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World Cup Round Up: Groups G and H

In Football on June 26, 2010 at 1:16 am

Group G

Brazil And Portugal Canter While Ivory Coast Bow Out

Ironically, the group that seemed the tightest on paper was the only one that lacked a nail-biting finish. Portugal’s seven strike outburst against a dispirited North Korean squad gave them the edge going into the final day, and their snoozer of a 0-0 with Brazil saw those two sides slide into the last 16.

The ludicrous sending off of Kaka marred the group stages for Brazil

First things first. Dunga’s Brazil are real contenders. They may not exude the flair for ‘Joga Bonito’ which the purists demand, but all that will be forgotten if they can capture the ultimate prize. Dunga has fashioned a side in his own image, and their base is in a rock solid back four. The defensive trio of Julio Cesar, Lucio and Maicon showed their obstinance while guiding Inter Milan to the Champions League, and they are joined by the veteran Juan and Michel Bastos. Bastos, a winger by trade, could be a potential weak link, but it will take an excellent team to expose him.

The back four are augmented by two shielding players, in Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo. The link between the lethal Luis Fabiano is the key for this side, and when Kaka, Elano and Robinho were missing against Portugal, they struggled creatively. The Samba stoppers did their job though, and Cesar was rarely called into action as they plucked the point they needed against an obliging Iberian outfit.

They now face a dangerous Chilean team in the second round. They will be reasonably happy with that. Explosive as the Chileans undoubtedly are, Brazil stuck seven past their South American rivals in qualifying, if that counts for anything. It should at least give them a psychological edge, along with the return of Kaka, Robinho and (possibly) Elano.

Portugal netted the booby prize, and must now take on the resurgent Spanish. These were three odd performances from the

It comes as no surprise that Cristiano Ronaldo holds the key to Portugal's hopes of a second round upset

Portuguese, two lifeless goalless draws sandwiching a 7-0 destruction of the Koreans. The main thing to take note of is their iron clad defence, which once again remained unbreached. Ricardo Carvalho and Pepe are two excellent centre backs, and with Eduardo adding to his growing reputation with every acrobatic save, they have a very solid base.

Fabio Coentrao at left back looks a great find, and his raiding up the left flank gives the side much of their attacking impetus. He and Raul Meireles will be the key to providing support for the increasingly frustrated Ronaldo, who looks like he’s about to pop with the unfairness of it all. He finally broke his astonishing national drought against North Korea, but looks like a far blunter version of the Manchester United and Real Madrid tyro who has dominated club football in the last two years.

They will need to maintain their defensive excellence against Spain, and will probably need a spark from Ronaldo. Drawing the Spanish in and hitting them on the counter is probably their best hope of success.

Taking an early flight home in this group are the Ivory Coast and North Korea. The African side fell by the wayside once more, but will have forfeited much of the sympathy coming their way after a shockingly petulant end-game against Brazil. Kader Keita’s shameful play-acting in getting Kaka sent off was bad enough, but some of the scything challenges they uncorked were worthy of some recriminations themselves.

The main problem for them, as it turned out, was an inability to break down Portugal in a remarkably passive opening match. For Portugal to settle for a point was one thing, but with Brazil up next, a loss was always going to leave Eriksson’s men up against it. Their worst fears were realised as an already qualified Brazil treated their final group game as a training run, and the Elephants’ goose was cooked.

It will be a major disappointment for Didier Drogba in particular, as this was his best chance of making an impression in a World Cup. They have some excellent young players though, and they’ll be back. They just need to avoid the group of death next time!

North Korea were always going to struggle in this competition, but apart from a nightmare second half against a rampant Portuguese side, they acquitted themselves really well. Jong Tae-Se, in particular, caught the eye with some penetrating runs and powerful shooting. His tears during the national anthem typified the whole hearted endeavour they brought to their World Cup adventure, and Ji Yun Nam’s late consolation against Brazil will go in the pantheon alongside the 1966 heroes.

We can only hope that the damaging situation in their homeland garners as much attention as their footballers.

Group H

Chile And Spain March On As The Swiss Subside

The pre-tournament favourites recovered from a shock loss in their opener to rack up six points and steal top spot in the group. Chile join them, despite coming close to slipping out on the same total. Switzerland’s inability to score cost them dear, while Honduras netted their first ever World Cup point, but will rue a host of spurned opportunities against the Swiss.

