Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Euro 2012 Preview – Group C

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 4, 2012

Euro 2012 logoIn the third installment of our Euro 2012 build-up, Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews Group C which contains the defending European champions Spain as well as Italy, Croatia and the Republic of Ireland.

GROUP C

CROATIA: Best Performance = Runner Up 1960, 1968 (as Yugoslavia); Quarter-Finals 1996, 2008 (as Croatia)

Following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in 1991 the Croatian national team has performed by far the best out of the newly created independent states. As part of the former Yugoslavia, Croats played a part in the Yugoslavia teams who finished runner up on two occasions in the 1960s. Since independence Croatia has only failed to qualify for a major tournament on two out of nine occasions showing that the national team is still one for many teams to fear. In Group F of Euro 2012 qualifying the Croats finished two behind Greece in the standings before a convincing 3-0 aggregate win over Turkey in the play-offs gained them their place in the finals. Croatia’s main focus in the tournament will be Luka Modrić who has been in fine form for his club Tottenham Hotspur and whose distributive and creative qualities will be needed for attacking players such as Ivica Olić and Nikica Jelavić the opportunities to flourish.

COACH: Slaven Bilić

FIFA WORLD RANKING = 8

ITALY: Best Performance = Winners 1968

Even hard core fans of the Azzurri would begrudgingly admit that this is far from the most vintage Italian team that has ever graced an international tournament. For a nation which has been world champions on four occasions it is surprising that Italy has only one European Championship title to its name and not many would expect a second title to be winging its way into the trophy cabinet this time around. Despite the pessimism the Italians still have plenty of individual quality and it would be a fool who would completely write off their chances of performing well in this tournament. Italy qualified from qualifying Group C with an unbeaten record of eight wins and two draws and with experienced players such as Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo still playing an active role in the side anything is still possible if the team gets its tactics right during the tournament.

COACH: Cesare Prandelli

FIFA WORLD RANKING = 12

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Best Performance = Group Stage 1988

They may be underdogs but the Irish wouldn’t have it any other way. Playing in only their second European Championship finals, the other being when Jack Charlton took them to West Germany in 1988, the Republic of Ireland will be something of an unknown quantity for their group opponents and, thus, they might be able to spring a surprise. Under the guidance of Italian legend Giovanni Trapattoni, the Republic of Ireland finished second behind Russia in qualifying Group B before sweeping aside Estonia 5-1 on aggregate in the play-offs. The Republic’s record goal scorer Robbie Keane will be spearheading the attack and if the likes of Damian Duff and Aiden McGeady can provide him with quality service from the flanks then there’s no reason why the Irish cannot upset some of the favourites.

COACH: Giovanni Trapattoni

FIFA WORLD RANKING = 18

SPAIN: Best Performance = Winners 2008

Victorious over Germany four years ago in this competition, the Spanish national team created history when winning the FIFA World Cup in 2010 to become only the third nation, along with Germany and France, to hold both the world and European titles simultaneously. Many superlatives have been used over the last few years to describe the current crop of talent at Spain’s disposal and they will be hoping to make further history by becoming the first country to win three consecutive major tournaments. The qualifying campaign was a breeze for Spain who finished with a 100% record in Group I and finished eleven points ahead of nearest challengers Czech Republic. Despite the absence of top scorer David Villa there are plenty of names who could win a game at any time for Spain. Names such as Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Silva have been there and done that but there are also the likes of Álvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente who are hungry and keen to show what they can do at the highest level.

COACH: Vicente del Bosque

FIFA WORLD RANKING = 1

GROUP C FIXTURES

10/06/12 Spain v Italy

10/06/12 Croatia v Rep. of Ireland

14/06/12 Italy v Croatia

14/06/12 Spain v Rep. of Ireland

18/06/12 Croatia v Spain

18/06/12 Italy v Rep. of Ireland

Italy: Juventus big winners on Serie A’s opening weekend

Posted in European Football by peterbein on September 12, 2011

Scudetto badgeIt was an eventful start to the new Serie A season in Italy with champions AC Milan coming from behind to gain a useful point at home to Lazio whilst local rivals Internazionale were defeated in an amazing game by four goals to three away at Palermo. Juventus were the big winners of the weekend when putting AC Parma to the sword by four goals to one in the first official league match played at their new Juventus Arena stadium.

