Saturday, June 12, 2010

Day 1 (and 2)

It's all under way and it was an opening day that was familiar in its mix of sporadic drama and grinding boredom. What drama there was came in the second half of the opening game. After an initial ten-minute period early on where the hosts South Africa looked in danger of being overrun by Mexico's more able technique, bafana bafana found their feet. Fulham's Kagiso Dikgacoi played an exquisite forty-yard pass to Siphiwe Tshabalala who finished with a strike equal in its splendour.

The hosts should have finished it off after that but Mexico exposed their defensive frailties for Rafael Marquez to equalise five minutes from the end. What was refreshing about the South Africans though was the way they continued to chase the victory, with Katlego Mphela striking the post in injury time. Carlos Alberto Parreira's team is now thirteen games unbeaten and they will surely be capable of making life very difficult for the two other teams in the group.

Those two teams, as football journos are fond of saying, 'flattered to deceive'. Diego Forlán fashioned a couple of goalscoring opportunities but Uruguay were by and large appalling in everything but the marshalling of their defence. France looked the more lively but apart from Franck Ribéry's brilliant curling centre, which Sidney Govou should have finished from five yards out, they created little. Yoann Gourcuff had a poor game other than a cheeky free-kick that almost caught out Fernando Muslera at his near post. Anelka was another under-performer and was replaced by Thierry Henry, who was a little more industrious, though the whole world, not least the Irish, must have regarded with wry derision his efforts to claim a penalty from an unintentional handball. France are still short of ideas, but they are nonetheless well placed to advance to the last 16. A number of people I know are saying they usually start slowly in major tournaments. This is true but these slow starts generally don't generate any pace, and are the harbingers of an early exit. Of course, four years ago it was different. We'll have to wait and see...

South Korea and Greece are already off and away. 1-0 to the Koreans after Lee Jung-soo was left ridiculously unmarked at the far post on a Kim Sung-yeung corner. I have to confess that this is a match to cook pasta to (which I will be doing shortly) but Korea's enterprise is refreshing and I hope they bury the dour Greeks.

Later there is Argentina v Nigeria, two opponents that face off regularly in both World Cups and Olympic Games. I fancy the Argentinians to win this one comfortably bar a brief surge in Nigerian pressure in the second half. Both teams should come out of the group.

England v US, in the 'war-on-terror' group is likely to be a physical, possibly even bad-tempered, match. It may also be very ugly to watch. Though the Americans will fancy their chances I think both sides will cancel each other out. I also think that the US will be ill-prepared for the more mundane task facing them against Slovenia in the second game. I think Slovenia will do a smash and grab to put them into the second round before even having to face England.