21 June 2006

WC: Germany and England Win Groups

Despite showcasing two of the premier teams in the tournament, Tuesday's games weren't very interesting. The England-Sweden match was, however, calculated to put most England fans into a paroxysm of dread.

Sweden 2-2 England
Perhaps the biggest news was the injury to Michael Owen. Just 1' into the game, Owen tried to pass across his body, with nobody near, and his knee just gave out. It's clear he knew right away what had happened. I'm not a big fan of Owen, but still I felt horrible for him. He didn't scream or make faces, but the disappointment and resignation he revealed told everything. He is done for the tournament, and I hope his recovery goes well. But frankly, the England attack looked better without him, and I don't think England will miss him too much.

As for the game, it was a show, just not in a good way. Four goals, four huge defensive mistakes. Let's break it down, shall we?

Cole 34': On the corner, Sweden finally come up with a weak but forgiveable clearance. But when it falls to Cole, the Swedes are jogging up the field as if a goal kick has been called... including keeper Andreas Isaksson. With no defender within five yards of Cole, Isaksson was a good three yards from his line. The eventual lob was nicely taken, but completely saveable.

Allback 51': Probably the best goal of the four, but still much too easy. Sweden execute the set piece on the corner, with Markus Allback finding himself wide open to flick towards the far post. The play was fairly simple, with Allback gaining space by running to the corner of the six-yard box. But his marker, David Beckham, couldn't be bothered to stay within a couple yards.

Gerrard 85': Once again, poor marking allows a free header that Gerrard nicely puts on goal. Niclas Alexandersson should be marking him, but instead is caught ball-watching (and dithering about marking Peter Crouch).

But of course England save their best for last...

Larsson 90': What can you say? Truly a masterpiece of goofy defending, something I would be disgusted with if I was involved with it in a rec game. The long throw comes in, and is completely misjudged by John Terry, who misses his attempted header by a yard. The ball bounces, and Sol Campbell does a nifty little dance as it loops completely over him, finishing with a laughably feeble attempt at an overhead kick. Finally, the ball finds the onrushing Larsson at the back post, who puts it away, mercifully ending the gradeschool show.

These were the first goals given in the tournament by either team, but with defending like that, you can bet that several more are likely to come. But regardless, England and Sweden both do enough to get through, where they will face Ecuador and Germany respectively.

Germany 3-0 Ecuador
Germany looked very, very good in this match. Miroslav Klose took two quality goals, while Ecuador were unable to create any threat to Jens Lehmann in Germany's goal. The German performance brought out the urgency in the Sweden-England match, as neither team wanted to face the on-form Germans in front of their home crowds.

But I wouldn't read too much into Ecuador's performance. They clearly were looking ahead to the knockout stage, resting about half their usual starting team. It's a quite canny move on the part of coach Luis Suárez. There was no way to know who the potential opponents would be, but he would probably see little to choose between Sweden and England anyway. And while those two teams had a hard-fought battle, Ecuador were able to rest their players ahead of Sunday's showdown.

And to digress for a moment... I know that Ecuador's knickname is "La Tri", but how cool would it be if they were the Vampire Finches? Answer: very cool.

In other news: Poland 2-1 Costa Rica, and Paraguay 2-0 Trinidad & Tobago. Ho-hum. I'm actually very disappointed that both Poland and Paraguay were able to win, because it will make their 2006 World Cup performance look less abject than it really was. Poland were overmatched in both of their games. And while Paraguay had two good defensive performance, that's balanced by their complete inability to mount a goalscoring threat. At least Costa Rica contributed to an entertaining opening match, while Trinidad & Tobago will feel that their tournament was successful, thanks to the draw with Sweden and a quality match against England.

So Germany take on Sweden on Saturday, while England will face Ecuador on Sunday. Sweden will need to score an early goal if they want to challenge Germany. England will need to stiffen up their defense if they want to handle Ecuador. That's certainly the most interesting of the two matchs, and I'm curious to see how Ecuador do with a full squad against a big-name side.

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