The San Siro saw the first action of the new season on Friday night with new signings Miroslav Klose and Djibril Cissé getting on the score sheet in the first twenty minutes for visiting Lazio. However this spurred the home side into action and it was Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Antonio Cassano who the Rossoneri had to thank for giving them a point with the match eventually finishing in a 2-2 draw. Sunday saw Juventus easily defeat AC Parma with Stephan Lichtsteiner, Simone Pepe, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio each scoring for the Old Lady in a 4-1 win with Sebastian Giovinco reducing the arrears from the penalty spot for Parma in stoppage time. An amazing game in Palermo saw the hosts defeat Internazionale 4-3 in a topsy-turvy match. Diego Milito gave Inter the lead twice before being pulled back each time by Fabrizio Miccoli and Abel Hernandez. Palermo then took the lead for the first time as late as the 86th minute with Mauricio Panilla scored twice in three minutes to play his part in setting up a famous win for the Sicilians but Inter did pull one back in the dying moments with new signing Diego Forlan maing it 4-3 in stoppage time.

There were also opening day wins for Cagliari Calcio (2-1 away at AS Roma), Fiorentina (2-0 v Bologna) and Udinese (2-0 v Lecce) whilst six other teams – Catania, Siena, Chievo, Novara, Genoa and Atalanta – began their season by gaining a point in hard-fought draws.

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Italy: Another classic penalty shoot out moment (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on June 9, 2011

Following a recent video in which a penalty kick in a Moroccan Cup match was “saved” only to eventually find its way into the net after the goalkeeper had turned his back on the ball too early comes another incident in the same mould. This time it is an Italian seventh division play-off game involving Termeno and Dro who are both involved in a penalty shoot out and who need to win in order to gain promotion next season. Termeno’s Michael Palma hits the crossbar from his attempt, Termeno’s fourth in the shoot out, and he collapses on the floor in disappointment whilst the Dro goalkeeper Loris Angeli celebrates, running way outside of his goal in the process and neglecting to see just exactly where the ball ends up. Following a dramatic change of course after hitting the ground, the ball finds its way into the net leaving Dro needing to score their next penalty to keep their promotion chances alive……they missed!

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Italy: Milan increase lead at top thanks to Strasser

Posted in European Football by peterbein on January 6, 2011
Rodney Strasser

Rodney Strasser's goal proved the difference for Milan against Cagliari

Little known Rodney Strasser scored the decisive goal just six minutes from the end as AC Milan finally got the better of hosts Cagliari in the latest round of Serie A matches. Earlier in the day Juventus were thumped at home by AC Parma whilst Lazio could only draw away at Genoa. Champions Internazionale had an easy 3-1 win against Napoli in the San Siro in the night game.

AC Milan had a three point lead going into the winter break and today saw the return to action in Italy’s Serie A with the Rossoneri hoping to gain three points away at lowly Cagliari. The game seemed to petering out into a goalless stalemate until a move involving Robinho and Antonio Cassano eventually ended with the latter’s through ball to 20 year old Sierra Leone international Strasser, played onside by Alessandro Agostini, who struck from around the penalty spot guiding it past Cagliari keeper Michael Agazzi to secure a much needed win which cements Milan’s position at the top.

Felipe Melo was sent off early on as Juventus suffered a heavy 4-1 defeat at home to AC Parma with Sebastian Giovinco bagging a brace for the Gialloblu with Hernan Crespo (penalty) and Raffaele Palladino scoring the others. Parma’s four goals were sandwiched by Juve’s lone riposte from Nicola Legrottaglie meaning that the home side missed the chance to temporarily go into second place whilst the visitors climbed up to 11th place on the back of a great result. It also proved a frustrating afternoon for SS Lazio who were unable to break the deadlock in their game against Genoa with both teams having to contend themselves with a point following a 0-0 draw.

It was a different story for Lazio’s city rivals AS Roma who managed to claim all three points in a tough encounter at home to Catania. On-loan striker Marco Borriello and Mirko Vučinić both grabbed two goals apiece as the Giallorossi eventually managed a 4-2 win having been behind at half-time. The win took AS Roma above Juventus into fourth place and last season’s runners-up now lie seven points behind the league leaders. Defending champions Internazionale FC won at home to SS Napoli by three goals to one with Thiago Motta scoring twice and Esteban Cambiasso getting the other one as the Nerazzurri got back to winning ways under new coach Leonardo, a surprise appointment following the sacking of previous coach Rafael Benitez.

