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Colombia, Ivory Coast take Group C pole positions

Group C’s matches were spaced out on Saturday, with the two Group D games between them. Presumably, this was to air the Ivory Coast-Japan game during prime time for Brazil’s significant Japanese population.   Every team in this group played to form, and the results were expected, if not predictable.

GROUP C
Radamel who? Colombia‘s performance was punctuated by an international coming-out party for James Rodriguez.  The Monaco man ran his little heart out and scored a lovely left-footed poke at the end of the match.  This game was also an example of what can go wrong with the current trend of having high-playing fullbacks/wingbacks.  Greece‘s José Holebas was exposed on the left as he failed to track back, allowing Colombia to score early.   Juan Cuadrado was brought in to flood the right and he did just that, setting up the first and third goals.  Greece also missed some great chances, including a sitter by Theo Gekas who headed the ball off the crossbar.  Colombia 3-0 Greece

First of two goals in as many mintues

First of two goals in as many minutes

The Ivory Coast went down early after Keisuke Honda’s cracker in the 13th minute.  I watched this one in the pub, and the entire room gasped when he scored.    But then Japan sat back and let the Elephants come at them.   The key moment, though, was the entrance of Didier Drogba.  The Ivory Coast captain sat while Wilfried Bony got the start.  Playing Bony made sense, considering the two players’ respective league seasons.  But Drogba’s introduction came at the expense of the holding midfielder, and now there were two strikers.  Bony scored two minutes after Drogba came on; Gervinho scored two minutes after that.   Ivory Coast 2-1 Japan

Brent P. Lanthier

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World Cup 2014 Preview: Groups C & D

England weepsDespite what the Germans, Portuguese, Americans and Ghanians believe, Group D is this World Cup’s real Group of Death.   But sometimes an equally balanced group of lower-ranked nations can also make it a challenge to predict how they’ll finish.  That would be Group C.

"Er, Falcao? No lo se..."

“Er, Falcao? No lo se…”

GROUP C
The loss of Radamel Falcao is significant for Colombia… but not unexpected.  His debut season for Monaco was truncated by injury, and even in January we knew that he might not make it. His goal-scoring will be missed, but it’s not a death blow to this talented team.  AC Milan midfielder (and Manchester United target) Cristián Zapata and team captain Mario Yepes will marshal a solid backline.  Meanwhile an offence featuring James Rodríguez, Juan Cuadrado, Fredy Guarín, Carlos Bacca and Adrián Ramos is nothing to scoff at.  Throw in a tournament in their home continent, and the Colombianos could go far.  QUARTER-FINALISTS

"You think your name's long?!?"

“You think your name’s long?!?”

Greece‘s style of play is no mystery: defend, defend, defend.  But yet it is still tough to pick whether Ethniki will frustrate their way into the knockout rounds, or they will simply run out of ideas should they go down in the game.  Lots of familiar faces return, including elderly captain Giorgos Karagounis, who played a total of 14 games for Fulham this season; Kostas Mitroglu played a solitary game for the same club.  Of course, the star of the side is a defender: 25-year-old Sokratis Papastathopoulos.  But the Dortmund defender may not be sufficient to survive the pressure of a Colombia or Ivory Coast.  Even if they get everyone behind the ball and grind out three draws, it still won’t be enough.  THREE AND OUT

Last shot at love and glory for Drogba?

Last shot at love and glory for Drogba?

The Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) is the anti-Greece, a team top-heavy with offensive talent but lacking a credible back line.  Like many other nations,  it has seen its golden generation shine and fade.  Most of the old faces are there.  Kolo Touré is back, but a forgettable season with Liverpool shows the depths of his decline.  Didier Zokora’s best days are also behind him.  Sol Bamba didn’t play a single game of competitive club football this season.  Up front shows more promise.  Cheick Tioté should provide defensive cover and Yaya Touré is coming off a blinder of a season… which may not matter if he arrives in Brazil nursing an injury.   Salomon Kalou and Gervinho will play up the wings, and the sole striker position should be filled by Les Éléphants‘ talisman, Didier Drogba.  But Wilfried Bony’s satisfying first season in the Prem may earn the Swansea City man the right to play up front instead.   This is a big physical team who will be able to push back against the stifling Greeks and the technically gifted, but smaller, Japanese side.   ROUND OF 16

Okazaki scored bunches for Mainz... can he do the same for country?

