Mike Gibbons is an aspiring young journalist
from the UK who has followed the World Cup with passion from an early age. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
Read earlier columns
So far so good
Pretty good up to now eh? The World Cup so far is surpassing all of my expectations and as a spectacle is proving far more entertaining than the 2002 event that was stapled ludicrously close to the end of the European football seasons.
It began with a bang in Munich on Friday with the highest scoring opening game in history. Miroslav Klose notched his sixth and seventh World Cup goals, the first such efforts with his feet, to put himself in contention for the golden boot again, although he will need his team-mates to stop defending like the Ant Hill Mob if Germany are to stay in it for long. He is now only four goals behind the national World Cup record of his coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Philipp Lahm and Torsten Frings also deserve an honourable mention for two absolute screamers in that game. With Poland blind-sided by Ecuador later that night, Germany could secure their place in round two this Wednesday.
Day Two saw Group B kick-off in complete and utter tedium. England laboured to a 1-0 victory over Paraguay in the stifling heat of Frankfurt, going into the lead with an own goal early on and then defended pretty comfortably until the end. Despite all the hysteria in England since it was a professional display, the vital three points and command of the group secured. The sight of Wayne Rooney on the bench via the giant screens and subsequent roar from the England fans present was a clear indication of how and when England might get a bit better to watch.
Later in Dortmund Trinidad and Tobago secured the best result in their history, earning a nil-nil draw with ten men for the entire second half against a Sweden team that managed to look even more pedestrian than England. The star man was stand-in goalkeeper Shaka Hislop, a last minute replacement for the injured Kelvin Jack, who pulled off two outstanding saves. Sweden versus Paraguay on Thursday night is now a massive game.
Like England, Portugal and Holland did the bare minimum and won their opening games by a single goal early in the first half. Portugal looked like they would hammer Angola initially but were particularly wasteful with a number of chances. In the 2pm kick-off that Sunday the Dutch laboured past Serbia and Montenegro in the heat with a fine goal from Arjen Robben. I was disappointed with their opponents, not only with their complete inability to muster any clear cut chances but also because I have them in my work sweepstake. I’ve already thrown my ticket in the bin.
Sandwiched between these encounters was the Group D meeting between Mexico and Iran, which produced the best individual performance of the tournament so far from Rafael Marquez. The recent Champions League winner was a class above anyone on the pitch and conducted the Mexican attack by popping up in a variety of unusual positions – the left, the right, surging late into the penalty area, a real throwback performance to the days of the classic libero.
For team performances, the benchmark was set early by Argentina on Saturday night. Up against an Ivory Coast side that would probably qualify from any other group, Riquelme and friends put on quite a show in Hamburg, particularly for the Saviola goal that put them into a 2-0 lead. Drogba was exceptional in leading the fight back for the Ivory Coast and their game against the Netherlands early Friday evening is a mouth-watering prospect, particularly as they are now playing to stay in the tournament.
A match also high in entertainment value was Italy against a useful Ghana team. An unusually open Azzurri put the recent domestic scandals behind them to pounce on two defensive lapses by their opponents to take a comfortable victory. Luca Toni was impressive in attack, Iaquinta a more than capable back-up and they haven’t even used Inzaghi yet. Many more tackles on Totti like the one that put him out of the game could rob them of their spark from midfield however.
Equally impressive in Gelsenkirchen were the Czech Republic in dismantling the USA. According to FIFA this pitted the second best team in the world in the Czechs (they aren’t, but you could make a case) against the fifth best in the Americans (ha ha ha etc). Any hopes of some even-handed battle for the football universe were quickly dispelled as the Czechs wiped the floor with them. Three cracking goals, one for Jan Koller and two from Tomas Rosicky, secured the victory although a hamstring injury to Koller has cast his future participation into doubt. What has been tipped to be a tough group thus far looks like being anything but for Italy and the Czechs, who could meet in an avoid-Brazil-at-all-costs playoff a week on Thursday.
This of course is dependent on Brazil winning the group, and I think their collective eyes will have lit up on sight of the defending in the Australia and Japan game. Paul will no doubt cover that in far greater depth than I and I’m sure he’ll be encouraged by the late flurry of goals that secured three points for his team. Brazil get going tonight against Croatia and their experienced side (an astonishing average of 72 caps per man for their first eleven) look set to walk through Group F although having played only FC Lucerne and New Zealand as a warm-up will need harder contests to get them on their game before the knockout rounds.
France and Spain also start their campaigns today and tomorrow respectively, and the Spain match also sees the World Cup debut of Andriy Shevchencko with the Ukraine. With only one draw in eleven games so far and twenty-seven goals scored it has been a good start, with Argentina against the Ivory Coast the pick of the games so far, and Tomas Rosicky’s first strike the best goal yet. In contrast to 2002 all of the major favourites have won their opening games. Slowly but surely the 2006 World Cup is beginning to take shape.
If I have but one gripe it is the consistent failure of referee’s to book players for diving. The mechanism is there to stamp this out, yet instead they wave them up and flash that ‘you can’t fool me sunshine’ grin as employed by the most overrated referee in history, Pierluigi Collina. So it looks like unpunished diving may be here to stay for 2006, but it was heartening to see Markus Merk book Dejan Stankovic in the Netherlands-Serbia and Montenegro game for waving an imaginary card to try and get a fellow professional cautioned. Who knew that dentists had a sense of humour?
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