Sunday, June 27, 2010

Only a C?

The first day of knock-out football has begun at the 2010 World Cup.

Some might think that there is a tectonic shift in football at the moment. Perhaps they're right. I think the worries were there before this World Cup started.

Sepp Blatter's 5 + 4 ruling (which has recently been shot down by the EU) showed that enough domestic talent wasn't breaking through across the continent. I don't know. Spain's system grooms technicality from a very young age and was seriously addressed to ensure that no matter the size of a player, that the essentials of first touch, passing and movement were in place before moving into a higher level.

I doubt that those things aren't in place in France or Italy or even in England where size usually matters. France's issue was uniquely destined to occur because of the nature of their team and the explosion in South Africa was a culmination of issues rather than football.

Italy, well, they are flooded with foreign talent in their leagues. This is a remnant of the 90's and their boom time (ala Premier League modern day) and hasn't necessarily been addressed. At the same time, players like Quagliarella (who impressed in his only real chance against Slovakia) show that there is still the talent. I am sure this will be addressed after the abysmal tournament they had. I think it should have been addressed after 2006 but the euphoria of winning the World Cup meant it was a welcome relief to the scandal that had embroiled Italian football at that time. They weren't the best team in the world - they'd just played tournament football and had won it with luck too.

Is it a shift? No, its just an increase in competitiveness. All teams are fit and now the teams that are progressing and most that haven't except for Honduras have addressed organisation. It wasn't a fluke that New Zealand took 3 points. They were well organised and disciplined. They worked hard and deserved something from every game.

Not great to watch but look at Uruguay. So well drilled and hard to break down added to the fact they have such clinical finishers. That was the difference today against South Korea. They took their chances and half chances lets say. Now the Korean peninsula can concentrate on politics again. South Korea fell away after losing to Argentina. They started with such self belief but got unhinged and didn't recover. The Nigeria match is a testament to that. They were easily penetrable.

And the United States supported by Bill Clinton and Mick Jagger. Bizarre. However, they played so well and achieved so much in the Confederations Cup. And they started slowly this tournament. They kept falling behind but still achieved what they wanted. They finished top of their group and they were super fit. Beyond organisation, they were pace and tenacity personified. USA Today's C grade is a little harsh but tonight they came up against a real test.

Ghana. I am surprised yet not at the same time. I watched them in the African Nations and it was evident they were the wisest of the lot. They didn't sack their manager for a high profile one. They reached the final of the African Nations Cup without having to break too much of a sweat with a young team. They lined up organised (there's that word again) - they lined up hard to beat. 4 5 1. And that discipline and organisation isn't just adhered to with 2 banks that aren't penetrable. The difference between them and let's say New Zealand, is precision and delicate movement.

Their passes they make time for. If they are pressed the must keep the ball. They try not to make a rushed pass and if they are in the 2nd or final third of the pitch they pick their pass perfectly. Isn't necessarily attractive and they might not be the most talented - I think the Ivory Coast are. But they reached the final in Angola with a trusted, obedient team. Muntari was sent packing and they knew who their boss is.

Now he is back but he hasn't started once. No Essien. Not even Appiah starts. The Ghanaian FA didn't want a high profile man to take charge to just show their best side. Sven Goran Eriksson might have wanted the Ivory Coast to do well but even their players looked happy to just win 3 nil against North Korea. They danced after their 3rd. What was there to dance about? You are going home!

No, Ghana are different. And they may not get past Uruguay to what would be an amazing achievement in getting to the semis. Maybe not. But this is a young team. This is the Under 20 World Champions. Maybe they won't achieve the greatness that is expected of them. Nigeria never did after winning Olympic Gold. But they have potential. And they haven't reached the Quarter Finals by fluke. This is a good team who have achieved what they deserved. And what a tournament Kevin Prince Boateng is having. A late inclusion (which will rankle Muntari and the old guard) but hard working, combative, creative, precise....goal scoring?! From Tottenham outcast to Portsmouth villain to hated by Germany to the Quarter Finals of the World Cup. Not bad.

If Uruguay get to the semis what an amazing achievement too. Back to their glory days. Either way what a top start to the knock-outs.

And now the traditional big guns role out. England awaits. Germany does too. By the way, if you thought the English constantly ranted on about the past, then you are mistaken. The Germans are still as bothered about 1966 as much the English.

And Argentina Mexico...well, two relatively attacking sides but as I wrote previously, the Mexicans have tried to bolster their chances by playing South American opposition more often. However, the Argentinian paper, La Nacion wrote about their ability to role over and respect more reputable South American opposition. 10 games in recent times against Argentina and only 1 win. Tough task but a chance to right the wrongs of the second round 4 years ago.

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