Okazaki scored bunches for Mainz… can he do the same for country?

Ah yes, the enigma that is Japan.  They made it to the knockout phase in South Africa, and lost on kicks to Paraguay, but detractors say their path was weak.  Both Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki are back: Honda is fresh off his debut season in Europe, and Okazaki rewarded his new club, Mainz, with a 15 goals.  But too many questions remain on whether Japan can compete with the other nations in this group.  THREE AND OUT

Pirlo: the epitome of Italian cool... and Azzurri skill.

Pirlo: the epitome of Italian cool… and Azzurri skill.

GROUP D
Never, EVER, count Italy out… except in 2010 when they finished last in their group, drawing their first two games (in very Italian style) and then belatedly realizing that Slovenia weren’t a walk in the park.   That’s not going to happen this time.  Cesare Prandelli has built this team around Andrea Pirlo, including using Juventus-like tactics.  That includes Juve boss Antonio Conte’s favoured 3-5-2 formation, even using La Vecchia‘s three centre backs: Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci.   Daniele De Rossi will patrol the back field while PSG’s Thiago Motta will join Pirlo in the middle.  A front line could consist of new Dortmund signing Ciro Immobile, his former strike partner at Torino, Alessio Cerci, and of course, the irascible Mario Balotelli.  This isn’t your father’s Azzurri… and that’s alright.   QUARTER-FINALISTS

Whither Suarez?

Whither Suarez?

Here’s where things get tough. Anyone who says Luis Suárez didn’t have a season for the ages is lying or delusional.  Suárez is an influencer, a man whose temperament and skill can both influence matches in equal measure. He is also struggling with injury, desperately trying to get fit in time to play for Uruguay on South American soil. Despite being a semi-finalist in South Africa (albeit due to an extremely dodgy hand ball and subsequent missed penalty), this is a nation in decline, football-wise. Diego Godín is coming off a miracle season with Atlético Madrid, as is Cristían Rodriguez, and Maxi Pereira was outstanding in 2010.  But team captain Diego Lugano doesn’t even have a club (he was released by West Brom, for God’s sake), and Diego Forlán is plying his trade in the J-League.   Of course, Edinson Cavani is still in the side, and he is still a world class player.  But Suárez is Uruguay’s X-Factor.  HEALTHY SUÁREZ: ROUND OF 16; NO SUÁREZ: THREE AND OUT

England has nothing to lose... except three matches.

England has nothing to lose… except three matches.

England, on the other hand, have no such game changer, nor do they have many expectations… despite what they say in public.  The English press and supporters famously make hand-wringing into an art form, and this time should be no different.  But despite having a squad based entirely in the Premier League (save Celtic keeper Fraser Forster), this is not a squad of superstars.  It is a roster of talented young players assembled by Roy Hodgson who barely have the burden of reputation to contend with.  Yes, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard are there.   But some of the Prem’s most exciting youngsters will get a run out; some of them will even start.   Expect The Three Lions to play like Liverpool 2.0:  pacey and pass-y going forward, but a little bit suspect at the back.  They could do really well, or they could go home after four-and-half hours.  Much will depend on how the other teams in this group react to them.   SEE ABOVE: ROUND OF 16, OR THREE AND OUT

Sing when you're winning

Sing when you’re winning

Costa Rica: No Bryan Oviedo, Bryan Ruiz had a season to forget, and young Joel Campbell spent the year on the football equivalent of a caravan trip around Europe.   Most of the other squad members ply their trade in lesser leagues in Europe and North America.   The bookies have the Ticos dead last for odds on winning the World Cup.  THREE AND OUT

Brent P. Lanthier

Up Next: Groups E & F

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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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European Curse?


