Well, it’s the 17th of June and last night concluded the first week of World Cup 2010. And what a week it has been. It started off dull enough with two draws as South Africa faced Mexico and Uruguay took on France. However, it was soon set ablaze as England encountered the U.S.A. on the second day of the tournament. What ensued was a thrlling tie marred by one goal-keeping gaffe from Robert Green that cost England all three points against the States. The first week of this year’s World Cup has had its fair share of ups and downs, missed chances, shocks and surprises. One thing that it lacked however, was goals. With the first week over, let us look back at all the events of South Africa 2010 and see whether “The Contenders” performed as expected:
Henry and Ribery have a chat with Diego Forlan during their Group A encounter.
The first “Contender” in action at the World Cup was France. They played Uruguay on the opening day of the World Cup. As predicted, the French failed to impress and lacked the neccessary fire power required to crack a defense. The Uruguayan defense was by no means unbreakable and the French really should have scored atleast once during the match. Even though France created a chance as early as the 6th minute, when Franck Ribery slipped the ball in across goal for Sidnei Govou, they failed to convert on innumerable occasions. Not only did France fail to create many chances but Uruguay also looked dangerous when they attained possession of the ball. At times it seemed Diego Forlan on his own was enough for the French defense to deal with. However, neither side provided enough spark in the final third of the field and as a result the match ended in a goal-less stalemate.
Argentina made their World Cup debut next as they faced off against Nigeria. It was a thoroughly enjoyable match with both sides playing well and creating scoring opportunities. Messi and Co. continued to threaten the Nigerian backline throughout the game but it was Gabriel Heinze who broke the deadlock early on with a senstational header from a Sebastian Veron corner in the 6th minute. The Argentines came running out of the blocks and looked to get on the score sheet as early as possible. Even after scoring their first goal, they kept piling pressure onto the Nigerian defense. This time however, they were matched shot-for-shot by the excellent Nigerian goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama, who persistently denied the Argentine attackers from geting onto the scoresheet. All in all, it was a good match and both teams played equally well. In the end however, it was that exceptional goal from Gabriel Heinze that proved the difference between the two sides.
England were up next as they took on the USA in a crunch group C encounter. All went well for England and they played exceptional football, eventually taking the lead on 5 minutes as Steven Gerrard rippled the back of the net, sliding the ball just past US keeper Tim Howard. His effort was soon cancelled out however, as the United States found a goal of their own on . Clint Dempsey fired a weak shot from outside the 18 yard box. His speculative effort however was clumsily fumbled by Robert Green and wound up in the back of the net. England 1 USA 1. Both teams played well after that gaffe from Green and Green himself pulled off some excellent saves after his error that cost England the lead. He was unable to fully redeem himself however as both sides failed to score hereafter and the match ended as a draw. For those of you who still haven’t seen the howler (I doubt there are many) here is a clip I’ve added:
Even though I refused to include Germany in my original list of “Contenders”, their exceptional performance against Australia has forced me to revise my earlier predictions. The Germans romped to a massive 4-0 victory against Australia. Even with their star player and skipper, Michael Ballack out injured for the entire tournament, the efficient Germans seemed unfazed as they hit Australia for four with four different players, including Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose getting on the score sheet. The Germans with this huge win have, in my view at least, cemented their credentials as possible World Champions. But the World Cup has only begun as yet and whether this victory was nothing but a fluke against a hapless Australian side or just one out of many many more exceptional performances by the Germans is yet to be seen.
The Germans Practicing
Then came Italy as they clashed with Paraguay in the Cape Town Stadium on the 14th of June. The Italians monopolized possession for most of the first half but conceded a goal against the run of play on 38 minutes. A freekick was curled into the box and Paraguayan defender Antolin Alcaraz rose above all challengers before heading the ball home into the bottom corner of the net. The Paraguayans led and the Italians were shell-shocked. Coach Marcelo Lippi then introduced a change on around the hour mark that galvanised the Italian team as they shifted into fifth gear. Mauo Camoranesi was brought on in place of Claudio Marchisio. The Azurri rose as if they’d been brought back from the undead and began to launch wave after wave of attacks on the Paraguayans. Their continuous pressure eventually paid off as a Pepe corner was turned into goal by Daniel De Rossi after Villar failed to clear it. Both teams then threw everything they had in an attempt to find the winning goal but the attempts were futile and the match ended all square.
