Thursday, June 22, 2006

Sportszilla's World Cup Review - June 22, 2006
By Imtiaz Mussa

It was do or die for the United States as they needed a win and some help. Brazil will try to get Ronaldo back on track when they take on Japan. Australia and Croatia play each other and for some of the Socceroos, it will be very meaningful. Players like Mark Viduka had the opportunity to play for Croatia since they are of Croatian descent but chose to stick with Australia.

Group E: United States vs. Ghana
Ghana forward Razak Pimpong replaced the suspended Asamoah Gyan while Derek Boateng took the place of Sulley Muntari in midfield. The US recalled Eddie Lewis and DeMarcus Beasley, replacing Pablo Mastroeni and Eddie Pope, who were both serving suspensions.

Referee Markus Merk stamped his early mark on the game, booking Eddie Lewis and Michael Essien inside the first six minutes. With plenty at stake both sides were prepared for a physical battle and Lewis needed treatment for an eyebrow cut, which was caused by John Mensah's elbow. Dramani then raised Ghana's hopes of a place in the knockout stages by firing them ahead. Dramani's challenge caught Reyna in possession and the Ghana star made ground before curling his shot around Kasey Keller's dive. The USA's cumbersome build-up play allowed Ghana time to get bodies behind the ball but when they took a more direct route it proved to be effective, with McBride rising to flick the ball on for Landon Donovan, who sliced his shot wide. The Americans suffered a blow when playmaker Reyna limped off but they made light of if when they leveled just before half-time. DaMarcus Beasley intercepted Derek Boateng's pass and curled a cross into the path of Dempsey, who crashed home a first-time shot. But referee Merk added one more twist to the first half, with a controversial penalty award. He penalized Onyewu, who appeared to win a clean header as Pimpong collapsed dramatically, and then allowed Appiah to score on the penalty.

Donovan swung in a free-kick as the USA piled on the pressure at the start of the second half but Ghana showed their threat on the break and Keller had to claw away a powerful shot from Matthew Amoah. For all their possession, the Americans showed little guile and wit to break down Ghana in a game that continued to be dominated by referee Merk's whistle. The USA's luck was out as McBride dived full-length to head Lewis' cross against the post before Onyewu headed inches over the bar from a corner.

Man of the Match: Stephen Appiah (Ghana)
The captain along with Essien controlled the midfield for a majority of this match. The US was never able to get anything down the middle of the field. Appiah also scored the infamous penalty.

General Thoughts: United States
It was a bad call by Merk to give Ghana the penalty at the end of the first half but the US had the entire second half to come back and just didn’t do it. They were always one pass or touch away from scoring a goal. The timing was just not there for them. When that happens to be the case, it’s hard to count on crossing. McBride is a pure target man and when the crosses aren’t coming consistently, the US will have a tough time scoring. There is plenty of work to be done.

General Thoughts: Ghana
Give credit where credit is due. Ghana always looked like the more dangerous team today. When they got the lead, they did what any team would do by getting back and playing defense. The debutants are the biggest surprise of the World Cup. In every World Cup, one African team makes it to the knockout stages. Because of the group they were in, no one expected Ghana. With the praise out of the way, there is criticism. Their behavior in the final 15 minutes was atrocious. Everyone on the pitch is tired. There is no need to tumble to the ground each time an American touches you and try to milk the clock. It just makes for poor sportsmanship. With a match against Brazil coming up next, they will not have Essien. That spells elimination.

Ghana: Kingson, Mensah, Pantsil, Shilla, Mohamed, Appiah, Essien, Dramani (Tachie-Mensah 80), Boateng (Otto Addo 45), Amoah (Eric Addo 59), Pimpong.
Subs Not Used: Adjei, Ahmed, Kuffour, Owu, Pappoe, Quaye, Sarpei.

Booked: Essien, Shilla, Mensah, Appiah.

Goals: Dramani 22, Appiah 45 pen.

USA: Keller, Onyewu, Conrad, Cherundolo (Johnson 60), Bocanegra, Dempsey, Reyna (Olsen 40), Lewis (Convey 74), Beasley, Donovan, McBride.
Subs Not Used: Albright, Berhalter, Ching, Hahnemann, Howard, O'Brien, Wolff.

