Archive for June, 2010

Group Stages Report Card – Part 2

A note on these grades. Each teams’ grade is not to be compared with another team, but is based on how they did according to expectations, the manner in which they did it in (playing style, ease/difficulty, adversity etc.)  and how they carried themselves.

The first half can be found here.

Group E

Netherlands – A

The Dutch are playing well and no one is shouting at each other...yet

The Dutch became the second team to win all three of their group games and they did it without any internal fighting. Even Robben got a brief run out and in the 20 minutes he was on he had a spectacular shot denied by the woodwork which went straight into the path of a grateful Huntelaar who easily slotted it home.

They were rarely troubled in any of their games though it took a deflected block from the keeper to ensure their three points against Japan. They could have taken it easy in their final match against Cameroon, but they came out hard and were eventual winners.

They’re well organized and deadly going forward — now even more so with a healthy Robben. Their defense is solid and their engine room is humming perfectly along.

Now comes the real test (well, after they meet Slovakia) and the quality of teams once they reach the quarters should greatly improve. For now they aced their group stage games.

Japan – A-
Japan were supposed finish bottom of the group. They were certainly a team to be respected but every game against them was treated like the “easy” game.

Honda has mastered the Jabulani

Their pre-tournament games didn’t fare too well as they went 0-4 (all against teams going to the World Cup finals) and the media and public back home had their doubts about the Blue Samurai.

That all changed when they came to South Africa. They’re incredibly well organized at the back, but it’s from the back where they’re very potent going forward as they send their fullbacks screaming down the wings. Their midfield is wonderfully creative and very good at finding the runs by their strikers and wingbacks.

Their forwards are okay but they make intelligent runs which must be kept in check, and don’t foul them anywhere in free kick range as Denmark painfully found out.

The Jabulani has come under a lot of criticism by players and keepers alike, but today Japan made it their bitch by scoring two exquisite free kicks the likes of which Ronaldo, Lampard, Messi, etc… cannot seem to master with this new ball.

Up next for the Blue Samurai is Paraguay. This should be a very exciting encounter as they both play good football. I pip Japan to sneak on through to the quarters as they are more balanced and I hope they do it from a free kick.

Denmark – C-

Scored his record breaking goal but was otherwise poor.

This marks the first time in their history that the Danes failed to get out of the group stage. Having missed out on the festivities in Germany they came to South Africa with a veteran squad.

It was this I feel that let them down. They were always a half step behind the Dutch and the Japanese. Against Cameroon in one of the most entertaining games of the tournament, they were lucky not too lose or at least draw as Cameroon missed gilt-edge chance after another.

They didn’t play badly or negatively. In fact, every one of their games was exciting. Unfortunately it had to do with some of their own defensive errors.

Going forward though, they were a constant threat especially with Rommedahl rediscovering some of his 10.2 second 100 meter speed. Sadly, old warhorse Tomasson was anemic in front of goal as he tried to equal the Danish scoring record. In the final minutes of their last game against Japan, and already going home, he scored from a penalty and achieved the milestone.

In the end, I think the Danes and especially Morton Olsen underestimated Japan and had no real plan if they were to fall behind. Many of their players will no doubt retire from international duty after this cup and the team will go home disappointed.

Cameroon – D+/C-

Has never captured the form for his country that he does for his club.

Cameroon started the cup amid controversy as legend Roger Milla called out star striker and captain Samuel Eto’o for not recreating his club form for his country. Whereas that might be true, it is a little unfair as his club teammates possess a little more skill and quality then his national teammates.

Eto’o, always a sensitive soul, threatened to quit the team. Then after their first game loss to Japan, Paul Le Guen publicly questioned the team’s attitude when in turn Eto’o question they starting selection.

In their second game, they came out guns a-blazing with the team selection suggested by Eto’o. They created chance after chance but their finishing was poor. The Danes, patient and calm, attacked them on the counter and were 2-1 winners. The Indomitable Lions became the first team eliminated from the competition.

Admirably, they came out hard in the meaningless third game. Unfortunately, so did the Dutch. It was an exciting affair but their defense let them down and they ended their campaign winless.

I didn’t give them a failing grade as they played exciting attacking football. After the first game, they really put their hearts into it. Unfortunately their discipline, finishing abilities and organization were thrown out the window. They were responsible for one of the most entertaining start to finish games and were a pleasure to watch (from an attacking POV; defensively it was painful).

