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Those Who Can’t… Kick

wils

Goals are coming fast and furious in this World Cup, which is a refreshing change from the cautious approach of the last couple of tournaments.  However, some teams can’t defend so they resort to grimier tactics.

Seferovic scores in WC debut

Seferovic scores in WC debut

Switzerland‘s reputation as a tournament dark horse was tested right away, as Ecuador pushed them high up and got the first goal (off a free kick, mind you).   However, the Swiss substitutions made the difference.  Admir Mehmedi came on for Valentin Stocker after the break, and three minutes later, he headed in the first Swiss goal off a Ricardo Rodríguez corner.  Rodríguez had a super game, especially during the free-for-all at the end when he sent the cross across the net for substitute Haris Seferovic to send the ball into the net, breaking the deadlock in extra-time and sending Swiss supporters into delirium.  Switzerland 2-1 Ecuador

Benzema was involved with all three goals

Benzema was involved with all three goals

Honduras didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory yesterday.  Besides sitting back while France came at them, they forgot to aim for the ball.  Consequently many of their kicks finished on the shins and hamstrings of French players.   The height of stupidity was achieved by Stoke City’s Wilson Palacios, who drove Paul Pogba in the back while the French player went for the ball.  A second yellow for the Honduran meant his team was down to 10 men for the entire second half.   Karim Benzema easily put home the penalty and France were on the board.   Benzema actually had a hand in all three goals: the second was a shot off the post that the goalkeeper bobbled into the net (requiring the use of goal-line technology), and the third was a cracker.   France 3-0 Honduras

Brent P. Lanthier

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World Cup 2014 Preview: Groups E & F

Argentina v Mexico: 2010 FIFA World Cup - Round of SixteenThese two groups offer one sure thing — Argentina will go through on top — and then a bunch of questions.  Are Switzerland really sixth in the world? Have France overcome their attitude problems*?  Can Ecuador/Honduras/Iran/Nigeria push away the perception biases against their continents and actually challenge the European/South American powers?

Albanian blood, Swiss heats

Albanian blood, Swiss hearts

GROUP E
Switzerland’s football team is a reflection of the country itself: a multicultural nation whose style is cold and boring. That is, of course, unkind (the bit about being cold and boring) but you can’t argue that Switzerland is a very defensive team. That’s because the Swiss play to their strengths.  Goalkeeper Diego Benaglio and LB Ricardo Rodríguez both had decent seasons with Wolfsburg, likewise RB Stephan Lichtsteiner with Juventus.   Napoli midfielders Gökhan Inler, Velon Behrami and Blerim Džemaili join Bundesliga wunderkinds Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri.  This is a team marshaled by the great Ottmar Hitzfeld, a man whose club pedigree is as great as any manager in the tournament.   This team made it into the World Cup because they won a weak group.  That doesn’t mean they’ll be pushovers.  ROUND OF 16

Deschamps seems to have cleared out the rot in the French team

Deschamps seems to have cleared out the rot

Over the last six years, France‘s national side has been the very opposite of disciplined.  The side revolted against its manager, Raymond Domenech in South Africa, and the team failed to get out of the group stage.  Then in Euro 2012, a dressing room bust-up after losing 2-0 to Sweden in the final group game resulted in the firing of French legend Laurent Blanc.  That era appears to be over.  Didier Deschamps has put together a very competent team that is short on star power, but no less flashy.  The biggest name here is Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema, after Franck Ribery was ruled out through injury.   From that infamous Sweden match, only four players remain: captain Hugo Lloris, Mathieu Debuchy, Benzema, and Olivier Giroud.   This year’s World Cup Squad only features five other players who even travelled to Ukraine.   The problems are gone, the pedigree remains.  QUARTER-FINALISTS

Ecuador has Valencia... and not much else

Ecuador has Valencia… and not much else

When Ecuador played England, many outlets wrote about how the South Americans gave England a good run, and how the heat makes a difference, and blah blah blah blah.  Here are the facts: 1) Ecuador won seven of their eight home qualifying matches (plus they drew Argentina) because they play in Quito, a city sitting at almost 2900m.  But away from home, they managed only an 0-3-5 record.  That’s basically saying they advanced because their opponents couldn’t breathe.  2) They perpetuate old stereotypes about South American teams that don’t score, but kick the hell out of their opponents.  3) They only have one player who regularly started in a major European league, Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia. This side snuck in because they had a better defensive record than Uruguay. That won’t help them here. THREE AND OUT

This is his face when it's just a friendly...

This is his face when it’s just a friendly…

More of the same from Honduras.  Only Maynor Figueroa and Wilson Palacios have any big league experience (and let’s please not muddy the waters by countering that MLS or the Scottish Premier is big league).  They will be strong on the ball (why physicality is so prized in the Western Hemisphere, I’ll never know) but their fate will be the same as fellow CONCACAF qualifiers, Costa Rica.  THREE AND OUT

GROUP F

Could this be King Leo's year?

