Lionel Messi is just gettin' started - Andy Mead YCJ
The top half of the draw only has one game left to play, and every team is still alive. Can it be attributed to parity? Partly. The minnows have definitely improved, they know their opponents better, and footie is a lot more homogeneous than, say, 20 years ago. But the market makers traditionally play at ¾ speed in the opening round as well, and that hasn’t changed. The third group games, played simultaneously (thanks to the shame of Gijon), are going to be the bullet sweating, nail biting, multi pack cigarette inhaling, pressure cookers that FIFA was hoping for.
Somewhere, Pete Rozelle is smiling.
Uruguay has taken command of group with a clinical 3-0 dismantling of the South African hosts. They will win group A with a draw over Mexico, thanks to their advantage in goal differential. Mexico will also advance with a tie, but a win would earn them the group’s top spot. Otherwise, it is a rematch with Argentina in the Round of 16.
Has France really been that much of a disappointment? When compared to the France Ideal, I suppose it is. But when we take their performances since the last World Cup, not really. What has been a categorical disgrace, though, is the categorical absence of any passion from the majority of the French players. They have been playing like they would rather be on the Côte d’Azur, sipping Oranginas and Grey Goose. In the meantime, though, the internal strife has gone public and ugly. Très ugly. Adieu, Nicolas. He has been removed from the team.
Group B was always going to be Argentina, and a team to be named later, so neal real surprises. Diego Maradona has made the genius move of playing Messi as a roaming forward. What a maverick! The best free kick I have seen so far was Maxi just tapping to Lionel and letting him do his thing. He did. It led to a goal.
Barring a Greek surprise, Nigeria and Korea meet to determine the group’s 2nd place team. It could be that the 2nd place team in the group will qualify with 2 losses and only 3 points.
The only team that does not control it’s on destiny in Group C is Algeria. The rest of the teams have the win and in dynamic going for them, but Les Fennecs need the Slovenians to beat the English, or lose by two goals, to go with their must win over the USA. Slovenia missed out on their chance to win the group outright by letting the USA erase the two goal deficit they faced in the second half. It was not a surprise at all. The US spent the better part of the Hex working their way out of early holes.
England, on the other hand, is a complete surprise. And no one is more baffled than Fabio Capello, the self-proclaimed prosciutto expert who “sees a different team in practice.” Wayne Rooney was particularly fond of how his team was treated by its fans. I’m guessing the feeling is mutual.
Group D is another group where 3 teams control their own destiny. Germany was everyone’s instant favorite after their 4-0 demolition of Australia. They may have been victimized by some refereeing decisions in their 1-0 loss against Serbia, but they still had plenty of chances to find an equalizer. The most stunning turn of events was Podolski’s miss from the spot; something that a German hadn’t done at world cup in almost 40 years. Now they face the reality that they could be out with a loss or a tie. Serbia is in with a win. The Socceroos need to win and Ghana to beat Germany in order to move on.
The first group games were defined by cautious, unimaginative play. Game 2 saw limited separation as only one heavy favorite virtually assure themselves of advancing (Holland is in the bottom half). Are we going to see chalk in game 3, or will we see some stunning eliminations?