South Korea v Greece:
The Greeks seemingly have been boning up on World Cup history and appear to be adopting some of the more fragile psyches of other countries past performances. In what was a bewildering performance for both the players and their fans where they were truly played off the pitch by South Korea, the Greeks quickly dropped in a sterling mimic of the Dutch as they quickly turned on each other when things started going wrong. Looks of disgust, gesticulations and bellowing at each other. All hallmarks of the famous Oranj in-fighting with the one difference being that Holland still generally managed to pull a result out at the end of the day.
Not Greece though. In a game they were really expecting and needing to win, they didn’t stop with an impersonation of the Dutch. No, they went deep, with the 2-0 loss, to channel the spirit of “Scotland the Underperformer” as demonstrated at the 1978, 1982, 1986 and 1990 World Cups. Looks bleak for the Greeks but South Korea have put Nigeria and Argentina on notice.
Nigeria v Argentina
It really should have been game over in the first ten minutes. Higuain fluffed a sitter and Messi stung Enyeama’s hands a couple of times but as is often the case Nigeria gained strength from weathering the storm, even though they conceded a poor goal off a corner to Heinze. It’s hard to understand how, at this level, we can see goals like Mexico’s against South Africa (last defender not pushing up; keeps three players onside) and Heinze’s header off a corner. Granted, Samuel had a Nigerian defender in a full bear hug to stop him rushing out to Heinze but to be able to glide in behind his marker from the top of the box and get such an open header off a corner is shocking.
England v USA
I managed to get through coaching a game, running a tryout and attending a team meeting/dinner for my daughter’s team without hearing the score before I got a chance to get home and watch this one. All I’d been told, by more than one person, was that it was a really good game. Subsequent media reports have said much the same. One called the game ‘pulsating’. Sorry but I just didn’t see it that way. It looked like the standard first game that most teams endure: tentative, tight and sloppy with team failing to establish their intentions and play to their strengths. Lampard and Rooney were just not on, Lampard especially. I was ready to cut Heskey some slack (not a fan) for his very smartly gauged ball to Gerard for the opening goal but he slipped back into inconsequence the rest of the game. Did anyone really think he’s score when he was cleanly put through on Howard? As for Robert Green why beat a dead horse. The bigger question in that regard is that Capello really opened the door for questions about his team selection for perhaps the first time. I had Green pegged as third choice. I did like the choice of Milner in midfield given that he was always going to start Lampard and Gerrard in a 4-4-2 and Milner’s the closest he has at the moment to a midfielder who will take responsibility for defensive tasks.
For the States, Onyewu was massive. Great, decisive tackles. Dominant in the air and always cool under pressure. For someone who missed almost all of last season to injury, to step in and put that performance in against England was huge. Howard was given Man of the Match but for me it was Onyewu.
Emerging trend: Assistant referees seem to have been empowered to call more fouls. Some are getting it right as it seems it was the AR who caught the Serbian hand ball in the box. Another caught a shove on Crouch in the England v USA game which the broadcasters thought was a bad offside call. Watching the Slovenia v Algeria game though, an over-zealous AR called for a foul on Algeria for something that happened two steps away from him and replays show it clearly wasn’t an infraction.