Ultimately they were a major disappointment, but I have soft spot for the Cameroon teams of ’90 and ’94 so I was generous with my marks.

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Group F

Paraguay – B
The Paraguayan team came into the World Cup as the surprise of the South American qualifications. They were the second team to qualify and did it by beating all the traditional powerhouses.

Solid all over, they sadly, like many other teams, started off the tournament on a cautious note. They scored the opening goal against Italy but gave the defending champions too much respect, and they eventually gave up a poor goal.

Against Slovakia they resorted back to their free-flowing qualification style of play and totally dominated the Europeans, scoring two well-taken goals to boot.

Oddly though, in their third game they reverted back to their cautious style knowing a draw would see them through. They didn’t really try too hard and just made sure they maintained a clean sheet.

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Tactical Keys: USA vs. Ghana

This is a guest post by TSG’s Mr. Tuesday.

Keys to breaking down Ghana

Annan, a ball carrier and 5th defender for Ghana

Since Ghana play with a holding midfielder, in a flexible system that at times resembles both 4-2-3-1 (against Australia) and 4-1-4-1 (against Germany) they’re intent on locking down the spaces directly in front of their back four. However, when the ball is in their wide areas in the defensive third, Annan quickly drops in to become the second defender in support of his fullback, forming a five-man back line. This means it’ll be important to suck Annan out to the flanks to open spaces in front of the back four. Slip passes will be cut out all day so midfielders must either play it back out wide or shoot whenever they have space within 25 yards. Lahm drawing out Annan to help on the flank combined with Ozil’s willingness to shoot was exactly how Germany found their goal vs Ghana.

Ghana play a pressing style with a very high line. They compress the vertical space limiting space in the midfield. The USA will no longer enjoy the 2v1 situations along the flanks they found against Algeria and instead Donovan and Dempsey will encounter the sort of 2v3 situations Germany faced in the middle third. Boateng or Asamoah will quickly get out to the flank to pressure with their wide players. Still, it’ll be important to use the entire width of the pitch in possession since immediate pressure will limit their time to pick a pass to break the offsides trap.

Against Algeria, the US often employed almost a 4-2-4 shape, defending with four players across the front just outside their own half when their opponent was in possession in their own defensive third. (More on this later.) Interestingly Ghana employed a similar tactic against Germany, trying to limit the time and space available to the German fullbacks in possession by pushing their wide midfielders high up the pitch. This tactic robbed Germany of much of their fluency in possession.

Bradley--a big effort needed again...

I expect Edu and Bradley to continue in central midfield together. Support from Clint Dempsey coming central from wide areas may be key to holding our own in midfield despite losing the number battle. The US midfielders must have the composure to find the free man centrally. If we come out on top, expect Michael Bradley to have played a key role in the attack.

Bob Bradley, USA’s hustler of a manager, is well aware that speed kills in international football and knows it’ll be important to stretch Ghana’s defense by getting in behind. This is why I fully expect Findley to return to the US lineup. Findley and Altidore must use their speed to try to get behind the Ghanaian full backs and force Annan to cover in wide areas, exposing the high-IQ center back pairing.

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Group H – Round 3 games – Spain versus Chile, Switzerland versus Honduras

"...and currently can’t hit a cow’s ass with a banjo.". Thanks Kickette!

Well Chile will meet Brazil and Spain will meet Portugal. What a mouth watering round of 16!

2 minutes of added time in the Spain/Chile game

90:00 – Fabregas with a swing and miss, though if asked later I bet he says he was leaving it for someone else.

4 minutes of additional time in the Swiss game.

86:00 - Derdiyok gets another easy opportunity but his ball control fails him. That should have been 1-0. If the young striker had converted all his easy chances (3 so far), Switzerland would have won the group!

76:00 – Crunch time for Switzerland as they need to win by 2 goals if they want to advance to the next round.

69:00 – Spectacular save by Benaglio to keep Switzerland’s hopes alive as he saves on a one on one situation by diving and punching clear.

65:00 – Sanchez who has been largely anonymous in this game is off and Orellana is on.

55:00 – Torres off, Fabregas on. His first touch is sublime and almost sets up Villa for his fourth goal of the tournament but it’s nicely cut out by a Chilean defender.

50:00 – Honduras counter well and just miss an opportunity to go ahead but their striker could not connect on the cross.

