Saturday, June 17, 2006

Sportszilla's World Cup Review - June 17, 2006
By Imtiaz Mussa

The United States returns to the pitch following their disgraceful performance on Monday. They will face one of the best teams in the world in Italy. The Czech Republic will look to keep the good times rolling when they play a tough Ghana team. And Portugal will be getting Deco back when they play Iran to kick it all off.

Group D: Portugal vs. Iran
Portugal boss Luiz Felipe Scolari brought in Franciso Costinha, Maniche and Deco in place of Armando Petit, Tiago and Simao Sabrosa. Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo kept his place in the Portugal side after shaking off a leg muscle injury. Iran dropped veteran striker Ali Daei to the bench after he complained of a back injury and was criticized following their 3-1 loss to Mexico. Daei was replaced by Vahid Hashemian but Ferydoon Zandi is still out with flu.

Despite their dominance Portugal failed to capitalize on their superiority, a factor which is likely to concern manager Luiz Felipe Scolari. The best chance of the first half fell to Deco, who was denied when his fierce left-foot drive from eight yards was brilliantly saved by Ebrahim Mirzapour after 12 minutes. The goalkeeper somehow managed to force the ball over the crossbar for a corner, much to the despair of the Brazilian-born star. Wingers Luis Figo and Ronaldo began to exert their influence in midfield as both men created problems with their slick dribbling skills. But neither man could find the incisive ball for striker Pauleta, who toiled alone up front with little success. Despite continuous Portuguese pressure, the Iranians managed to cause the odd problem in their opposition's penalty area - Mehdi Mahdavikia's in-swinging free-kick had goalkeeper Ricardo tentatively punching clear.

But Portugal's attacking instincts were eventually rewarded on 62 minutes when Deco collected Figo's pass five yards outside the Iranian penalty area. The Barcelona player needed just one touch, striking a sweet first-time shot past the helpless Mirzapour, who could only watch the ball sail into the top left corner. The goal forced Iranian coach Branko Ivankovic to make changes - and his substitution almost paid off when Rasoul Khatibi, on for striker Mehrzad Madanchi, fired just wide after Fernando Meira misjudged a long ball. Victory was eventually secured in the 78th minute when Iran captain Yahya Golmohammadi needlessly brought down Figo in the penalty area. Ronaldo stepped up and confidently converted from the penalty spot, firing into the top left-hand corner. Iran should have pulled a goal back in the 92nd minute, but Javad Nekounam headed wide after rising unchallenged from a free-kick. Ronaldo thought he had scored his second of the game in the dying seconds, but his six-yard shot was adjudged offside. The game would end with a score of 2-0.

Man of the Match: Deco (Portugal)
It was a superb effort for the Barcelona man as he took a load of Portugal’s back by scoring the first goal. Figo and Ronaldo might have dominated possession but Deco was able to utilize his better. He has become a big part of the team since 2004.

General Thoughts: Portugal
They may have won again but it wasn’t a good performance. Portugal has a tendency to play with a lack of urgency against lesser teams. They have to get Pauleta involved more because he was a ghost today due to the lack of service. They are moving on and will play a tough Mexican team next.

General Thoughts: Iran
Their skill deficiency came out against this Portuguese team. There is no doubt that Ali Karimi was carrying an injury today. When he is healthy and on form, he controls Iran from the midfield. Except for a few chances, they were never going to win this game. They will be going home.