Booked: Lewis

Goals: Dempsey 43.

Att: 41,000

Referee: Markus Merk (Germany)

Group E: Italy vs. Czech Republic
The Czech Republic took a gamble on striker Milan Baros' fitness by naming him in the side. Baros missed the first two games with a foot injury. Jan Koller (hamstring) is sidelined, as were suspended pair Tomas Ujfalusi and Vratislav Lokvenc. Tomas Galasek is dropped, replaced by Jan Polak in a five-man midfield. Italy surprisingly left out top scorer Luca Toni. Midfielder Simone Perrotta has been passed fit to start. Daniele De Rossi is banned after a red card against the USA. Cristian Zaccardo was dropped after his own goal in the same match - Gennaro Gattuso and Fabio Grosso came in.

Their first goal came from the unlikely source of Materazzi, who had come on in place of the injured Alessandro Nesta after 26 minutes. Totti delivered an inswinging corner from the right and the Inter Milan defender rose above Jan Polak to power in a header from nine yards out. The goal knocked the Czech Republic's confidence. Their early exuberance petered out and Baros began to look isolated in attack. And their predicament became even worse when Polak was shown a red card after two minutes of first-half stoppage time. The defender, who had earlier been booked for a crude challenge on Mauro Camoranesi, brought down Totti from behind and was given a second yellow. Totti made the most of the tackle by rolling around theatrically, but the referee had little option but to send Polak off.

Czech coach Karel Bruckner brought on skilful winger Jiri Stajner in place of veteran Karel Poborsky at the interval and his side pushed forward in search of goals. The talismanic Nedved surged forward from midfield to find himself one-on-one with Buffon after only a few minutes. His shot was blistering, but too close to the keeper, who parried. The increasing adventurousness and numerical disadvantage of the Czech Republic inevitably left space for Italy. Inzaghi, who came on for Alberto Gilardino after 61 minutes, wastefully put a header wide after a run from Andrea Pirlo. But he made no mistake three minutes from the end when he evaded the offside trap to advance unopposed from the halfway line and round Cech to score.

Man of the Match: Francesco Totti (Italy)
We saw the playmaking ability of Totti today as he set up the opening goal and proved to be plenty on trouble in the center of midfield. If he’s on form, the Italians will be extremely dangerous.

General Thoughts: Italy
With a defense that has only allowed an own goal, Italy will make life difficult for any team they face. Expect to see Luca Toni back in the starting lineup so Totti has another striker he can get the ball to. With Australia next, Italy has the opportunity to advance deep.

General Thoughts: Czech Republic
It started off so well for Czechs as they embarrassed the Americans 3-0 but it got ugly rather quickly. Nedved and Rosicky could only do so much but without a healthy Baros or Koller up front, there was no one to score. That would prove to be their undoing as the number 2 team according to FIFA has failed to make it out of the first round.

Czech Republic: Cech, Grygera, Kovac (Heinz 78), Rozehnal, Jankulovski, Plasil, Polak, Nedved, Poborsky (Stajner 46), Rosicky, Baros (Jarolim 64).
Subs Not Used: Blazek, Galasek, Jiranek, Kinsky, Koller, Mares, Sionko.

Sent Off: Polak (45)

Booked: Polak

Italy: Buffon, Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Nesta (Materazzi 17), Grosso, Camoranesi (Barone 73), Pirlo, Perrotta, Gattuso, Totti, Gilardino (Inzaghi 60).
Subs Not Used: Amelia, Barzagli, Del Piero, Iaquinta, Oddo, Peruzzi, Toni, Zaccardo.

Booked: Gattuso

Goals: Materazzi 26, Inzaghi 87.

Att: 50,000

Ref: Benito Archundia Tellez (Mexico)

Best Group E Player
Michael Essien (Ghana)

Best Group E Match
Italy vs. Ghana

Group F: Brazil vs. Japan
Both coaches have named new-look line-ups for their final Group F match. Japan coach Zico has opted for a changed strike partnership, Keiji Tamada and Seiichiro Maki taking the places of Naohiro Takahara and Atsushi Yanagisawa. Brazil boss Carlos Alberto Parreira has relegated Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Emerson, Ze Roberto and Adriano to the bench but he kept faith with Ronaldo up front.