At the other end of the table there was a battle between the bottom two teams which ended in a vital 1-0 win for AS Bari whose win took them to within a point of their opponents US Lecce but who still remain in last place. The two teams directly above the bottom two, Brescia and Cesena, also battled it out with the latter getting the three points away from home thanks to a 2-1 win. Luis Jiménez and Luca Ceccarelli scored the goals for Cesena who are in 17th place three points ahead of Brescia who remain in the relegation zone. Two of the bigger names in Italian football, Bologna and AC Fiorentina, find themselves in the bottom half of the standings and they fought out a 1-1 draw which was a result that did neither team much good. The two other matches in the league saw wins for Udinese and US Palermo who got the better of Chievo (2-0) and Sampdoria (3-0) respectively.

SERIE A – TOP SIX (Games/Points)

1. Milan 18/39

2. Lazio 18/34

3. Napoli 18/33

4. AS Roma 18/32

5. Juventus FC 18/31

6. US Palermo 18/30

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Super Cup: Barça and Inter secure the honours (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 21, 2010

The last two winners of the UEFA Champions League have secured the first silverware of their respective domestic seasons tonight. The second leg of the Spanish Super Cup was played in the Camp Nou as La Liga champions FC Barcelona tried to overturn a 3-1 first leg defeat at the hands of Copa del Rey winners Sevilla FC. At the same time in Milan defending Serie A champions Internazionale FC, fresh from their historic treble-winning season under former coach José Mourinho, played against last season’s league and cup runners-up AS Roma and the Nerazzurri were hoping to give The Special One’s replacement Rafael Benítez a winning start to life in Milan.

After playing a weakened side in the first leg seven days ago, Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola decided to bring back some of his established stars back into the fold in the hope that the Catalan giants could begin the 2010-11 season with the first piece of domestic silverware and, thus, put down a marker for the rest of the season. After the Andalucians of Sevilla CF had won the first game 3-1 at home Barça pulled a goal back early in the second leg after Sevilla’s Abdoulay Konko put through his own net after fourteen minutes. From then on the game would turn into the Lionel Messi show. After a disappointing FIFA World Cup campaign which saw his Argentina team get knocked out so convincingly by Germany, Messi would carry on where he left off in the Blaugrana shirt with two goals in the 25th and 44th minutes which would give Barcelona the lead on the night and on aggregate by half-time. The second half saw both chances for both sides and there was a possibility that Sevilla CF could get a late goal and make things nervous again for the home side. However it was Messi who would seal the deal by securing his hat-trick strike in stoppage time to give Barcelona a 4-0 win on the night, 5-3 on aggregate. The success saw Barcelona win their ninth Super Cup title, one ahead of eternal rivals Real Madrid CF.

WATCH SPANISH SUPER CUP 2ND LEG HIGHLIGHTS HERE:

New Internazionale coach Rafael Benítez began his tenure in the same fashion that his predecessor José Mourinho did by winning the Italian Super Cup against AS Roma in the San Siro stadium. Inter’s opponents stunned the home support when John Arne Riise gave the Giallorossi the lead on 21 minutes but ultimately it was the treble champions who would take charge in the fourth Super Cup match between these two teams in the last five years. Goran Pandev made it 1-1, capitalizing on some really poor AS Roma defending, with just three minutes of the first half remaining and then Samuel Eto’o would do the damage for the Nerazzurri in the second half by scoring two close-range efforts in the 70th and 80th minutes. The win secured Inter’s fifth Italian Super Cup title which draws them level with city rivals AC Milan at the top of the all-time list of wins in this tournament. It was also Internazionale’s fourth trophy in 2010 as they hope to emulate FC Barcelona by winning every available piece of silverware in the same calendar year. The fifth leg of a possible sextuple is the European Super Cup match in Monaco where they meet UEFA Europa League winners Atlético de Madrid on Friday, August 27th. Read Stoppage Time – International Football Blog this week for a full preview of this prestigious clash.

WATCH ITALIAN SUPER CUP HIGHLIGHTS HERE:

FIFA World Cup Review – Europe

Posted in European Football, International Football by peterbein on July 15, 2010
Spain World Cup champions

Spain finally managed to win the FIFA World Cup beating the Netherlands in extra-time

In the last of Stoppage Time’s continental reviews we look back at the varying fortunes of the thirteen European teams that competed in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

With the exceptions of Brazil and Argentina, most people’s predictions before the World Cup tended to centre on teams such as England, Germany or Italy but it was to be two nations that had never previously won the competition who were to reach the final. Spain, a very popular choice of team due to their 2008 UEFA European Championship success, would face off against two-time finalists Holland in a game which, as most finals do, tended to disappoint but did at least have the justice of seeing the right team win the game.

