South American nations are as yet undefeated in this tournament, which is more than can be said for the Europeans and Africans. This round produced more shocks as big names under-performed and failed to get results against less-fancied opponents. There were more refereeing howlers and the jabulani problems continue. France and England imploded off the pitch and embarrassed themselves on it. Still, the goals returned in an exciting round of games as a number of teams ensured qualification to the next round after only 2 games, and sadly Cameroon became the first team to be eliminated. Finally Brazil showed that they really are the best in the world (and this is supposed to be a defensive Brazil team...).
Round 3 begins tomorrow and we get to the business end of the tournament and start saying goodbye to more teams, unfortunately the next to go looks like the hosts. If Mexico and Uruguay draw in the early game, South Africa and France both go home...
Uruguay v South Africa
RSA were outplayed and out of their depth in this game. They were lucky to get a draw against Mexico and Uruguay found them out in this game. They were not helped by a penalty and red card for their goalkeeper but they never looked like scoring against the South Americans. It will be very difficult for RSA to qualify now which is a shame but not surprising. They were in a difficult group and this team is inadequate. Carlos Alberto Parreira, the foreign manager brought in to help this team through the group. has not won a World Cup game since 1994 when he was managing Brazil, all his other teams failed to win (Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia, RSA - so far...). They should be confident of beating France in the next game though it may be too late.
France v Mexico
What’s French for au revoir? Another European nation with a big reputation came unstuck against less fancied opposition (see also Spain, Italy & England). France simply weren’t good enough and they won’t be missed in the next round. They were outfought and outplayed by skillful, speedy Mexicans who, if they could actually shoot on target, could have scored a hatful. It was left to substitute and new Man Utd striker Javier Hernandez and 37 year old Cuauhtemoc Blanco (in the process becoming the third oldest player ever to score in the World Cup finals) to put the nails in the French coffin. This was a team effort though and I lost count the number of times Mexican attackers tracked back to take the ball off promenading French midfielders. If I gave a crap about Thierry Henry's handball against the Irish I would say that they deserved this, but I don't so I won't. This result leaves Mexico and Uruguay only needing a draw against each other to ensure they both progress, you will not find a safer bet. France need a miracle, they won’t get one. Could Domenech be fired actually during a World Cup? Does he even care? Why was he there so long anyway?
Argentina v South Korea
And just like that it was fun again... Ridiculous talk of an end to the excitement after South Africa’s capitulation to a superior Uruguay side was blown away by Argentina’s all-action manager kicking every ball and directing the play on the sidelines and by their irrepressible play on the field. Argentina’s embarrassment of attacking riches proved too much for South Korea even though the lumbering Martin Demichelis tried to help out the other side with his usual ineptness. The least exalted of Argentina’s strikers, Gonzalo Higuain scored the third World Cup hat-trick for an Argentinian (after Stabile and Batistuta) after Park Chu-Young had deflected a cross into his own net for the first goal. Messi, Tevez, Di Maria and Maxi supported Higuain and this attacking quintet were just too good on the day for South Korea. Argentina should progress to the next round in style. South Korea did not play that badly but were outdone by the speedy passing and movement of Argentina and Mascherano snarling in midfield. They should be able to lift themselves for the game against Nigeria and should qualify with a win.
Greece v Nigeria
Greece were heading for a another defeat and an early and deserved exit from the tournament. The Greek goalkeeper was flummoxed by the movement in front of him at an Uche free-kick and dived out of the way leaving the ball, untouched by any player, to sail unimpeded into the net. The game swung dramatically back in Greece’s favour after a red card for Keita’s petulant kick at Katsouranis on the touchline. Then came another shot from outside the box, another deflection and another goal to level the scores. Nigeria could have taken the lead again on a quick break, only for Obasi to miss an open goal. The winning goal followed a mistake from the normally excellent Enyeama in Nigeria’s goal. To qualify Greece need to beat Argentina in the next game and hope South Korea don't win. Sadly it looks like it's all over for Nigeria.
Slovenia v USA
The great games keep on coming in round 2. In terms of population this match was the largest country against the smallest in the tournament. At half time the largest country, the US, looked clueless and heading for the exit. If they had lost it would have been almost impossible for them to qualify. Instead a couple of changes at half-time, bringing on Edu and Feilhaber, and some great attacking play from midfield saw the US draw level. They probably should have won the game and but for an incorrectly disallowed goal they would have. The US players were rightly furious with the Malian referee at the end of the game as this result leaves them on 2 points and hoping that results in the remaining games go their way.
