Monday, June 12, 2006

USA v. Czech Republic - Matchday 4

***Breaking News***
Wow...three goals in the last ten minutes of the match give the Aussies not only their first ever World Cup win, but their first ever WC goals. Everton midfielder Tim Cahill, a sub, scores twice before John Aloisi adds an insurance third in injury time.


Blogging today from the office, where unfortunate circumstances -- either America's indifference to the game, the impracticalities of cross-time zone TV watching, the socio-cultural constraints of a traditional 40 hour work week, or my quickly decreasing lack of vacation time, depending on your perspective -- have forced me to follow the World Cup action at work.

We open things up today with Australia v. Japan, in what is surely a very pivotal matchup for both teams. With Brazil sure to top the group, both teams (and Croatia) may be in for a dogfight for that last spot. Looks like Japan is in the ascendency at the moment, claiming a controversial goal from Nakamura to go up 0-1 in the 26th minute. Appears to be a rough and tumble game too as a number of guys have already been carded.

Today's second match, of course, features in the Americans' opening match against the Czech Republic. Preposterous FIFA rankings aside (Czechs #2, USA #5), this should be a good matchup. Both teams are strongest in midfield and there look to be a couple great individual battles. Big guys, center backs, and Shaquille O' Neal are all looking forward to the aerial duel between 6-7 Czech striker Jan Koller and 6-5 Olney, MD defender Oguchi Onyewu. Expect no quarter given. Aston Villa forward Milan Baros would normally compliment Koller in attack, but is injured and may miss out.

Where the Czechs have pedigree, the US should have team spirit and an element of surprise. Bruce Arena's teams rarely seemed rattled by big occasions and will hopefully be no different. Arena has also kept his cards close to his chest, announcing his starters only to the team and not the media. Expect the team to start like this:
GK - Keller, RB - Cherundolo, CB - Onyewu, CB - Pope, LB - Lewis, LM - Convey, DM - Mastroeni, CM - Reyna, RM - Beasley, FWD - McBride, FWD - Donovan.

There's a chance Arena would opt for Reyna and Donovan in the center of midfield and Eddie Johnson in attack, but I personally feel he's gonna want someone like the combative Mastroeni to get physical with Rosicky and Nedved.

RECAPS OF MATCHDAY 3

Netherlands 1 - Serbia and Montenegro 0
First half goal from Robben on a breakaway was enough to decide the game. The Serbs took it to the Dutch in the second half, but shot most of their opportunities straight at keeper van der Sar. It was a solid showing and a vital three points in the Group of Death -- already made that much tougher by the Ivory Coast's resilient performance against Argentina. On a curious note, Serbia pulled both starting striker Mateja Kezman and Savo Milosevic early in the second half. Also, Robben's Dutch teammates criticized the Chelsea winger after the game for his selfish play.

Mexico 3 - Iran 1
Billed as Mexican keeper Sanchez brave return after his father's recent death, Mexico looked the better team on the whole in a scrappy Group D match. But they were made to wait to take the lead and things looked in doubt, especially after star striker Jared Borgetti -- lead scorer in all of WC qualifying with 14 goals -- hobbled off in the second half. But Bravo came on to add his second after some dreadful giveaways by the Iranian backline and then Naelson added a third with a wonderful passing move and a very accurate header.

Angola 0 - Portugal 1
After Pauleta's fourth minute goal, it looked like the rout might be on. But Portugal's former colony Angola held firm and made a few half chances of their own late in the game. Cristiano Ronaldo was dangerous but left frustrated after hitting the crossbar with a header and having an 18 yard effort saved. Still, veteran captain Luis Figo was dangerous and Portugal got its three points. But Angola -- much like Trinidad, albeit with less to show for their efforts -- proved they're no pushover.

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