Could this be King Leo’s year?

Argentina will perform well at this World Cup for many of the same reasons as the hosts: a well-rounded squad (though not as good as Brazil), a tournament based in South America, and a fairly easy progression into the knockout stage.  One thing that Alejandro Sabella’s men won’t have to contend with is pressure… not on the scale of Brazil’s pressure anyway.  But Argentina haven’t won a trophy in almost 30 years, and they must think they can pull an Uruguay, circa 1950 against their old foes.  La Albiceleste boasts the scariest offence in this tournament: Gonzalo Higuaín, Sergio Agüero… and of course, Lionel Messi.  The three share an understanding… and just behind them is Ángel Di María looping in and out from the right wing.   A dream final between Brazil and Argentina is possible in a tournament promising several tasty end-scenarios.  SEMI-FINALISTS

"Uh, question? Why am I the only striker?"

“Uh, question? Why am I the only striker?”

The  build-up to Bosnia-Herzegovina‘s maiden World Cup appearance was fun to watch, as Safet Sušić built a team to attack.  The Bosnians tore through a relatively weak group, scoring at least three goals in six of their 10 qualifiers.  But this is not qualifying and now it appears the coach has had a rethink in World Cup warm-ups, adding an extra defensive midfielder and playing with a solitary striker.  In fact, he’s only bringing two out-and-out strikers: Eden Džeko and Stuttgart’s leading scorer, Vedad Ibišević.   Roma’s Miralem Pjanic will likely play just behind Džeko, but what about the rest of the side? This is a team that should be proud of its accomplishments, 20 years after a devastating war.   But the party is over.  THREE AND OUT

Hey it's... that guy... and... yeah...

Hey it’s… that guy… and… yeah…

It’s not a good sign when the biggest name on the team is the manager.  Former Portugal and Real Madrid manager, Carlos Queiroz has taken Iran to Brazil.   This is a side that is reportedly ill-prepared for the tournament (the government is a police state and the team doesn’t have a lot of resources).  The assumption is that Queiroz will make them very defensive… and no one wants to see that.  They won’t make it to the 60-minute mark, let alone the knockout round.  THREE AND OUT

Moses, Emenike, Mikel... get used to hearing that combination.

Moses, Emenike, Mikel: get used to hearing that combination.

Pride has been restored to the one of Africa’s biggest footballing nations.  Nigeria took the 2013 African Cup of Nations, winning it for the first time since 1994.  That was the same year the Super Eagles won the group at USA ’94, where they took Italy to extra-time in the Round of 16.  In France ’98, the same thing: winning the group by beating Raúl’s Spain and Stoichkov’s Bulgaria.  Since then, they have qualified for two more World Cups and finished dead last in their groups.  This tournament’s squad features a quality mix of young forwards: Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa are both only 21, while Emmanuel Eminike is the veteran at the ripe old age of 27.   Stephen Keshi is bringing six strikers to Brazil.  What does that tell you? They came to play.  ROUND OF 16

 Brent P. Lanthier

*The team, not the nation;  changes, not miracles.

Up Next: Groups G & H

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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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Another European exit?

We’re down to the last two groups before the Round of 16. Top-ranked Brazil are finally meeting their colonial masters, while Ivory Coast look to salvage some African pride, a la Ghana. Meanwhile, early favourites Spain are struggling against one more South American juggernaut.

Group G
Brazil: 6 pts., +3 GD, 5 GS
Portugal: 4 pts., +7 GD, 7 GS
Ivory Coast: 1 pt., -2 GD, 1 GS
North Korea: 0 pts., -8 GD, 1 GS

Brazil is already in. But they’ll need a win or a draw to secure top spot in the group.

Portugal is almost guaranteed to qualify, needing either a win or a draw. But if they lose, they can still get in, as long as they don’t lose their shirts to Brazil. That — or Ivory Coast runs up the goals on North Korea like Das Quinas did in their game against the Asian team.

Ivory Coast needs to win and they need to win big. There is a nine-goal difference between The Elephants and Portugal, which they would need to make up. Of course, that’s assuming Portugal loses.

North Korea are out.

Prediction: Brazil will beat Portugal in a close match. Ivory Coast will beat North Korea, but it won’t be enough. Brazil wins the group, Portugal follows.

Group H:
Chile: 6 pts., +2 GD, 2 GS
Spain: 3 pts., +1 GD, 2 GS
Switzerland: 3 pts., 0 GD, 1 GS
Honduras: 0 pts., -3 GD, 0 GS

Chile gets through with a win or a draw. If they lose, they need Switzerland to draw or tie. If Switzerland wins (and Chile loses), then the Chileans have to hope the Swiss don’t make up the two-goal difference.

Spain’s situation is a bit more complicated. A win is almost necessary for the European champions. But even with a win, they have to hope the Swiss don’t come out on top is well. The Spaniards’ only hope is a single goal: they lead the Swiss by one in goal difference and goals scored.

