16 June 2006

WC: Group A & B Results: Ecuador 3-0 Costa Rica, England 2-0 T&T, Sweden 1-0 Paraguay

Some good games yesterday, and now both Group A and B are mostly settled. Group A sees Germany and Ecuador go through, while Group B will probably send forth England and Sweden to do battle.

Ecuador 3-0 Costa Rica: La Tri are the real underdog surprise in the tournament, and they're becoming a very fun story. It's not like Ecuador is completely unheralded, but they certainly weren't picked to be a dominating force. Not only have they won, they've won handily, against two very different teams. They're just fun to watch, and that bodes well for the second round.

Costa Rica never looked like a serious threat to win the match. With Ecuador scoring their first at 8' the Ticos were on the back foot all day. Ecuador took their chances well and scored three classy goals. I particularly liked the second Ecuador goal, which resulted from a weaving interplay between Edison Mendez and Agustin Delgado, resulting in a venemous shot that beat Jose Porras to his near post.

So Ecuador are through. Their Tuesday match against Germany will prove interesting; it may be the first real test of the tournament for La Tri. Unfortunately there will be little to play for, as both teams are guaranteed to advance, while their second-round opponents won't be decided until later the same day.

England 2-0 Trinidad & Tobago: A frustrating but ultimately victorious game for England. England fans are frustrated at the lack of ideas and the wasted chances. But England have accomplished everything they needed, and are through to the knockout stage. Despite the loss, Trinidad & Tobago can hold their heads high. They played well above themselves for most of two games, and have earned the respect of world soccer.

The match held a few chances for T&T, but England held most of the posession and looked able to score at any point. Frustratingly, their chances were spolied by poor finishing, particularly from Peter Crouch and Frank Lampard. Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard were anonymous; Wayne Rooney was more involved for his 30 minutes but didn't find any clear chances.

All changed at 83' when Crouch finally, finally found the net on a wicked diagonal cross from much-maligned David Beckham. Gerrard got in on the action in stoppage time, in a futile bid to fool fans into thinking he had some say in the outcome. So you could say that the 2-0 result was unduly flattering to England. But they did hold a huge amount of posession and fashioned several good chances; converting two of them is probably as much as they deserve.

Sweden 1-0 Paraguay: TFor 89 minutes, this match looked completely like it would end a 0-0 draw. As with their first match, the Swedes were active and attacking but somewhat incoherent in their approach. Paraguay defended hard and rarely attacked, forging few chances for themselves but keeping Sweden at bay. After the 0-0 draw with Trinidad & Tobago, Sweden were obviously frustrated, and this match only made things worse.

So when Freddie Ljungberg scored at 89', three hours of pent-up frustration were released from the Swedish fans in an immense and formless shout, a giant "AAAARRRRRRGH!", a roar of relief rather than a celebration of victory. If the English fans think they have it bad, they just need to look across their group to see the fans who are really feeling the pressure.

Sweden could still miss the knockout stage. If Sweden loses to England, and Trinidad and Tobago wins over Paraguay, they will be even on points, and T&T would win out on goal differential. So the key question is how hard will England fight against Sweden? Much will depend on Germany vs. Ecuador, which will happen earlier the same day. I suspect that England will prefer Ecuador, as they've had poor results against Germany. So if Germany wins Group A, expect England to fight harder than if Ecuador take the prize. I fully expect Paraguay to fight hard against Trinidad & Tobago, in order to salvage their pride. So next Tuesday could be very interesting, with the overall situation changing minute by minute.

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