Saturday, June 10, 2006

World Cup Matchday 2


The casual soccer fan will see this score and be glad they missed a dull game. The average American, skeptical of soccer, will see this score as something similar to a 52-49 win for Angola over Poland in a prelim Olympic basketball game.

But if you watched the whole thing -- whether you know the game well or not -- you know you witnessed a truly historic event. Trinidad, playing in their first ever World Cup game, with a roster full of third division English League players, ageing vets, and players based in their weak domestic league, held off heavily favored Sweden for a nil-nil draw. Sweden dominated chances, especially in the second half after Avery John was harshly sent off for a second yellow card. Substitute Marcus Allback was particularly wasteful, missing the games best opportunities one-on-one with sensational TnT keeper Shaka Hislop (who played in college at Howard University here in the District).

There are thousands of underdogs that go out with the aim of earning a 0-0 draw. It can be hard to watch, and never pretty, but the Caribbeans -- not exactly known for their resolute defending -- soaked up every ounce of pressure, stayed organized, flung themselves in front of crosses and shots, and, simply put, gave the most inspirational performance I've seen in a long time in the World Cup. Man of the match was surely Hislop, but reserve defender Brent Sancho and Carlos Edwards were magnificent as well, while lanky center back Dennis Edwards was quietly efficient. And even if they created no real chances for themselves (save a blast off the crossbar from LA Galaxy forward Cornell Glen), they were never purely negative. There was no diving and no real time wasting -- it was apparent to anyone watching that this was a team that was going to earn their nation's crowning soccer achievement, fair and square.


Sweden's definitely looked the better team, with Trinidad defending desperately for most of the half. The Soca Warriors have to be happy with 0-0 at halftime at this point, even creating a few half chances near the end. Can't really see them scoring with just ex Columbus Crew and Birmingham striker Stern John alone up top -- especially with former Man U goalscorer Dwight Yorke playing such a deep midfield role.

Sweden, on the other hand, have to be pretty disappointed. Ljungberg hasn't had much space to work with. Everything dangerous is coming from the punk with the rat-tail on the right or combination play between Ibrahamovic and Larsson up top. Expect an early push for a goal, with one of the strikers to get on the end of a cross or a knock down.

Should Trinidad go down a goal, they'll probably try to hold right there and then throw on wiley veteran Russell Latapy late in the game. This could free up Dwight Yorke a little to go forward, and if it's only 1-0 with ten minutes left...who knows? John and Yorke might just have a little magic up their sleeve to conjure up an equalizer and earn a truly historic result for the Caribbean side.

BREAKING NEWS - one minute into the second half, the rat-tail punk makes a big deal out of a tough tackle from Avery John, John gets his second yellow and Trinidad's down to ten men. A very tough tackle, to be fair, but to end someone's World Cup debut because of it? Typical example of a ref having too much influence on a game.

Prediction - sticking with 2-0 to the Swedes.


Game started pretty typically with a frantic pace and a lot of long stuff towards Crouch and Owen. Then, free kick about forty yards out, on the right, Beckham flights it in and an unfortunate glance off the head of Paraguay captain Carlos Gamarra helped freeze the keeper and give England a dream start.

Course, the next 96 minutes were more of the same from England: lots of long balls to Crouch, zero dangerous touches for Owen. The best work came from Joe Cole on the left -- seemingly the only England player with any real attacking confidence -- but Eriksson pulled him off with twenty minutes to go. No blame there, necessarily, as Cole had been roughed up quite a bit. England did defend well though, Terry and Ferdinand handling most things with ease. Gerrard did passably in a more holding midfield role. Didn't see much from Lampard, besides a couple decent efforts from outside the box.

I do need to say this because it will ruin this tournament like it ruined the 1990 WC in Italy: the diving and rolling around has got to go. Paredes of Paraguay was a true disgrace to the game. To be perfectly honest, I wanted to see something from Paraguay because England was playing so poorly, but I can't root for a team with a player like that. If I were him, I'd fear having to watch that game tape with my teammates.

*stay tuned for most posts later....


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