Portugal: Ricardo, Miguel, Meira, Ricardo Carvalho, Nuno Valente, Costinha, Maniche (Petit 66), Deco (Tiago 80), Ronaldo, Pauleta, Figo (Simao 88)
Subs Not Used: Paulo Ferreira, Caneira, Ricardo Costa, Boa Morte, Nuno Gomes, Paulo Santos, Postiga, Quim, Viana

Booked: Pauleta, Deco, Costinha

Goals: Deco 63, Ronaldo 80 pen

Iran: Mirzapour, Kaebi, Rezaei, Golmohammadi, Nosrati, Mahdavikia, Nekonam, AKarimi, Taymoorian, Madanchi, Hashemian
Subs Not Used: Borhani, Daei, Enayati, Kazemeian, Navidkia, Roudbarian, Sadeqi, Shojaei, Talebloo

Booked: Nekounam, Madanchi, Kaabi, Golmohammadi

Attendance: 48,000

Referee: Eric Poulat (France)

Group D Update
Portugal is into the second round and Iran is done. Portugal can win the group with a win or draw over Mexico. Mexico needs at least a point to get through to the second round. Angola needs to beat Iran, hope Mexico loses, and get a better goal differential in order to get through.

Group E: Ghana vs. Czech Republic
Czech Republic coach Karel Bruckner makes just one change, with Vratislav Lokvenc replacing the injured Jan Koller in attack. Aston Villa striker Milan Baros is still out because of a hamstring injury. Ghana coach Ratomir Dujkovic drops experienced defender Samuel Kuffour, who made the error that allowed Italy to score their second goal on Monday, replacing him with the uncapped Habib Mohamed. Left back Emmanuel Pappoe loses his place to Shilla Illiasu and Eric Addo is replaced by Otto Addo in the other changes to the Black Stars' line-up.

Ghana gave an instant demonstration of their determination to make amends for their error-strewn defeat to Italy by sweeping into the lead inside 70 seconds. A Ghana corner was cleared only as far as Stephen Appiah whose cross was missed by Ujfalusi and fell for Gyan who finished superbly past Cech from the edge of the box. The Czech Republic were having problems getting the influential Tomas Rosicky on the ball and when they did get crosses in they missed the giant figure of the injured Jan Koller and Ghana's defence were able to cope relatively comfortably. Ghana's central midfielders Appiah and Michael Essien were working their socks off to negate the threat of Nedved and Rosicky. The Czechs at last stitched a move together, with Jaroslav Plasil, Rosicky and Nedved combining to set up Poborsky for a cross which Rosicky fired wide.

Czech Republic's hunger for an equaliser almost proved their undoing as Asamoah Gyan caught them short-handed at the back and it needed a great save Cech to prevent Ghana doubling their lead. At the other end Richard Kingston arched up to tip over a powerful drive from Plasil as the contest took on the air of a game in the knockout stages. Drama erupted on 65 minutes when Ujfalusi brought down Amoah. Argentine referee Horacio Elizondo pointed to the penalty spot, but took an age to show the last Czech defender a red card. Gyan was shown a yellow card for taking the penalty without the referee's permission, ruling him out of Ghana's last group game against the USA, and struck the retake against the post. Ghana shrugged off that disappointment to surge forward and Cech kept the Czechs alive with great saves from Muntari and Amoah. Cech almost single-handedly kept Ghana at bay, denying Amoah and Gyan in quick succession. But his resistance ended when Muntari ended off a fine move by firing past Cech from 12 yards. The whistle would soon blow as Ghana completed the biggest upset of this World Cup beating the mighty Czechs 2-0.

Man of the Match: Michael Essien (Ghana)
Essien was impressive again as his role changed for this game. He dropped back more for this match and had the duty of taking Rosicky and Nedved out of this game. And he did it showing that he is one of the best young midfielders in the world. As he goes, so do Ghana. Arena better do his homework on this guy.

General Thoughts: Ghana
This is the greatest win in their nation’s history. They played like they had nothing to lose while the Czechs were so tight. Appiah and Amoah were both very good today to support Essien. They have the ability to move on to the next round with a win against the United States. However, they will have to do it without Gyan and Muntari. That will make things for difficult if they want to advance.