England v Algeria
Oh England... There is so much wrong with this side that it won’t be a pity if they don’t qualify, but they still can. By beating group leaders Slovenia in the next round, they will go through. However if they play like they did today they have no chance of beating Slovenia. Again the most basic problem is that England do not have any player who is able to pass the ball regularly to a teammate. Another problem is that when you build your attack around one player, Wayne Rooney, and that player is not playing well you are screwed. Heskey is in the team as he supposedly gets the best out of Rooney. Rooney has had only 4 shots on target in the last 2 World Cups. He needs more help than Heskey can give... If Heskey is not helping Rooney score goals, and he isn’t, why is he in the team? Also what did Capello see in Aaron Lennon that he thought he could leave Theo Walcott at home? What is the point of Frank Lampard in this team? England showed France that they are not alone in needing major restructuring, getting rid of the older players and beginning again with talented youngsters. In the next game I hope Capello changes the whole thing but he probably won’t. If it were up to me I would go 4-4-2, with the same defence, a midfield of J Cole, Gerrard, Barry and Milner (if he's fit or Wright-Phillips if not), with Rooney and Defoe up front. It’s a team with pace, creativity and no confusing system for simple English players, they know their role in a 4-4-2 formation.
Germany v Serbia
The early favourites in this tournament came a cropper against a strong and resolute Serbia side, helped in large part by referee Alberto Undiano. This ref was as fussy as a grandma, showing yellow cards for meaningless collisions and giving Serbia the slice of luck they probably needed to beat Germany. More luck arrived following Vidic’s bizarre recreation of Kuzmanovic’s handball from the game against Ghana, then unbelievably Lucas Podolski missed Germany’s first World Cup penalty since 1974. Jogi Löw, wearing a fetching cardigan on the bench (as was his assistant, which makes me wonder who chooses the outfits? What if the assistant doesn’t want to wear the same as Jogi?!), took off two of the stars from the first game, Özil and Müller, replacing them with the more experienced, but less effective, Mario Gomes and Per Mertesacker. Most chances seemed to fall to Podolski and that trusty left boot let him down today. Nevertheless Germany created the most chances against 11 men and will still expect to qualify. Group D is now wide open when it once looked like a walk in the park for the Germans.
Ghana v Australia
In a now familiar story in this tournament, Australia went 1-0 up after Ghana keeper spilled a long range shot and Holman was on hand to turn the rebound into the net. Soon after, and unluckily for the Australians, Harry Kewell was struck on the arm by a goalbound shot while standing on the goal line. He deflected the ball off the pitch and was soon to follow it as the referee had no hesitation in giving Kewell a red card and awarding Ghana their second penalty in the tournament. Gyan scored again from the spot as Ghana drew level. Australia played bravely but they were never really threatening against a strangely disorganised and rythym-less Ghana who didn’t make their numerical advantage pay off. It finished 1-1 and Australia look to be heading for the exit, Ghana top the group and will be confident of progressing but will need to improve to go further in this tournament.
The Netherlands v Japan
I would really hate for the main story to come out of this World Cup to be one of goalkeeping mistakes and the unpredictable Jabulani. With every game the number of mis-hit passes rises and the lack of goals from outside the area stays prominent. And after 26 games there have been NO goals from a free-kick. With some of the best free-kick takers in the world on show this is more than just a statistical anomaly. This game looked to be petering out into another bore draw when the Japanese keeper failed to deal with a fiercely struck shot from Wesley Sneijder and instead redirected it into the net. Holland were/is flat, but have sealed their qualification for the next round.
Denmark v Cameroon
In a fantastically entertaining game Cameroon took the lead following a mistake in the Danish defence. This game ebbed and flowed and there were many chances for either side. It was a shame there had to be a loser. Denmark drew level and then took the lead with two of the best goals so far in the tournament. The first was an excellent quarterback-like pass ball from outstanding Simon Kjaer to the evergreen and lightening quick Dennis Rommedahl who then whipped the ball across for Nicklas Bendtner to slot home. The second was all Rommedahl as he beat his man in the penalty area and drove the ball in with his left foot. Two great goals which unfortunately for Cameroon sent them out of the tournament at the group stage for the 5th time in a row. This also leaves African nations with only 1 win from 11 games this year at the first World Cup in Africa. Denmark need to beat Japan in the next game to ensure they join Holland in the next round.
