World Cup Continental Drifts: South Americans Take First Round

The English floundered.  The Argentinians huffed and puffed. The Dutch were unconvincing. The Germans soared, the Brazilians eased themselves in with a bit of magic. The Spanish flopped. As it turns out we had only 2 games which pitted teams from the same continent (Netherlands-Denmark and Spain-Switzerland) – so in most part we were also able to see inter-continental styles at play. So what, apart from the obvious, have we learnt from the first round of games?

  1. African football is facing a stern examination. South Africa followed a great win with a humbling loss. Cameroon were undone by Japan. Algeria were woeful against Slovenia. Nigeria didn’t really get going against Argentina. Ivory Coast and Ghana are Africa’s great hopes now. The Ivorians did well, but didn’t bag the points and are in the group of death. Ghana got valuable points against Serbia, who will no doubt look to bounce back. The African countries are still not combining their obvious athleticism with tactical discipline, especially in defence, and are paying the price for it. Drogba is injured and Eto’o was all but invisible against Japan.
  2. The Asian teams, on the other hand, have been a revelation. South Korea were excellent in their convincing win over Greece and could well qualify ahead of Nigeria. Japan too, deserved their win over Cameroon. And DPR Korea gave a great account of themselves against Brazil. Of all the regions, these teams are probably carrying the least expectations, but are playing with the most discipline. And they’re not just sitting back to defend either.
  3. The Europeans are the biggest group here at the world cup and it’s hard to generalize. Only Germany, and in patches the Dutch, have demonstrated class so far. Spain, Italy, England & France, the other A-listers were way below par. As were Portugal. Apart from the fact that the Germans have been using the Jabulani ball in the Bundesliga from January, they’re the only ones who have a bit of everything. Cross for a header? Check. Shoot from distance? Check. Fast counter attack? Check. Pass the ball into the goal? Yes, even that! Most other teams have tended to be one-dimensional and have paid the price.
  4. All these draws, 6 of them in the first round of 16 games, are probably indicative of the fact that no team wants to face the humiliation of going home without points. Hopefully this means that now with everything to lose and not much to gain, teams will have to go for it in the subsequent rounds where we should see a whole lot more desire to actually win games.
  5. The North Americans have been a mixed bag, with USA doing expectedly well against England, Mexico attractive in the opening game, and Honduras yet to show what they can do. The Australians were undone by teutonic brilliance and the red card for Cahill. The Kiwi’s didn’t play all that well but snatched a dramatic draw in the only game of last second drama in the round!
  6. It’s the South Americans, who have truly lived up to their billings as the flag bearers of the beautiful game. Brazil produced a couple of moments of magic and despite what some commentators are saying, it wasn’t really a close match against the Koreans. Argentina have just too much fire power and Messi for them to be anything but watchable. Uruguay got their draw against France and then gave us a stunning display in the second game against RSA. And Chile and Paraguay won their winnable games to end on top of their groups. 4 out of the 5 teams head their groups, and the 5th is Argentina!
  7. It’s clear that there are no “naive” teams in this tournament. Defensive solidity is not a matter of skill but of discipline and practice. Anybody with the right input and time can get this more or less right. And most teams seem to have done that. The big teams are in danger or rocking up and expecting to run rings around some wannabe teams who are out of their depth. These are early days and it remains to be seen whether Germany have peaked to early or whether more shocks lie in wait. Here’s to the next round!
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