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World Cup Round Up: Groups C and D

In Football on June 24, 2010 at 12:37 am

Group C

England Toil As USA Top The Group

England came into the tournament as one of the favourites, but nearly slunk out before the knockout stages as key players failed to fire. Continuing the theme of the Group stages so far, this one also went down to the wire. Slovenia were through when the final whistle went at Soccer City, but an injury time strike from Landon Donovan sent the Americans into the second round as group winners.

The USA deserve enormous credit for toughing their way out of this group, coming from behind to sneak points against both England and Slovenia, before finally breaking the deadlock in an incredible game against Algeria. They don’t have too many household names, but they play as a team, and have the self belief and will to win that characterises American sportsmen. In the words of captain Landon Donovan, “We are Americans. We get on with it, we don’t complain”.

USA celebrate their late winner against Algeria

Their mentality is admirable, and they will fancy their chances of advancing to the quarter final at the expense of Ghana.

The Americans are at their best when bombing forward, as they were forced to do in throwing caution to the wind in all three group games. Scoring four goals and creating a host of chances bodes well for their chances of breaking down the solid Ghanaian back four. They need to be alert though, because the Africans love to play a counter-attacking game. Should they commit too many men forward, they may well regret it. The movement and link up play between Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Donovan will be their best chance of getting on the scoresheet, but Onyewu will need to make sure his defence stay on top of Asamoah Gyan.

England, on the other hand, face a far trickier task. A second round meeting with arch-nemeses Germany is the nightmare scenario for English fans, and even if they overcome their bête noir, they will most likely face the flying Argentina in the quarter finals.

Sympathy will be thin on the ground for Fabio Capello’s side, who only have themselves to blame. The typically reserved red-tops were baying for blood after a sluggish opening against the Americans, and a putrid showing against the limited Algerians.

Despite all the claims to the contrary, the players were clearly hamstrung by the fear of failure. Only in their bright opening against the US and in the wounded fury of the opening quarter against Slovenia did they show what they are capable of, and they desperately need to reproduce this form for a full 90 to get past Germany. To see the combined talents which make up one of the strongest sides in the tournament desperately hanging on to a 1-0 lead over the might of Slovenia was quite a jarring sight.

The beauty of the World Cup though, is that all it will take is a little luck, and the belief will flow. In knock-out competition, with the margins for error as small as they are in this sport, that could be all they need.

Wayne Rooney has been having a tough time at this World Cup

Germany are far from unbeatable, and Wayne Rooney can still light up anyone on his day. There were signs that he was flickering into life this afternoon. Don’t write off the English.

Of the two eliminated sides, you have to feel for Slovenia. They were on their way through before the US finally broke down the Algerian rearguard, but truly, their chances were lost when they threw away a two goal lead against the Americans in their second game. On the brink of qualification, they froze, and you just knew they didn’t have what it takes to take that next step. If they were to go through, it would have been with a stumble rather than a strut.

Having said that, they did come close to shattering an increasingly jittery England side, but they really didn’t play well apart from that first half effort against the States.

Algeria, who finished bottom, must also be kicking themselves. Their cagey opener against Slovenia was one of the worst games of the competition so far, and Faouzi Chaouchi will have nightmares over his fumble for the only goal.

They came out with no fear against the English, and looked the better side at times, with Karim Ziani in particular impressing in a quick-passing midfield. They also carved out numerous chances in their final game, andcould easily have nicked the three points that would have given them a great chance of progressing.

It all comes back to that first match though, where their fear of failure cost them a chance to win. England fans will know that feeling.

Group D

Germany Set Up A Classic As The Black Stars Squeeze Through

In yet another thrilling denouement, Ghana trailed through to the second round in Germany’s slipstream, despite losing 1-0. Australia downed Serbia in their final game, but couldn’t overturn their disadvantage in the goal difference column.

In the end, Germany were deserving winners of the group. They destroyed a plucky Australian side and just had enough in the tank to take care of Ghana, while their only loss came in against the Serbs, in a game in which they could easily have earned a result had they gotten the rub of the green.

Many felt it was a big risk taking such a young team to the finals, but Joachim Loew’s faith has been repaid so far. Per Mertesacker has added to his burgeoning reputation in the centre of defence, while Jerome Boateng did enough in his short time on the pitch to suggest he’s a better option than the shaky Holger Badstuber at left back.

Mesut Ozil relieves the tension with the goal that sends Germany through

The real success story has been Mesut Ozil in the centre of midfield though. The Werder Bremen playmaker has turned a lot of heads in this World Cup, earning the ‘man of the match’ award in both wins, and crashing home the winner against Ghana. Partnered by Sami Khedira in the middle of the park, they have provided the ammunition for Miroslav Klose and the off-key Lukas Podolski up front.

Klose will return for potential classic against England in the second round, and Loew now has a decision to make over whether to retain Podolski or Cacau, who impressed up front against Ghana. Whoever plays, they will have space to work thanks to the tireless efforts of yet another youngster, Bayern’s Thomas Muller.

They’ll need to be on their game against the English, but with Boateng and captain Phillip Lahm augmenting the fluid front four, Matthew Upson and the ponderous John Terry will have their hands full.

Advancing to face the USA in the second round are Ghana, but the Black Stars will be thanking their lucky stars that their group rivals managed to conspire to send them through. A fortuitous penalty was the difference between them and the ten man Serbs in the first game, and they struggled to break down Australia in the second match despite being gifted a man advantage and another penalty early on.

They showed their discipline and counter-attacking threat in the final group game, but a tight loss left them vulnerable to a late Serbian equaliser in the other fixture, which would have seen them crash out. Despite all their qualities, they didn’t manage to score from open play and will have to be on their game if they want to take advantage of a favourable draw in the knockout stages.

Australia stole into third place in the group with their thrilling 2-1 victory over Serbia, and they gave themselves a great chance of an unlikely turnaround after their opening day collapse against the Germans. In the end, it was too much even for the valiant Socceroos, but they can be proud of their efforts. Two red cards really damaged their hopes. Tim Cahill’s harsh dismissal against Germany left them at the mercy of the rampant Germans, and in the end that was what cost them. A win against Ghana was essential, but Harry Kewell’s handball on the line left them struggling again.

After those twin blows, Pim Verbeek’s team really showed what they were made of, and displayed their typical Aussie grit. A fighting point against Ghana left them in with a shout going into the final match, and they absorbed everything an increasingly dispirited Serbia had to throw at them before hitting back with two cracking goals. Had they kept eleven men on the pitch in the first two fixtures, it may well have been a different story.

Serbia meanwhile, can have no real argument against elimination. Twice they gave away ridiculous spot kicks with needless handballs in the box, the first condemning them to defeat against the Africans and the

Asamoah Gyan wheels away after sending Serbia reeling

second luckily going unpunished by Lukas Podolski.

The way the chips fell, a draw against Australia would have been enough to see them advance, but they couldn’t even manage that. Birmingham fans will be scratching their heads at the signing of the lumbering Nikola Zigic, who was one of the Serbs who spurned chance after chance as their hopes slowly faded in an agonising morass of scuffed shots and muffed headers.

With a defence containing Nemanja Vidic and Branislav Ivanovic, a midfield with the creativity of Dejan Stankovic and the penetration of flying wingers Milos Krasic and Milan Jovanovic, they really should have been good enough to advance. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t have the composure to press home their advantage in losses to Ghana and Australia, and were exceedingly fortunate to escape with the win against a 10 man German side.

A sharper cutting edge up front and cooler heads at crucial times would have seen them preparing for an eminently winnable second round tie with the US, but instead it’s back to the drawing board for the temperamental Eastern Europeans.

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