Monthly Archives: June 2010

Make or Break for Maradona

Diego Maradona ... refused to speak at the press conference until Thomas Mueller had left the stage.

Diego Maradona hasn’t been able to stop smiling since arriving in
South Africa. After all, vindication feels pretty damn good. Wasn’t
he supposed to lead his beloved Argentina to certain doom? That’s
what most pundits believed before this tournament began. Instead his
albiceleste have been tearing opponents to shreds with wonderful
positioning, passing, and finishing that’s been a joy to watch.

That being said, Maradona’s ultimate test will be on Saturday versus the
equally impressive Germans. It’s one thing to bully Mexico or South
Korea, but the big bad Germans are a totally different animal (ask Mr.
Capello). And to move on, Diego will have to choose between two
different Argentina teams.

The first option is the Argentina we’ve been accustomed to watching these past two weeks: let’s call them Argentina 1. It features a rampaging Angel Di Maria up the left hand side, Maxi Rodriguez or Juan Veron on the right to distribute, and the three-pronged attack of Messi, Tevez, and Higuain.

This is the fun Argentina, always looking to attack and pelting opponents with shots from every angle. The problem with this team is that Javier
Mascherano is left to defend a heck of a lot of field all by his lonesome in the middle of the park. This may play into the hands of the Germans on the counter attack. Don’t think they can counter with speed? Check out their last two goals versus England.

Instead, Diego may — for the first time this tournament — consider fielding Argentina 2. This is the team that defeated this same German team 1-0 in a friendly in Berlin earlier this year. This squad is much less attacking and
consists of having an extra midfielder in place of one of the three
strikers (probably Tevez). The extra midfielder will provide help for
Mascherano in front of the back four.

So, Mr. Maradona, will it be Argentina 1 which has been successful against lesser opponents so far? Or will it be Argentina 2, which has already beaten the Germans once this year?

Your managerial reputation is on the line….

Hadi Zogheib

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Holy spit! Spain beats Portugal

David Villa

They started the World Cup with a shock loss to Swizterland. But Spain, the reigning champions of Europe, have won all three matches since, and booked their berth in the quarterfinals today with a 1-0 victory over Iberian rivals Portugal, who barely got anything of merit out of Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s most expensive footballer. David Villa, recently signed by Barcelona, struck the only goal of the match, firing his own rebound over Portuguese goalkeeper Eduardo, who had gone more than 330 minutes at this tournament without conceding before he was beaten.

Spain had controlled most of the possession in this entertaining encounter in Cape Town, the final World Cup match for our correspondent, but it was Portugal who stretched play and created the clear-cut chances in most of the first hour, save for a pair of early Spanish shots against Eduardo. But after Fernando Llorente came on for Fernando Torres and immediately created a headed chance, Spain were in the ascendancy. In the end, Iniesta found Xavi, whose clever backheel freed Villa for the shot and follow-up effort into the roof of the net that sent Portugal packing.

Cristiano Ronaldo

While he’s clearly one of the most special talents in the game today, I’m no fan of Ronaldo and was pleased to see Argentinian referee Hector Baldassi refusing to buy into the foul-seeking floppiness he’s become infamous for. The supremely talented but too-often petulant winger struggled to get touches, whined when the calls didn’t go his way and spat in the direction of a cameraman trailing him off the field at the final whistle. Good riddance.

Having said that, I’ve watched the replays of Ricardo Costa’s late elbow on Joan Capdevilla that resulted in a 88th minute red card from Baldassi, and can’t see why it was a direct red. A bit of dirty play acting from the Spaniard perhaps? I hope not.

Paraguay fan

Elsewhere, it was a day for cheering with two hands, which meant finding a new place to stash your Blackberry, if you were a fan of Paraguay, who became the fourth South American team to book their spot in the last eight by beating Japan 5-3 on penalties, the first game to be decided in that fashion at this World Cup. After a pretty dire 120 minutes, during which penalties always looked the most likely outcome, La Albirroja converted all five from the spot, with substitute Oscar Cardoza sliding home the clincher to put his team in the last eight for the first time, while Japan’s Yuichi Komano banged his effort off the crossbar, sending the Blue Samurai home in shameful defeat.

So, the quarters are set and we all get a couple of days to catch our breath before the Netherlands face Brazil in Port Elizabeth on Friday morning, with Ghana and Uruguay squaring off at Soccer City in Soweto later that day. Saturday morning brings Argentina vs. Germany in Cape Town, with Spain meeting Paraguay at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium in the late game. I’m going with Ghana and Brazil to emerge on one side of the draw, with Spain and Argentina getting through on the other side, even though by picking against Germany I’m ignoring the choice of Paul the Octopus. He knows his football – that match should be a cracker.

