Tag Archives: Italy

Group Matches (P)review (Cont.)


Following on from yesterdays round up of the first four groups, here is groups E-H.

Group E

The Dutch are known to be chokers on the biggest level, but in this correspondent’s opinion, they have the strength in depth this time round to challenge favourites Brazil and Spain for the little gold statue. With key players like Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder coming off the back of excellent seasons for their clubs and teammates like Robin van Persie, Nigel de Jong and Dirk Kuyt in support, they are yours truly’s tip to make the semis. That said, their first showing against a resilient Denmark side was uninteresting and overhyped, and we were not treated to the fireworks a team of this calibre can produce. Robben did not play due to injury, but is supposedly going to be fit for their next encounter against Japan. The team certainly warranted the victory, and they were rarely troubled by the Danes. Nigel de Jong was his solid industrious self as always in the centre of the park, and young Hamburg winger Eljero Elia produced a fantastic 25 minute cameo, which will go a long way to raising his profile in world football. Unfortunately for big clubs looking for a new winger, he’s only one year into his 5-year contract and will cost a small fortune to lure away. Denmark looked weak in attack with Nicklas Bendtner in particular wasteful in front of goal. They will need to really step up against Cameroon if they are to progress out of the group, and with Japan already on 3 points their task is a difficult one.

Cameroon carried some expectancy with them as another team with African hopes behind them, but an unconvincing performance from both teams led to another mostly tedious match.  French Cameroonian coach Paul le Guen played a large role in the loss, opting to leave out Arsenal midfielder Alex Song and playing star striker Samuel Eto’o in a wide right position – the same as he did last season at Inter, but lacking the support he received in that side. He was largely anonymous, and when he found himself in good positions with the ball, he failed to make an impression and seemed slightly disinterested. Left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto also failed to reproduce his good club-form in this match, with much of the attacking efforts centred on his runs up the wing. His crossing left much to be desired however. Japan were very defensive, often getting their whole team behind the ball, and were fairly lucky to score considering they had only 2 or 3 chances the entire match. Expect them to perform in a similar fashion against the Oranje looking to reach first gear tomorrow night.

Predictions: Netherlands 2-0 Japan

Cameroon 1-1 Denmark

Group F

Ageing Italy’s progress from this group was supposed to be easy, but Paraguay put up strong resistance and held them to another drab 1-1 draw. The first half saw the greaseballs passing nice and fluidly but without much to show for it and conceding from a free-kick. Diving bastard Daniele de Rossi equalised in a more entertaining second half after some poor keeping from an Italy corner. New Zealand are next up for Italy and you can expect them to challenge right to the death, just as they did in their opener. Antonio di Natale might find himself with a starting berth, and perhaps Bulldog Gattuso will get a chance to nip some heels. Fabio Cannavaro showed his age with a less than convincing performance at the back, but the consistent Zambrotta showed his worth to the Italian cause. Paraguay left star men Roque Santa Cruz and Oscar Cardozo on the bench, and although both made appearances, they failed to make an impact. Hopefully either or both of them will play from the start against Slovakia. Paraguay will be delighted with a point against the world champions, but without the error from keeper Villar they could have taken all 3.

Slovakia looked to get their tournament off to a winning start that would have put them in a strong position to progress, but world cup super-underdogs New Zealand put that idea to bed with a rousing finale. Leading 1-0 from early in the second half, Slovakia couldn’t manage to put the result beyond doubt. Then in injury time up popped up centre-back Winston Reid to win the All White’s first ever finals point. Slovakia’s main creativity stemmed from Vladimir Weiss (son of coach Vladimir Weiss, and grandson of former Czechoslovakian footballer Vladimir Weiss) and team freak Marek Hamsek, while Martin Skrtel in the heart of the defense was rarely troubled. They created plenty of chances to further the lead but just couldn’t put it away, worrying signs for the next match, a probable qualification decider against Paraguay.  New Zealands 3-4-3 formation paid dividends as they defended well in numbers and got forward well, though they failed to have much of threat up front despite boasting A-League top score Shane Smeltz and Middlesbrough man Chris Killen. FFTD head writer passthesugar was delighted to see West Brom man Chris Wood take to the field in the closing stages. New Zealand will fancy their chances of pulling off a shock result against the pizza boys on Sunday night, especially with highly rated goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon missing the match through injury.

