The knockout phase of the World Cup got off to a scintillating start with two exciting, hard fought games. This particular quarter of the draw is probably the weakest of the four but the football was top class.
Uruguay got through to the quarter-final with what I’d consider an intelligent and opportunistic win. The South Americans played to their strengths, i.e. organization and strike force, and despite valiant efforts the South Koreans fell short.
In some ways the Asian side shot themselves in the foot when they conceded a stupid goal early on. There were eight players and the Keeper between Forlan and Suarez but no one got close a hopeful cross. Suarez was optimistic and had the technique to control and direct a bouncing ball on a wobbly surface.
This allowed the Sky Blues to sit back and slow the tempo, something they excel at. The Koreans didn’t have a genuine aerial threat and couldn’t create much against a supremely organized defensive unit.
Despite some resolute defending, the South Koreans did manage to equalize when a set-piece wasn’t properly defended and the loose ball fell kindly for Lee Chung Yong. Muslera made the fatal mistake of coming for the ball and he ended up in a no man’s land. If the Keeper had stayed back he would have had an easy save.
At that time it looked like the Asian side will have the momentum but the Uruguayans found an extra gear and pushed forward in search of the winner. They got one out of nothing when Suarez curled a beauty into the far post from the left side of the penalty area. Given the problems with the ball it was an extra special goal from the man of the match.
I really enjoyed the game as it was a subtle battle of tempo management and space control against pace, quick passing, and hard work. Little did I know that the second one was going to be even better!
Ghana took on USA in a game that was labelled a revenge match in the US media. The Black Stars started brightly and controlled the ball in the first half. I thought Bob Bradley got his starting line-up and tactics completely wrong. His two men in the midfield just couldn’t cope with three opponents and I’ve never understood why he plays two very similar strikers up front, especially as neither is really special.
Ghana got the early goal when Clark lost the ball in midfield. Boateng made a powerful run as DeMerit backed away and his low strike beat Howard at the near post. Poor play all-round from the USA but credit also to Ghana for their pressing and finishing.
After the goal Ghana dominated possession but were extremely wasteful with some ambitious strikes, poor crosses, and a lack of genuine desire to score the second. It reminded me of the times when Arsenal play for the fun of it.
In the second half Bradley got it right and introduced an extra man in midfield. It was a completely different game after that. Not only did the US control the midfield, their best players got into good attacking positions.
At this point the Ghanaians completely lost their composure in a manner similar to the times when we see Arsenal crumble. The midfield was frozen and didn’t help in defence or attack. The back line was shaky and kept hoofing the ball up-field. The lone man could never hold it long enough and it kept coming back within seconds. Ghana really struggled against long balls down the middle and from runs down the wings. Classic Arsenal panic mode!
The saving grace for the last African team in the Cup was that the USA attackers weren’t clinical enough and missed a number of gilt edged opportunities. Ghana defenders also did well by throwing their bodies to make last ditch blocks. Their Keeper also deserves mention for a couple of good saves and punches.
Finally, the equalizer came from a penalty as Dempsey was brought down in the area. I was not sure it was a foul or whether the defender got a touch on the ball. None of the replays was conclusive so the benefit goes to the ref. I could see Silvestre, Clichy, Song or some other Arsenal defender conceding that one in a moment of madness. The befuddled look on the young defenders face was also similar to what we see from our youngsters when they get it wrong.
Some luck, poor finishing, and good goalkeeping prevented USA from winning in regular time.
Extra time was going to be a stern test of fitness and I think Ghana edged it on that. They had a fantastic start when a long punt forward was converted into a goal by some phenomenal work by Gyan. I was critical of the striker earlier but he deserves all the plaudits for this goal.
Firstly, he had to sprint twenty yards to reach a bouncing ball, and this was in extra time. Then he had to control it with his chest while shrugging off a physical challenge from Bocanegra. After that he had to maintain his balance and then shoot a bouncing ball past the keeper. Too often we have seen players fall over or shoot wildly in such situations. Gyan aced it.
Subsequently, the Africans used all the tactics for time wasting and secured a win. The USA had some chances but there were too many bodies in the penalty box for them to get through. At least on this front the Ghanaians didn’t imitate Arsenal as we have a tendency of giving vast open spaces in our box in the final few minutes even when defending a lead.
I thought Ghana were deserving winners even though USA fought hard. Bob Bradley will have to take a hard look at his choices.
In tomorrow’s games I expect a cracker between Argentina and Mexico. Just as we saw Chile trouble Spain, if the Mexicans can get their pressing right they can trouble their much fancied opponents. Messi will obviously get some room to run into and get in behind the defence so both teams should get chances. Ultimately, Argentina will win this one due to their quality in the final third.
I’m not sure how Germany-England is going to pan out. My guess is that England will sit back and play on the counter and Germany will try and break them down. It could be the other way round as well; it just depends on the choices made by Low and Capello.
I think England have a stronger defence and that should see them through. The Germans are weak on the left side so Glen Johnson and the right sided attacker (Gerrard, Milner, Lennon, Cole?) can do some serious damage if England get their act right.
I’m also want to see Ozil against another strong defensive unit. He was largely invisible against Serbia, but if he can excel in this game then we can say he is ready for the Premiership.
Lot’s to look forward to.