U.S. ties Italy; Man Bites Dog.
In journalism school you are taught that 'dog bites man' is not news. It happens everyday. If man bites dog, however, you have news. Saturday's three World Cup matches were classic 'man bites dog' situations. First, the U.S. tied with Italy. This was an unexpected result for many reasons, especially since the U.S. looked so out of it against the Czech Republic. After getting back from Chicago and watching the game on Tivo the bizarre result made more sense given the way the game was played and officiated. When the referee doles out three red cards in a game it's as good a sign as any that he has lost control. First, notorious enfant terrible Daniele De Rossi elbows Brian McBride in the face. De Rossi is rewarded with an early trip to the showers for his troubles. At this point with the game tied 1-1 and the U.S. had to feel good with a man advantage. Cue Eddie Pope and Pablo Mastroeni to hit the self destruct button. Both players got sent off and with a full 42 minutes remaining the game is reduced to a circus. With so much open space on the field both teams had ample opportunities to go ahead in the game but some poor finishing and excellent goalkeeping kept both sides level at full time.
The second 'man bites dog' result was Ghana's 2-0 win over the Czech Republic. In truth, this could easily have been 4-0 or 5-0 as the Ghanaian midfield ran rampant for the entire game. Ghana's win was their first ever win in the World Cup and it sets them up to advance from the group if they can defeat the U.S. in their final group match. If they defeat the U.S. Ghana will have to do so without their two goalscores Muntari and Gyan who will both be suspended for the final game. Give Ghana credit for their win and the way they capitalized on the open space in midfield left by Nedved and Rosicky who were busy attacking and paid little attention to defensive duties. Whenever the Czech attack brokedown Essien, Appiah and Muntari had close to 20 yards of open space on the counterattack because the Czech midfield was playing too high up the field and the de fense was no pushing up. Had it not been for Petr Cech, Ghana could easily have scored four or five goals.
Finally, Portugal's 2-0 win over Iran booked their passage into the second round of the tournament. The result was never in doubt as goals by Deco and Ronaldo secured the victory. The reason this is significant is because the win gives Portugal their first appearance beyond the group stages since the days of Eusebio in '66. Much was expected out of Portugal's 'golden generation' of Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Jao Pinto, et al but they failed to live up to the hype at the senior level. Figo is the only one to realize his potential and it was nice seeing him out there as the Portuguese moved forward.
Sunday's Games were more of the 'dog bites man' variety. There was no surprise in the fact that Brazil defeated the Aussies 2-0. Two things stick out from this game: Ronaldo's poor play and Dida's shabby goalkeeping. Dida was out of position on at least three occasions and had Harry Kewell been a little more calm in front of goal the scoreline would have looked very different. A better team will make Brazil pay for Dida's mistakes if they continue. As for Ronaldo, the Brazilian attack has looked toothless when Ronaldo is in the game. At this point I see no reason for his inclusion in the starting XI for Brazil. The attack looks more dynamic when Robinho enters the game and there is more movement and interplay between the forwards and midfield. I've always supported Ronaldo because of his marksmanship in front of goal but I think that skill is no longer with him. Even if it is he isn't getting himself into positions to receive the ball and do something with it. . . . So far the best player for Brazil has been Kaka. With all the pre World Cup hype surrounding Ronaldinho it is Kaka who has impressed the most. Ronaldinho has drifted in and out of the first two games and has not made any significant contributions so far. I don't understand why the commentators have been jocking Brazil and talking about the "samba" and the "movement" and the "magic" when no such thing has been on display. They have looked a little above average, at best. They have done nothing in the first two games to suggest they are better than Argentina, Spain or even the Netherlands. Everyone knows they have the talent to win the Cup and they are still my favorites to do so but at this point they are looking like a very beatable unit.
France's 1-1 tie with South Korea also should not be surprising. Given their performance in their last five World Cup games the result should be expected. I thought France would win this game and after 45 minutes they looked very much the better team. An 81st minute Park Ji Sun goal however kept the scores level at the end of full time. Thierry Henry missed some chances that he would normally put away. His performance in the Champions League final and yesterday is only strengthening the argument that whenever the chips are down Henry normally folds. King of England he very well may be, but on the global stage he has done little to merit his title as the world's best forward. He's always been my favorite player so I've given him the benefit of the doubt at every turn but with every anonymous moment in a big game I find it harder and harder to defend him. The problem with the French team doesn't start and end with Henry. Zidane is a shell of his former self and he should be benched. He is not the player he was in '98 or even '02 when he helped Real Madrid win the Champions League. Right now he's a man living off reputation. He still has the so called 'feathery touch' but his movement and speed of thought both appear to have slowed to a crawl. France needs to make wholesale changes because after the Swiss 2-0 defeat of Togo this morning they need a big result against the Togolese to move on to the next round. Both Zidane and left back Eric Abidal will miss the game due to suspension. Look for Trezeguet to finally start alongside Henry and the French to use a 4-4-2 formation. . . . the Japan 0-0 draw with Croatia on Sunday is a typical 'dog bites man' situation and therefore doesn't merit any attention.
That's it and that's all. Admittedly, this post is a little dense but I had to fit in all the weekend's activities in one post since I was gone for four days. The blog will resume its daily updating schedule from here on out.