But more on the final later. In the group stages the biggest disappointments were unquestionably Italy, France and England. In the case of Italy and France it was difficult to believe that these two nations competed in the most recent World Cup final in 2006 such was the depths to which team had sank during this tournament. They both finished bottom in groups which, on paper, seemed amongst the kindest in terms of difficulty. England, on the other hand, did manage to make it through the group stage but even the most hardcore England fan knows that they were poor in their first two games, scraped past Slovenia in the final group match before going out to a classic Germany performance in the round of sixteen. Even arguments over Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal cannot escape the fact that the Germans were the better team.

After the group stage had been completed seven of the thirteen European nations had failed to qualify for the round of sixteen. As well as Italy and France, the countries who feel that they should’ve done better in the group stage were Denmark (third behind Holland and Japan), Switzerland (finished third after defeating Spain in their first group game), Serbia (who admittedly suffered some bad luck against Australia) and Slovenia (lost out when USA beat Algeria) whilst Greece would’ve been happy just to score a goal, let alone win a game, before the competition kicked off after their one and only previous appearance in 1994 saw them goalless and pointless. In the event they did finally score their first World Cup goal in their second match against Nigeria in which they also chalked up their first victory. Alas they lost to Argentina in their final game and failed to progress any further.

The round of sixteen saw England, Portugal and Slovakia say goodbye although in the case of Slovakia they did have many good chances to beat the Netherlands before suffering a 2-1 reverse at the hands of the Oranje. The quarter-finals saw previous talk about South American dominance turn to European dominance as Spain, Netherlands and Germany all made it through with victories over Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina respectively. The semi-finals saw Spain reassert their style of play over a Germany team who were perhaps weighed down with expectation after two earlier against England and Argentina. Despite the dominance of possession and territory for the Spanish it took until the 73rd minute for Carles Puyol to head home the only goal of the game to gift the Spain a place in their first ever FIFA World Cup whilst the Netherlands got the better of Uruguay with a 3-2 win securing their third World Cup final appearance.

So the only certainty about the FIFA World Cup final would be that it would create a first time champion. Many neutrals before the game saw it as a breath of fresh air that none of the previous winners had reached the final for, in theory, this should’ve provided the motivation for two hungry teams to go out and secure their place in the history books. Sadly the game as a spectacle failed to live up to expectations but that has happened on so many occasions. Much of the post-match reaction centred upon English referee Howard Webb who dished out a World Cup final record 14 yellow cards and one red card in a game which saw many tough challenges (how Nigel de Jong didn’t go for his lunge on Xabi Alonso is a mystery) and a controversial moment at the end where, just before Andrés Iniesta’s 116th minute winning goal, a Wesley Sneijder free-kick was deflected by a Spanish player and should’ve been a corner but Webb gave the goal kick for Spain instead. With this incident leading up to the goal the Dutch were understandably furious but even allowing for this incident the Spanish had the more positive approach and were deserved winners. Spain became the third nation in history to win the UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup double after West Germany (EC 1972, WC 1974) and France (WC 1998, EC 2000) and ensured that Europe overtakes South America in World Cup wins with a 10-9 lead.

FIFA: Groups E and F Review

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 25, 2010
Keisuke Honda

Keisuke Honda was amongst the goalscorers for Japan against Denmark

Figures given are as follows: Games Played/Points Scored

GROUP E: NETHERLANDS 3/9; JAPAN 3/6; DENMARK 3/3; CAMEROON 3/0

Whisper it quietly but if there’s a team who are creeping in under the radar to win the FIFA World Cup then that could be the Netherlands. They won all three group matches to finish with maximum points and look like they could be a prime contender to lift football’s greatest prize. Having enjoyed a bit of good fortune to take the lead in games against Denmark and Japan the Dutch were always in control in their final game against Cameroon and Bert Van Marwijk must now keep a lid on expectations and keep his players’ feet on the ground. Japan made history by qualifying beyond the group stage for the first time outside of their native land with the 1-0 defeat to Netherlands being their only reverse. Two fantastic free-kick goals in the third match against Denmark set-up them up for a famous win and they now get to look forward to a Round of 16 tie against Paraguay.

