World Cup Football 2010 - South Africa

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World Cup Diary

Day 12: Tuesday 22nd June

It was going to take something unexpected for either France or South Africa to progress from Group A and given the turmoil in the French camp - Anelka being sent home, the players in revolt, the coach falling out with absolutely everybody including the FFF - it was perhaps unsurprising that they didn't really turn up for this one. A good win for South Africa, but the goal difference from the first two matches left them too much to do.

The cynics might have suggested that a draw was inevitable in the match between Mexico and Uruguay, but they didn't seem to have read the script. While it may not have been all guns blazing, Uruguay were good value for the only goal of the game and both teams will be a handful for their opponents in the knockout phase.

In Group B, Argentina put 2 past Greece to claim a maximum nine points from the group, meaning that Greece went out regardless of the other result. This was just as well since South Korea very nearly threw it away against Nigeria. Yakubu cetainly had the miss of the tournament with an open goal from about 5 metres out. He somewhat redeemed himself with a penalty late on to make it 2 - 2, but Nigeria could not find a winner and it is the lively South Korea who join Argentina in the next round.

Day 11: Monday 21st June

Portugal's first game was goalless and North Korea impressed in their debut, so everything was poised for a tight, nervy encounter. And so the first half proved with the Europeans scoring the only goal. It is fair to say that at half time nobody would have predicted a seven goal whitewash, but that's exactly what transpired with six different Portuguese getting on the scoresheet. In two devastating spells just after the break and just before the final whistle they went through their opponents almost as if they weren't there. Yes, a fair bit of luck was involved and North Korea did look to be tiring towards the end, but those who might have written off Portugal will be thinking again.

The reputation of Switzerland was given such a boost by their opening match that Chile cannot have been looking forward to this one. Neither team over-committed going forwards and it was left to Gonzalez to grab the only goal of the match 15 minutes from time to give Chile one foot in the last 16.

After their rocky start Spain finally hit their stride against Honduras tonight. And although Torres still looked very low on confidence and match sharpness, his team-mates, in particular Villa, more than made up for this. The first goal was an individual masterpiece by Villa and is surely a contender for goal of the tournament. Honduras were not poor, they just met a side on top form, but they seem unlikely to progress now unless something startling happens in the final set of group matches.

Day 10: Sunday 20th June

In the early match, Paraguay continued their promising start to the World Cup with a comprehensive 2 - 0 victory over Slovakia. Santa Cruz lasted the full 90 minutes to remove doubts about his fitness and the South Americans look good value for a place in the last 16.

The rest of Group F is wide open, however and the shock of the day (in terms of results) came when the footballing powerhouse of Italy were held yet again, this time by New Zealand who managed a 1 - 1 draw (Italy only managing to score from the penalty spot).

The other shock of the day was the sending off of the Brazil playmaker Kaka for two bookable offences. Replays seem to suggest that the second card was entirely unwarranted, but as things stand he will miss the final group game at least. Equally worrying was the loss of Elano to a horrendous challenge. By that stage, Brazil were cruising and although Côte d'Ivoire managed a late consolation through a well-taken Drogba header (how they missed him in the first match), they could not stop Brazil cementing their place in the next round.

Day 9: Saturday 19th June

Another measured performance from the Netherlands was just enough to see off Japan in the early game. Not enough urgency was shown by the Japanese before they went behind and by then it was a case of "too little, too late". They will need to be more adventurous in future, although they were hard to break down here.

In contrast, Ghana and Australia went for it from the off and it didn't take long for Australia to take the lead through a handling error by the Ghana keeper. The lead did not last long with an equaliser from the spot after Kewell had (rightly) been sent off for a goal-line handball. Surprisingly, Ghana did not show much urgency afterwards, failed to stretch their opponents or make the extra man count. In the last 20 minutes it was the Aussies who looked more likely to score. For the second time in a week they ended a match with 10 men, but they'll take much more heart from this one.

Today saw the first exit from the tournament as Cameroon were beaten by Denmark. In a pulsating game, which realistically neither team could afford to lose it was the African side who struck first with Eto'o find the net early on. Two goals from the Danes were enough to seal it though in a result which also ensures the Netherlands progress to the last 16. If only Cameroon had played with this hunger, flair and invention in their first match, they might still have had a part to play.

Day 8: Friday 18th June

In general the standard of officiating at this tournament has been very high. Not so during today's match where cards were handed out like confetti for tackles which were at worst fouls and at best perfectly legitimate. Miroslav Klose was given too very soft yellow cards in the first half at which point, Germany were always going to be up against it. When Serbia scored shortly afterwards, it all seemed to be over. However, Germany came back strongly in the second half and should have levelled when Podolski's penalty was saved. Germany can rightly feel hard done by and (presumably) being without Klose for the final match has put their entire competition in doubt.