47:00 – GOOOOOOOAAAAALLL. MILLAR with a peach of a goal. Actually on replay it took a big deflection that confused Casillas but a goal is a goal and Chile are back in it. Chile 1Spain 2

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Group G round 3 – Brazil versus Portugal, North Korea versus Ivory Coast

They will need a goal or 3 from Gervinho if the Ivorians are to go through

PEEEEEEP PEEEEEP PEEP. Brazil top the group and Portugal runners up.

PEEEEEEP PEEEEEP PEEP. Ivory Coast are three goal winners but it is not nearly enough.

Both games with 5 minutes of extra time but the writing is on the wall. Ivory Coast being punished for their cautious approach i the first game and will be going home early.

92:00 - Cat like reflexes from Eduardo as he saves from a Ramires shot.

88:00 – Lucio with a free header but its straight at the Portuguese keeper.

85:00 - Another ball goes in the back of the Korean net but once again its offside. Sven shows some emotion on the bench by making a fist and waving his arm.

81:00 – GOOOOOOAAAALLL. Kalou. Too little too late. Ivory Coast 3North Korea 0

78:00 - Portugal have had the majority of the chances this half but Brazil’s defense has been well organized and very solid as it reflects their managers mentality.

69:00 - Time running out for the elephants. North Korea defending well.

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Redemption 2010: USA vs.Ghana

In a late twist of fate and ecstasy, the United States gallantly and finally slipped one through the posts on Wednesday and emphatically punched their ticket to World Cup 2010, 2nd round.

Dempsey buried this chance in the Yanks' 2006 Cup loss to the Black Stars...he'll need to be efficient on Saturday

Up next for the Yanks? The Ghana Black Stars, Africa’s last team remaining in the tournament and the United States slayer in the final group game in World Cup 2006.

Ghana, who most expected would wilt in a tough Group D without their midfield quarterback Michael Essien, did the exact opposite.

With a steely win over trendy final four pick Serbia in the opening round and a draw against an undermanned Australia side, Ghana strode into the final game against UEFA powerhouse Germany with the group lead and with group scenarios in their favor.

A 1-0 loss coupled with Australia’s narrow win over Serbia sent Ghana through to face the Group C-winning States.

Ghana deploy in a 4-1-4-1 with Asamoah Gyan, the lone striker, the key

Ghana employs a disciplined 4-1-4-1 formation that drops the fierce, but slight Anthony Annan–a more athletic Wilson Palacios or, better, a reincarnation of former England great Paul Ince–in the holding role traditionally held by Essien above an extremely seasoned defense.

How seasoned is the backline? From left to right it reads: John Paintsil, (a starter at Fulham in the EPL) John Mensah (formerly of Lyon and now shepherd of Sunderland’s defense), Jonathan Mensah (an extremely powerful and strong central defender who has stepped in for injured Isaac Vorheh) and finally Hans Sarpei (a shifty and sound player out of the Bundesliga).

Only Jonathan Mensah, no relation to John, is inexperienced, but he’s also candidate to start next year at Serie A side Udinese. He’s athletic and certainly no slouch–watch the Germany game.

The back four is smart, tough, athletic and by my review only cracks when having to face spurts of tough pressure against the run-of-play. Against Serbia, especially, the fundamentals and cover of the defense was…..exceptional.

Ghana is not to be trifled with in the air (Jonathan Menshah, #8)

The Black Stars like to control things ahead with Annan in their midfield. They’ll play the ball around looking for chances to serve up to striker Asamoah Gyan (we’ll talk about his impact shortly), who’s making a run against the grain of the opponent’s defense.

The midfield should have been a strength for Ghana, but Chelsea star (and my favorite soccer player) Michael Essien went down with a knee injury and volatile Inter Milan tracker Sulley Muntari has had a love-hate relationship with the team and coaching staff.

Muntari cursed the coaching staff after the Australia match, but was not Anelka’d back to the homeland. He’s, to date, been coming off the bench.

Of the remaining midfielders, the States face yet another Portsmouth player in Kevin Prince Boateng who made news recently for relegating Michael Ballack to crutches for the World Cup.

It’s up top where the Yanks will have to contend with the biggest goal threat in Asamoah Gyan, but they’ll have the inside track on him. Gyan also fronts Ligue 1 Rennes, Carlos Bocanegra’s club. Gyan is widely considered the next superstar from the Black Stars and with good reason. He’s strong on the ball, extremely smart with technical runs and goes hard to headers.

