11 June 2006

WC: Group B and C results

Three matches yesterday and three more today. I'll never see every game, and I'm losing my battle to catch significant moments of them all. But there were some very interesting matches yesterday, and today has started well. So far it's been an engaging World Cup, with some very watchable matches.

England 1-0 Paraguay
The British press is amazing, isn't it? England gets a win in its first group match, in a very tricky match against a dogged Paraguayan side, and yet the press coverage is all about the tactical mistakes made by Eriksson.

The fact is, England took three important points. The early goal could easily have been multiplied, but Paraguay didn't offer many clean chances, and England wisely chose to defend the lead and rest Michael Owen. Peter Crouch was a bit stupid to pick up a yellow card, though he certainly had reason to be frustrated with the referee.

Paraguay meanwhile will take heart that they didn't concede after the fluky early goal. But frankly they look more like spoilers than a team with legitimate aspirations. They will need to uncover a more positive game if they want to mount a serious challenge to advance.

Sweden 0-0 Trinidad & Tobago
I was surprised that ABC chose to televise this match on network TV, but their gamble payed off nicely. Casual fans who tuned in were treated to a gutty performance from the ten-man Soca Warriors, and it was easy to feel the excitement generated by their frantic (but not panicked) defense.

Trinidad & Tobago can be rightly proud of their draw here. They threatened at times, especially in the first half. I still think they'll be lucky to take any further points, but at the least they will have given England and Paraguay food for thought. If Shaka Hislop continues his fine form... they will have cause to worry.

However Sweden were a bit of a disappointment. They faced a keeper on his best game, to be sure. But still they had every chance to score. They just needed something else -- a bit more on a run, a slightly better first touch, one more shot on goal. But it wasn't to be found, and the players didn't react well under the pressure. Freddie Ljungberg is perhaps the only Swede who can hold his head high, but it wasn't enough. They now face the challenge of scoring on a dogged Paraguayan team; that match could prove to be snippy.

Argentina 2-1 Ivory Coast
I'm of two minds about this match. On one hand: Argentina started with a solid win, and looked pretty good doing it. Ivory Coast had a valiant effort but just couldn't threaten enough, and were sliced apart by the Argentine attack. On the other hand: Argentina let Ivory Coast attack much more than they should, and came pretty close to dropping points to a dangerous team.

So how to read it? In the end, Argentina have the three points, so they're well on their way. And that's the important thing. The team looked very good at times, and if all continues to gel, they could quickly become a favorite to win everything.

Ivory Coast though can take a lot of hope from the match. They did get the late goal, which could make a big difference in a tight group. They got better in the second half, especially defensively. If that effort continues, they could play themselves back into the tournament... but they will need a win over Holland to make it happen.

Serbia & Montenegro 0-1 Netherlands
I have seen very little of this match, though I was able to see the Robben goal. What I did see -- and what I've read -- says good things about the Dutch. S&M are a tough defensive side, so taking a single goal from them is no disappointment. Robben and van Persie bring some wicked pace up front, and will be deadly for any team that tries to hold a high line against them.

The only disappointment? If both Argentina and Holland continue to play this well, we may see them face off in the final group match with very little to play for.

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