17 June 2006

WC: Group C and D Results

A real mix of games yesterday, wasn't it? A blowout, a tight one-goal win, and a dour scoreless draw. Something for everyone in the end.

Argentina 6-0 Serbia & Montenegro
A humiliation dished out by Argentina. Frankly, Serbia & Montenegro deserved it. They hung tight for the first 30 minutes, but after the second goal, they just gave up. They were respectable against Holland, but as it stands this World Cup has to be a huge disappointment for them and their fans. Not to get political about it, but at this stage you have to say that only Croatia look capable of reviving the excellent soccer legacy of Yugoslavia. Serbia won't lose too many players when Montenegro divests -- potentially goalkeeper Dragoslav Jevrić and striker Mirko Vučinić -- but otherwise they should keep most of the team.

But Argentina? The real question here is whether anyone else can equal them. Their performance on Friday really makes them into the favorites to take the trophy. And it's not the six goals either. Three of those came after S&M were down to ten men anyway. It was the precise, one-touch passing that will really frighten their potential future opponents. Everyone knows Argentina will have amazing skill with the ball; but it's their perternatural ability to forsee the runs of their teammates that drives their threat. The second goal in particular was a product of about 30 seconds of the best ball movement I've seen -- and I'm an Arsenal fan.

I'm not completely willing to jump on the bandwagon yet. Almost any team can look godlike for one game, and Argentina were not nearly so amazing against a talented but inexperienced Ivory Coast team. The real questions will be asked when they face Holland next week. But if they can duplicate even a portion of yesterday's performance, it's difficult to pick another team that can stop them.

Holland 2-1 Ivory Coast
Ivory Coast will have to be disappointed. They've taken two goals but no points from two of the quality teams in the tournament. They've earned a lot of respect from the fans, but with nothing to show for it they'll be awfully hungry for 2010 in South America.

The game was a close affair. A short lapse of concentration saw two Holland goals in three minutes, and from there Ivory Coast had probably too much to do in chasing the game. A fine individual effort from Bakari Kone halved the deficit, but Ivory Coast were not able to pull back another, despite an unrelenting attack.

The biggest story from this game, for me, was the quality of the Dutch defense. Holding Serbia & Montenegro scoreless was nice but not shocking; absorbing more than a half of frantic Ivorian attack was a more substantial accomplishment. There will be much to prove for both teams when Holland meet Argentina. If the Dutch can keep the Argentines under control, that too will worry a lot of potential opponents.

The only disappointing part of all this is that Group C, one candidate as Group of Death, is now over and done, with very little fuss. Neither Ivory Coast nor Serbia & Montenegro could live up to the expectations and take points from the two powers. It may be that Argentina and Holland are just that good... but in any event the group had very little fireworks. They will probably fight fairly hard in the last game, prefering to avoid Portugal if possible, but they know they're advancing regardless.

Mexico 0-0 Angola
Group D, unlike C, is still alive and well following this susprising draw. Mexico can't follow up their good performance in the first game, and Angola demonstrate that they really have some potential. With Mexico facing Portugal in the final game, Angola have kept their hopes alive, though they will need to make up a 3-goal gap in goal differential to avoid elimination.

Mexico were disappointing in their inability to find the net. They really should have the capacity to finish against a team like Angola, but a tenacious if frantic defense were able to keep them from many solid chances. If Argentina face Mexico in the second round, as would appear likely, I fear for the reputation of CONCACAF.

Portugal 2-0 Iran
Meanwhile, Portugal continue to roll along in the group. The 2-0 win today over Iran was a bit dicey for a while, and Portugal were feeling the pressure. But the Deco goal at 63' returned them to the comfort zone, and despite some good attack there was no real sense that Iran would recover a point.

Portugal could quietly establish themselves as a dangerous opponent, particularly if they do some damage against Mexico. They will want to win the group, in order to avoid Argentina. So they could begin the knockout stage against a very beatable Group C team, giving them a clear road into the quarterfinals.

And I'll be rooting against them all the way. The Portugese team has a lot of qualities worth appreciating, but any team with Christiano Ronaldo is one to oppose. It's not overstating it to say that he represents all the worst qualities of soccer: style over substance, lots of flash but no grit, minimal ability to read the game, a propensity for cheap fouls coupled with the willingness to dive at the slightest hint of contact. It's even worse because he has an undeniable skill in both controling and striking the ball. There are many players who I can hate but respect. I have no respect for Christiano Ronaldo. He brings nothing to the game that I want to see.

Enough negativity. It's time to get ready for the Group E matches. I'm working myself up to be positive about the US chances, though it's difficult. Really at this point, the one thing we need to see is a solid, gritty, energetic performance from the Nats. Italy are a formidible obstacle. But on the positive side, a result today will give US a real badge of honor in world soccer.

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