The afternoon goal-fest saw Slovenia and U.S.A. go for broke in a crucial match for both sides. At half-time Slovenia's 2 goal advantage looked to be enough to secure them victory and almost certain progression to the last 16. However, the U.S.A. came back strongly to level in the second half and were unlucky not to get the winner just before the end when a goal was ruled out for shirt pulling. They've had two impressive draws, coming from behind each time, but will need to beat Algeria in the final game to progress.

That might have been a fancied result before tonight's fixture. While England were even more directionless than they had been in their opening match, Algeria bounced back from their first defeat and were the more impressive of the sides today, just lacking a bit of quality in their shots on goal. This goalless result leaves Group C wide open.

England Home and Away shirts from Amazon

Day 7: Thursday 17th June

Another day and another chance to see Argentina. Would they realise the potential which was evident in their opening fixture? Or would South Korea capitalise on their position as leaders of Group B going into the match? Unfortunately for them an own goal set them on a bad path and at the break they were 2 - 1 down to the rampaging Argentinians. The second half was much the same with Messi, Maxi Rodrigues and Higuain running them ragged. Higuain ended with a hat-trick and Argentina seem unquestionably to be one of the favourites to lift the trophy. South Korea still look to have enough about them to get out of the group, but it will be a nervy final match.

Their oponents in that last group fixture will be Nigeria who had looked pretty solid against Argentina, but today capitulated against a fairly straightforward Greek attack. Undone by the long, diagonal ball to the striker on several occasions, they surrendered their lead just before half time and lost 2 - 1 in the end. Very disappointing from the Nigerian point of view: too many spurned opportunities going forwards and an inability to deal with the long ball at the back. However, it would be a very optimistic supporter of Greece who would have seen much here to trouble their next opponents.

On to the evening match which saw France, who were unadventurous in their first match, take on Mexico, who were wasteful in theirs. Again, France failed to live up to their hype. They possessed very little threat going forwards at all and were lucky to get to the interval without conceding. The introduction of Hernandez in the second half proved the difference for Mexico when he stayed just on-side to score a fantastic goal and when Blanco scored a consumate penalty fifteen minutes later there was no way back for the French, who were booed off the pitch. If Mexico can keep up this level of performance, they should do well.

Day 6: Wednesday 16th June

In a highly-entertaining encounter Honduras and Chile battled it out for Latin American supremacy in Group H. Both teams played good, attacking football but it was the Chileans who took the lead just after the half hour through Beausejour. Despite the pace being kept up throughout the second half, this was the only goal of the game. Honduras did not look like the push-overs the bookies were expecting and Chile looked very good going forwards. A dark horse?

The last teams to take their bows in this tournament were Spain and Switzerland who met in Durban. The form book said this should be a cake-walk and the only question was how many Spain would score. But as is so often the case, the form book was torn up, shredded and then burned to ashes as Switzerland held on throughout the first half and then had the temerity to score in the second half. This was the major upset that all the fancied teams have been dreading. How badly it will have damaged Spain's aspirations only time will tell.

Back to Group A for the final match of the day between South Africa and Uruguay. Two draws in their initial fixtures had left the group wide open and it was the South Americans who made all the running. Forlan's goal from outside the area showed just what the much-maligned Jubulani ball can do if struck with care and precision. Although the scoreline ultimately flattered Uruguay slightly, they still put in a commanding performance entirely changed from the first match. Conversely, South Africa now look to be in trouble and will need both luck and skill to progress beyond the group stage.

Day 5: Tuesday 15th June

There were high expectations for Slovakia having qualified well from their group in Europe and with a seemingly gentle start against the lesser known stars of New Zealand should have been a breeze. Instead the Kiwis held their shape, hustled for the ball and caused problems on the break. When Slovakia finally made the breakthrough the All Whites might have crumbled, but instead they redoubled their efforts, stuck to the game plan and got their just desserts a minute from time. Don't write them off just yet.

It was a much better affair than the afternoon match. Côte d'Ivoire and Portugal seemed thoroughly intent on making each other look good. Unfortunately neither succeeded. It's still been 2 years since Cristiano Ronaldo scored for his country. On this showing nobody else will either.

The cake walk that should have been the final match never materialised either. Instead we were treated to an intriguing fixture with the undoubtedly talented Brazil struggling to break down the stubborn North Korea who themselves showed some adventure on the counter-attack. A 0-0 half-time scoreline was not what most had predicted. Finally a moment of genius from Maicon broke the deadlock with a goal from an impossible angle. When Elano made it two the flood gates might have opened, but still North Korea held firm and even managed to peg one back in the dying minutes. Brazil are still favourites to top the group, and they might not face a sterner test than this before the last 16.