Spain can also go through on a draw, or even a loss, but they have to hope the Swiss do the same.

Not to dismiss Honduras either. They could sneak in with a massive win against the Swiss, and a Spanish loss.  But the Swiss defence is like a Zurich bank account: no names and tough to crack.

Predictions: Spain are reliving their old ways as chokers. They may have a tough time against an aggressive Chilean team. Meanwhile, the Swiss will likely stick to their conservative game plan against Honduras.  Spain draws Chile. Switzerland beats Honduras by a goal. Chile wins the group, Switzerland advances, leaving early favourites Spain to join France and Italy.

Tuesday Games: Brazil vs. Switzerland, Chile vs. Portugal

Brent Lanthier

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Portugal win laugher, Spain & Chile also victorious

There were goals aplenty for Portugal in its match against North Korea, a 7-0 whitewash that eliminated Kim Jong-Il’s crew (probably only the second-biggest story in that country today) and all-but guaranteed that Ronaldo and company will be joining Brazil in the next round.  Even Didier Drogba’s firepower isn’t likely to be enough for Ivory Coast to overcome its goal difference woes and escape this Group of Death, another African casualty ready to be wheeled in to the World Cup morgue.

Wacky refereeing was the story in Chile’s 1-0 victory over 10-man Switzerland in the second match of the day as South American teams remained unbeaten. You might have thought, given the history of this Chile team and it’s appearance at the U-20 World Cup in Canada a few years back, that it would have been them who lost their cool when the cards started flying thick and fast, but it was Switzerland’s Volan Behrami who was sent packing, and Steve Von Bergen resorting to handbag tactics in the second half. The Swiss held their ground long enough to establish a World Cup record for minutes played without conceding, but couldn’t keep the hard-charging Chileans at bay. Even with six points, Marcelo Bielsa’s team is not guaranteed a berth in the knockout round, and will have to be more clinical in its finishing to survive Spain and, should it advance, the cream of Group G.

Finally, the aforementioned Spaniards turned on the style against Honduras in the late game, posting a 2-0 victory thanks to a brace from David Villa, who also missed a penalty. Fernando Torres failed to impress but this was more like it from the reigning European champions, who can still top their group by beating Chile in Pretoria on Friday, a game that could be an cracker. Coach Vincente Del Bosque sees room for improvement, with Villa’s behaviour one area that could be brushed up, but this should keep the critics at bay, which is more than can be said for Nigeria’s Sani Kaita. Really people, it’s only football.

Ian Harrison

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Dr. Z’s World Cup Predictions: Group H

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. In his final scouting report, the good doctor says Spain will reign in Group H:

Spain: On paper, the best team in the tournament.  Absolutely no weaknesses to be found in this squad with world class players in almost every position.  The biggest problem facing manager Vicente del Bosque is finding the right combination of superstars to truly click.  As ususal, the red fury will heavily rely on Xavi and Andreas Iniesta of Barcelona to pull the strings from midfield.  David Villa and a newly-fit Fernando Torres can both legitimately claim to have a realistic shot at being the tournament’s top scorer.  A 6-0 thrashing of Poland in their final warm up game only cements their status as favourites.

Switzerland: One of the unsung European teams, the Swiss are always a handful, even though their star power is limited. Tranquillo Barnetta of Bayer Leverkusen will carry the load in midfield, while Alexander Frei of FC Basel will hope to add to his already impressive 40 national team goals.  The Swiss will no doubt be shooting for second place in this group.

Honduras:  The third place team in CONCACAF, the Hondurans qualified for the finals at the expense of Costa Rica and, of course, Canada.  The number one factor in their success was an impressive home record during qualifying, but South Africa is a long way from Central America and they will be hard pressed to make it out of this group. David Suazo of  Genoa and 36 year old Carlos Pavo, who plays in the Honduran league, will be relied upon to pop in a few goals up front, while former TFC boy Amado Guevara wears the captain’s armband.

Chile:  Manager Marcelo Bielsa has been here before, having led Argentina to the 2002 World cup.  He will be hoping for a better tournament this time around as Chile manager, and he could not have asked for a better start, leading his unfancied team to second in South American qualifying behind only mighty Brazil. Often playing with three defenders, Bielsa’s team will hope to run-and-gun their way to second in the group. And, with Humberto Suazo (who led South America with 10 goals in qualifying) and superstar in the making Alex Sanchez of Udinese up front, goals seem a certainty.

Predicted Results:

Spain 2-0 Switzerland

Honduras 2-3 Chile

Chile 2-2 Switzerland

Honduras 1-3 Spain

Spain 2-1 Chile

Switzerland 1-0 Honduras

Results:

Spain 9 pts

Chile 4 pts

Switzerland 4 pts

Honduras 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, and predicts an opening-round sweep for England in Group C. The good doctor expects a three-way dogfight in Group D and is happy to see the Netherlands healthy in Group E. He isn’t counting out the aging Azzurri in Group F, and is trying to find an arm specialist for Didier Drogba in Group G.

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