World Cup Talking Points
Six of the sixteen matches in the opening round of the 19th World Cup in South Africa ended in draws. Just 25 goals were scored in 16 matches at an average of 1.56 goals per match. Is this World Cup going to be ultra-cautious? It is too early too predict. Teams just tend to play the first match with a defensive mind-set and do not want to lose, hence the paucity of goals. The goal average could increase by the end of the league phase on June 25.
The first World Cup on African soil has till now not gone too well for African teams. Of the six African teams in the fray, only Ghana won their opening match and that even by a late penalty goal by Asomah Gyan against Serbia. Nigeria, Cameroon and Algeria were beaten whilst Ivory and Coast and South Africa drew. Cameroon was tactically outclassed by Japan, the first win for the team from the Land of the Rising Sun outside their continent.
With South Korea also registering an impressive 2-0 win over Euro 2004 champions Greece, Asian countries made a good start to the World Cup. The great Franz Beckenbauer also commented that the gap between South Korea and the top teams of Europe and South America was narrowing. Maybe the Kasier spoke too soon, as playing exhilarating, attacking football, Argentina overwhelmed South Korea 4-1 in their next clash.
Ivory Coast was the most impressive African team, solid in defence and midfield. The depth of talent in Ivory Coast was evident even in the absence of Drogba. 23 year-old Gervinho sparkled on the left and showed nimble footwork and great acceleration. The Ivorian captain in the 2008 Beijing Olympics Gervinho has great ability and talent.
By losing to Uruguay 0-3, in their second match, hosts South Africa could well become the first host team to not make it to the knock-out round of sixteen. Ghana and Ivory Coast seem the only likely qualifiers from Africa just now.
Brazil huffed and puffed against a well-organized North Korea and except for Robinho none of their players showed the dribbling skills to beat a packed defence. This is so unlike the Brazilian teams of the past. The Brazilian media and fans were needlessly critical of North Korea's ultra defensive tactics. Brazil has been in such situations in the past also. For instance they then had the talent to penetrate the tightest of defences. An example that comes to mind is the 1982 World Cup group match against erstwhile USSR, which had more classy players like goalkeeper Rinat Dassayev and defender Victor Onokpo. USSR also packed their defence but the sublime dribbling and passing skills of Zico, Socrates, Falcao and others enabled Brazil win comfortably. USSR took the lead but non-stop pressure and goals by Socrates (75) and Eder(88) enabled Brazil win 2-1.
From the evidence of the first match in the World Cup, it is obvious that Kaka is not fully match fit and the current Brazilian team lack the flair of the great teams of the past. Also striker Luis Fabiano has lost his scoring touch and that is a cause for concern.
Germany's youth brigade impressed. The off the ball running and slick passing of Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozeil and Thomas Mueller was effective and created many openings. Miroslav Klose has scored his 11th goal in the World Cup and is now on his way to overtake Ronaldo's all time record of 15 World Cup goals. If Germany goes far in this tournament, Klose could close the gap or overtake Ronaldo.
The other big talking point is the defeat of Spain. Despite dominating and creating 25 scoring chances they could not score against resolute Switzerland. Coached by Otmar Hitzfeld,a former Maths teacher Switzerland were precise and resolute in defence. Spain was overconfident, with too many defenders particularly Gerard Pique storming into attack leaving them vulnerable to the counter-attack, from which Switzerland scored. Spain missed the solid and reliable defensive midfielder Marcos Senna, who Viecente del Bosque has dropped from his squad. Senna used to effectively cover up for his attacking defenders. Also Fernando Torres seemed rusty after his knee operation and David villa had an off day. The quality of the crosses was also mediocre.
Spain must win both their remaining matches against Honduras (June 21) and attack minded Chile (June 25) otherwise South Africa could like in the Confederations cup last year once again prove to be their Waterloo.
On evidence of matches played so far Germany and Argentina seem the most impressive teams so far and have the most flair in attack. But things could change.