Predictions: Italy 2-0 New Zealand

Paraguay 1-1 Slovakia

Group G

The Group of Death! Finally! The chance to witness some real hard-fought football with four teams going all out in their efforts to just scrape through against some seriously tough opposition. So Portugal v Ivory Coast was bound to be the screamer of a match it turned out to be. Oh wait a second…it was actually the single worst game of the tournament so far. I can’t believe I tried so hard not to find out the score for this game while I was at uni the whole day doing exams, to come home and watch this rubbish. With the only moment of note being a superb Ronaldo effort that smashed the upright from 35 yards. The two sides actually looked content to remain scoreless. Ronaldo looked disinterested and still hasn’t scored for Portugal in 16 months or something. Deco may as well have not played. Danny – the new Portugal no. 10, was equally anonymous.  The Ivorians looked more interested, but couldn’t get used to the infamous ‘Jabulani’. Didier Drogba made a much-hyped yet uneventful cameo towards the end, and the Toure brothers each put in reliable shifts but there was nothing to write home about. Both sides will need to improve dramatically to get anything out of their next games, even against group underdogs North Korea.

Speaking of North Korea, sorry, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, they put up a pretty damn good fight against the highly favoured but ultimately disappointing Brazilians! NK-an Rooney showed how proud he is to be representing his nation with his waterworks display during the anthem, and he put in a solid shift on the pitch for their Fearless Leader. They showed excellent organisation and discipline in a defensive showing that certainly raised their stature in the eyes of the public. However, bare in mind that Brazil are not at all what they used to be. Nowadays they play in a similar fashion to how their coach and ex-captain used to play – strong, defensive, and unflashy – in stark contrast to what we are used to from the once-stylish South Americans, players like Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Denilson et al. With Kaka still struggling to find the form that made him the best player in the world a few years ago, and the rest of the team not really finding their groove. Robinho surprised with a decent performance, and his through ball to set up Elano was delectable. I’ve decided Maicon’s definitely goal wasn’t intentional, so don’t bother trying to argue it. Hopefully Brazil will bring the style back for the next match against the Ivory Coast on Sunday night.

Predictions: Portugal 2-1 DPRK

Brazil 2-0 Ivory Coast

Group H

Well here’s a pretty straightforward group, right? Spain are unbeaten in the last year or so and they’re coming up against a Switzerland side missing both their top scorer of all time and an important winger. Wait, what? Spain lost? Are you sure? Blimey! The supposed best team in the world were outclassed by a stellar defensive performance, surely the best in recent years not masterminded by Jose Mourinho. New Barca boy David Villa was guilty of complacency when he decided to go for the entertaining to score rather than the simple, golden boy Torres looked ordinary when he came on towards the end of the match, Casillas certainly could have played better, and Xabi Alonso’s 30-yard pile-driver that smashed off the woodwork showed that it was just not Spain’s day. To give an example of how defensive Switzerland were, Gerard Pique spent most of the match playing as a striker rather than centre-back. For the Swiss, Stephan Lichtsteiner put in a rock-solid display in defense even after losing Philippe Senderos to injury, and Gelson Fernandes put away a brave goal to put them in the lead in what is undoubtedly the upset of the tournament thus far. Spain will need to regroup and show their class in what they expect will be an easy win against Honduras, whilst Switzerland face the daunting task of playing a threatening Chile.

Chile played some of the best attacking football so far against a lackluster Honduras. 21-year-old Alexis Sanchez shone the brightest with a fantastic display down the right wing, and they really should have won by more. Chile’s crossing was fantastic throughout the match, Mauricio Isla also playing a big role when coming forward from right back. Honduras were outclassed all over the pitch, and hulking centre-midfield Wilson Palacios was less influential than he is generally for Tottenham. He should have been sent off in the second half, too. The Central Americans clearly missed their highly rated striker David Suazo, and they will hope he returns to full fitness soon. Unfortunately we were not able to witness any more Palacios’ on the field, though Wilson had two brothers warming the bench. Hopefully they will all play together before the tournament is out. Wigan man Maynor Figueroa was disappointing at the back. Chile will need to find their scoring boots if they are to succeed against the Swiss steamroller, whilst the Hondurans will probably be playing for pride against the Spanish.

