An opening weekend for the defenses, except the Germans of course. With the terrible drone of the vuvuzela eating away at my conscience, World Cup 2010 got underway with a breathtaking opening match in Johannesburg between the hosts and Mexico. Two of the four groups seem to have emerged with 2 favorites, while the others are wide open and there for the taking. Only one game? Sure. And there is still much to play for, however a lot was learned of the teams that competed this weekend and I can assure you the nail-biting will continue for the next 2 weeks. Let's see what happened...
With all the pressure on the hosts South Africa to impress in the opening match, one would have expected lots of nerves. And for the first 15 minutes or so that's what we got. Until Giovani Dos Santos took the game by the neck. A splendid performance by the young midfielder. His quickness and creativity opened up a number of chances for the Mexicans. However, as has been the case quite often, there was no finishing touch. Squandered opportunities led to a goal of the tournament nominee in the 55th minute when Siphiwe Tshabalala (name of the tournament? You're damn right) ripped a thundering shot with his left foot into the goal. Bedlam in soccer city. Mexico, however, finally got a much deserved goal in the 79th from, who else, Rafa Marquez. It was a very open match and both teams deserved the point.
That can't be said about France v Uruguay. At times, the South Americans looked like they were playing 5 across the back with 2 holding midfielders. Thus was the strategy for Uruguay who defended brilliantly throughout the game. And every time Diego Forlan touched the ball, you held your breath waiting for brilliance. I have never seen a guy be able to control a ball at any speed or angle as Diego does. Ultimately though, this was a complete bore fest so I guess they each deserved the point. I credit Uruguay for doing a great job of defending as a team. But France gave them nothing to work with. This team simply baffles my mind. No creativity. No movement. No threats. Is Ribery possibly the most overrated player? At times there are none like him on the planet. But other times, he forces the issue and looks terrible out there like he did on Friday. Anelka dribbled endlessly with his head down. Free kicks were taken from MIDFIELD on net. What is Florent Malouda doing on the bench until the 75th minute?!?! France have way to many problems.
We're all square after the first games. South Africa will be no pushover for the other teams and could very well steal a few more points. Between Mexico, France, and Uruguay, whoever grows some balls and puts goals on the board will move on. Although it wouldn't shock me if every game in this group here on out is a draw.
South Korea produced one of the better performances of the weekend. Organized and quick, they dismantled the Greeks who looked like they didn't belong on this stage. Complete ineptitude. As for Korea, they played the ball wherever they pleased. Everyone was in the right place and knew exactly where their teammates would be. Don't knock Park Ji-sung's goal - holding off two big defenders to finish with the calmest and subtlest of touches puts his goal near the top of the list so far. Korea won easily 2-0.
What a treat to have Lionel Messi on the second day of the World Cup at 9:30 in the morning. He didn't disappoint - shot after shot after shot. Slaloming runs that couldn't be stopped. Blame him for not putting at least one in the net, but credit Nigeria's keeper as well who played better than any other goalie this weekend. Argentina lacked a cutting edge though. They're inability to kill off Nigeria allowed the Super Eagles to create a number of very good chances in the second half that could have easily stolen the draw. Sure, on any other day Messi would have had 5, but he didn't. Only Gabrielle Heinz's goal, a defender, was the difference. The rest of the midfield and attack didn't look up to the test. I would expect to see Maradona shake it up and start Diego Milito up top next game...but then again who the hell knows what the coke head will do.
Greece are as good as done. Korea will be tough to beat and they are looking very good at the top of the group right now.
Already broke down USA vs England in the other post (so if you're reading this first, check out the other one!).
In the other match, Algeria faced off against Slovenia. First of all, kudos to the Algerian fans who came out in force making the trip south. And if you were wondering why Slovenia's flag is red, white, and blue and they wear green and yellow jerseys with a patch that has no flag and looks like the Olympic rings on crack, I have no answer for you so don't ask. Algeria bossed the proceedings in the first half with Nadir Belhadj playing EVERYWHERE. Starting at left-back, he incorporated himself into the offense the entire game, drifting both to the middle and to the right. It seemed as though every attack in the first half started from the back up the left side. However, the half finally arrived with little threat from either team. Slovenia came out the second half looking much, much better. There were a few great saves here and there but no real consistent threat from either team. Arrive Abdelkader Ghezzal in the 58th minute. Picks up a yellow after 2 minutes for a stupid foul yanking Marko Suler from behind. Then another for trying to catch the ball with his hand...and hand balls are illegal. Just like that his night was over and Algeria were down to 10. Slovenia finally scored with some luck after Algerian keeper Chaouchi completely misplayed the ball and gave Robert Green a run for his money.
With Slovenia atop the group, no worries Yanks. This game showed that the United States and England are the class of this group. Now we just have to prove it and play to our potential. Next game is Friday against Slovenia.
Ghana vs Serbia was another of the more entertaining games this weekend. Serbia (my sleeper pick!!) let me down big time. There wasn't much flow to their game and they gave the ball away much to cheaply. Very poor. Ghana on the other hand looked spritely throughout. An extremely young team with experience playing together, they played the ball around quite nicely throughout. Serbia created two cut-throat chances with Krasic getting the better of the two only to send his shot straight at the keeper. The breakthrough came in the 83rd minute when Zdravko Kuzmanovic blatently handled the ball in the area. Ghana easily converted the PK and took their 3 points.
In the other match, Germany showed why they are consistently tournament favorites beating Australia 4-0. They enter every tournament like a well-oiled machine. Ally Mccoist correctly observed that it was a case of Germany playing very well, coupled with a very poor performance from the Aussies. I noticed something a little different though with this Germany than in the past - their playmakers were all youngins. Young, fast, creative, and virgins to the World Cup. Ozil, Mueller, Khedira, and Neuer were the stars of the show. This mixture of youth and experience makes this Germany a little different than past squads (it's the second youngest they've ever brought to a World Cup) and all the more dangerous. Just a perfect performance. The talk will be about Cahill's red card which was a TERRIBLE decision by the referee. Surely a yellow, but to put your stamp on a match like that by wielding an unnecessary red card is inexcusable and unfortunate.
I hope Australia bounce back but without Cahill it will be very hard. Serbia should do better, and they'll need to as their next game comes against Germany.