Japanese keeper Kawaguchi was in for a busy night. Twice Robinho tested him, once with a left-foot snap-shot, then with a curler after a majestic run. He pulled off a blinder to deny Ronaldo and then made the save of the tournament to almost unbelievably tip over a thunderous Juninho drive from 20 yards. Just when it seemed a matter of time until Brazil scored, they were hit by a brilliant Japan counter-attack. Alex found some space on the left and slipped in a lovely ball to Tamada, who took a touch and hammered a stunning left-footer into the top corner of Dida's net. But, with almost the last touch of the half, Ronaldo buried his demons, heading in from close-range after Cicinho nodded Ronaldinho's centre back across goal.

He should have scored again just after the break following an exquisite one-two with Ronaldinho on the edge of the area but could only guide a right-foot shot inches wide from 16 yards. It did not take Brazil much longer to go ahead and it was a horror moment for the previously outstanding Kawaguchi. Juninho hit a hopeful shot from 30 yards that swung and dipped and deceived Kawaguchi as it went through the stopper's attempted save. It was party time for the Brazilians and they wrapped up the points when Ronaldinho fed Gilberto and the 30-year-old skillfully drilled home a left-foot shot from a tight angle. Ronaldo was not finished yet though - and he saved the best until last in Dortmund. Taking a pass from Robinho, he superbly maneuvered some space before side-footing brilliantly into the far corner from outside the area.

Man of the Match: Ronaldo (Brazil)
It took a few games but he’s back. Ronaldo scored a pair of goals and looked very active today. It appears that by playing him, the striker was able to lose a few pounds. It also helps that his chemistry with his teammates was sharper.

General Thoughts: Brazil
It’s time for the rest of the world to worry. The second half showed us that Brazil is clicking on all cylinders. The breathtaking passing and ball handling is back. The best part about this is the fact that this was done without five starters. Juninho’s strike was brilliant and he is a top 10 attacking midfielder in the world today but he just happens to play behind number one and two in Ronaldinho and Kaka. Ghana has to be careful that they just don’t stand around and watch.

General Thoughts: Japan
When Japan took the lead in the first half, they were hoping for the biggest upset in World Cup history. At the end of the day, Brazil came out and put them back in their place. It may have ended 4-1 but had it not been for Kawaguchi, it could easily have been 7 or 8. He made some great saves but he faced too many shots and couldn’t stop them all.

Japan: Kawaguchi, Santos, Tsuboi, Kaji, Nakazawa, Hidetoshi Nakata, Ogasawara (Koji Nakata 56), Nakamura, Inamoto, Maki (Takahara 60), Tamada, Takahara (Oguro 66).
Subs Not Used: Doi, Endo, Fukunishi, Komano, Moniwa, Narazaki, Ono, Yanagisawa.

Booked: Kaji

Goals: Tamada 33

Brazil: Dida (Rogerio 82), Lucio, Juan, Cicinho, Gilberto, Kaka (Ze Roberto 71), Ronaldinho (Ricardinho 71), Silva, Juninho, Ronaldo, Robinho.
Subs Not Used: Adriano, Cafu, Carlos, Cris, Emerson, Fred, Julio Cesar, Luisao, Mineiro

Booked: Gilberto

Goals: Ronaldo 45, Juninho 53, Gilberto 59, Ronaldo 81

Att: 65,000

Ref: Eric Poulat (France)

Group F: Australia vs. Croatia
Australia has opted for a surprise switch of goalkeepers, opting for AC Milan's second choice keeper Zeljko Kalac over Mark Schwarzer. Defender Tony Popovic is dropped to the bench because of a calf injury, while winger Harry Kewell starts as Mark Viduka spearheads a 3-4-2-1 formation. Croatia coach Zlatko Kranjcar, meanwhile, has brought in Ivica Olic to replace Ivan Klasnic as Dado Prso's strike partner in the hope of the team scoring its first goal at the tournament. Stjepan Tomas comes in for suspended Robert Kovac at right-back.

