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