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Arrivederci Italia


For the first time since 1974, Italy has crashed out of the World Cup in the group stage, losing a 3-2 decision to Slovakia today to finish bottom of Group F, a shocking fall for the defending champion Azzurri. Coach Marcello Lippi said his team “played with fear in their legs and their hearts” throughout their brief stay at the tournament, perhaps never more than today when, for long stretches, Slovakia bossed the game and created the bulk of the chances.

This might have been the most dramatic game at the World Cup so far, with the stakes so high for both teams and the goals coming thick and fast in the final 10 minutes. But aging Italy, hampered by the loss of  goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and without Andrea Pirlo for the first two matches, never really woke up until then, and it cost them even worse than failing to beat New Zealand in their previous match. Slovakia’s players, notably the keeper, were guilty of some serious time wasting in the dying moments, with the match threatening to drag on longer than a certain Wimbledon epic, but they held on for a famous win.

As for the Kiwis, they pulled off another draw, their third in as many matches. For a team that was expected to be cannon fodder at this World Cup, New Zealand can hold their heads high, but they’re still packing their bags after a 0-0 snoozer against Paraguay, with the South Americans moving on.

The late games saw the Netherlands outclass Cameroon 2-1, the first time a Dutch team has won all three group stage matches at the World Cup (and extending an unbeaten streak that began with an undefeated qualifying campaign). Arjen Robben returned to the Dutch team after missing victories over Denmark and Japan. On the other side, Paul LeGuen resigned as coach of the Indomitable Lions after losing all three matches and could be heading Down Under for his next job.

Finally, Japan bent a pair of free kicks into the Danish net and, after conceding a second-half penalty, sealed it with a late third goal to earn a 3-1 win that dumped Denmark out. Even if their continent won’t be cheering for them, Japan are moving on, and doing so for the first time on foreign soil.

With all eyes focussed on South Africa, this seemed a good time for Chelsea to hand Nicolas Anelka a contract extension. Wonder whether there’s a behaviour clause? Does Stamford Bridge have a swear jar?

So, the Netherlands take on upstart Slovakia on Monday, with Paraguay taking on the Japanese on Tuesday, with just four places left in the round of 16.

Ian Harrison

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I was saying ‘Boo-urns’


If they haven’t already drowned themselves at the bottom of a swimming pool filled with Stella, I’m hoping Brent and Kevin can add some analysis on England’s thoroughly lacklustre 0-0 draw with Algeria today that leaves the Three Lions teetering on the brink of failing to advance out of what was generally considered to be an easy Group C.

Wayne Rooney, whose first touch was dreadful all game and hasn’t been behaving himself all week, took umbrage at the boos directed at the team as they trudged off to think about facing group leaders Slovenia, who were fortunate to hold on for a 2-2 draw with the Sash-and-burners of Team USA when the referee inexplicably disallowed a goal by former Toronto FC player Maurice Edu. As for England, even Algeria were surprised at how crap they played, which was poorly enough that one fan felt compelled to break into the dressing room and have a go at the players. Not sure whether it was Prince Harry or William.

About the only good thing to happen all day was Serbia’s 1-0 victory over Germany, in which Miroslav Klose was sent off for a second bookable offence and Lukas Podolski had a penalty saved. Turns out not every opponent is as old and rubbish as Australia’s Socceroos. The result is a big break for injury-wracked Ghana, who face Australia on Saturday, while the Group E lads get it on with the Netherlands playing Japan and Cameroon facing Denmark.

Ian Harrison

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Dr. Z’s World Cup Predictions: Group E

Dentist by day, football prognosticator by night, our own Dr. Hadi Zogheib is scouting out each group at World Cup 2010 and predicting first round scores and standings. Here’s what the good doctor expects in Group E:

Netherlands:  With all the talk about Spain, Brazil, Argentina, and England, it seems the Dutch have been overlooked.  As I wrote a few weeks ago, injuries were threatening to derail their tournament aspirations, but most of the players have recovered in time for the big show.  Goalkeeping and defence are a little questionable, but with Dirk Kuyt, Robin Van Persie, Rafael Van der Vaart, and the sensational Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, anything less than a semifinal showing will be considered a big disappointment.

Japan:  Perennial Asian powerhouse Japan will feel a little better going into the competition having played England very tough in a 2-1 loss.  Speedy and crafty, the Japanese must tighten up in defence if they hope to progress out of the group stage.  They’ll need some magic from former Celtic midfielder and free kick wizard Shunsuke Nakamura along the way.  The Japanese may also be bolstered by the fact that they have a stellar record in recent years against African countries, going 5-0-1 since 2007.

Cameroon:  And the award for tightest uniforms go to… but I digress.  The West Africans will be hoping to repeat the success of Italia ’90, and much of the pressure will fall on the captain’s shoulders.  Former great Roger Milla stirred up a little controversy recently, criticizing Samuel Eto’o for playing great for club but not country.  Perhaps he was looking to light a fire under the Inter superstar: time will tell if it worked. As a big fan of la Liga, I must also mention the play of Espanyol goalkeeper Kameni, who perhaps single handedly helped his club avoid relegation with his sensational play this season.

Denmark:  The most underrated team in the World Cup, the Danes beat out Hungary, Sweden, and mighty Portugal to win their qualification group.  Meticulously organized and solid (though not spectacular) at every position, this may be the team to pick as the darkhorse to go deep in the tournament.  That is, if the maddeningly inconsistent Nicolas Bendtner decides to play consistently for a change.

Predicted Results:

Netherlands 2-1 Denmark

Cameroon 2-0 Japan

Netherlands 3-1 Japan

Cameroon 1-1 Denmark

Denmark 2-0 Japan

Cameroon 0-2 Netherlands

Group Standings:

Netherlands  9 pts

Denmark 4 pts

Cameroon 4 pts

Japan 0 pts

Related: Dr. Z doubts the host’s chances in Group A, expects Greece’s defence-first philsophy will pay off in Group B, predicts an opening-round sweep for England in Group C, and expects a three-way dogfight in Group D.

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