A dejected German fan ponders his team’s fate

Call it Vuvuzela’s Revenge: Europe’s traditional soccer powers have certainly been stinking up the pitch.  After they ran roughshod over the Aussies, Germany missed a penalty and lost to Serbia (although some would say there is no shame in that). European champions Spain threw the kitchen sink at Switzerland but couldn’t break them down, losing 1-0. Yesterday, it was the Italians’ turn.

Italy? Defending World Cup champions. New Zealand? Ranked 78th. But on a free kick in the seventh minute, the ball went off Che Capitano Cannavaro and into the path of Shane Smeltz; 1-0 to New Zealand on their only shot on net.  The Italians would eventually tie the game on a penalty.  But the Azzurri have yet to win a match, and now need at least a draw against Slovakia to go through.

Which leads us to The Three Lions. After Saturday’s lacklustre display, Captain Schtupping — who really isn’t captain — decided to hold a captain’s conference, saying the players shouldn’t be afraid to challenge the manager. Fortunately, the players wanted no part of it.  They reminded John Terry that: a) he is no longer their leader, and b) they aren’t going to speak out against Capello. I think they were afraid Don Fabio would have them all whacked…

Of course, the British press are spewing theories on why England have been terrible. Some say fatigue after a long Premier League season, others say a lack of preparation,  yet others say the players are afraid of making a Robert Green-esque error.  Meanwhile, England fans just want them to get on with it.

BTW, best cheeky bit we’ve read so far:

The England football team visited an orphanage in Soweto today. “It was great to be able to put a smile on the faces of people without hope,” said Mbutto, aged six.


Mais oh la la la la la. England and Italy don’t have it as bad as La France.  Nicolas “The Incredible Sulk” Anelka was sent home after directing some swears at French coach Raymond Domenech.  Then the French players showed up for practice but wouldn’t get off the bus.  Then they did.  Then captain Patrice Evra had a bust-up with the team’s fitness coach.  Then Domenech had to read a statement saying the players wouldn’t practice because Anelka was sent home… because Domenech had told the FFF about the swears.  The French are kings of irony but this is a bit much.  If you listen carefully, you can hear Irish laughter…

So what’s their problem? According to one journalist, it’s the economy, stupid. But it’s looking more and more likely that once again, a European team will not win on a foreign continent.

Oh yeah, Brazil qualified yeseterday, with Luis Fabiano scoring two lovely goals against the Ivory Coast. Too bad the game was overshadowed by Kaka being sent off because of Kader Keita’s Rivaldo-like performance.

Brent Lanthier

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Dirty shirts, little men… and Sven

Brent Lanthier

No one’s having more fun than this guy…

England players are used to talk of their millionaire lifestyles and misbehaving WAGs, so this next tidbit begs a “dirty laundry” joke about a sewage leak soiling their kits .  Look at me! I’m punny just like the British press!

And just when you couldn’t watch it anymore, I thought I’d post the Guardian’s Lego recreation of Robert Green’s Hand of Clod.

OK, back to the real matches. New Zealand and Slovakia opened up the day with a 1-1 draw. Last week, I publicly called the All Whites “filler” but they played well enough today. Both goals were headers… although Robert Vittek was offside when he put his in the net.  Winston Reid’s goal off a Shane Smeltz cross (deflected by a Slovakian player) was New Zealand’s first World Cup goal since scoring against Scotland in 1982 (Ed: Thanks Adam).