GROUP F: PARAGUAY 3/5; SLOVAKIA 3/4; NEW ZEALAND 3/3; ITALY 3/2

Well who would’ve thought it? The defending world champions not only going out of the competition but finishing below rank tournament outsiders New Zealand in the process. Not very much went right for Italy in their three group matches but the truth is that they were just not good enough. In any case credit should be given to Paraguay who topped the group with a win and two draws and they were joined by Slovakia who played their part in the game of the tournament so far when defeating Italy by three goals to two. Arguably the unluckiest team in the competition are the All Whites of New Zealand who were unbeaten in three games and still failed to progress to the next stage but Rikki Herbert’s men can be rightly proud of their performances in this tournament which gives them a platform to build on for future competition. Paraguay will play Japan in Pretoria on Tuesday whilst Slovakia’s reward is a tough tie with the Netherlands in Durban on Monday afternoon.

Vladimír Weiss

Vladimír Weiss led his Slovakia team to the knock-out stages after a 3-2 win over Italy.

FIFA: South Americans cruise to victory; Italy held by New Zealand

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 20, 2010
Shane Smeltz

Shane Smeltz gave New Zealand the lead in their 1-1 draw against world champions Italy

The FIFA World Cup doesn’t fail to surprise with New Zealand gaining another point in the competition at the expense of world champions Italy who are failing to find their form. This draw means that Paraguay are top of Group F having beaten Slovakia 2-0 earlier in the day. In the final match of the day Brazil ensured that a sense of normality remained at the tournament with a 3-1 victory over the Ivory Coast to remain top of Group G although the game was marred by a controversial red card shown to Kaká.

With one point already in the bank after a dramatic last-gasp equalizer in their opening match against Slovakia, New Zealand were hoping not to be on the receiving end of a heavy defeat to world champions Italy. The Azzurri had to play Federico Marchetti in goal in place of the injured Gianluigi Buffon but were otherwise unchanged from the team that scraped a 1-1 draw against Paraguay. Sadly for the Italians they would have to come from behind again as an early New Zealand free-kick found Shane Smeltz, the Australian A-League’s top scorer in the last two seasons, unmarked in the box although there was a heavy suspicion of offside about the goal. Alas, for Italy, the linesman kept his flag down and the All Whites were ahead but not for long. Ricardo Montolivo had already come close to scoring when his long-range effort hit a post before Daniele de Rossi, who scored the equalizer for Italy in their first game, was brought down in the box after Tommy Smith had pulled his shirt. Vincenzo Iaquinta was at hand to convert the penalty in the 28th minute and restore parity for Italy.

The second half would see a flurry of chances from Italy with New Zealand’s defence resisting wave after wave of attack from the defending World Cup holders. Perhaps the best chance of the second half, though, fell New Zealand’s way when substitute Chris Wood evaded the attention of Fabio Cannavaro and shot narrowly wide of the post with just three minutes remaining. Had that have gone in it would’ve set-up one of the great World Cup shocks but, nevertheless, the All Whites got what they deserved from this game even though they were under pressure for significant periods of the game.

Earlier in the afternoon a rather less exciting game was decided in favour of Paraguay who were relatively untroubled from a Slovakia side who didn’t have enough creativity to break down the solid defence from Gerardo Martino’s men. After a pretty dire opening twenty-five minutes of the game Enrique Vera scored the opening goal for Paraguay as he received a pass just inside the penalty box and shot with the outside of his right foot to give La Albirroja the lead. If anybody expected the Slovakians to wake up from their slumber after the goal then they were to be disappointed as the Eastern Europeans had no answer to Paraguay’s superior play. The only surprise was that it took until five minutes before time until Paraguay sealed the deal through a Cristian Riveros power driver from the edge of the box after an Aureliano Torres free-kick had eventually worked its way to him. With two games played in Group F it is Paraguay who lead the way with four points, followed by Italy and New Zealand on two and Slovakia prop up the rest with one point. The final games in the group take place at 16:00 local time on Thursday with Paraguay winning the group should they overcome New Zealand and Italy hoping to secure at least second place with a win over Slovakia.

Luis Fabiano

Luis Fabiano was on target twice in Brazil's 3-1 win over Ivory Coast

In the final game played on Sunday Brazil impressed in a 3-1 victory over Sven-Göran Eriksson’s Ivory Coast to stay top of the group with a perfect six points from six. Luís Fabiano found his scoring boots in the 25th minute when put through by Kaká to fire the ball into the roof of the net and Dunga’s troops never looked like losing it from there. Just five minutes into the second half and Brazil had doubled their lead although there was a suspicion of handball in the build-up to Luís Fabiano’s second goal in which he took on three defenders before firing the ball home from twelve yards out. Brazil were coasting it thirteen minutes later as Kaká went down the left hand side and pulled the ball back to Elano who caught the Ivorian defence napping and slipped it past the keeper from close range. Didier Drogba did pull one back for the Ivory Coast on 79 minutes when converting a right-sided cross from Yaya Touré with his head to bring an ounce of respectability back to the score.