Ian Harrison

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At The Rails: On the Air

Just before the World Cup started, Ian, Hadi and Brent went on Toronto sports radio station The Fan 590.  The boys joined Roger Lajoie on-air to talk their World Cup picks.  Obviously, we got some right… and mayyyybe one or two wrong.

We’re still trying to figure out how to embed these into the blog.  Until then, we have the links. Have a listen…

Introduction: Part One

“Controversial” comments on Canadian Soccer: Part Two

Picks for Groups A, B: Part Three

Picks for Groups C, D: Part Four

Picks for Groups E, F, G: Part Five

Picks for Group H, Final Thoughts: Part Six

Thanks to Roger Lajoie and “Late Night” Lenny Grammenopoulos for having us on. Also thanks to Neil McCourt for handling the technical stuff. 

We hope to be back on the air soon!

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Oranje book date with Samba Stars

Kaka celebrates with Luis Fabiano

Kaka celebrates Brazil’s second with Luis Fabiano

They gave it a brave try for the opening half hour, but Chile eventually proved no match for the magic and might of Brazil, who scored twice within a three minute span in the first half and added a gorgeous third after the interval to crush the hopes of their continental cousins in a 3-0 victory that sent the Selecao into the quarter finals.

Chile were aggressive and daring, and deserve plaudits for the way their young team performed at this tournament. Still, keeping the world’s top-ranked team off the scoresheet was always going to be a struggle, and it didn’t help La Roja that they were without the defensive duo of Gary Medel and Waldo Ponce, both suspended for yellow cards. Midfielder Marco Estrada, sent off for a tame challenge on Spain’s Fernando Torres in the final group stage game, was also reduced to spectator for this one, but even a full-strength Chile would have been fortunate to unseat the five-time champions, who look a good bet for a sixth crown on July 11.

Arjen Robben

Arjen Robben fires home the opener for the Oranje

To get there, however, Brazil will have to knock off the Netherlands, who extended their unbeaten run to 23 matches and have won eight straight overall after a 2-1 victory over a Slovakian side that was a shadow of the team that knocked Italy out of the tournament last week. Arjen Robben, making his first start of this World Cup, slotted the opening goal inside the post early in the first half, while Slovakia didn’t manage a single shot on net for the first 62 minutes of the match. Two glorious chances soon after both went begging, with Maarten Stekelenburg bailing out the Oranje with some fine saves before Dirk Kuyt gifted Wesley Sneijder for Holland’s decisive second, and only a (rather dubious) final-kick penalty putting Slovakia on the board.

The Dutch have yet to concede a goal from open play at this tournament, while Brazil has allowed just two, and neither team has trailed at any point so far. Something’s got to give when this pair of heavyweights clash in Port Elizabeth on Friday. The Netherlands haven’t faced anyone with the quality and depth of Brazil so far, and will have to raise its game to match the South Americans. If they can, this one could be a classic.

Ian Harrison

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Whither withering Albion…

As if on cue, the English handwringing has begun. Once more, The Three Lions have failed to reach the final of a major tournament… and once more, the finger-pointing and navel-gazing has started in earnest.  Football analysts will speculate for the rest of the summer on why this “golden generation” failed to make it past the second round, after failing to qualify for Euro 2008 altogether.

Was it fatigue? Don Fabio claims his players were tired from an overlong Premier League season.  Most of his players were selected from teams playing in cup runs or in European leagues.  Some pundits argue the team which qualified so easily by the autumn of 2009 was a shadow of itself, come summer of 2010.

Was it the ball? John Terry was caught out on the first goal yesterday when the ball sailed over his head, allowing Miroslav Klose to score the first tally.  Terry may have been out of position, but the Jabulani seems to have taken some players by surprise. Some observers say it is more favourable for the quick short-pass game of the South Americans… who have seen great success in this tournament so far.

Was it the manager?  Little Englanders say an Italian manager can never understand an English player. Of course, Schteve McClaren was English… and he was pants. Also it’s a little suspect that some of those calling for an English manager are looking for the job themselves.

Was it the selection? When Capello was hired, he said he would pick players based on form. But it soon became clear that the usual cast of characters would be appearing. A brittle Ferdinand was selected, along with players like Carrick, Upson, Heskey, James, Green, Walcott, SWP and Joe Cole… players who didn’t have the best seasons but seemed to have been chosen simply because they had all been capped before.  In-form players like Birmingham’s Roger Johnson, Stoke City’s Etherington and even Wolves’ Jody Craddock weren’t even given a glance.  They may not have international experience… but after this dismal World Cup, would it have mattered?

Was it age? England’s oldest-ever World Cup squad looked slow and random against a positively juvenile German team who looked more organized and experienced yesterday.  Was too much faith put into a group of players who — despite all their club success — have never achieved at the international level?