The Socceroos surprisingly opted to leave out first-choice goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer in favor of the taller Zeljko Kalac. And the replacement keeper's first touch was to pick the ball out of the net after Srna's bending set piece caught him out. Mark Viduka's mistimed lunge on Nico Kovac on the edge of the area brought about the free-kick and Srna sweetly dispatched Croatia's first goal of the tournament. But far from being rocked by the early setback, the Australians pressed forward and took control of possession. Kewell and Tim Cahill both went close with long-range efforts as the Socceroos camped inside the Croatian half. And they were rewarded for their endeavor on 38 minutes when Tomas' moment of madness handed Australia a penalty. Tomas rose to deal with an in-swinging cross and his outstretched arm just clipped the ball which was cleverly spotted by English referee Graham Poll. Newcastle defender Moore stepped up to coolly slot home the resulting spot-kick.

Ten minutes after the interval Australia returned the favor for Tomas' earlier kindness when the unimpressive Kalac misread Kovac's tame drive, allowing the ball to hop over him into his net. With Australia streaming forward for the vital equalizer the game became stretched and Kewell took advantage of some space, forcing an instinctive reflex save from Stipe Pletikosa. And moments later the keeper bravely threw himself underneath two Australian challenges to heroically keep Aloisi out. But he was helpless to prevent the Australia equalizer as Kewell, who looked to be in an offside position, turned home John Aloisi's flick from Marco Bresciano's in-swinging cross. Simic and Emerton were both dismissed for two bookable offences in the final 10 minutes, while Simunic, who received a second caution, was mistakenly not shown a red by referee Poll. To add to the drama, Cahill had a goal disallowed as Poll had already blown for full time and as Simunic complained, the referee handed him his third yellow of the match and an overdue red card.

Man of the Match: Harry Kewell (Australia)
Kewell can be inconsistent at times but he comes up with that moment of brilliance that convinces you that he is a special player. Today, it was all about getting that vital equalizer that sends the Socceroos to the second round.

General Thoughts: Australia
This group gave them the opportunity to advance and that’s exactly what they did. Because they have not been in a World Cup for a long time, people forgot that there is a good deal of quality players in the side and they had the right manager in Guus Hiddink to direct them. For once, the Aussies are not primarily focused on cricket.

General Thoughts: Croatia
I never felt like Croatia was fully into this World Cup. They played the Brazilians tough in the opening match though they’d lose but their draw against Japan just deflated them. That was a game they should have won and it put too much pressure on them for this one and they cracked. Back to the drawing board for Croatia but they’ll always remember 1998.

Croatia: Pletikosa, Simic, Tudor, Tomas (Klasnic 84), Simunic, Srna, Nico Kovac, Babic, Kranjcar (Jerko Leko 65), Prso, Olic (Modric 73).
Subs Not Used: Balaban, Bosnjak, Butina, Didulica, Ivan Leko, Seric, Tokic, Vranjes.

Sent Off: Simic (85), Simunic (90).

Booked: Simic, Tudor, Simunic, Pletikosa.

Goals: Srna 3, Nico Kovac 56.

Australia: Kalac, Neill, Moore, Chipperfield (Kennedy 75), Emerton, Grella (Aloisi 63), Culina, Cahill, Sterjovski (Bresciano 71), Kewell, Viduka.
Subs Not Used: Beauchamp, Covic, Lazaridis, Milligan, Popovic, Schwarzer, Skoko, Thompson, Wilkshire.

Sent Off: Emerton (87)

Booked: Emerton.

Goals: Moore 39 pen, Kewell 79.

Att: 52,000

Ref: Graham Poll (England)

Best Group F Player
Kaka (Brazil)

Best Group F Match
Australia vs. Japan

Tomorrow’s Fixtures
Spain vs. Saudi Arabia – 10:00am EST – ESPN
Ukraine vs. Tunisia – 10:00am EST – ESPN2
France vs. Togo – 3:00pm EST – ESPN
Switzerland vs. South Korea – 3:00pm EST – ESPN2


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