Day 4: Monday 14th June

Oh, here come the Netherlands and for once there is seemingly no dischord in the camp. How would they cope under the weight of expectation against their neighbours the Danes? By beating them 2-0, apparently. Not entirely straightforward and not without their scares, but at this stage a win is a win. Denmark will have to tighten up at the back if they are to progress.

What about Cameroon? Could they follow Ghana with a win? Nope. Japan worked tirelessly and showed all the invention in this match. Their African opponents seemed to have no creativity and no sense of urgency, even after going behind. Their game was summed up by Eto'o - their star player stuck out on the right wing and hardly ever involved in the play. Remember 1990? This was nothing like that.

Last up we saw the notoriously slow-starting Italy take on the dogged Paraguay in a fixture which had 0-0 written all over it. Only Paraguay hadn't read the script and instead managed to nick a goal from a free kick that should never have been given (most outrageous refereeing decision of the tournament so far). Even at a goal behind Italy had no spark until the introduction of Camoranesi. He grabbed the entire team by the scruff of the neck and suddenly the Italians looked like a real threat. They managed to equalise and Camoranesi managed not to get sent off (but only just). Another nail-biting set of group games await the Azzurri and their fans.

Day 3: Sunday 13th June

First up today were Algeria who memorably beat Egypt to get here against Slovenia who hoped to do better than back in 2002. In a largely forgettable match it was Slovenia who made the breakthrough just 11 minutes from time. Despite playing in the heat of the day, Algeria looked tired and sluggish. Must do better.

Following that we had Eastern Europe v Africa Part II with Serbia taking on the Essien-less Ghana. In a tight, bitty affair which only ever looked to have a goal in it, the die was cast when Serbia went down to 10 men and in a later incident Ghana scored from the spot after a crazy handball in the area. If this steadies the Africans they might just go further. Serbia, by contrast look to be in trouble.

If there's one thing you can rely on, it's the Germans. With only a goal here and there in the matches so far it took some ruthless Teutonic attacking play to finally open the flood gates. Four goals past hapless Australia, who had all hopes of a comeback dashed with Cahill's straight red (a somewhat dubious decision it should be said) and Germany have definitely arrived. It would have been even more if Klose had his shooting boots on. You wouldn't want to meet them in this form. Watch them, yes - meet them, no.

Day 2: Saturday 12th June

Three matches today, and 5 goals to show for it. Everyone seems a bit tentative (Argentina aside) and from the number of shots from distance which have whooshed high over the bar, perhaps this is something to do with the new ball after all.

Greece were the least impressive, conceding 2 against South Korea and you rather fear for them against the rest of the group now. In contrast, Nigeria did well only to concede 1 against the rampaging Argentina, and had a few chances of their own. Their match against the Koreans will be instrumental in deciding who makes it to the last 16.

The evening match was played at a most frenetic pace with plenty of chances at both ends. While U.S.A. rode their luck at times, a 1-1 scoreline was not much more than they deserved against an England side with plenty of endeavour, but a lack of accuracy in the final third. Will Rob Green start the next match? Only Fabio knows.

Day 1: Friday 11th June

We are under way at last! All the friendlies are over, the build-up which barely mentioned football at all is out of the way and the tournament is finally upon us.

The first day saw all the teams in Group A in action, and out of all of them South Africa must be the happiest. They managed to hold off the onslaught by Mexico in the first half an hour, scored first against the run of play and, having been pegged back, were rather unlucky not to nick it at the death with only the woodwork keeping them out. With all the atmosphere, end to end football and goal chances aplenty it was all anyone could have realistically asked for from an opening match.

In contrast, the evening fixture was somewhat disappointing. Two teams who have made a habit of goalless matches between them of late did not have the creativity, accuracy or tactical awareness to produce much of a contest. While France were almost unable to hit a barn door and never seemed comfortable with their formation, Uruguay could not hold on to the ball or find that killer last pass. Their tenacity paid off as they they kept the French out, but after going down to 10 men, defend was all they could do which is a real shame given the form of their strikers.

So, at the end of the first day we have no winners yet, and two draws means that nothing will be settled in this group until the final matches. The coverage so far has been good (Alan Green even praised a referee at one point) and the vuvuzelas haven't quite burrowed their way into my skull yet. The coming weekend games promise some tasty fixtures at (mostly) UK-friendly times, so we will soon see how this competition shapes up.

2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Official Book

Flags courtesy of ITA's Flags of All Countries used with permission.

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