… Three games, three completely different feelings when they were done. Welcome to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where five days in, it’s hard to know what the hell you’re going to see next.
Tuesday’s matches gave us some results that maybe differed from what some (including me) saw coming, both in terms of the results and the goals (or lack of them) that got us there. it did little to clear out the contenders from the pretenders among the teams we saw today, and nothing has changed my thought that Germany has been the class of the field so far.
In the early game, Winston Reid headed home Shane Smeltz’s well driven cross to give New Zealand a 1-1 draw vs. Slovakia in the dying seconds. I thoroughly enjoyed this result for New Zealand defender Ryan Nelsen, who I interviewed quite a bit when he played for DC United. Nicest person you’d ever want to meet. So even though I picked Slovakia in this space last night, I still was pretty pumped over New Zealand getting a good result. Perhaps amazingly, the Reid goal also put Group F into a quagmire, with both opening games having concluded 1-1. You’d still expect Italy and probably Paraguay to advance, but now all four teams face pressure with just two games left for each to figure things out. This will be a far more interesting group than I originally thought.
The middle game today, to me, was a vast disappointment. Portgual vs. Côte d’Ivoire should have been entertaining, fast paced, and it should have featured a couple goals. Instead, it was drab, cautionary, and held little interest unless you had a number in a pool for how many times Portugal’s Christiano Ronaldo was going to take a dive, or how many times the words “Drogba” and “cast” would be uttered in the same sentence. The match picked up a bit of steam in stoppage time, with Côte d’Ivoire suddenly buzzing to try and get a winner. But after controlling the ball deep on the left flank, Côte d’Ivoire wasted their chance by dribbling in traffic rather than passing toward the middle where multiple open teammates resided. Referee Jorge Larrionda then drew a halt to proceedings, and we were left with a bitterly unsatisfying 0-0 draw. The match produced 31 fouls and just 3 shots on goal.
This cat sums up international reaction to Portugal-Côte d’Ivoire slugfest.
That game probably led most fans to have a serious thirst for goals when Brazil met North Korea in the night cap. And that would seem to have been a matchup on paper that could have given us a crazy 6-1 scoreline, or something like that. Instead, North Korea were composed, determined, and despite being dominated in possiession throughout, the North Koreans were on level terms at halftime.
Brazil broke through in the second half, first on a wicked goal from Maicon who, close to the end line, cleanly beat North Korean goalkeeper Ri Myong-Guk with a curling, laser shot near post. There were many questions whether Maicon was intending to shoot or cross from that position, but it certainly appeared to me that it was all shot. Maicon made a nice overlapping run to Elano’s right, and the latter’s pass was perfectly weighted. Maicon hammered between Ri and the post, but curling away from the goalkeeper. It was a stunning strike and the way Maicon ran on to it, I can’t imagine what kind of cross he would’ve gotten off from that position anyway. I have to give him full credit for a great shot.
If Maicon’s goal was the type of sparkle we’ve been waiting for, Elano’s own score late on to make it 2-0 was textbook beauty. Taking a lovely diagonal lead pass from Robinho, Elano wasted no touches as he pounced first time to score low to the far post. Robinho’s pass was flat-out sick. Right into Elano’s run, victimizing four North Korean defenders in the process. That’s the goods we’ve been waiting to see. Fantastic stuff.
But North Korea didn’t give up. Ji Yun-Nam took a pass outside the Brazil penalty area, dribbled through three somewhat flabbergasted Brazil defenders, and wickedly beat Júlio César to make it 2-1 and make the ending of the game a bit more tense than anyone could have predicted. Brazil held on, of course, helped two North Korea shots in stoppage time that missed the target. But as ESPN’s Mike Tirico noted in the postgame, it was almost as if the Brazil players didn’t believe that Ji was actually going to have the nerve to attack the goal there. Ji did, and in an instant, we discovered that this North Korea team has some mettle to it. While I’d still bet on them fininshing fourth in the very tough Group G, North Korea made a quality showing for itself today on the field, even in defeat.
Tomorrow, Group H is the last to commence, as Honduras takes on Chile (7:30 a.m. Eastern), followed by Spain vs. Switzerland (10 a.m.). The afternoon match is the first which finds teams playing their second match, as South Africa takes on Uruguay in a critical Group A match.
Back tomorrow to recap that action. In the meantime, unleash your thoughts on Day 5 (or anything else World Cup related) in the Comments section – and if you have predictions, bring it.
Chile 1-0 Honduras
Spain 4-0 Switzerland
South Africa 2-1 Uruguay
Today’s Record: 1-2.
Tournament Record: 7-7.