Thursday, July 06, 2006

Best of the World Cup, Part I

I've decided to go ahead and start my World Cup awards presentation. Today's installment will give a report card to all the first-round-eliminated teams. After the final next week, I'll name my Best Eleven, Player of the Tournament, Coach of the Tourney, and a few other awards TBA.

WORLD CUP REPORT CARDS
Group A
Costa Rica - Have to be disappointed by their showing. An exciting opening match against Germany should've given them a little confidence heading into their more winnable group games, but a suspect aerial defense was their undoing. C-.
Poland - What's the deal here? Same story as 2002 -- qualify with ease, then play miserably before getting it right in their final game for a consolation win. Looked completely lost against Ecuador. C-.

Group B
Paraguay - Typically tough in the back but lacking anything close to an attacking spark. Unlucky not to get something from the England game though, and a draw there would've changed the entire complexion of the group. Not terrible, but could've been better. C.
Trinidad and Tobago - In getting a point in their first ever World Cup match, they far exceeded any previous expectations. In nearly getting another one against England (and nearly taking the lead), they demonstrated that they could battle with anyone. They might have finished bottom of the group, but arguably went home happier than any of the other three teams. B+ (a goal would've made it an A).

Group C
Ivory Coast - Poor Ivory Coast. If not for some slack marking and poor deadball defending, this team would've been in the knockout rounds. Hell, if Drogba could've converted more than one of his fifty or so chances, they would've beaten Argentina. Without a doubt the most exciting team to get knocked out in the first round, the future is still very bright. Expect them back with a vengeance in 2010 when the tournament comes to Africa. B-.
Serbia and Montenegro - Looked one dimensional against Holland and out of their league against Argentina. Blew a two goal lead against the Ivorians to finish last. After much better showings in the past as Yugoslavia, S&M's last games with the M will be easily forgotten. D+.

Group D
Angola - The should've-been-also-rans proved to be much more, showing their mettle in a tough 1-0 loss to Portugal and a steely 0-0 draw with Mexico. A 1-1 draw against Iran was a bit disappointing -- especially with a shock Round of 16 qualification theirs for the taking -- but ultimately this was a successful campaign for one of lowest rated teams in the tournament. B.
Iran - Never seemed likely to beat Mexico despite playing them tough for most of the game. Likewise against Portugal, but maybe should've put Angola away in their consolation game. Expectations were not quite met, and this might be the last adventure for Ali Daei and Co. at this level. C-.

Group E
Czech Republic - What happened here? One of the more impressive and methodical opening match performances led to an utter collapse against Ghana and a subpar performance against Italy. Shame to see the excellence of Nedved and Rosicky go out so early, but the loss of Koller and Baros up top was just too much to get past. C.
United States - The expectations after 2002 were foolishly high. Bruce Arena can devise a gameplan to compete in a hostile environment in the jungles of Guatemala, but what happens when the team is forced to play 11 v 11 to win on neutral soil against a quality, European opponent? Bright points were hard to find, and it's back to the drawing board for the Americans. C-.

Group F
Croatia - Blew a lead twice against Australia that would've put them into the next round. Failed to beat Japan, missing a penalty in the process. Losing to Brazil 1-0 was their best result, but given the South Americans flame-out, that's not much consolation. C.
Japan - For all their energy, clearly not up to this level yet. Still, that they blew a late lead against Australia and even led Brazil briefly, this tournament has to be seen as disappointing. C-.

Group G
South Korea - Everyone knew South Korea wouldn't be in the semis again this far away from home, but that doesn't mean they haven't improved. A credible, if not quite deserved draw against France was a good result, and they barely missed second round qualification. Expect them to be in the hunt to advance in 2010. B-.
Togo - The only team to drop all three group games was suprisingly in each one of them. However, incredibly bad team organization and management issues did nothing to help the worst stereotypes of African soccer. With problems like those, they probably won't be back in the Cup for quite some time. D.

Group H
Tunisia - Blew their chances by drawing with the Saudis. Blew a shock lead against Spain. Blown penalty call ostensibly cost them against Ukraine, but mostly they were undone by poor coaching, choosing to play without a single striker when they absolutely had to win. C-.
Saudi Arabia - By their low standards following the 2002 debacle, not a bad tournament. A decent draw with Tunisia (where they blew a late lead) and a 1-0 loss to Spain have to be acceptable in comparison to the 8-0 thrashing by Germany last time around. But that was Spain's B team and they still lost 4-0 to a mediocre Ukraine team. Not impressive, but not bad by their standards either. C.

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