Slovakia v Paraguay
The dominance of South American teams in this tournament shows no sign of abating, as Paraguay continued their fine form from their first match into this one. Marik Hamsik, Slovakia’s hyped playmaker, was unable to spark his team into life as they struggled to break down an irrepressible Paraguay side. The excellent Lucas Barrios, Cristian Riveros and the return of Oscar Cardozo were all plus points for Paraguay and they could have won much more comfortably if Roque Santa Cruz hadn’t brought along his Bayern München form instead of his Blackburn form. Paraguay look set to go through and Slovakia need to beat Italy to join them.
New Zealand v Italy
Another BIG upset for a European team. NZ came to stifle the Italians and played their role to perfection. They opened the scoring early from a free-kick out on the left, there was a flick-on, a hint of offside and goal for Shane Smeltz against the World Champions. This was like a watching a Premiership game of a supposedly superior side against and less=fancied one, and the less-fancied sides often spring a surprise. Unfortunately there was to be no win here today for the Kiwis, as Daniele De Rossi was brought down in the area and Vicenzo Iaquinta stroked home the penalty. Paraguay now lead the group and Italy have to beat Slovakia in the next game in order to qualify.
Brazil v Ivory Coast
For everything South & Central American teams are doing well there are African teams doing badly. This game had everything; 4 goals, cheating, a red card, a fight, players being carried off the pitch, playacting and some Brazilian magic. The magic was provided by Fabiano’s first goal and Elano’s second goal in two games. Brazil bossed this game from start to finish and reminded the Africans and struggling European teams that Brazil are just better than everyone else. Without the ball they pressed and harried the Ivorians (even Robinho), with the ball they were quick and direct and carved open the African team’s defence almost at will. Luis Fabiano’s second would have been one of the goals of any World Cup if he hadn’t handballed it twice as he juggled through a mass of defenders before firing home. Drogba pulled one back with 10 mins remaining, then the game descended into a torrent of petulant fouls, mainly from the Ivory Coast, culminating in Kaka, of all people, being sent off for two yellows, the first for complaining about persistent fouling, and the second for being run into by Keita, who hit Kaka with his chest and went down like Rivaldo clutching his face in THE most shameless piece of acting so far in this tournament. That may well be the lasting memory of the Ivory Coast in this tournament unless other results go their way. Brazil on the other hand have won 2, scored 5, qualified for the next round and looked the best team so far in the World Cup. More power to them...
North Korea v Portugal
At last we got a proper, old-fashioned thumping. Towards the end of the second half I was hoping the ref would blow up early to put the Koreans out of their misery. This was a true demolition job and it could have been worse. Ronaldo had 5 or 6 chances that could have gone in before he finally got his goal, albeit with a stroke of good fortune as the ball ricocheted up from the goalkeepers challenge on his head and then fell perfectly for him to guide the ball into the net. You have to expect that Portugal will face bigger challenges than this, however they look good to take second spot in the group after Brazil as Ivory Coast will struggle to outscore the Portuguese in their final game against North Korea.
Chile v Switzerland
This was another laughable refereeing performance from an inadequate official. Maybe he thought he was exerting his authority of the proceedings by handing out yellow cards to anyone he liked but he was really showing up his insecurity in officiating in a World Cup finals. His coup de grace was sending off Valon Behrami for holding off Arturo Vidal, who then threw himself to the ground in a manner like Keita yesterday. This garnered the same result as yesterday, the innocent party was sent off and unlike yesterday when the game was almost over and won long before the sending off, this red card meant that Chile dominated the possession and chances for most of the game. They had to wait until the 76th minute for Mark Gonzalez to score the winning goal and it was almost 1-1 minutes before the end as Derdiyok missed a sitter that would have given the Swiss something to show for the hard work. As it is Chile top the group after 2 wins and look good to go through. They play Spain next while Switzerland will play Honduras.
Spain v Honduras
For a long time it looked as if Spain were set to recreate their Iberian neighbour’s performance and go goal crazy. Instead they only won 2-0, a scoreline which doesn’t do justice to the absolute domination from the Spanish side over their former colony. David Villa scored both goals, the first was a drive into the net following a tremendous jinking run round 2 defenders from his position on the right flank. The second was yet another deflected goal from outside the area with the jabulani. Villa later missed a penalty and his hattrick opportunity. Fernando Torres played most of the game and was similarly wasteful, spurning numerous chances. He will get better and with the incredible support from Spain’s midfield of Xavi, Alonso and Navas, who delivered a passing masterclass, the chances won’t stop coming his way. Spain move into second place in the group and can finish as leaders if they beat Chile in the final game.
Goals of round 2
Bursi v US
Bradley v slovenia
Hernandez v france
Bendtner v Cameroon
Fabiano 1st v Ivory Coast
Elano v Ivory Coast (mainly for Kaka's assist)
Villa 1st v Honduras