Sadly the match began to get tetchy and, with two minutes of normal time to play, Kaká was the victim of the most ridiculous refereeing decision of the tournament so far when he was adjudged to have hit Abdel-Kader Keïta in the face although they merely touched shoulders at worst. Keïta went down holding his face and the referee showed the red card to the Brazilian star who could face anything from a 1-4 match ban depending on the outcome of a FIFA enquiry into the incident. Thankfully there were no further flashpoints after that but Dunga’s night would’ve been soured somewhat after the incident. Nonetheless Brazil should be happy with their night’s work and they will end the group phase of the competition on Friday with their match against Portugal in Durban.

FIFA: Kuijt and Honda secure wins; de Rossi saves Italy

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 14, 2010
Dirk Kuijt

Dirk Kuijt scored the second in the Netherlands' 2-0 win over Denmark

The Netherlands got day four of the FIFA World Cup under way with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Group E opponents Denmark. With the Dutch among the favourites to lift the trophy on July 11th there was always going to be huge expectations on Bert Van Marwijk’s team to start the tournament with a win but, in the end, there was nothing to worry about even after the first half had ended goalless. That’s because, after an even first half in which no team dominated proceedings, the Dutch were gifted a bizarre own goal just thirty seven seconds into the second half after a Robin Van Persie cross from the left-hand side was headed by Simon Poulsen towards his own goal and, ultimately, went in off the back of Daniel Agger. This seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Danes who offered little resistance to the Netherlands’ superior play with the Oranje enjoying two thirds of the possession and many more shots at goal than their opponents. The victory was wrapped up with just five minutes left to play when substitute Eljero Elia was played through by Wesley Sneijder and his shot hit the post only for Dirk Kuijt to tap the ball home from just a couple of yards out to seal the win for the Netherlands. No doubt that Kuijt enjoyed talking about that one to the world’s press after the game.

The second game of the day was also in Group E and a match which both Japan and Cameroon saw as their best chance to take three points. With the Netherlands and Denmark to come for both sides the magnitude of this game was multiplied for the group outsiders and it was Japan who were to be jubilant at the end of a game which didn’t offer too much by way of goalmouth action especially at the Japanese end of the pitch where, sadly, one of the world’s best strikers Samuel Eto’o remained a strangely anonymous figure on the right-hand side of the park. The goal that decided the match came in the 38th minute when a dangerous cross from the right by Daisuke Matsui found Keisuke Honda in the six-yard box who just about had enough time to take a touch to control the ball and then send it past keeper Souleymanou Hamidou. After that the Japanese were very organized and allowed Cameroon very little space to roam until the last twenty minutes when they started playing deeper. Even then it would’ve been very harsh on the Japanese had they conceded an equalizer which they very nearly did on 85 minutes when Stéphane Mbia struck a beautiful shot from long range only to see his effort come back off the woodwork. Thankfully for Japan they managed to hold on to the win and now meet the Netherlands on Saturday, June 19th in Durban while Cameroon must pick themselves up for their clash with Denmark in Pretoria on the same day.

Daniele de Rossi

Daniele de Rossi saved a point for Italy in their match against Paraguay

The third game of the day was the first game in Group F and it was a decent, if not a classic, affair between defending world champions Italy and South Americans Paraguay. The first half couldn’t build up too much attacking rhythm due to the particulary harsh weather conditions in the stadium which saw a torrent of hailstones and a lot of rain drenching the players throughout the first forty-five minutes but at least it didn’t prevent any goalmouth action. There were a couple of half chances before the main action took place in the 39th minute when a free-kick from Paraguay’s Aureliano Torres found the head of Antolín Alcaraz, who rose well above Daniele de Rossi and Fabio Cannavaro in the box, to give Paraguay the lead which they took into the half-time break. If Daniele de Rossi felt partly responsible for the goal in the first half then he made up for it in the second half equalizing after 63 minutes when Paraguayan keeper Justo Villar completely missed his attempted punch of Simone Pepe’s corner which allowed de Rossi to tap in from a couple of yards out at the far post to put the Azzurri back on level terms. After that it was the Italians who looked most likely to score a second but, unfortunately for them, their best chance to win it was saved when Villar turned Riccardo Montolivo’s long-range shot round for a corner.

