World Cup Game Week 2

Nothing has happened in groups A and B that wasn’t already covered in the previous post. We’re that lazy, and it shows in out work ethic. But how about the action from Week 2? Germany and Ghana gave us a thrilling second half. Costa Rica claims another scalp. Bosnia & Herzegovina are eliminated. France has risen from the ashes of South Africa.

Group C: Final Verdict
I know its premature to arrive to a conclusion already. But Greece and Japan are done. It’s not wise to declare any group with a potential 3-win team finished when a three-point team could sneak in. But Greece has done nothing to claw itself out of its -3 goal differential. Maybe they get 3 past Côte d’Ivoire. Very likely, this won’t happen. Unless we’re in for a final day collapse.

Colombia impresses yet again. For all their frailties on defense, up front they more than covered for not only that, but Falcao’s absence to boot. It just goes to show, if you have holes in the back, leave it to a coach by the name of Pekerman to plug them. Their fullbacks have shown a propensity to lose concentration. When they stay focused, it is Yepes and Zapata inside who mess up their assignments. I think there might be a quota on how much of their defense is allowed to shine at a time. On the wing they have suitable options to come off the bench. But that doesn’t help out a defense on the edges, unless you ask those fullbacks not to spring forward in attack. It is frustrating to think they’ve done so well without having to call on Guarin yet.

Côte d’Ivoire. What a doggone shame. Again. Poised to hold Africa’s best and sole prospect to go through (it’s the narrative they keep feeding me. Me? I don’t give a rat’s ass what confederation is not represented) had the strongest momentum going into game two. The second goal conceded to Colombia is the ying to the yang that was their comeback to beat Japan in game one. They will qualify. But if the on again off again pattern isn’t dropped, their fourth game will be a dud, and an early exit for African football sympathizers.

Greece and Japan treated their respective selves to a mutual disappointment, because it wouldn’t be a Greek affair without the element of tragedy involved. Not to sound facetious but that’s what half the names on their team rhymes with, so I’ll avoid using names. But what’s his name had two yellow cards in the first half. The mindfuck of it — and let this be a lesson to aspiring coaches — is the Greeks looked more vulnerable at full strength. How? My guess is that with eleven on eleven, Japan had kept them honest. The risk therein is ironic because it invited the Greeks out of their own half making them susceptible to attacks going the other way. With that gone, the onus was now on Japan to not only swarm them but to keep in mind any trick up the Greek sleeve. The fucked up thing is Greece wasn’t predictable in the few opportunities they had the ball. At the hour mark they had a sequence of consecutive corner kicks that were all dangerous. That’s how numerically disadvantaged teams get the upper hand. I think the Ivorians can look to their even record as the final motivation for a last push into the last sixteen. Whereas their opponents, Greece, haven’t shown a sign to respond to the one wake up call they needed. It’s hard to imagine that in the little time left they will finally do.

Group D
What a difference a player can make. Especially if said player was Luis “can’t hold me back” Suarez. My pick was on point for the score. My other pick for the day wasn’t. Hence Italy finding itself in a bind, heading into the final game, a must win, on Tuesday. Costa Rica is assured first place unless both it and Uruguay lose by two. In this scenario, it drops to second place.

Uruguay vs England
So at eighty minutes I kept praying for their coach to sub in Forlan for Suarez. Sure he’d netted their go-ahead goal. But such is Suarez’s impact, that he could influence the result on one leg. It was painful to watch him go the entire game on 50 percent of his explosiveness. Asking a player to suit up so soon after knee surgery was always going to be against all prudence. Keeping him on after he’d contributed to the fullest of his capacity was asking too much. Then the unthinkable happened. He wasn’t finished yet.

What does that say about England though, the perennial favorites to win it according to their press? England was bereft of invention. They controlled the ball. All game. Nearly two-thirds of the possession meant they also had a better passing completion rate. And up to the midway point of the game, the stats update laughingly displayed fewer shots on goal. It wouldn’t be so difficult to show sympathy toward, and feel for, the Three Lions. But considering the majority of all content and coverage of the sport in the English language is not immune to favorably representing England before each tournament, schadenfreude is only a natural reflex.

Italy vs Costa Rica
Those Pirlo plaudits sound so knee-jerk and hyperbole all of a sudden, don’t they? The Ticos played the perfect game to nullify Italy’s deep threat. They played roulette with the prospect of the alternative; Pirlo peppered their defense with passes over the top. If it wasn’t for Super Mario’s sloppy finishing in the first half, Italy could have forced Costa Rica into Plan B. Not that yours truly would have recognized it. But it was Italians who needed one, and a Plan C even, if the high number of offsides can attest to more than face value. Anyway I think the Ticos may have played a higher line in the first half only to drop deeper and frustrate Pirlo and Italy’s forward line by way of the offside. It’s gotten harder to concentrate on games with all this noise in the rec room at work, but soon enough I’ll be home. Then it will be my tactical ignorance rather than missing portions of the game that will strip me of credibility. Make no mistake however, Costa Rica is as good as those results indicate. Another champion scalp is not out of reach in England, and a perfect 9 points.

