Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

FIFA: Groups A and B Review

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 22, 2010
Raymond Domenech

Raymond Domenech saw his France team go out of the tournament with a 2-1 defeat to host nation South Africa

GROUP A: URUGUAY 3 /7; MEXICO 3/4; SOUTH AFRICA 3/4; FRANCE 3/1

Unfortunately for South Africa they made history by becoming the first host nation not to make it to the knockout stage of a FIFA World Cup but they did restore some pride by chalking up their first win of the tournament against a French side whose internal strife under coach Raymond Domenech has been well documented. Bongani Khumalo and Katlego Mphela were the men who did the damage for Bafana Bafana in Bloemfontein giving the hosts a 2-0 lead at the break. Florent Malouda pulled one back for Les Bleus with twenty minutes of the game remaining but the celebrations were gradually beginning in Rustenburg where Uruguay won by a Luis Suárez goal in the first half and the Mexicans, despite defeat, knew that the South Africans hadn’t done enough to overturn the goal difference in their favour. Uruguayan coach Oscar Washington Tabárez will be relieved that his team have avoided one of the tournament favourites, Argentina, in the next round and may now fancy their chances of springing an upset later in the competition. Mexico, however, will have painful memories of the most recent FIFA World Cup in Germany where they were knocked out of the competition by Argentina, the team who they now face in this year’s Round of Sixteen.

Diego Maradona

Unlike his French counterpart, Diego Maradona saw his Argentina team win all three group matches

GROUP B: ARGENTINA 3 Games/9 Points; SOUTH KOREA 3/4; GREECE 3/3; NIGERIA 3/1

With all due respect to lovers of Greek football it is one of the great reliefs of the tournament that Otto Rehhagel’s Greece team is out of the tournament after playing some of the most negative football I can remember seeing in a FIFA World Cup tournament. They kept Argentina at bay for 77 minutes but the deadlock was finally broken when Martin Demichelis scored the opening goal from a corner kick to cue customary manic celebration on the touchline from El Diego. Veteran striker and substitute Martín Palermo sealed the game for the Albiceleste in stoppage time turning in a rebound from a Messi shot and Argentina deservedly go through to face Mexico in Johannesburg. Sadly for African football Nigeria were unable to become the first side from the continent to reach the next stage after managing a 2-2 draw against South Korea. After taking the lead early on through Kalu Uche Nigeria surrendered the lead early in the second half after the Asian side had turned it around with goals from Lee Jung-Soo and Park Chu-Young. Ayegbeni Yakubu did dispatch a 69th minute penalty kick to give Nigeria hope but they were unable to break Korean resistance any further and it was South Korea who reached the last 16 with a tie against Group A winners Uruguay, who they will meet in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, June 26th.

FIFA: Argentina win again; Greece get first victory; France stumble to defeat

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 17, 2010
Gonzalo Higuaín

Gonzalo Higuaín scored a hat-trick for Argentina in their 4-1 win over South Korea

Having lamented the lack of real action in the opening week of the FIFA World Cup, with only Germany being spared from any criticism due to their fantastic 4-0 triumph over Australia, the tournament now seems to have opened up and the goals have been flying in over the last two days of action. Many pundits have suggested, quite justifiably, that every team in the competition was frightened to lose in their opening matches and, therefore, placed an emphasis on defence with no real inclination to attack. But now that every team has played their opening game it is evident amongst those teams that have played their second matches already that there is an instinct to attack that wasn’t there before. Suddenly the action is better and the games have become more of a spectacle. Today’s action is a case in point.

The Group B table saw Argentina top after the first round of matches and it remains the case after the second round as the Albiceleste saw off a spirited South Korea side by four goals to one with the brilliant and, in my humble opinion, under-rated striker Gonzalo Higuaín scoring the first hat-trick of the tournament. Argentina, though, did have to rely on a bit of luck to take the lead after a 16th minute free-kick from the left by Lionel Messi was inadvertently turned into his own net by Park Chu-Young from six yards out. The second goal for Argentina began in the same area of the pich with a cross from Maxi Rodríguez flicked on by Nicolas Burdisso, an early substitute for Walter Samuel who went off with a hamstring injury, and Higuaín was able to direct the ball goalwards at the far post to double the lead. At this point the Argentines were coasting the match but were given a wake-up call from South Korea when Lee Chung-Yung dispossessed Martín Demichelis on the edge of Argentina’s penalty area and tucked it past Sergio Romero to pull one back on the stroke of half-time.