In the end Paraguay must’ve been glad to pick up a point but if it weren’t for some dodgy goalkeeping from Villar then they could’ve been celebrating more tonight. Nonetheless they start the tournament with a point and will hope to get a win against Slovakia on Sunday, June 20th in Bloemfontein whilst for Italy a meeting with New Zealand in Nelspruit on the same day could see their FIFA World Cup take off in style.

FIFA: World Cup Guide – Part Three

Posted in European Football, International Football by peterbein on June 2, 2010
Morten Olsen

Can Morten Olsen guide Denmark beyond the group stage in South Africa?

In the final part of our build up to the FIFA World Cup, which kicks off on Friday, June 11th, Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks at those teams that qualified from Europe (FIFA world rankings correct on May, 26th):

DENMARK – Winners of Europe Group One; FIFA World Ranking = 36

The Danes qualified from a tough group including Portugal, Hungary and arch-rivals and neighbours Sweden. Although not expected to win the competition Morten Olsen’s men will prove tough opponents and history has proven that anybody that takes the Danes lightly does so at their peril. Their group opponents are the Netherlands, Japan and Cameroon so may fancy their chances of reaching the last sixteen.

Coach: Morten Olsen

Star Player: Niklas Bendtner

PORTUGAL – 2nd in Europe Group One (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 3

Portugal were in danger of not even getting a play-off place after a dreadful start to the campaign. A strong finish saw them placed second, one point ahead of Sweden and Hungary. In the play-off they then beat Bosnia-Herzogovina 1-0 in each leg; Bruno Alves deciding the first game in their favour, Raul Meireles scoring the only goal in the second leg. Expected to get past the group stage.

Coach: Carlos Queiroz

Star Player: Cristiano Ronaldo

SWITZERLAND – Winners of Europe Group Two; FIFA World Ranking = 24

The Swiss qualified fairly comfortably in a group where Greece were the only real rivals for the first place position and Latvia threatened on occasions to spoil the party. Solid if not spectacular, Switzerland will see anything beyond the second round as a successful World Cup but first they must negotiate their way past a group containing Spain, Honduras and Chile. Can the wily old fox Ottmar Hitzfeld get the best from a limited squad in these finals?

Coach: Ottmar Hitzfeld

Star Player: Tranquillo Barnetta

GREECE – 2nd in Europe Group Two (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 13

Otto Rehhagel steered the Greeks to the World Cup after a two-legged play-off against the Ukraine. The 2004 European champions drew the first leg at home 0-0 but managed to win the away leg 1-0 thanks to a strike from Dimitrios Salpingidis. Like the Swiss not many pundits expect the Greeks to go beyond the second round but could, at the very least, qualify for the last sixteen from a group containing Argentina, South Korea and Nigeria.

Coach: Otto Rehhagel

Star Player: Theofanis Gekas

SLOVAKIA – Winners of Europe Group Three; FIFA World Ranking = 34

Slovakia qualified from what was an open group containing neighbours Czech Republic, Poland, Northern Ireland and Slovenia. A 1-0 away win in Poland on the final matchday of the qualifiers secured their place and succumbed Slovenia to a play-off. In a group involving Italy, Paraguay and New Zealand so will definitely be involved in a fight for second place but may just lack some quality to get to the knockout phase. Sadly for Slovakia they will have to play without their defensive talisman Martin Škrtel who injured himself in a friendly game before the tournament.

Coach: Vladimír Weiss

Star Player: Robert Vittek

SLOVENIA – 2nd in Europe Group Three (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 25

Slovenia surprised everybody by finishing second in the group above heavyweight eastern Europe neighbours Czech Republic and Poland. They surprised everybody again by beating the mighty Russians in the play-offs on away goals. After a narrow 2-1 defeat in Moscow, the Slovenians scored on the edge of half-time in the return fixture in Maribor thanks to Zlatko Dedič and the away goal proved to be the crucial difference between the two teams. Slovenia have a tough draw and may struggle for the third spot behind England and the United States but recent history proves that they can cause a shock on their day.

