Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Group B Wrapup and Preview of Today's Games

England will move on as Group B winners after their 2-2 draw with Sweden. The result also means that Sweden will progress as runners up in the group. The big news from this game is that England forward Michael Owen will be out for five months after damaging ligament in his knee. Surely now Eriksson looks like a fool for bringing a 17-year-old to the World Cup who has no experience instead of bringing Darren Bent or Jermain Defoe as cover for his strikers in case of an injury. England will field the gangly Peter Crouch and Wayne Rooney up front for the rest of the tournament most likely. I think they would be better suited with a 4-5-1 formation with Rooney as the only forward. In midfield they should start Hargreaves as he can do most of the dirty work and allow Gerrard and Lampard to get farther up the field. Yesterday was the first time Lampard looked good in an England shirt and it's no coincidence it happened in a game where he was freed of any defensive duties and was able to hang around the 18 yard box the same way he does for Chelsea. When he and Gerrard are the only central midfielders England loses something from each of them because their natural instinct is to attack but they have to share the defensive duties. Switching to 4-5-1 would likely allow Eriksson to get the most out of both players whlie not sacrificing too much defensively by putting Hargreaves in the game.

The outstanding England player so far has been Joe Cole. His goal yesterday is a contender for goal of the tournament. Most of the attention has been on getting Rooney back but in Joe Cole they have a player who can change a game and dominate from the wngs. He was involved in everything that England did well yesterday. . . . looking forward to the next round England must improve on their defense on set pieces. Both of the Sweden goals came on set pieces and they hit the crossbar on two other set piece efforts. Ecuador, their second round opponent, may not be the type of team to make them pay for their defensive shortcomings but moving on in the tournament this is something to keep an eye on. As for Sweden, their only problem thus far has been their finishing. They've looked good in attack and strong defensively but the end product just hasn't been there. If they are to beat Germany they will need better finishing from Larsson and out of form striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic(Here is Zlatan's take on shaking Finnish defender Sami Hyypia out of his boots: "I went left. He went left. I went right. He went right. I went left again. He went to get a hot dog.") . . . Paraguay and Trinidad(Paraguay won 2-0) are eliminated for the tournament and can begin plotting on the 2010 tournament in Johannesburg.

Today's Matches

The day begins with the Portugal v. Mexico matchup. Portugal have looked strong in both their games but they haven't truly been tested. Today's match against Mexico will be as good an indicator as any as to how good Portugal is. I picked Portugal to win this group before the tournament started and I'm not about to waver now. I look for Cristiano Ronaldo to seize the day and put on a star performance. With Deco, Ronaldo and Figo in the lineup I want the Portuguese to turn on the style and run over the Mexicans. Mexico did not look too strong in their tie against Angola. They will be looking to improve on that performance going forward. THey will need to because a loss by Mexico and an Angola win over Iran may result in the Angolans moving forward. My prediction is that Portugal will win this game and win the group and Mexico will move foward with the Angolans and Iranians making their return trips home beofre Saturday's second round games.

Group C will offer us the match of the tournament so far with the Netherlands facing off against the Argentines. These two have had memorable matches in the '78 finals which Argentina wn and in '98 where Dennis Bergkamp scored one of the greatest goals I've ever seen in a World Cup(Look it up on You Tube. Bergkamp takes down a 50 yard pass effortlessly turns his defender inside out and puts it in the roof of the net. Beautiful stuff!) Today's game should be the first test for the Argentines because their six goal romp came agaist little leaguers from Serbia. The key to this game will be how well Van Persie and Robben can attack down the wings and whether Cocu and Van Bommel can put a leash on Riquelme in midfield. Before the tournament I had Argentina winning this game I don't see any reason why I should change now. I want Pekerman to start Messi so my proclamations of him being the best player under 24 being proven correct. IN the other Match the Ivory Coast should finally get a victory over Serbia & Montenegro. I feel bad for Ivory Coast because in any other group they probably would be moving on to the second round but htey can lick their wounds on their return flight to Abidjan.

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