th minute from Arjen Robben off a beautiful feed from Robert van Persie was the only goal in a game that featured some sloppy backline play by the Netherlands and some curious offense by SMT. In the first half, SMT relied on long-ball desperation passing, which was easily corralled by the Dutch midfield and defense. Once SMT began to play short stroke passing, they made an honest threat on the Dutch goal, forcing goal keeper Edwin van der Sar to make some athletic saves and to withstand a pressurized assault on his net.

Mexico 3 Iran 1

In only their third World Cup win on European soil, Mexico took advantage of a late mental error by the Iranian goal-keeper, Ebrahim Mirzapour to grab a quick lead and then sealed it on a third goal by Brazilian-born Zinha less than three minutes later. Two goals were scored by Omar Bravo. The sole Iranian goal was by Yahya Golmohammadi. Easily the most entertaining match of the first weekend until the 79th minute, Iran and Mexico both played aggressive offense and defense, and both keepers, Mirzapour and Oswaldo Sanchez, were tested. This game also contained a game outside the game, as Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had promised to attend the game in Nuremberg, the site of the Nazi war crimes trials. Ahmadinejad had denied the Holocaust had happened. Another unusual game-outside-the-game saw a massive Mexican controversy regarding the importation of a coach and two of the national team's players, replacing two native born Mexicans, coming on the heels of the Mexican outrage at the new wave of anti-immigration feeling in the United States. In addition, keeper Sanchez' father died unexpectedly on Wednesday, and Sanchez had only just arrived back on German soil Saturday morning.

Portugal 1 Angola 0

In what was nearly a repeat of Saturday's England victory, Portugal struck early, three minutes in, on a lovely run by Luis Figo, who then flicked a short pass to Pauletta who dropped the ball into the back of the net. Portugal then sat back and nursed the one goal to victory in what was a very physical game from a fiesty Angolan team, led by their captain Akwa, and striker Mantorras. This is also the first time that Portugal have faced their former colony Angola in World Cup play.

Monday, 12 June

Australia 3 Japan 1

For the first time in 24 years, a team from Oceania is playing in the World Cup (New Zealand, 1982). Australia has a winning history against Japan, but Japan jumped into the lead at 26 minutes in when Nakamura Shunsuke got a bit of an assist from his teammate Takahara Naohiro, who prevented Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer from cleanly fielding the ball Nakamura played into the box. Australia played a desperate, physical second half against a Japanese side that had withdrawn into a defensive shell, aware that their next match is against powerhouse and tournament top-seed Brazil, and finally broke through in the 87th minute to score their first ever World Cup goal and then at the 89th minute, both from Tim Cahill, to secure their first ever World Cup victory and to almost ensure their advancement to the elimination round. A goal from John Aloisi in extra time was icing on the cake. Remember, goal differential (goals scored versus goals given up) will be the first tiebreaker in detemining who advances, so Australia was smart to pile up another score.

Czech Republic 3 United States 0

In what was a must-win for US hopes to advance to the elimination round, the US didn't and quite spectacularly, despite being seeded fifth in the tournament. See you in four years!

Italy 1 Ghana 0

What should have been a cakewalk for the Italians (ranked #13 to Ghana's #48) saw a valiant effort by Ghana. Italy jumped out to a lead in the 40th minute, as Andrea Pirlo deflected a short corner kick just past the goal keeper's reach in the low left corner. This match featured many near misses and could just as easily have been a blowout for either team. Vicenzo Iaquinta iced the game in the 83rd minute, intercepting a horribly short-sighted pass by defender Samuel Kuffour and faked goal keeper Richard Kingston out of his boots.