The second half would belong to one man and that man was Gonzalo Higuaín. His second goal was a true poacher’s effort with Messi and Sergio Agüero combining well with the former’s shot hitting the keeper and a post before crawling along the line where a grateful Higuaín tapped it home to make it 3-1 with thirteen minutes to go. Three minutes later and he’d got his hat-trick thanks once again to some fantastic work between Messi and Agüero. Messi fed Agüero with a lofted ball into the box, with Agüero supplying a beautifully weighted cross over to Higuaín at the far post and his header sealed what was a well-deserved scoreline for a team who have seemingly found their rhythm in this tournament now.

In the other Group B game Greece, who had started the tournament so appallingly in their opening game against South Korea, looked to be heading in the same direction after just sixteen minutes when Kalu Uche’s long distance free-kick somehow avoided everybody in the box and deceived Greek keeper Alexandros Tzorvas into diving the wrong way. But the Greeks finally got that bit of luck when Nigeria’s Sani Kaita was shown a red card in the 33rd minute for kicking out at Vasilis Torosidis after a needless scuffle on the touchline. This provided the perfect platform for the 2004 European champions to get back into the game and, with just seconds of the first half remaining, they did just that. Even then Greece, who hadn’t scored a single goal in World Cup finals football before today, finally broke their duck thanks to a cruel deflection, Dimitris Salpingidis’ shot came off Lukman Haruna and sent the keeper the wrong way to make the score 1-1 going into the break. From the second half the Greeks took the game to the Super Eagles who had decided to try and hold on to what they had. But constant Greek pressure soon paid off in the 71st minute when Torosidis, the man at the centre of the red card furore earlier in the game, saw Alexandros Tziolis’ shot from the edge of the box parried by Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama and it was Torosidis who put the rebound in from just inside the six yard box to give his country its first ever victory in the FIFA World Cup after they lost all of their previous four games from the 1994 and 2010 tournaments. In the final Group B matches, to be played on Tuesday June 22nd at 20:30 local time, Argentina meet Greece whilst South Korea face off against Nigeria.

Javier Hernández

Javier Hernández gave Mexico the lead in their 2-0 win over France

Group A had already seen the host nation South Africa crumble to an efficient Uruguay side on Wednesday night, Diego Forlán’s contribution of two goals and an assist for Álvaro Pereira saw the two-time winners victorious to the tune of three goals to nil to silence the vuvuzelas in the crowd. Thursday saw the second game in the group for France and Mexico, both of whom drew their opening matches in the tournament, therefore a win was absolutely imperative for both teams to stake a serious claim of further progress in the competition. Despite the lack of goals in the first half the Mexicans gave a good account of themselves and were clearly the hungrier of the two teams. The French, personified by their expected star of the tournament Franck Ribéry, were lacklustre, devoid of ideas and barely threatened their opponents all night. The second half saw Mexico break the deadlock on 64 minutes when Javier Hernández, who came on as a substitute just ten minutes earlier, beat the offside trap and had all the time in the world to take the ball past a helpless Hugo Lloris and into the French net. The game was won fifteen minutes later when another second half substitute Cuauhtémoc Blanco dispatched a penalty kick which had been won when Patrice Evra brought down Pablo Barrera in the box. The celebrations started in the stadium and the result seriously hinders French chances of qualification to the next round. In the final Group A games, to be played on Tuesday, June 22nd at 16:00 local time, group leaders Uruguay and Mexico meet each other in Rustenburg, with both teams knowing that a draw will be enough to take them both through, while South Africa plays against France in Bloemfontein in what will almost certainly be their last match in their home tournament.