Next up in the so-called Group of Death: Ivory Coast vs. Portugal. The hope was that superstars Cristiano Ronaldo or Didier Drogba, who is pulling a Gary Lineker, would light up the pitch. But neither looked very Group of Death-y. Ronaldo did manage a cracker that went off the post, and then got a yellow after he was taken down a few minutes later. Tee hee.  Final was 0-0.

Sven-Goran says he’s having more fun as manager of Ivory Coast than he ever did as England boss. So are England fans.  But he also says he wants to return to England to coach Liverpool.  Make up your mind, Sven….  Oh, and he also wants a summit to discuss the ball.

Final match was Brazil vs. North Korea and everyone was expecting a blood bath in Jo-burg. But on a cold night, the Koreans held firm, playing not to lose. The “defensive-minded” Brazilians still managed 10 shots on net, with Inter Milan’s Maicon scoring first, on a goal that almost came from the touchline. Then Elano made a nifty little run, scoring again.  Not so fast! The North Koreans managed to pull one back in the 89th minute. However, I have no idea who scored because Kim Jong-Il is a power-mad dictator who rules with an iron fist, controlling all information in and out of his impoverished nation. So there.

Torres: New ‘do, new team?

Tomorrow, European Champions Spain start their campaign against Switzerland. Both Iniesta and Fernando Torres have been declared fit to play. That news comes amid reports that Chelsea offered Liverpool 50 million pounds for Torres.  And so it begins…

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Dr. Z’s World Cup Predictions: Group G

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. The good doctor handles teeth, not broken arms, but he’d love to see Didier Drogba take on some tough opponents in Group G:

Brazil:  Along with Spain, the favourites to win the whole enchilada, and for many good reasons.  Coach Dunga has assembled a well-oiled machine that breezed through South American qualifying.  The team played so well, in fact, that there was no room for Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Pato in the final squad.  Aesthetically, however, this may not be the Brazil most fans are used to.  Anchored by underrated center backs Lucio and Juan, this version of the Selecao is happy to concede much of the possession and torch the opposition with the most blistering counterattack in history.  Get caught in possession upfield and Kaka, Robinho, Maicon, and co. will may you pay dearly.

Portugal:  Squeaked into the tournament by earning 13 out of a possible 15 points in their final five qualifiers, then narrowly edging Bosnia-Herzegovina in a playoff.  The Portuguese will definitely be relying on the towering Bruno Alves in defence, especially with Jose Bosingwa injured and Pepe short of match fitness after a six month layoff.  They were dealt another injury setback with news that Nani will miss out due to shoulder problems. Even more now, Portugal will be pegging all its hopes on twinkle toes Ronaldo.  They’ll go as far as he takes them.

Cote d’Ivoire: The Elephants are, in this writer’s opinion, the most talented team in Africa. They can consider themselves extremely unlucky to be drawn in the Group of Death for the second consecutive World Cup. Their luck has not improved this week with news that Didier Drogba may miss some or all of the tournament after breaking a bone in his arm. Still, this team is no one-man show and with the likes of Emmanuel Eboue, the Toure brothers, and the underrated Gervinho they are more than capable of an upset. If Drogba does win his fitness race, then look out.

North Korea:  The most reclusive and lowest-ranked team in the finals (yes, even lower than New Zealand), the North Koreans will rely heavily on their star striker, Jong Tae-Se, who operates out of Japan’s J-league, where he’s known as the Asian Wayne Rooney. He’ll need to play like the real Roooney for North Korea to be able to beat teams likely to start the real Didier Drogba, the real Christiano Ronaldo, and the real Kaka.

Predicted Results:

Cote d’Ivoire 1-1 Portugal

Brazil 4- 0 North Korea

Brazil 2-1 Cote d’Ivoire

North Korea 1-3 Portugal

Portugal 0- 2 Brazil

Cote d’Ivoire 3-0 North Korea

Standings:

Brazil 9 pts

Cote d’Ivoire 4 pts

Portugal 4 pts

North Korea 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, and isn’t counting out the aging Azzurri in Group F.

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