Coach: Matjaž Kek

Star Player: Milivoje Novakovič

Michael Ballack

Michael Ballack (left) will be a huge loss for Germany but they should still progress far in the tournament

GERMANY – Winners of Europe Group Four; FIFA World Ranking = 6

The Germans remained unbeaten in a relatively easy group although impressive home and away victories against Russia proved to be crucial as they won their group by four points. Joachim Löw will be quietly optimistic about his side’s chances in South Africa despite a list of pre-tournament injuries including the likes of Michael Ballack, Simon Rolfes and René Adler to name but three. With new captain Philipp Lahm ready to take charge the Nationalmannschaft will hope to progress from the group stage and reach the last sixteen with, perhaps, a potential clash with old foes England on the cards.

Coach: Joachim Löw

Star Player: Bastien Schweinsteiger

SPAIN – Winners of Europe Group Five; FIFA World Ranking = 2

It’s been a vintage couple of years for the Spanish national team; European champions in 2008, a 100% record in World Cup qualifying and a spell at number one in the FIFA world rankings, can they go all the way and be the best team in South Africa? Last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup saw them surprisingly knocked out by the United States at the semi-final stage so they will still have to be weary of so-called ‘lesser opposition’. Having been written off as chokers in previous tournaments the likes of Fernando Torres, David Villa and Xabi Alonso will be determined to do it for Spain when it really matters and a group containing Honduras, Chile and Switzerland shouldn’t cause too many problems.

Coach: Vicente del Bosque

Star Player: David Villa

ENGLAND – Winners of Europe Group Six; FIFA World Ranking = 8

Fabio Capello’s men easily saw off the likes of Ukraine and Croatia in their group and qualified with two matches to spare. Hopes are high that the so-called “golden generation” including Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney et al will perform in South Africa but will there be the usual disappointment to follow all the hype? Fabio Capello thinks not and one can say that England are real candidates for the title mainly because of the Italian’s stewardship. The group stage shouldn’t cause too many problems but the mentality of the squad will be questioned once the knockout stages get under way.

Coach: Fabio Capello

Star Player: Wayne Rooney

SERBIA – Winners of Europe Group Seven; FIFA World Ranking = 15

Although Serbia could only get one point out of six against group favourites France other results in the group went in their favour and, therefore, they went through by topping the group by one point against their more illustrious opponents. Will be tough to beat and contain a number of technically skillful players with experience from many of Europe’s top leagues. They will find it tough in Germany’s group but can progress if they make full use of their ability.

Coach: Radomir Antic

Star Player: Dejan Stanković

FRANCE – 2nd in Europe Group Seven (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 9

Les Bleus started the qualifying campaign in terrible fashion only collecting one point in their first three games. In the next seven games they took 17 from 21 points and, though never convincing, did what they had to do to secure a play-off place. France later played Republic of Ireland in a two-legged play-off and despite the controversy that surrounded Thierry Henry’s infamous handball leading up to the goal that secured France’s passage to South Africa the French will be considered one of the favourites to provide a strong challenge in South Africa although they are in an open group containing the host nation, Uruguay and Mexico so they’re not far from certain to qualify for the Round of Sixteen just yet.

Coach: Raymond Domenech

Star Player: Franck Ribéry

ITALY – Winners of Europe Group Eight; FIFA World Ranking = 5

The current world champions were taken all the way by the Republic of Ireland in their group but a late equalizing goal from Alberto Gilardino in Dublin secured the point that the Italians needed to top the group. If Marcello Lippi can steer the Azzurri to further World Cup glory in South Africa then they will join Brazil as record champions of the competition with five wins each. Should qualify with relative ease from their group which contains Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia and, despite an ageing squad, are expected to go far in the tournament.

Coach: Marcello Lippi

Star Player: Andrea Pirlo

NETHERLANDS – Winners of Europe Group Nine; FIFA World Ranking = 4

It’s difficult to judge just how tough an opponent the Dutch will be in South Africa. They qualified with a 100% record from arguably the weakest group in qualifying including Norway, Scotland, Macedonia, and Iceland. As usual there have been pre-tournament reports of internal arguments so it seems that the Dutch, despite their potential, never learn the lessons from previous mistakes. A further setback for the Dutch is the injury in a pre-tournament friendly against Hungary to Arjen Robben who may miss some, if not all, of the tournament with a hamstring problem. At the very least they should easily get past a group containing Japan, Denmark and Cameroon without too many problems but anything beyond that remains questionable knowing past history.

Coach: Bert Van Marwijk

Star Player: Robin Van Persie

Italy National Team

Will the Italians be celebrating World Cup success yet again in South Africa?