Is it English football itself? The Premier League has become a sporting Tower of Babel, a marketplace for the world’s players to make their fortunes on the global stage. But with big clubs buying — rather than developing — their players, England’s national team seems to have suffered. Witness the thin pool of talent available to Capello in goal and across the back four.

Many of the current players will likely call time on their international career, come Brazil in 2014.  Gerrard, Lampard, Terry, Ferdinand; they will join the ranks of Lineker, Gascoigne, Shearer, Owen and Beckham before them.  All of them were great players who will never know what it feels like to win the greatest tournament on the planet.

For England fans, there is still 2012… and 2014… and so on. The faithful will wring their hands, hold their breath, and whisper, “Please don’t let us down again.”

Brent Lanthier

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Uruguay, Ghana both score knockouts

After a somewhat subdued opening round, the first two games of the knockout stages did not disappoint. With sheets of rain sweeping across Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, Uruguay and South Korea both played with a sense of urgency… which was a treat for both partisans and neutrals alike.

Luis Suarez was magnificent, scoring both of Uruguay’s tallies. The first one came when Diego Forlan raced to catch a loose ball at the touchline, turning and sending a cross through the box. The Korean keeper missed it and Suarez was waiting. 1-0 Uruguay.

A miscommunication between Fernando Muslera and captain Diego Lugano resulted in a collision, and a gift for Bolton’s Lee Chung-Yong. 1-1. By the way, there were four Diegos on the pitch during this game. Weird.

The winner came on what might be the goal of the tournament.  The ball was headed away from the pack in front of the net, after a Forlan corner. Suarez gets the ball, swings past his man at the edge and sends in a bendy ball that hits the post, deflecting into the net.  Awesome, as was his celebration. Uruguay’s win marks the first time since 1970 that a South American team other than Brazil or Argentina has advanced to the quarterfinals.

Kevin-Prince Boateng

Boateng celebrates after opening the scoring.

Ghana-U.S.A. was a repeat of a group match in 2006… and it produced the same result.  Kevin-Prince Boateng put the Black Stars on the board after only five minutes — Ghana’s first goal from open play in this tournament.  The U.S. coughed up the ball at the centre spot, and Boateng left-footed it past two defenders and the keeper.

The U.S. got back on the board on a penalty, after Clint Dempsey was brought down in the box. The game remained tied after 90 minutes, and so began the tournament’s first taste of extra-time.  Three minutes in, Asamoah Gyan scored his third of this World Cup — and it proved to be the winner. Ghana becomes only the third African team to reach the quarters, after Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002. Landon Donovan says his team was naive, by not putting Ghana away. For the second time in a row, the Black Stars knock out the Stars and Stripes.

Uruguay and Ghana play next Friday.

Brent Lanthier

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Sweet 16 set in South Africa

Here’s the problem boys: You can’t score with your eyes closed

It was South American Colonies vs Former European Colonial Masters on the final day of group stage play at World Cup 2010, with Brazil facing Portugal to decide the top spot in Group G in one of the early games and Chile taking on Spain for first place in Group H in the late games.

As captivating as it looked on paper, the Brazil-Portugal clash didn’t really live up to the hype, finishing in a 0-0 draw that saw both teams go through, with Brazil securing first place. A shame, really, that this game didn’t come up earlier when both sides had more to play for…a draw was always on the cards given that it was enough to put the two teams into the knockout round.

Portugal have yet to concede at this tournament, but just as tellingly they haven’t put a goal past anyone other than North Korea. Good for them that they put seven past Kim Jong-Il’s boys, who may never be seen again after they bowed out with a 3-0 loss to Ivory Coast. Afterwards, Sven said goodbye to the Elephants, who were always going to need a big scoreline to keep going, but couldn’t pull it off . Sadly, the team many felt was Africa’s best but one that was consigned to a Group of Death for the second straight World Cup, finished one point behind Portugal, leaving Ghana as Africa’s lone representative in the second round.

David Villa’s cheeky goal pointed Spain into the second round

Later, while I was out covering a G20 protest march through downtown Toronto, Chile became the first South American team to taste defeat at this tournament, falling to Spain 2-1 thanks to an audacious first-half strike by David Villa and a well-struck shot by Andres Iniesta, and aided by an harsh sending off by Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez (the same guy who chased Australia’s Tim Cahill) after Marco Estrada clipped the heel of Fernando Torres, who disappointed again and was substituted early in the second half. Despite La Roja’s defeat, all five South American teams have reached the next stage, with a combined record to date of nine wins, one loss and five draws.

Finally, Switzerland’s bank-vault defence didn’t concede against Honduras in a 0-0 draw that gave the Central Americans their first and only point of the tournament, but did nothing to send the Swiss through.

So, it’s Brazil vs. Chile in an all-South American clash at Ellis Park Stadium in Jo’burg on the 28th, and Spain vs. Portugal in Cape Town on the 29th, our correspondent’s final match of his World Cup tour.

Ian Harrison

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