England finally came up with the goods in the final group game. The win wasn’t really emphatic and the performance wasn’t one that would make the other contenders sit up and take notice, but given the previous two outings this was a much improved show.
The players looked like they wanted to win and they were up for it. Changes to the starting line-up helped a bit. I’ve never been able to figure out how Heskey even makes it to the probables list so reading the name of Defoe alongside Rooney was not a surprise. Some might have expected Joe Cole to be in there but I’m not sure he is anywhere close to his best right now.
The two players who came into the side were the ones who created and scored, justifying the team selection. Milner’s cross was almost perfect, and Defoe had the pace to get in front. Heskey would never have reached that ball before the defender.
England had plenty of chances to stretch the lead. Rooney, Gerrard and others missed some good chances and the Keeper, Handanovic, made some good saves.
Towards the end I was wondering if England will regret not getting the second goal. The Slovenians showed some urgency, but didn’t have enough in attack. Their playmaker Birsa was particularly disappointing, as was the striker Novakovic.
In the end, I think the Slovenians paid the price for their inexperience at the highest level. They should still be proud of their performances, and just like England have been criticized for being below par, the Slovenians deserve special credit for making the group interesting.
I didn’t see the other game in which USA grabbed an injury time winner. Algeria haven’t scored in this tournament so it wasn’t a surprise that Howard wasn’t troubled all that much. USA, if anything, are a team that fights right till the end and that quality has seen them through the group stages in spite of some decisions going against them. Not only that, they’ve even managed to top the group and will definitely fancy their chances against Ghana. Germany might have been tough for them as the Germans have a similar spirit and a lot more quality.
In the other group the Germans eked out a win over Ghana by a solitary goal, a stunning strike by Ozil. The youngster has missed three or four one-on-one’s in the tournament so far, including one earlier in the game, but came good when it mattered with a stunning volley from outside the box.
Ghana had plenty of chances, just not the quality to beat Neuer. I think the Black Stars would have been a major threat at this tournament if they had a good striker and a fit Essien.
I thought the Ghanaians were not sure whether they should attack or defend. The other game in the group was a topsy-turvy battle in which the Australians came close to a big upset. I didn’t quite believe the Socceroos will have enough in attack to get past a strong Serbian defence. Through Cahill and Holman they managed to take a two goal lead. Another two and they could have been through on goals scored. It wasn’t to be as Schwarzer spilled a long range shot and Pantelic got one back for the Serbians.
We now have two very exciting second round fixtures on June 27th as Germany take on England and Argentina battle with Mexico. The winners of these games will meet in the quarter-finals.
On the other end of the draw – Uruguay, South Korea, Ghana, and USA will battle for a semi-final spot. In short, we are certain to have one surprise candidate in the semis. Well, not exactly a surprise anymore, but a team few would have expected to see in the last four before the tournament started.
All these teams will see this as a golden opportunity of going through to the last four. I’m not sure who will make it as it’s quite difficult to predict. The team that can hold its nerve and last the distance will – that’s as close as I can come to a prediction. I hope Ghana can make it as it’s an African World Cup and it will really mean a lot for football in the continent.
England must be looking at those four names and ruing the missed opportunities, especially the Rooney one. One more goal and they would have topped the group. Now they have to face Germany and if they get through, it will most probably be Argentina in the quarter-final.
Tomorrow’s fixtures are not that exciting. Group F has been quite boring so far but all teams can still go through so we might get some open games. In the other group, the Dutch have already qualified and Cameroon are out. That game won’t have any life. Denmark and Japan are tied on three points with the Danes needing a win as their goal difference in inferior. Can Bendtner and co do it?
I’ll end with a mention of Wimbledon. Not sure how many of you follow Tennis but there is a phenomenal match going on at Wimbledon – Mahut V Isner. This game is tied at 59 games apiece in the fifth set. That’s right 59-59 in the fifth. It’s broken the record for the longest match, longest set, most aces and probably many others. In fact, the final set has lasted more than seven hours, which is more than the time of the previous longest match!! It’s been so long that the game has been suspended for two successive days due to darkness.
If you don’t follow Tennis then you’ll probably be wondering what’s the big deal. Think of a football game that needs a result but doesn’t have a penalty shoot out but unlimited extra time till someone scores. Now imagine that game going on for 6-7 hours in extra time and you’ll get an idea of what’s happening at Wimbledon. Wish the World Cup final could be like that!