General Thoughts: Czech Republic
This was a very disappointing result for the Czechs who came out on fire against the US. They may have taken Ghana for granted and the early goal completely threw them off. Not having Baros or Koller proved to be a huge problem. There was no one the other players knew would be able to score goals and because of that, they were overly reliant on Nedved and Rosicky. Neither one had any room in this game. All of a sudden, the Czechs are under some pressure having to play Italy next.

Czech Republic: Cech, Grygera, Rozehnal, Ujfalusi, Jankulovski, Poborsky (Stajner 55), Galasek (Polak 45), Rosicky, Plasil (Sionko 68), Nedved, Lokvenc.
Subs Not Used: Mares, Kovac, Jiranek, Jarolim, Blazek, Heinz, Kinsky, Koller, Baros.

Sent Off: Ujfalusi (66)

Booked: Lokvenc

Ghana: Kingston, Pantsil, Mensah, Mohamed, Shilla, Essien, Appiah, Muntari, Otto Addo (Boateng 45), Gyan (Pimpong 85), Amoah (Eric Addo 80).
Subs Not Used: Adjei, Sarpei, Kuffour, Pappoe, Tachie-Mensah, Owu, Quaye, Ahmed, Dramani.

Booked: Otto Addo, Essien, Gyan, Boateng, Muntari.

Goals: Gyan 2, Muntari 82.

Att: 45,000.

Referee: Horacio Marcelo Elizondo (Argentina)

Group E: United States vs. Italy
Italy welcome back Gianluca Zambrotta at left-back, with Fabio Grosso dropping out, and striker Francesco Totti has been passed fit to start. USA coach Bruce Arena makes two changes to the side that lost to the Czech Republic. Clint Dempsey and Carlos Bocanegra come in for DaMarcus Beasley and Eddie Lewis. Ghana's victory over the Czech Republic earlier in the day will have given USA fans hope because they cannot be eliminated today regardless of the result.

If Ghana's brilliant win over Czech Republic earlier in the day opened up the group, USA looked in the mood to create the second real shock of the day. They set about their more well-known opponents with vigor in the early stages, pinning Italy back, with Bobby Convey and Clinton Dempsey both just missing the target. But, as they began to take control, the Italians produced a classic sucker-punch. They won a free-kick down the right, Pirlo crossed with precision and Gilardino stooped to head past Keller from eight yards. USA refused to buckle, however, and two moments of madness inside a minute turned the game in their favor. They equalized through Zaccardo's horror own-goal, the full-back incredibly slicing a left-footed clearance past Gianluigi Buffon and into the net. Seconds later, De Rossi disgraced himself with a sickening, needless elbow on Brian McBride and was given his marching orders. It was the undoubted low point of a World Cup that has tried so hard to entertain. Italy took off Francesco Totti and brought on Gennaro Gattuso and adapted well to a 4-3-2 formation, though Mastroeni's 35-yard piledriver gave them a scare when it rippled the top of Buffon's net. Moments later, Mastroeni was off too. His two-footed lunge on Pirlo was deserving of a red card in the opinion of referee Jorge Larrionda. The crowd was furious as the teams entered their locker rooms at halftime.

If Larrionda was expecting a quieter second half, it did not last for long. Pope slid through Gilardino and was handed his second yellow of the evening, as the US was unbelievably reduced to nine men. Carlos Bocanegra headed onto his own crossbar, but USA was brave enough to counter-attack when they could, McBride slicing a left-foot shot wide. They thought they had gone ahead when substitute DaMarcus Beasley lashed in from 15 yards, but McBride was adjudged to have been standing in an offside position. The US faithful celebrated as Kasey Keller pulled off a wonder save to claw away Alessandro Del Piero's close-range toe-poke. Italy pressed but they could not break USA's resolve and the Americans claimed an extraordinary point to kick-start their World Cup campaign. There is still hope for the Americans and if Larrionda ever came to the United States, he would be lynched.

