Sunday, June 11, 2006

Sportszilla's World Cup Review - June 11, 2006
By Imtiaz Mussa

As we start to settle into group play, two of the more exciting teams in the world take to the pitch as Holland will open the day’s proceedings and Portugal will close them. In the middle, the Mexico/Iran matchup seems to have more storylines off the field than on.

Group C: Holland vs. Serbia and Montenegro
One of the best strikers in the world will face one of the best defenses to play during qualifying in this matchup. Marco Van Basten will play a 4-3-3 featuring the Premiership trio of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Arjen Robben, and Robin Van Persie. Serbia’s defense will be without the services of Nemanja Vidic as the Manchester United defender received a red card in the final qualifying game against Bosnia.

Holland played their style of football in the first half. They dominated possession with precision passing and a lack of turnovers. They waited for their chances to push the ball up front by utilizing the speed of Arjen Robben. For the opening part of this match, Serbia and Montenegro were content with Holland dominating possession by having nine men defending and leaving Kezman up top should S&M have an opportunity to go in transition. Holland would get their goal in the 17th minute as Robin Van Persie beautifully placed the ball in front of Robben and behind the S&M defense. Robben would slot it past the keeper to give the Dutch a 1-0 lead. The game would open up a bit more after the goal as S&M sought an equalizer and had some good chances but were unable to convert heading into the half.

The second half would feature much of the same. Robben continued to give S&M problems with his speed and both teams had good chances to score but were unable to convert. This match would end with a Dutch win 1-0 as they join Argentina atop Group C.

Man of the Match: Arjen Robben (Holland)
The Chelsea winger was exceptional today showing off his incredible speed which caused plenty of problems for a S&M defense that was missing a key part in Vidic. The only criticism of his play today was that there were times when he tried to beat the entire Serbian defense by himself without getting his teammates involved. If Robben can improve on that and continue to be in form, Holland will surely be tough to beat.

General Thoughts: Holland
It was a good win for the Dutch. They dictated the pace of this game by having quality possession. One goal was good enough to win this game as S&M did not have much going forward. Van Der Sar did not have to deal with a serious threat but that figures to change with matches against the Ivory Coast and Argentina. The team was solid overall and if Van Nistelrooy can get going, they might be unstoppable.

General Thoughts: Serbia and Montenegro
S&M’s fundamental problem came out as they were unable to get a goal against the Dutch. This is a team whose foundation is defense and without Vidic, they were a little vulnerable. If they want to have a chance against Argentina, they have to figure out how to exactly score goals. Savo Milosevic and Mateja Kezman are good finishers so the midfielders and more specifically Dejan Stankovic have to provide better service.

Serbia & Montenegro: Jevric, Dragutinovic, Gavrancic, Nenad Djordjevic (Koroman 43), Krstajic, Duljaj, Stankovic, Predrag Djordjevic, Nadj, Kezman (Ljuboja 66), Milosevic (Zigic 45).
Subs Not Used: Basta, Dudic, Ergic, Ilic, Kovacevic, Stojkovic, Vukic.

Booked: Stankovic, Koroman, Dragutinovic, Gavrancic.

Holland: Van der Sar, Heitinga, Mathijsen (Boulahrouz 86), Ooijer, Van Bronckhorst, Sneijder, Van Bommel (Landzaat 60), Cocu, Van Persie, van Nistelrooy (Kuyt 69), Robben.
Subs Not Used: Babel, De Cler, Jaliens, Kromkamp, Maduro, Stekelenburg, Timmer, Van der Vaart, Vennegoor of Hesselink.

Booked: Van Bronckhorst, Heitinga.

Goals: Robben 18.

Att: 37,216.

Ref: Markus Merk (Germany)

Group D: Mexico vs. Iran
The off the field stories have seemingly dominated this match. The father of Mexican starting goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez passed away on Wednesday. Sanchez went back to Mexico but came back to play. His presence has been a morale booster in the Mexican dressing room. For Iran, it is all politics. Their pursuit of nuclear weapons and the statements made by their president that the Holocaust was just a myth has caused a great deal of controversy in Germany. He thought about coming to watch his team play the first match but has sent his vice president instead. Iran welcome strikers Ali Karimi (ankle) and Mehdi Mahdavikia (back) back to the starting line-up despite recent injuries.

The first half may have been the most entertaining 45 minutes thus far in the World Cup. Both sides showed their attacking prowess by developing a number of chances and leading to fast play. But because of this open style of attack, defenders were pressed into fouling in hopes of slowing the game down. This led to multiple set-piece opportunities especially for Mexico who were able to capitalize on a free kick in the 27th minute as Omar Bravo who lost his mark was able to put it in. However, that lead would not last as defender Yahya Golmohammadi came up on the corner to beat a fallen Sanchez for the equalizer. The first half would end 1-1.

The teams came out with different mentalities in the second half. Prior to the start of the half, Mexico made a pair of substitutions and minutes later, would have to make their third and final one as Jared Borgetti had to leave the game injured. A draw would be a disaster for Mexico as they are the top seed of this group. Iran would play more conservatively holding onto the ball more but not pressuring the Mexican defense as much. Omar Bravo would net his second goal in the 76th minute as Iranian goalkeeper Rahman Rezaei made a critical error not clearing the ball properly. Then just three minutes later, Mario Mendez would send in a cross in that 5’4’’ Zinha headed perfectly to give Mexico a commanding 3-1 lead. That is how this match would end as Mexico took advantage of the Iranian mistake to grab the win. And as the whistle blew, the team went to their goalkeeper to embrace the man who just lost his father but came back to help uplift the squad.