FIFA: Wins for South Korea and Argentina while England stumble to draw

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 12, 2010
Lee Jung-Soo

Lee Jung-Soo scored South Korea's opening goal in their 2-0 victory over Greece

Saturday saw six more teams get their FIFA Wold Cup campaign underway with Groups B & C taking centre stage. The first match of the day is an early contender for the Stoppage Time Most Boring Game Of The Tournament award as South Korea and Greece provided an utterly underwhelming exhibition – a term I use very loosely – of football which could’ve put an insomniac asleep. The only moments to behold in an otherwise forgettable affair were Lee Jung-Soo’s seventh minute opening goal and Park Ji-Sung’s goal which doubled the lead for the Koreans in the 52nd minute. The defending from Greece for the first goal was poor with an entire back four standing still while Lee turned the ball home at the far post whilst unmarked. Another defensive slip allowed the Koreans to double the lead with Loukas Vyntra giving away possession to Manchester United star Park who bust a gut to get into the box before sliding the ball home past a helpless Alexandros Tzorvas.

The unforgivable crime from the Greek side, even worse than their defending, was their inability to raise themselves for the occasion in a game they were, on paper at least, most likely to obtain any points from. They seldom looked like any kind of threat up front and it is no surprise that their unenviable record of having never scored a goal in FIFA World Cup finals to date still stands true after this match. After the Greeks scored no goals in three matches in the 1994 tournament I wouldn’t be surprised to see them replicate that statistic this time around. Credit, though, must go to the South Koreans who didn’t need to be at their best to obtain three points from this most dire of football matches.

The irony is that, despite the sorry football on show in the first game, there were more goals to be seen between South Korea and Greece than there were in the following Group B encounter involving Argentina and Nigeria which was a much more entertaining game. The game was decided by an early Gabriel Heinze header with the Argentine centre-half completely unmarked twelve yards out to head home a Juan Sebastián Verón corner in the sixth minute. Their opponents Nigeria were finding it difficult to get going in the first half with the Argentines having much more possession but unable to find the second goal with it. Lionel Messi had at least four great chances in the match to get on the scoresheet and, as the game went on, the Nigerians were finally encouraged to go further forward by otherwise defence-minded coach Lars Lagerbäck, therefore allowing for a much more open game as it entered the final twenty minutes. Taye Taiwo had Nigeria’s best chance in the 71st minute when his toe-poked effort from the edge of the box shaded past the post and Obafemi Martins’ long-range effort seven minutes brought a decent stop from Sergia Romero. Diego Maradona was restless on the touchline but was able to celebrate the victory after the final whistle and provide a much-needed three points to start the tournament for La Albiceleste.

Steven Gerrard

England captain Steven Gerrard scored after just four minutes in their 1-1 draw against the United States

The final game on the second day of the competition was in Rustenburg where Group C got under way with an intriging clash between England and the United States. It was a confident USA team who got the game under way but they were made to pay for some slack defending after just four minutes when Steven Gerrard, replacing the injured Rio Ferdinand as England captain, ran into some clear space in the penalty box and was put through by Emile Heskey to give the Three Lions an early lead. England looked comfortable early on but the Americans gradually grew into the game with Jozy Altidore having their first real chance  after twenty minutes and then the USA had the most possession for the rest of the half. Just when it looked like England would go in at the break holding on to a slender lead it suddenly disappeared when goalkeeper Robert Green failed to hold on to Clint Dempsey’s speculative drive in the 40th minute to restore parity for the Americans and this was how it remained going into the interval.

The second half saw no real improvement from England and there were times when the United States looked the better side. They certainly had the best chance of the second half when Jozy Altidore got the better of England substitute Jamie Carragher and his low shot was turned against the post by Robert Green, who made up for his first half blunder at that moment. The expected stars of the match, England’s Wayne Rooney and USA’s Landon Donovan, didn’t really live up to star billing although the former did become more prominent in the last fifteen minutes of the game winning a number of free-kicks whilst the latter had a couple of shots from distance but didn’t really trouble the England keeper. The Man of the Match, in my opinion, was Emile Heskey whose tireless devotion to the cause made some of his critics, including yours truly, eat their words. As well as setting up the goal he was hard-working, won many aerial challenges and was a menace both in and around the USA penalty box until replaced by Peter Crouch in the 79th minute. Next up for England is Algeria in Cape Town on Friday, June 18th whilst the USA face Slovenia in Jo’Burg on the same date.