Man of the Match: Kasey Keller (United States)
He couldn’t do anything about the goal but when the United States were up against the wall with a man down, Keller became a wall in front of net frustrating the Italians time after time. He had to make some brilliant saves as his teammates were getting tired but he really stepped up and has now given the United States hope.

General Thoughts: United States
This is the type of result that will bring a team together. With the exception of getting a win, this was the complete opposite from the Czech Republic match. They were aggressive, took control, closed players out, and didn’t make too many mental mistakes. Larrionda truly did them in by sending off Mastroeni and Pope. The Mastroeni call was a very poor decision. The important thing is that the Americans still have a chance and must now take on a Ghana team that cannot be underestimated.

General Thoughts: Italy
They may have more talent than the Americans but the USA showed them what heart and determination was all about today. Gaining a point does put Italy in the driver’s seat with four to lead the group. They would love to go to the second round on a high by beating the Czechs and winning the group. De Rossi’s elbow may have sent them a man down but the United States had already taken them out of their game by being physical and winning balls. Plus, they couldn’t solve Keller in the second half.

Italy: Buffon, Zaccardo (Del Piero 54), Nesta, Cannavaro, Zambrotta, Perrotta, Pirlo, De Rossi, Totti (Gattuso 35), Toni (Iaquinta 61), Gilardino.
Subs Not Used: Amelia, Barone, Barzagli, Camoranesi, Grosso, Inzaghi, Materazzi, Oddo, Peruzzi.

Sent Off: De Rossi (28).

Booked: Totti, Zambrotta.

Goals: Gilardino 22.

USA: Keller, Cherundolo, Onyewu, Pope, Bocanegra, Dempsey (Beasley 62), Mastroeni, Reyna, Convey (Conrad 51), McBride, Donovan.
Subs Not Used: Albright, Berhalter, Ching, Hahnemann, Howard, Johnson, Lewis, O'Brien, Olsen, Wolff.

Sent Off: Mastroeni (45), Pope (47).

Booked: Pope.

Goals: Zaccardo 27 og.

Att: 46,000.

Ref: Jorge Larrionda (Uruguay)

The Larrionda Controversy
Jorge Larrionda was selected as a referee for the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan, but was suspended for six months by the Asociación Uruguaya de Fútbol two days after his selection, and was dropped from the list of referees. The federation cited "irregularities" which were not specified. Larrionda was one of five referees suspended for what the president of the Uruguayan board described as "irregularities that were denounced by other referees." The allegations arose from corruption between members of rival unions for Uruguay's soccer officials. In June 2003, during a Confederations Cup match in France, he awarded Turkey a controversial penalty kick and Turkey scored again later on a play that appeared to be offsides. The United States will be launching an appeal to FIFA to have them investigate Larrionda and his actions. This will probably be the last game he officiates in this World Cup.

Group E Update
This one is complicated so we’ll take it team by team.
The United States must beat Ghana and get some help. The Czech Republic must lose or if the Czech Republic draws, they must have a better goal differential. If Italy loses, they need to have a better goal differential.
Italy can advance by getting a point. In order to win the group and avoid a likely showdown with Brazil, Italy can either win their match or get a draw and hope the United States beats Ghana. Italy can also advance if they lose just as long as the US wins but don’t have a better goal differential.
The Czech Republic can win the group with a win and a Ghana loss or tie. Also, they can win the group if they and Ghana wins by virtue of goal differential. They can advance by getting a draw coupled with a Ghana draw or loss and just as long as the US did not get goal differential by winning. If Ghana drew, they would need a better goal differential.
Ghana can advance with a win. They can win the group with a win and an Italy/Czech draw. They can also win if the Czechs win by beating them out in goal differential. If Ghana draws, they need Italy to beat the Czechs to make it.
It’s official. Group E is the Group of Death.

Tomorrow’s Fixtures
Japan vs. Croatia – 9:00am EST – ABC
Brazil vs. Australia – Noon EST – ABC
France vs. South Korea – 3:00pm EST - ABC


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