Man of the Match: Omar Bravo (Mexico)
Bravo didn’t do anything fancy in this match. With star striker Jared Borgetti leaving the game early, he took the goalscoring burden netting a pair including the game winner. Good strikers take advantage of mistakes and that is exactly what Bravo did.

General Thoughts: Mexico
The first half was somewhat disappointing but the second half made up for it as Lavolpe changed it up at half time and thanks to a Mirzapour error, Mexico grabbed the momentum and grabbed the win. It remains to be seen what Jared Borgetti’s situation is but if Bravo and Zinha continue to play as well as they did today, Mexico will get through this group. Mexico will have a great chance to lock up advancement in their next match. They face Angola on June 16.

General Thoughts: Iran
It was a tough loss for Iran. For 75 minutes they gave the Mexicans everything they could handle but it goes to show how one mistake can change the outlook of the match. Amid the controversy, the Iranian team was extremely gracious giving Oswaldo Sanchez a bouquet of flowers showing their sympathy. They left it all out there on the pitch and with Portugal next, it is only going to get harder.

Mexico: Sanchez, Salcido, Mendez, Osorio, Pineda, Marquez, Torrado (Perez 45), Pardo, Franco (Zinha 45), Borgetti (Fonseca 52), Bravo.
Subs Not Used: Arellano, Castro, Corona, Garcia, Guardado, Morales, Ochoa, Rodriguez, Suarez.

Booked: Torrado, Salcido.

Goals: Bravo 28, 76, Zinha 79.

Iran: Mirzapour, Golmohammadi, Rezaei, Kaabi, Nosrati (Borhani 81), Mahdavikia, Nekounam, Karimi (Madanchi 62), Teymourian, Hashemian, Daei.
Subs Not Used: Bakhtiarizadeh, Enayati, Kazemeian, Khatibi, Roudbarian, Sadeqi, Shojaei, Talebloo, Zandi.

Booked: Nekounam.

Goals: Golmohammadi 36.

Att: 41,000

Ref: Roberto Rosetti (Italy).

Group D: Portugal vs. Angola
It will be a former colony facing off against their former ruler as Angola has become the first former Portugese colony to qualify for the World Cup. Angola have met Portugal on two previous occasions, but only one game was completed. Portugal won 6-0 in 1989. The second match was in 2001 and featured a first minute goal by Angolan striker Mendonca but three Angolans (Asha, Wilson and Franklin) were sent off before Luis Figo scored the equaliser from a penalty after 26 minutes. Portugal scored four more goals before Antonio Neto became the fourth Angolan to be sent off. He saw red after 64 minutes. The match was abandoned after 70 minutes with Portugal leading 5-1 when an Angolan player was injured leaving them with six players on the field as they had used all their substitutes. Influential midfielder Deco is not in the lineup for Portugal as he injured his left foot in training on Friday.

It would take only three minutes and fifty seconds for Portugal to score. A turnover in the midfield led Luis Figo to make a brilliant run toward goal and just as he was gearing up to shoot, he sent it inside to Pauleta for the easy finish. Angola would have their chances including one rocket from 30 yards that forced Ricardo to make a save. The play would be fast and wide open for the first half. However, there were not too many quality chances as balls went wide of the net. The half would end at the score of 1-0.

The one problem Portugal has is that they have a tendency to get complacent. That would prove to be the case again in the second half as the team did not generate chances with the same sense of urgency that we saw in the first half. Angola was not able to get a great chance either. A majority of the second half was played in the middle of the field and the Portuguese fans were not appreciative of that. This game would end at 1-0 as Portugal join Mexico atop the Group D standings.

Man of the Match: Luis Figo (Portugal)
The captain set up the only goal of the match showing great senses by making the pass to Pauleta. He also nearly had another assist on a corner but Cristiano Ronaldo’s header hit the crossbar. It was a solid effort for Figo.

General Thoughts: Portugal
By the way the first four minutes were played; you would have thought that this was going to be a high scoring game for Portugal. However, they got complacent and didn’t play with that same fire for the full 90 minutes. The defense was not impressive as Angola had a few chances to break through. Cristiano Ronaldo has to control that temper or else it could cost the team. They were well organized as any Scolari team will be and a win is a win.

General Thoughts: Angola
It is hard to gauge the Angolan performance. At least they did not get thrashed as badly as they did in the past. Angola has a big defense and after the first five minutes of the match, they settled in and gave the same Portuguese forwards a harder time. I think they need to put Akwa and Mantorras up front together if they want to have any hope of scoring a goal.

Angola: Joao Ricardo, Jamba, Kali, Loco, Delgado, Figueiredo (Miloy 80), Macanga, Mateus, Mendonca, Ze Kalanga (Edson 70), Akwa (Mantorras 59).
Subs Not Used: Lama, Airosa, Lebo-Lebo, Rui Marques, Flavio, Love, Buengo, Mario, Marco.

Booked: Jamba, Loco, Macanga

Portugal: Ricardo, Meira, Miguel, Nuno Valente, Ricardo Carvalho, Petit (Maniche 72), Tiago (Viana 82), Figo, Ronaldo (Costinha 59), Pauleta, Simao.
Subs Not Used: Quim, Paulo Ferreira, Caneira, Ricardo Costa, Boa Morte, Nuno Gomes, Paulo Santos, Postiga, Deco.

Booked: Ronaldo, Nuno Valente

Goals: Pauleta 4

Att: 45,000

Ref: Jorge Larrionda (Uruguay)

Tomorrow’s Fixtures
Japan vs. Australia – 9:00am EST – ESPN2
United States vs. Czech Republic – Noon EST – ESPN2
Italy vs. Ghana – 3:00pm EST – ESPN2


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