The upsets are coming thick and fast now as the World Cup is finally rising on the thrill and drama scale even though the football quality leaves a lot to be desired.
As expected, Germany, who looked majestic against Australia, found the going a lot tougher against a better organized and defensively excellent Serbia. Ivanovic, Vidic, Subotic ,and Kolarov are probably the best back four in the tournament. Even the Serbian midfield is much better at closing spaces and denying time on the ball.
Ozil looked like a very ordinary player in the first half as the whole team struggled to move forward. Serbia, for their part, didn’t look very threatening either. But the man who stole the show was Spanish ref Undiano. Within the first quarter of the game he had doled out four cards and it was only a matter of time before someone saw red. As it turned out, Klose was the player to suffer as he got a second booking for an innocuous foul.
To an extent I would also blame the player as he knew he was on a caution yet kicked the ball in the net after the off-side whistle had gone. I thought he would be off right at that moment but the ref overlooked his indiscretion. There was no need for that silly foul as he went to tackle from behind and this time the ref wasn’t so generous.
At this point, it is interesting to note the difference in the way the English ref officiated the Spain game and the way the Spanish ref handled this one. Inler got away without a card even after committing five fouls. None of them was dangerous but the same can be said about Klose. Makes me wonder how Barca would fare if they were to play in the English league but that’s a discussion for another day.
Before Germany could recover from the shock, Jovanovic put the Serbians in front. After that it was always going to be a tough ask against such a defence while playing with 10 men. Germany did start the second half brightly and Ozil created a couple of good chances but Serbia looked in control.
Out of nothing, Vidic decided to gift Germany a goal as he emulated the daftness of Kuzmanovic from the previous game. Perhaps he forgot for a moment that he wasn’t playing for United in the Premier League! Or it could be that the Serbians don’t really want to win!! There can be no other explanation for that needless handball inside the box.
Podolski had the chance to bring his team level and who knows the momentum might even have carried them to victory. His lame penalty was easily saved by Stojkovic and Germany ran out of ideas. I guess that’s the reason a player as talented as Podolski has never made it at a big club.
The German substitutes were no good and Serbia held on for a win leaving the group tantalisingly poised. If Australia can pull off another upset against Ghana all teams will be level on 3 points with one game to play! Even without that it is quite likely that this group will now go down to goal difference or goals scored.
The best game of the day was next as USA came back from two goals down to draw with Slovenia. This game was full of surprises, thrill and excitement and many might consider it the best in the World Cup so far, at least from the entertainment perspective.
Firstly, I must say that Slovenia surprised me with their quality. Some of their players were highly skilful and technical and they completely controlled the game in the first half. Both their goals were delightful to watch, especially the first one as we finally got a fantastic goal from outside the box.
The game changed course in the second half as the US came out with purpose and more importantly with a tactical change. It seemed to me that Uncle Sam’s boys decided to adopt the tactics of their fat uncle Sam.
US kept hitting long and high balls in the second half and the Slovenians showed their inexperience. The football degenerated into schoolboy stuff but it was fun to watch. The underdogs couldn’t hold on to their lead as they lost their composure. They allowed the long balls to bounce near their penalty area and failed to clear their lines. Their midfielders were often caught in a no man’s land when the ball was punted up-field by the US defenders.
The first goal came when the left back failed to connect with a long ball and Donovan got in behind. The keeper Handanovic was hiding behind the goal post as the former Everton striker smashed the ball home from a narrow angle. This is the first time I’ve seen a goalkeeper who was afraid of the ball!
The second goal came when Altidore won the header from another long ball and no midfielder tracked the run of Bradley.
The momentum was with the Americans and they had a legitimate third goal disallowed by an official who was having a very poor game. In fairness, I’d say the draw was the right result as the Slovenians could argue that Dempsey should have been sent off in the first minute itself for a raised elbow. I looked at that incident a number of times and his elbow was certainly above his shoulder level and at least a foot or two higher than what we see in such cases.
In the final game of the day England lulled me to sleep. In another example of how overrated this team is, the much hyped English team failed to create anything of note in the whole game. Rooney, we are told, is in the same league as Messi!
Once again I was pleasantly surprised by the technical skills of the less heralded team as they kept possession and moved the ball nicely. Sadly for them, they didn’t have enough quality in the final third to trouble the English defence.
I’m not sure Capello is getting his tactics right and the squad he has selected doesn’t offer much in terms of bench strength. Lennon is replaced by Wright-Phillips, Heskey by Defoe or Crouch; defences around the world must be scared to death at the prospect of playing this English attack.
Strangely, Joe Cole isn’t getting a chance even when the team is crying out for a quality player. I find it hard to believe that SWP, Defoe and Crouch were introduced ahead of the former Chelsea player. Either Cole has a fitness issue or he is not doing enough in training. Or is he just past it? That’s hard to believe but it could be that injuries have taken their toll on his speed and stamina.
I’ll probably write in detail about the problems with the English team sometime after the World Cup. For now let’s cherish those who are doing well.
RvP will be in action tomorrow and Song and Bendtner might also feature prominently. Hopefully, the excitement will continue on its upward curve and the Dutch will emulate the Argentineans.