The Italian Team in training.
Brazil and Portugal were also in action during the week as they came up against North Korea and the Ivory Coast respectively. Brazil were expected to dominate the North Koreans, possibly dispatching them for a 5 or maybe even a 6 goal win. But as soon as the match kicked off, the Korean side made it clear that they would be no push-overs. They played well overall and held Brazil at 0-0 till half-time, which in itself is an achievement. Brazil however soon took the lead through a Maicon shot that just slipped in between the goal-keeper and his near post. Elano soon doubled the Brazillian lead on 72 minutes as he slotted home after receiving a delightful through-ball from Robinho. However the North Koreans at least ensured that Brazil would have a nervy few final minutes as they grabbed a goal of their own, courtesy of midfielder Yun Nam. The Brazillians though, would hold on for the win.
Maicon takes a shot on goal during the Brazil vs DPR Korea Match
Portugal and the Ivory Coast were the next two teams to lock horns as they squared off in their Group G match. The match remained a tight affair throughout and the performance of both teams was commendable, especially that of the Ivory Coast, considering they were without their talismanic striker, Didier Drogba, for much of the game. Portugal however were not as good as their African counterparts and were kept at bay for long periods of time, their only good chance in the first half coming from a Ronaldo strike that struck the post from quite a long way out. Both teams played well though and as the match ended in a draw, it will be interesting to see which of these two teams will advance to the Knockout Round.
Ronaldo is frustrated as he hits the post.
The most shocking result of this World Cup however, came just yesterday on the 16th of June. Spain were to play Switzerland at Durban Stadium when they kicked-off their World Cup Campaign. Everyone, including the author of this post expected the Spanish to pull off a big win. The Swiss however, had their own ideas. After 50 minutes of stalemate, Eren Derdiyok slipped into the box and attempted to slide the ball across to the waiting Gelson Fernandes. He was tackled by Casillas and the ball shot straight into Gerard Pique, causing it to bounce in front of the mouth of goal. A goal-mouth tussle ensued and Gelson Fernandes came out on top as he poked the ball into the back of the net. The Swiss led 1-0 and never looked back. From then on they put the entire team behind the ball and Spain failed to break their jam-packed defense. The referee soon blew the full time whistle, completing the Swiss victory and the greatest upset of the World Cup so far. Needless to say, this is a massive victory for the Swiss and the Spanish cannot afford any more slip ups if they are to make it out of Group H and into the Round Of 16. Indeed, victory in both of their next matches against Algeria and Slovenia is all that can guarantee passage into the next round for the Spanish. What do you think? Will the Spanish make it into the Knockout phase of the World Cup? Or will they fail miserably and crash out?
Spain Concede A Goal and Gerard Pique is left bloodied.
It has been four long years in the making but the 2010 Fifa World Cup is finally here! The single greatest sporting event in the world is here at last and with some of world football’s best teams on top of their game it is undeniable that this is going to be one very special World Cup. A festival of football as they call it, this World Cup promises to delight everyone; from the avid fans of the game to the casual Sunday-night viewers. The tournament kicks off today (11th June) with the group stage matches, so sit back, relax and prepare yourself for a month of scintillating football as the world’s best players and teams converge in South Africa for the first ever World Cup to be held on the African continent. In build up for this magical event let me take you through the top teams capable of winning this year’s edition of the Fifa World Cup. The contenders for South Africa 2010 are:
1. Spain: Without a doubt, La Furia Roja (‘The Red Fury’) are the team to beat when they kick off their World Cup campaign on the 16th of June against Switzerland. Vincente Del Bosque’s men are flying high after their triumph in Euro 2008 and with the quality players that they have, you can be sure that Spain will give other teams a run for their money. However, there are several factors that could have negatively affect the Spanish side. Cesc Fabregas’ speculated move to Barcelona could affect his concentration at the World Cup and with other teams like Brazil and England vying for the top prize, Spain cannot afford any distractions. But then again, the Spanish have ample replacement ready to take the Arsenal captain’s place if he fails to deliver. With the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Sergio Busquets all already competing for that elusive first team place it doesn’t seem Spain will have too much difficulty finding a suitable replacement. The side also boasts an excess of excellent forwards. With David Villa, Fernando Torres, Fernando Llorente and even Barcelona’s Pedro Rodriguez plying their trade upfront for the national team, Spain will surely be a side capable of testing even the strongest of opposition defenses. Not only do they have a strong midfield and piercing attack, but Spain also possess a miserly defense marshaled by Barcelona skipper Carlos Puyol as well as Real Madrid’s consistent goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas in goal. Spain finished their World Cup qualifying with 10 wins out of 10 games played and it could be such consistency that leads the Spanish to their first World Cup success come the 11th of July.
