10 June 2006

WC Group A: Ecuador 2-0 Poland

Another wide-open game in Group A. Ecuador have now positioned themselves as the other favorites to go through to the knockout stage, while Poland have some serious questions to answer, and will be a serious disappointment unless things change in a hurry.

Ecuador looked pretty good. They were very patient in the attack, working few opportunities but getting quality out of their chances. They defended very deeply -- sometimes allowing Poland access up to the six-yard box -- but they maintained their organization all along and never made any serious errors. And those qualities (if they can be maintained) are all very good harbingers of success in the World Cup.

Poland, frankly, looked bad. They had some moments of pressure, particularly in the last 15 minutes. And they did hit the post twice. But they went long periods with no threat. The defense was equally poor: brittle, passive, and prone to mistakes. I can only hope that they pull it together for the next two games, or they could end with three losses. That would be disappointing as they have more quality than that.

So Ecuador joins Germany atop Group A, while Poland and Costa Rica will have to scramble to resurrect their chances. Poland are facing Germany next, so things are only going to get worse. Germany have shown a real ability to score, particularly from distance, and that's not something Poland are going to want to see right now. Poland will be desperate for a win; Germany will be careful, but a win would seal their progress to the knockout stage, so they'll be looking for chances. Unless Poland get themselves figured out, the next match could look like September 1939.

Costa Rica has a better chance to resurrect their campaign. Ecuador did look vulnerable at times, and they don't have the long-range threat that Germany used to open up Costa Rica. But Ecuador will be looking for a tie, playing cautiously and holding posession. Ecuador is unlikely to hold the same high defensive line that the Ticos exploited against Germany, so they'll have to find their attack from somewhere else.

So, two very exciting games on Matchday One. Based on today's games, I think we can expect to hear a lot more about the new Adidas ball. The "Teamgeist" already appears to have a lot of motion and a slippery surface. We've seen some wicked long-range shots, as well as vicious free-kicks. But I also noticed some really tricky bouncing shots; none of the keepers have seemed comfortable with short-hop balls, and I wonder if that's due to the slick surface of the ball. We'll see if it holds up but I suspect this will become an ongoing topic for conversation.

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