Arsenal’s French contingent will have an early return from South Africa after their woeful tournament came to an end following an ignominious defeat against the hosts. There were hardly any noteworthy moments in an abject French performance but Sagna’s through ball that set up the French goal deserves credit. The full-back’s professionalism has been exemplary and many of his team-mates must learn from it.
Gourcuff, highly rated by many and supposed to be a replacement for Cesc, was quite poor all through the World Cup. It’s difficult to say how much of it was down to the internal strife that wrecked the French campaign. Based on these games and some of the Bordeaux games that I saw, Gourcuff doesn’t look like a player who can succeed in the Premiership, at least not immediately. It would have been fun if Man City had signed him for big money before the World Cup only to realize later that they have a lemon!
Even Lloris, another highly rated player that Arsenal should be signing, came and flapped at a corner. Was it a co-incidence that he had Sagna, Gallas, Clichy and Diaby in front of him? In scenes all too reminiscent of Arsenal conceding against smaller teams, Diaby was quite poor in dealing with that corner after Lloris missed it and the South African player scored.
In a way it’s good because Sagna and Clichy can do with the rest. I’m also happy that Nasri wasn’t selected and was spared the embarrassment.
In the other game in group A, Uruguay defeated Mexico but both teams went through to the next round. Before the first game I’d said that Mexico can top the group and Uruguay are good enough to take the second spot. The South Americans did one better and thoroughly deserve their top spot as they kept three clean sheets and scored some good goals.
South Africa got the dubious distinction of being the first host nation to be knocked out in the group phase. I think their performances were commendable and much better than what was expected. They have done a great job and should leave with their head held high. A number of teams can learn the value of playing for the national flag from the Bafana-Bafana.
In group B, Argentina maintained their perfect record with a two goal win over boring, boring Greece. South Korea and Nigeria shared four goals in a thrilling draw. That was the first time in this tournament that both teams led at one time and both came back.
I like this idea of playing the two games simultaneously as it provides and added element of drama. Greece were in with a chance till the 75th minute or so. S. Korea were on their way out before coming back into it, and Nigeria blew a golden chance of qualifying and creating history (no team has qualified for the knockout stages after losing first two group games) as Yakubu missed a sitter.
These results set up two exciting second round ties as Argentina take on Mexico and Uruguay go head to head with South Korea. None of these teams is overtly defensive and we should get open, entertaining games.
As a neutral, I’m also looking forward to tomorrow’s fixtures. There is a chance that England and/or Germany might follow France on the way out. On paper, it’s a remote possibility. But given present form and the way the tournament has been so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if the underdogs steal the show.
I don’t think Ghana can defeat Germany, but if the Africans draw with Germans and Serbia win against the Aussies, we will have another big upset on our hands. Germany should have enough in their locker to get through but it’s not going to be easy.
All four teams can go through but Australia’s chances are more mathematical than realistic.
Similarly, England need a win against Slovenia and they will have to come up with a big performance. A high scoring draw might also work for them but that seems like a theoretical option more than a practical one.
The USA also need a win against Algeria, who themselves could go through with a win if the other result is favourable.
Normally, I like to support the underdogs but I think the tournament will get more interesting if the bigger teams get through to the knock out stages. Still, I wouldn’t feel as bad as I felt in the past when Argentina, Spain or the Dutch got eliminated.
All in all, an exciting day ahead.