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
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Something For The Weekend
The omens are all around for Germany. Having already beaten Poland 1-0 this year, the mirror of the result they had when they last hosted the tournament as West Germany in 1974, the Germans moved confidently into the second round. Their opponents will be Sweden, whom West Germany beat in one of their second round games in 1974 in a 4-2, rain-sodden epic in Düsseldorf. Another omen, and another good one.
As we enter the knockout stages teams are beginning to cast one eye towards winning the tournament. The fixtures for this weekend are already decided, starting in Munich on Saturday afternoon with Germany against Sweden. Pivotal to the host’s chances will be the form of Miroslav Klose. He may have dreamt one day of having his name linked with Roberto Baggio, Eusebio, Jairzinho, Paolo Rossi, Vava, Christian Vieri and legends from his own country in Uwe Seeler and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. In scoring his ninth World Cup goal on Tuesday Klose equalled the achievements of the men listed above. Only eleven men in history have now scored more World Cup goals than him, and included in that pantheon are men who have brought the World Cup home for Germany – Helmut Rahn with ten, his current coach Jurgen Klinsmann with eleven and the all-time top scorer Gerd Muller with fourteen.
Dotted in and around those three are strikers of the calibre of Just Fontaine, Teofillo Cubillas and Sandor Kocsics. This is quite exalted company he is mixing with, but there is one key difference. Whilst the players surrounding him have all scored crucial goals in the knockout stages, all of Miroslav Klose’s goals so far have been confined to the group matches. In 2002 he scored five headers in the group stages but fired four blanks thereafter. This, ultimately, will decide Klose’s legacy. Anyone scoring as many World Cup goals as he has will be remembered, but how fondly?
Finding the net against Sweden would certainly bolster his CV. He is out in front in the race for the golden boot, one ahead of his nearest rival Fernando Torres, having missed enough chances against his native Poland to have won it already. You wonder if anyone can catch him, as goals will inevitably get harder to come by as the playing field levels and games get tighter from now on. It certainly looks unlikely to be the present Golden Boot holder Ronaldo, who is so out of shape he may very soon be dropped, hopefully not from too great a height though as he may devastate the surrounding area.
Whether the Swedes can stop the progress of Germany is hard to tell. The hosts are on a high after three straight wins and eight goals scored, whereas Sweden have looked plodding and cumbersome so far. Ibrahimovic should be back and Sweden have nothing to lose, yet I think the momentum of the hosts will be enough to get them through, especially if they can defend set-pieces better than England did.
On Saturday evening in Leipzig Group C winners Argentina take on Mexico, and the eyes of Riquelme and company must have lit up at the calamitous defending that characterised the Mexicans in their match with Portugal. Later that night Argentina played a curious game of cat and mouse with Holland, neither team seizing or risking the initiative and Pekerman clearly happy to top the group with bare minimum outlay of effort against the Dutch. Not many teams could afford the luxury of resting Sorin, Crespo and Saviola, nor be able to replace their front-line with the devastating potential of Messi and Tevez. After this brief stroll expect them to be back to full speed on Saturday.
Rafael Marquez, one of the players of the tournament so far, will need to be at his very best for this game. His willingness to pop up in all parts of the field to help the attack is admirable, but against a team as ruthless in the counter-attack as Argentina he may be best advised to tread more cautiously.
Sunday kicks-off with England against Ecuador in Stuttgart. Now without Michael Owen, whose cruciate ligament injury could see him out for some time, England must restructure their attack around the 80% fit Wayne Rooney. This could see Steven Gerrard pushed further forward which would mean another game in the holding role for Owen Hargreaves, as the penny finally drops on the importance of having that type of player in that position. Hargreaves had an excellent game against Sweden, thoroughly deserving the plaudits he received later and after being ridiculously criticised by sections of the fans and media who couldn’t even spell Bundesliga, let alone go out of their way to watch any of his performances in it.
And the opposition? What most people in England know about Ecuador could be written on the back of a stamp. It’s named after the equator. It’s a rubbish song by a rubbish dance act called Sash. They play their home games at altitude in Quito. We beat them 2-0 in a warm-up to Mexico 1970.
And that irrelevant information is as full as our file on them gets. One of the more insular teams at the tournament, most of their squad play in Ecuador and there is a dangerous level of arrogant assumption going around that England merely have to turn up at the Gottleib-Daimlar Stadion to win. I certainly won’t take a team that has qualified from South America for two World Cups in a row lightly, especially when they then go and qualify for the second stage. They may have caved in to Germany on Tuesday but they were already through having beaten Poland and Costa Rica, and any Englishman who snorts at that in derision should consider for a moment how England performed against Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago and that second half against Sweden. Doesn’t seem so easy now does it?
The other game in this half of the draw will be contested between Holland and Portugal in Nuremburg. Two of the most quietly impressive teams to date, it seems impossible to pick a winner from this match. A repeat of the Euro 2004 semi-final that Portugal won 2-1, the Dutch team has changed dramatically since then whereas Portugal have many of the same faces. In guiding his team to victory over Mexico Scolari’s coaching record at the World Cup now reads played:10 won:10, which is some going.
Both teams play a variant of a 4-3-3, so there are fears that they may simply cancel each other out. We should hope for a great game though, and having the Dutch in there definitely gives you an odds on chance. They played the best game of USA 94 versus Brazil and an epic in Marseille with Argentina in France 98; in Euro 2000 their game with France was superb and their Euro 2004 encounter with the Czech Republic a stonewall classic. They did not qualify for the last World Cup of course, and can anyone remember a truly gripping game from that tournament?
The winners of Saturday’s fixtures will travel to Berlin to face one another in the quarterfinals next Friday, with Sunday’s winners squaring off in Gelsenkirchen a week on Saturday. By then July 9th will be on the horizon, and the pressure will be up by several notches. ‘The result is the main thing’ has been the mantra of many teams so far. As of Saturday it applies to everyone.
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