Group E
France has scored 8 and conceded 2 in their first two games. Two goals in garbage time against the Swiss. Is Ecuador going to pose a serious problem for them? Haven’t watched them play a full ninety yet but they’ll need a win here. Switzerland will look to the Honduras game as their last dress rehearsal; an opportunity to fix their problems and steady the ship a little. France wouldn’t have allowed two late goals if not for their statement-making attempt on offense. But I can’t see any team taking it to them just to prove a point of their weaker defense. And I’m not sure it’s a weakness. Untested, perhaps. I think they’re the perfect shoot-out team. Almost as if they relish the next chance to play with abandon. It’s liberating for them it looks, and the thought of them facing the Germans is possibly one they would embrace more than neutrals. Elsewhere in the group, Ecuador must win to stave off Switzerland. Honduras here can play the spoiler by denying the Ecuadorean’s direct challenger for second place that win. Given that a tie is a likelier outcome for the South Americans against France, some oddsmakers’ payout for an upset are the same as a tie in the Honduras Switzerland matchup. Make what you want of it.

Group F
Bosnia & Herzegovina’s rites of passage was anything but the dream debut. But initiations tend to be taxing — something to be endured. Victims of the man in the middle, they’d probably wish for nothing but the same to eventually haunt Croatia tonight. Ha! It’s the only consolation right now, no?

Their loss to Argentina is not quite the missed opportunity as I’m not quite ready to sound the alarm bells for Messi & Associates just yet. Those pesky neighbors. Anyway enough speaking from the Group A perspective. Nigeria muscled and willed its way to victory here. Referee miscalls are an unfortunate part of the game. Usually they benefit powerhouses as the pressure of playing the catalyst in a minnow’s win far exceeds the alternative. Though Nigeria aren’t even a dark horse, Bosnia & Herzegovina are unproven debutants.

Channeling their against-the-ropes image, Iran gave a class on defensive organization, and the merits of counter-attacking football. Sitting back and soaking it up never looked so enthralling. Argentina was supposed to see in its offense masking for a weak defensive core. But what happens when rolling it around yields nothing? Tons of possession and no clear path to the net. One net. Theirs wasn’t safe from threats by any stretch. In don’t think Argentina will face a defense this stingy again but by no means is the worst behind now. Iran’s was a dinner invitation where no meal was on the table. Other teams may be the kitchen whose heat Argentina can’t stand. Maybe they’re the worst of the two-win teams right now. Maybe we can’t get a handle on them yet. But Messi has twice now conjured up three points from nothing. He may be getting started but if the rest don’t keep up, they’ll be grinding out wins or conceding the same.

Group G
Germany and Ghana was a game of two halves. The first was the Ghanians trying to match Germany in patient probing. With no rush to score, both rarely charged unnecessarily. In the second half play became more adventurous. Nothin ventured, nothing gained after all. Germany scores soon after the break. Ghana ties it, and takes the lead on its next attempt. Klose comes on in the 70th minute and scored his record-equalling 15th overall in the World Cup with his first involvement with the ball. The remainder of the game was an open game. For Germany, this was an unfamiliar bump. Ghana can only blame its inexperience when up 2-1, Jordan broke down the left sideline to get behind the defense, he ignored two teammates in the box to finish with a weak shot at Neuer. Their next opponent is Portugal.

Unconvincing in their game against the US, the Portuguese was a passive participant in the other entertaining 2-2 tie in the group. It seems the US always keeps playing the game of its life next. Here they didn’t panic because of an early goal. They play a balanced game, and were only a few times caught by the break. In there is the testament to their tactical discipline; they were first to loose balls, and contested the fifty-fifty situations almost always. On offense their attacks were varied but mostly down their right. I guess it was why Zusi switched flanks later. Anyway their first was scored from the left although it was followed by a set play that wasn’t cleared. Their lead was taken from an attack down the right. The let their guards down for both goals conceded. But you couldn’t imagine a better mindset to prepare them for Germany than their current one, in spite of the last second letdown.

Group H
Algeria has done itself a huge favor by trying to go for the Korean jugular. In a tight three-game schedule you must dispatch the weakest link. It may not be so apparent the identity of said link at first. Russia has shot itself in the foot in their opener against Korea and couldn’t withstand the Belgians’ march to group supremacy. Korea in mounting a comeback that was nipped in the bus before it could be called so are in turn ahead of Russia in the food chain. By default Algeria is arguably second best. Here is an example that bucks the trend in having your strongest opponent first on the schedule as the better scenario. Their work is not done because the twice bitten Russians will look to save face and salvage their egos.

Belgium though they dominated the standings haven’t really owned anyone. In the first, it was the natural flow for them to hog the ball considering two things; they are able to, and; falling behind early to a weaker opponent necessitated their doing so. We still haven’t seen them dictate a game and taking a proper lead yet. Korea is hardly the litmus test. Of the all potential 9-point teams they’re the most difficult to rank. Anyway I have them brushing aside the Koreans and Algeria getting the four points to secured qualification.