Predictions: Spain 3-0 Honduras

Chile 0-0 Switzerland

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World Cup Preview – Group F – Italy/NZ/Paraguay/Slovakia


Does F stand for fail? Or is it worth taking a closer look…? (departing from our normal stylistic structure)

From the outset, this was the group I least looked forward to previewing. And it’s shown, I’ve stalled around this group for a while – desperately trying to write about more interesting football areas. But the time has come, there’s no more procrastination – this is Group F.

Italy

Group F offers the smallest collective population of any group, so the pot to draw from is immediately reduced. (Not in the masterchef way, but like smaller – yeh?) Italy is historically a major force in the football world, even devoting their geography to the cause, but look ageing and lacking. They’re arguably the worst of the top 8 seeded sides. Despite my previous amazement at squads that are made up solely of domestic talents (England, Germany), this isn’t proving a rarity for the bigger nations with established home leagues – and I suppose this makes sense. Italy is the next in line with a squad filled with players from the Seria A. While Italian football certainly overachieved on the club scene, they did so mainly through the expertise of Mourinho. All 3 Italian sides in the competition, but Fiorentina and AC Milan failed at the first hurdle. Additionally, the majority of Inter’s outstanding side will line up for the Italian’s opponents. The Italians look to have lost their sheen with the absence of the likes of Maldini, Grosso, Totti, Inzaghi and too many others to list. The glory years of Italian football through the turn of the millennium looks to be stuttering to a halt. There are too many relatively unknown/foreign names in the Italian squad to be legitimate challengers on paper. But that’s on paper, and rest assure, the Italians will cause a few problems.

The Italian squad is full of experience. The gaffer, Marcello Lippi is perennially biased towards consistency and that is what he gets from his side. Don’t expect bucket loads of goals, and this could easily become a major concern for the Azzuri, but expect them to grind out scrappy wins over almost all that come before them. Tremendously poor friendly form (losing to a 2nd string Mexico) is typical of the Pastamen, who seem to know when to bring their A-game. Andrea Pirlo (AC Milan, midfielder) is the Italian answer to Beckham. He’s got the look and is similarly past his prime. He still provides some of the best service in the business and feature prominently in South Africa. Cannavaro and Gilardino will be crucial performers, but Daniele de Rosi (AS Roma, midfielder) will be the 2nd most important cog to their machine. He’s considered the future of Italian soccer and will be looking to confirm his status as a class midfielder 2-way midfielder. Last, but not least, the man between the sticks, Buffon, is still the true legend of Italian supporter’s hearts.

To be honest, Italy would have been one of my tips to dismally underperform in 2010, but in Group F they have the definition of a cake-walk. But after the group, they’ll face a torrid time. Assuming the favourites win, they’ll face a dangerous Denmark who won’t be the easiest of 2nd round opponents. At the quarters, the red hot Spanish will be waiting and if (and it’s a big, towering if) they progress beyond that, they’re still on the same side of the draw as Brazil. The picture above will be a distant memory come July.

New Zealand

The Kiwis are tipped as the worst side in the World Cup by many pundits, but have so far shown considerable fighting spirit for any class they lack. They were the better side against Australia, despite losing deep in stoppage time, and they beat the highly fancied Serbians in what could only be called a hostile environment. The rest of the world don’t know much about them, but a strong Wellington Phoenix side and underrated Ricki Herbert at the reigns should rectify the issue soon enough. In one sense, the side has been given the dream draw and an outside chance of qualification. In another, they may have preferred a tougher challenge, say Group D, where expectations were negligible and they could enjoy the moment. With the weak group and strong recent performances, the rugby-mad population who are used to winning every sport they play (grand total of 3) are expecting big things. The sheep-shaggers couldn’t care less about the highly paid superstars from other sides and the supporter’s no fuss/no prisoners attitude should rub off on the players.

