Mike Gibbons

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 this event.

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Three Advance, Three Depart

    So itís goodbye to Costa Rica, Poland and Paraguay. Their World Cup is over inside a week, and they can join the rest of us in watching from a distance. A shame for the Costa Rican team, they at least provided us with something to remember after running Germany so close in the opening game. For the Poles and the Paraguayans, they have been undone by their lack of ambition. If you lose your opening game it becomes imperative that you try to win your second, but in playing for a point and leaving it to chance they got the rewards that their negative attitudes deserved. Late goals from Oliver Neuville for Germany and Freddie Ljundberg for Sweden ended their interest in the tournament, and they will be packing their bags after the formality of the final group games which are now rendered irrelevant. They will not be missed.

    Neuvilleís goal moved Germany into the second round, and the hosts do seem to be gathering some momentum after two wins and two displays of open, attacking football. It was a far cry from their meeting with Poland in the last World Cup to be held in Germany all the way back in 1974, the de facto semi-final played in a downpour in Frankfurt. Back then the likes of Beckenbauer, Muller, Lato and Deyna were on the pitch. No such star names this time round, and although Ballack played well in his first game of the tournament the home team seem to lack the quality required to still be in the tournament in July. Miroslav Klose missed a plethora of chances that could have won him the golden boot in one night, particularly with his head which is unusual given that he couldnít stop scoring with it in 2002. The right side of Friedrich and Schneider has been pretty woeful thus far, and the lack of pace of the centre-halves is a worry, particularly with Torsten Frings not providing a very effective shield in front of them. I do enjoy the gallant manner in which they pile forward, which is very refreshing from a German side, but itís not difficult to imagine some of the better teams present picking them off with ease.

    In Group B England confirmed their place in the second round after labouring to a 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago with late goals from Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard. Despite winning when not playing well being the mark of a good team, there are several areas England need to address if they are to have a realistic chance of success. Rooney came on to general euphoria as a substitute but is clearly not match fit, and neither is the man he replaced, Michael Owen. At the moment the battle plan seems to be to hit long diagonal balls to the game but limited Peter Crouch, bypassing the midfield where England are so strong.

    Even there lies a problem; the Gerrard/Lampard axis clearly does not work and one of them may have to go, possibly Lampard after a second wasteful display in five days. Michael Carrick could be the one to come in as the holding midfielder, an area that could be the key to any team winning the World Cup. The likes of Wesley Schneider (interchanging with Cocu and Van Bommel) of the Netherlands and Javier Maschareno of Argentina have shown us so far that in hovering in front of the defence, reclaiming possession and then distributing simple but effective passes everything else will click into place. Itís hardly a new trend Ė think back to the likes of a Deschamps or a Dunga. Certainly it should be food for thought for Mr Eriksson.

    But the final word is on Ecuador. Interest in anything South American at the World Cup is usually limited to Argentina and Brazil, with a combined seven titles between them. Even Uruguay these days are forgotten, despite winning the first two tournaments they played in and being unbeaten world champions for 24 years before succumbing to the great Hungarian team in an epic semi-final in 1954.

    And yet the continent has provided so much more. Chile finished third when they hosted the tournament in 1962. Colombia qualified for three World Cups in the nineties, and very entertaining they were too, although the tragedy of Andres Escobar washes away most of their good memories. Peru were fantastic in reaching the quarter-finals in 1970, playing in the aftermath of a horrendous earthquake in their homeland, and again in 1978 although they did disgrace themselves with their pitiful collapse that allowed Argentina into the final. Paraguay may be out of this tournament but have always been competitive, reaching the second round in 1986, 1998 and 2002. The less said about Boliviaís showing in 1994 the better, as they have a good claim on the unwelcome title of Worst Ever Game At The World Cup with their dishwater dull goalless draw with South Korea.

    And now, writing their own chapter in World Cup history, we have Ecuador. Not much was expected of them prior to the tournament, having barely left their own continent to play football in their short 68 year international history. They did not even play in Europe until 2002, so the theory went around that away from the safe climes of Quito they would fold and go home early. How wrong can you be? With two wins under their belt, qualification secured and also control of Group A over the host nation, Ecuador are the surprise of the tournament so far. With only five of their squad playing outside of Ecuador, what, if anything, does the wider world know about them? They looked capable enough four years ago when losing narrowly to Mexico and beating Croatia, but the unknown quantity factor clearly works in their favour.

    Whether they can sustain it beyond the group stages is another matter. For now they can bask in their glory, and in a World Cup that seems increasingly likely to be dominated by European teams plus Brazil and Argentina in the later stages, so should we.



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