Will Xavi power the Spanish to World Cup Glory?
2. Brazil: If Spain do not emerge as champions after the World Cup, it just has to be Brazil. After a disappointing 2006 campaign when they were eliminated at the quarter-finals stage at the hands of France, the Samba Boys are back and are looking to take the World Cup by storm this year. After a convincing victory in last year’s Confederations Cup it does look as if Dunga has formed a side capable of challenging for the World Cup this time around. Dunga has taken a big risk by omitting Alexander Pato from the squad, along with Ronaldinho, who seemed to have rejuvenated his ailing career at A.C. Milan. Both the midfielder and striker were in excellent form ahead of the World Cup and it is still unclear why they were excluded from the side that landed in South Africa on the 27th of May. Coming back to the team itself, the Brazilian squad does have an undoubtedly awe-inspiring first eleven. The line-up includes many world renowned players playing in Europe including the in-form goalkeeper Julio Cesar and mercurial wing-back Daniel Alves. Brazil (along with Spain) is one of the few teams playing in the World Cup that does not lack in any department, whether it be in defense, midfield or even upfront. The players such as Kaka, Maicon and Luis Fabiano are proven performers and will be key for Brazil if they hope to succeed in South Africa. Will Brazil finally claim a sixth world cup? Will Dunga’s men re-establish Braziian authority in the football world?. I guess you’ll just have to wait and see.
Will Robinho and Kaka be celebrating come July 11th?
3. France: Should France even be in South Africa?. If it hadn’t been for Thierry Henry’s handball against Ireland, there is no doubt that it would have been the Republic Of Ireland who would have landed in South Africa by now. The goal France scored in the dying minutes of their match against Ireland has been surrounded by a cloud of controversy as Thierry Henry controlled the ball with the palm of his hand before slipping it in across goal for his compatriot William Gallas to score. The referee failed to see Henry handling the ball and as a result the goal stood and France booked their ticket to South Africa. The Irish protested and demanded for the match to be replayed however Fifa decided to remain oblivious to what had happened and France was confirmed as the team to participate in South Africa 2010. Even with such good luck on their side, it is difficult to see France making their way much ahead of Round Of 16. While they do have big game cannons such as Franck Ribery, Thierry Henry and Nicholas Anelka in their arsenal, the team as a whole lacks cohesion and does not play together well. They also suffered a poor run of form in the warm up matches prior to the World Cup and their toothless attack was on display for the world to see as they barely scraped past Costa Rica (2-1) before drawing 1-1 with Tunisia in the penultimate match. This was followed by a 1-0 loss to China in their final match. The injury to one of their key midfielders, Lassana Diarra will only add to the woes of coach Raymond Domenech as he hopes to lead France to their second World Cup crown. His task seems increasingly difficult however, as there are sides far better than France competing for the top prize in World Football and this is precisely why the French stand no real chance of emulating their 1998 triumph.
What is France without Zizou?
After embarrassingly failing to qualify for Euro 2008, the English F.A. fired then England coach Steve McClaren before appointing Italian Fabio Capello in his place. The experienced Italian was expected to re-build the England side back into a squad capable of lifting the World Cup. And he did just that. After taking over the reins of the national side from Steve McClaren he reconstructed the England side and took control of the over-inflated egos of some of the star players. He instilled discipline and respect in his players and got them to perform at their best for England. Thus he brought the squad at par with those of other great football playing nations such as Spain and Brazil and now, England too stands a reasonable chance of making it big at this World Cup. With the country being host to one of the greatest football leagues on the planet i.e. the Barclays Premier League, it is not surprising to see that the England squad features many capable players and it can be said the country is well represented at this year’s World Cup. With one of the world’s best strikers Wayne Rooney up front and the likes of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard to support him, England could prove to be a major player in this year’s World Cup. England have a strong back four as well and John Terry and Ashley Cole will be ready to intercept any incoming attack and to immediately set up the counter for the Three Lions. However, what could prove to be England’s Achilles’ heel at this World Cup is their goal-keeping crisis.It seems to have stabilized more recently though as David James was handed the No.1 shirt by Fabio Capello, confirming his choice to make the Portsmouth shot-stopper England’s first choice goalkeeper. In short, England has a good chance of proving a point at this year’s World Cup if only they keep faith in themselves and put in that bit of extra effort to pass the dividing line that makes the difference between Champions and second place.