That said, Ghana hasn’t been able to score this World Cup from the run-of-play. Both goals that Ghana have are penalty kicks. Beyond Gyan, Ghana lacks offensive creativity in the midfield and is also almost too disciplined going forward to take a risk and create an opportunity.

Ghana attack: (Blue=ball movement, Ayew w/ball)

The Black Stars will try to move the ball using the flanks, but in a wholly different manner from the State’s last opponent, Algeria.

Ghana will ping the ball from Annan in the holding role out to one of their wide midfielders. That wide midfielder depending upon what the defense offers has multiple plays including carrying the ball. The ball carrier will typically look for: A run from Gyan traipsing diagonally across the defense, a lead pass to an interior midfielder down the line or an overlap from the defender depending the situation and tempo of the game.

Beyond this Ghana typically lack offensive industry and will work the ball out of the corners, predominantly with service into the box or, less frequently, to a trailing midfielder for a shot right outside the box.

Now, let’s continue with our customary TSG preview.

As usual, we go.

TSG What We’re Looking For.

11 At The Whistle

Disclaimers

TSG What We’re Looking For:

Findley, pivotal

• Can the Yanks get loose down the flanks?

With Pantsill and Sarpei pushing up high and making runs for the Black Stars, the best way to counter this is the Yanks’ celebrated counter flanker counter. I expect Robbie Findley to start again with Landon and Cherundolo on the right right and attack Ghana’s left flank where they originated most of their attacks against both Germany and Serbia.

The States, who will deploy in their 4-2-2-2 this game, will use Bradley, Donovan and Dempsey for carriage against the pressing Ghana defenders and hope to unlock their own diaganol runs from Altidore or Findley. That’s how to beat the Ghana defense.

The Yanks are going to need Findley to be better with his final ball in this one for sure.

Gyan: The next Super Black Star

• Where Gyan goes, you follow

A slight variation on the popular supporter’s group chant, huh?

There is no question that Asamoah Gyan is the space creator and catalyst for the entire Ghana offense. Gyan is a strong, swift and aggressive lone striker who will float in the center of the pitch and then lay off a pass for a midfield shot, make a diagonal run down the flank to open space or take a fly pattern between a central defender and a winger.

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The Day The Black Stars Came To Play

TSG writer Brian Mechanick looks back at the regrettable final game for the States at World Cup 2006.

Four Years for Revenge

Run DMB was up for the game, but the Yanks had a letdown

Four years and three days ago, the USMNT experienced perhaps its most painful loss ever. The 5th FIFA ranked USA needed a win over the 48th ranked Ghana side to clinch advancement to the knockout stage. Sadly, the U.S. fell 2-1 that day to the Black Stars, ending the World Cup early for the Yanks.

One full World Cup cycle has passed and the USA meets Ghana again, with whichever team that prevails gaining the right to advance to the quarterfinals. What’s changed in these four years, and what’s stayed the same?

• Here was your starting line-up for the Yanks that day: G: Kasey Keller; DEF: Cherundolo (Eddie Johnson 61’) Onyewu, Conrad, Bocanegra ; MID: Dempsey, Reyna (Ben Olsen 40’), Donovan, Lewis (Bobby Convey 74’); FW: Beasley, McBride

» The U.S. defense is largely the same, with Onyewu, Cherundolo, and Bocanegra all likely to start.
» The Killer D’s of Donovan and Dempsey are still likely to lead the U.S. attack through the midfield, while Beasley is a distinct possibility to feature.

• The Ghana squad has largely been rebuilt from 2006 using the 2009 U-20 World Cup winning squad, but the similarities for the Black Stars are in the back

Kingson is still between the wickets....

» Goalkeeper Richard Kingson is still between the posts for Ghana. Kingson hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in these past four years, earning only four caps in his last two seasons at Wigan Athletic. Add in a goalkeeping howler against Australia this World Cup, and no change might be a bad thing for Ghana.

» The right side of the Ghanaian defense is same as it ever was, with right back John Pantsil and center-half John Mensah. Pantsil did well to make Eddie Lewis look poor while Mensah shut down the American forwards on the day.

• The managers have changed for each side, but the respective nationalities of each teams managers have stayed the same. Bruce Arena has give way to Bob Bradley for the USA, while Serbian Milovan Rajevac has replaced his countryman Ratomir Dujković.

• Tactically, the USA has changed from Arena’s preferred 4-5-1 to Bradley’s 4-4-2 (4-2-2-2) system. The change has made the USA a more positive side, but they have also lost some of the ability to hold possession of the ’06 side.

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