In captain, Ryan Nelsen (Blackburn, Defender) they have a genuine leader and highly physical centre half. Shame Smeltz (Gold Coast United, Forward) has dominated the local A-League with a growing tally of goals and should be the focus of several European scouts. Smeltz, in PTS’ opinion, is an outstanding prospect. They play a fluid and attacking 3-4-3 that prides itself on their neat passing movements.

Many of the “big” football sites are writing them off, but anyone that’s seen them play will acknowledge that they’ll give everyone a shake. I think the order of their fixtures suits them too and a win in the opening game would give them a real chance of knockout stage football. Last time around it was a nation from this corner of the Earth that announced itself to the world, and the similarities with NZ are uncanny: qualified on penalties, not traditionally a football nation, but qualification has seen a euphoric atmosphere in the country, and a self belief that exudes from their football style. But they don’t have as many players employed across Europe and they don’t have such an inspiring and galvanising manager as Hiddink was for the Aussies.

Paraguay

It’s ridiculous that this is yet another team that is highly organised at the back, but lack any considerable attacking threat. Santa Cruz is world class, but has struggled of late and will likely play the lone striker role at the Cup. Paraguay are a picture of inconsistency. Outstanding at times (2-0 over Brazil and 5-1- over Ecuador in qualification attests to that) while dismal at others (losing 4-2 to Bolivia at home). They’re the logical choice for position number 2, but in almost any other group, they’d be favourites to miss out rather than progress. If they turn it on, then expect them to be tough opposition for the Netherlands in the 2nd round, but really, they’ll have a small impact.

Besides Santa Cruz, Barros and da Silva will be the other key figures, but they aren’t exactly world beaters. Indeed, Barros had a difficult path to selection in the squad. He renounced his Argentinian citizenship and then was given his chance after incumbent Cabanas was shot in the head…(What!!!) Just like the 3 times not called Italy in this group, the rest of the squad is remarkably green on World Cup experience (to say the least).

Look for some emotional tributes to Cabanas –  especially after they score a goal, sorry if they score a goal…

Slovakia

I’ve been waiting for this for months. Not exactly. But Slovakia are a chance of qualifying, but only because of this group. They’re at great odds to snatch 2nd place from under Paraguay’s nose, and I fancy their chances. They’ve got a fair bit of talent: Martin Skrtel and Vladimir Weiss will have the best chance of triggering a flash in your brains, but most importantly, they have an incredibly strong, young nucleus to the side. Scouts across the EPL are in a giddy sweat about plenty of these guys. Amongst others, the best fancied is Marek Hamsik who for PTS is probably the hottest talent of the entire tournament. (Massive call) He’s 22 and captains the side. Good start. Plays at Napoli. Okay. Attacking midfiedler with an eye for goal. Well that’ll help him to grab out attention. Hamsik has scored some absolute screamers for the sky blues and is a fan favourite. His major issue is his propensity to celebrate goals with hair gel related celebration. Apparently Dan Ashworth and West Brom have approached him, but he’s already been priced out of the ball park with interest from Manchester United, no less. Watch his stock sky rocket in June and for him to be catching your attention on the EPL highlights show (Monday night 6:30 or 10, Fox Sports 1 HD) before too long.

It’s worth mentioning Peter Pekarik from Wolfsburg, who’s been riding the crest of the German footballing renaissance of late and at 23 is arguably the sides best defender. And I can hear all you Chelsea fans screaming already, I haven’t forgotten, there’s still Miroslav Stoch who’s been a prodigy for Dutch star FC Twente. He’s not that interesting, however, as he’s already been snaffled by the deep coffers of Abaramovich. He probably won’t even get a starting berth, as Stanislav Sestak was simply unstoppable in qualifying with a 6 pack of Lemon Ruskies (goals).

Final Verdict

Italy should dominate the group and fall at the quarters to Spain. It’ll be a scrap for the next position and I doubt Paraguay will be particularly strong, but rather NZ  and Slovakia to exercise their beginner’s luck. Slovakia have an exciting squad with plenty of future prospects and while they won’t trouble the Netherlands in the 2nd round, they will be strong in 2014 and 2018 (in Australia hopefully).

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