Will Wayne Rooney inspire England to Victory?
Then there’s Portugal. With stars such as Ronaldo, Nani and Deco forming the crux of the midfield it will be exciting to see how the Portuguese will line up at this World Cup. Even with such a strong starting eleven, Portugal will do well to qualify for the Knockout Rounds. They have been grouped in what has effectively been called this World Cup’s “Group of Death” and will feature against Dunga’s Brazil; Didier Drogba inspired Ivory Coast; and North Korea. Brazil may prove just too strong for the Portuguese though and they may have to be content with second place but the Ivory Coast will be sure to fight them tooth and nail for the final qualifying spot in Group G. Even though the Portuguese midfield is undeniably strong, the same cannot be said about their attack. With only Liedson and possibly Simao lining up in front of the explosive midfield, it is difficult to see how they plan on breaking some of the tighter defenses they will go up against, e.g. when they play Brazil, or even Spain and England, if they progress that is. Portugal really will be relying much on their midfield for both attack and defense. Ronaldo and Nani will provide the gun powder for Portugal’s attack whereas Pepe and Meireles will back up the defense as they slot into their roles as holding midfielders. Portugal have performed well in their warm up matches and managed to beat Cameroon 3-2 in a fiery encounter. Whether they can carry their form into the group stage and beyond though, remains to be seen.
Can Portugal Make It Past The Group Stage?
After going through a difficult qualifying campaign, the Argentines finally qualified for this year’s World Cup; narrowly beating Uruguay (1-0) in the last match to secure the fifth and final qualifying spot from South America. One of Argentina’s greatest strengths is their depth in midfield and attack. With Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Carlos Tevez to choose from,coach Diego Maradona is spoilt for choice on who to employ in his first team. The experience of Sebastian Veron will also be key as he lines up with Javier Mascherano and Jonas Guttierez in the Argentine midfield. With such a mix of youth, experience and quality it is flabbergasting why the national side does not perform as well as it should. Lionel Messi, who has shown exceptional form for his club side Barcelona has failed to reproduce his magic on the international stage and the country’s success at this year’s World Cup will largely depend on how well he performs in Argentine colours. Even though Argentina have the potential to succeed it does not take away from the fact that they are still underdogs to actually win the Cup. A mission that is further made difficult when you see Brazil and Spain playing the way they are. But there is still no harm in doing their best and seeing how far it takes them; For as they say, it’s better to burn out than fizz out.
Can Messi-Dona combine at the World Cup?
Finally, we have the reigning World Champions, Italy! The Italians are looking to repeat their 2006 World Cup success and have sent a strong squad to South Africa to defend their crown. This task will be tough for the Italians though, as the golden generation that won the World Cup four years ago has since aged considerably and Italy have not been able to replace some of their aging stars. Legends including Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero and Pippo Inzaghi have either retired altogether or are no longer fit enough to play at the highest level. The injuries to Andrea Pirlo and Mauro Camoranesi will not be helpful either, that’s for sure. Both men were instrumental in Italy’s triumph four years ago and both have sustained injuries that will keep them out of the group stage of the competition at the very least. Even with these set backs however, the only thing the Italians lack is a truly world class striker, maybe someone like David Villa for Spain or Wayne Rooney for England- a player capable of changing the match with a single swish of his boot. In between the goal posts, Italy have deployed Gianluigi Buffon, one of the greatest goalkeepers in modern football and the Italian defense is sufficiently strong; however without a good striker to finish off the goals, it his highly unlikely they will be able to emulate their 2006 success.
Will The Italians Reign Supreme once more?
This concludes the top contenders for this the Fifa 2010 World Cup. In conclusion, this World Cup is going to be spectacular and even though Spain are favorites to lift the golden World Cup trophy, they will receive stiff competition from other countries including England, Brazil and Argentina as each of the 32 teams look to leave their mark on South Africa 2010. Happy viewing and don’t forget to comment, rate and subscribe!
-Zain R. Mian
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