The Spanish were asked some tough questions in Group H

Spain really left themselves a mountain to climb in this one. Their lack of variety enabled the Swiss to clog up their narrow attacks in the opener, and a nation must have seen a million former stumbles flash before their eyes.

They mixed things up against Honduras, and were rewarded with a 2-0 win that gave them the edge on their low-scoring rivals, and finished the job in a bizarre closer against Chile.

Not much more needs to be said about this team. Their strength lies in the technically superhuman centre midfield, featuring the talents of Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and Xavi Hernandez. The quicksilver passing and movement leaves all but the very best chasing shadows, and provides an ideal platform for the talents of hitman David Villa.

The system has its weaknesses though, as the Swiss demonstrated. With Jesus Navas and Fernando Llorente on the bench, they struggle to get the ball wide, and lack a target man up front, should they need an outlet. Navas played against the Hondurans, and stretched the play effectively, despite being slightly off-beam with his final ball.

The lack of variety is an Achilles heel, as is the tendency of their defense to switch off and get caught on the break. Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique are a far better defensive partnership than they are given credit for in many quarters, but can sometimes be caught too high up the pitch. With Sergio Ramos often playing as a right winger and if still developing Sergio Busquets is bypassed, they can be caught on the break.

Against Portugal, and Cristiano Ronaldo in particular, this could be fatal. They will need to sit back and be patient, watching for the quick passes which release the lone forward to gallop with the ball at his feet.

If they are able to effectively snuff out this threat, they will be halfway to victory. They have the creativity to unlock even Portugal’s stubborn rearguard, and would do well to try and release Torres off the shoulder of the defenders if they get a chance to break quickly. That’s Torres’ strength, but it’s not usually how the Spanish attack. They may need to try something different if they wish to break the deadlock in a testing second round.

Trailing in second in the group are Chile, who have provided some of the most gung ho attacking this side of a Laserquest convention.

Mark Gonzalez celebrates the goal that proved the difference between Chile and Switzerland

They have a wealth of creative options to choose from, but lack a finisher in the absence of Humberto Suazo. He has only made one 45 minute appearance so far, against Switzerland, and he looked off the pace.

Alexis Sanchez has looked unstoppable, but the six yard box has been his Kryptonite. Likewise Jorge Valdivia and Matias Fernandez. The idea that creating chances is the important part has some weight, but if they don’t find a sharp point to make all their mesmerising build-up play worthwhile, they may well founder against rock solid Brazil. Mark Gonzalez and Jean Beausejour have both found the net, but Gonzalez in particular has been wasteful.

Their other big problem is discipline. They’ve amassed 10 yellow cards and a red so far, and although they will welcome back Fernandez and Carlos Carmona, who are key to the way they play, they will be without the services of Gary Medel, Waldo Ponce and midfielder Marco Estrada.

Shorn of some key defenders and lacking a clinical striker, they will be huge underdogs against the mighty Brazil. Marcelo Bielsa will stay true to his principles though, and if Chile are to go out, they will go out swinging.

Neutrals will delight in Chile’s advance, coming as it does at the expense of the ultra functional Switzerland. Perhaps driven by necessity, they made every game they were involved in a chore to watch. There was almost a symmetrical sense of justice to their downfall, as they proved incapable of finding a way past Honduras when they desperately needed goals.

Their one strike in the group came from a breakaway, which was enough to bring the giants of Spain crashing at their feet. All those feet seemed to be used for for the remainder of the tournament, however, were hoofing long balls and tripping attackers. They seemed to relish the pantomime villain role against Chile, in a game which hopefully used up all the negativity and play-acting (take a bow Steve von Bergen) remaining in the competition.

They did set a record for the World Cup in keeping their goalline intact for an astonishing total of 551 minutes. In fact, they have conceded just one goal in seven games in the last two World Cups, but it’s hard to warm to them when their game plan revolves around killing the game.

At least they managed to get on the scoresheet though, which is more than Honduras achieved. Having said that, how they failed to break their duck against an increasingly stretched Swiss defence in the final game is anyone’s guess. Time after time they found themselves breaking free with men over, but they somehow butchered a host of golden opportunities.

David Suazo impressed, with Wilson Palacios showing why he’s one of their most important players. Ramon Nunez and Edgar Alvarez also looked good going forward, but they lacked the killer instinct they needed to make it a truly memorable campaign. Still, only three goals against and a point gained in the group they drew is impressive for such an inexperienced team, and they will have gained much from the experience.

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