Thursday, 17 June 2010

World Cup so far: Winners & Losers

So the World Cup has finally begun, and every team has now played their first group game (except for South Africa + Uruguay, who at the time of writing have just completed their 2nd match). It has been a strange tournament so far, goals are at an all-time low, only 28 goals after 17 matches (there were 40 goals at this point in 2006, and 48 in 2002), but the passion and excitement is still there.

I've been impressed by the staging of the World Cup by our hosts South Africa. The stadiums look amazing, support is strong and the vuvuzelas are so loud that everyday life now seems to be accompanied by a low buzzing sound as someone watches highlights nearby.

The first round of games is usually where the big teams are tested and often nations are completely written off depending on their first result. What I'm going to do here is just have a look at the big winners (and losers) of the World Cup so far. So let's start with the positive side, the nations who will be the happiest after their first games...

Korea Republic

I've predicted Korea Republic to have a good tournament this year, and they got off to the best possible start with a 2-0 victory over group rivals Greece. This was a must win for the Koreans if they are going to have a chance of getting through this group, and with tough games against Argentina and Nigeria to come, the importance of this result is massive.

The South Koreans played some nice football, and capitalised on some errors in concentration in the Greek defence to score twice. The first goal came early, after only 7 minutes, when a neat free-kick from Ki Sung-Yeung found Lee Jung-Soo at the back post who volleyed home. The second goal came 7 minutes into the second half, a terribly misplaced pass from Vyntra handed possession to Park Ji-Sung, the Manchester United midfielder then took the ball past his man and beat the keeper with a lovely finish.

Korea Republic now go in to tomorrow's game against Argentina full of positives, and they will fancy themselves to spring a surprise result against Maradona's men.


One of the most successful nations in the history of the World Cup, the Germans entered this year's tournament with various injury troubles, a tough group and a seemingly pessimistic attitude. However, these worries will have been washed away by now, with Deutschland finding themselves named as "the team to beat" after an emphatic 4-0 win over Australia on Sunday.

Everything worked out nicely for the Germans, taking an early lead through Podolski and then getting another through Miroslav Klose to go in at half time with a 2-0 lead. Their opponents were left in further trouble when star man Tim Cahill was red-carded, and Germany then exploited their one-man advantage, finding two more goals through Thomas Müller and substitute Cacau.

It was a fabulous result against a sorry looking Australia side, and it leaves Germany top of Group D, only requiring one more win to seal their place in the next round. The hard work is most certainly not over for Germany, as their next two games are arguably the toughest, against Serbia and then Ghana.


There has been a lot said about the Japanese national team in the build up to the tournament, many people (including myself) doubted the team's quality and whether they would be able to finish Group E with any points. Despite that, the Samurai Blue got the job done on Monday when they nicked a 1-0 win against Cameroon in Bloemfontein.

This game was by no means a classic match, with both sides lacking in flair and concentration at times, but Japan dug in for the result after taking the lead on 39 minutes through Keisuke Honda. The goal was a little more about poor Cameroon marking than Japanese quality, but it was a good cross from Matsui, and a composed finish from Honda.

Their opponents were poor, Samuel Eto'o was not himself, showing the form that drew criticism from Cameroon national icon Roger Milla, suggesting he only plays well for his club as opposed to his country. In a very tough group with Netherlands and Denmark being their other opponents, Japan will be delighted to be able to go into those games knowing that any results will give them a healthy chance of qualifying.


No doubt the most surprising result of the tournament so far, Switzerland are our other big winners after their 1-0 win against tournament favourites Spain earlier on today. Group H is, in my opinion, the real 'Group of Death' in this year's tournament, with favourites Spain, newcomers Honduras, and the hotly tipped duo of Chile and Switzerland. Earlier on we saw Chile battle past Honduras to win 1-0, and then we expected to see a spectacular show of attacking football with Spain heavily favoured to win.

First of all, I have to say Switzerland got it dead right. Their coach Ottmar Hitzfeld is full of experience, and he called the tactics perfectly, allowing Spain to play their attractive brand of passing football, but keeping men behind the ball and starving the Spaniards of space in the key areas. Spain continued to control the game without managing to break down the last line of Swiss defence, and they were punished when Switzerland took a shock lead on the counter-attack through Gelson Fernandes.

Switzerland kept their tactics exactly the same, staying deep and soaking up the Spain pressure. They hit on the counter-attack again with Eren Derdiyok hitting the post after an excellent run, a total shame as it would have been a truly memorable World Cup goal.

Switzerland now have their big match against Chile approaching, and will have to be at their best to get past Bielsa's men and seal qualification.

Now I believe those are the four biggest winners of the World Cup so far, it's still to be seen whether they will be as happy after their second match, but they have made excellent starts.

So it's now time for the four losers.


We have already covered the Greeks briefly when talking about their opponents Korea Republic, and their disappointing 2-0 loss leaves them as one of the tournaments biggest losers so far.

As I mentioned in one of my World Cup preview posts, Greece rely on a strong and water-tight defence to be able to beat teams, and their defensive performance against Korea was nothing short of shocking. South Korea's two goals both came from defensive mistakes, the first goal saw Lee Jung-Soo completely unmarked with three Greek defenders ball-watching, and the second was a horribly misplaced pass in defence.

If this is what happens against South Korea, I dread to think what ultra-offensive Argentina and Nigeria will do to them.


Ok they did not actually lose their first match, but the manner in which England drew 1-1 against rivals USA is why they are one of the biggest losers of the first matches.

Please do not get me wrong, this isn't just an opportunity for me to call England "losers", or give out unfair criticism because I do not support them. England did not play terribly against the USA, and the USA were not particularly good either, but the manner in which they lost the equaliser and their failure to get back in the lead could cause some problems in the side.

Surely you've all seen it by now if you weren't watching at the time, but Robert Green's awful handling error to allow Clint Dempsey's tame shot to roll over the line was so surprising I could hardly believe my eyes as the ball went in. After that moment, England didn't manage to pick themselves up again, squandered some chances and the game finished 1-1.

I've still got no doubt that England will stroll through the group stage, I expect big wins against Algeria and Slovenia, but this result puts a little bit of doubt on whether this is a team capable of going all the way. But on a positive note, this was the best possible time for a setback like this to occur, as England have time to recover and if they hammer both Algeria and Slovenia team morale may be better thanks to the draw.


They are one of my tips to be dark horses this year, but Serbia got off to a poor start losing 0-1 to Ghana. Despite some pretty poor warm-up results, Serbia still have a squad capable of turning heads at this year's tournament. But in Group D with Germany, Australia and Ghana, their opening game against the Black Stars seemed like a must-win.

The game ended up very close, only decided by a Gyan penalty after Kuzmanovic handled the ball in the area with only five minutes remaining. The most worrying part for Serbia is that they failed to show the quality that they have in their team, the defence played well but nothing spectacular and attacking players like Zigic and Milos Krasic didn't get a chance to show off their skills going forward.

The result leaves Serbia chasing qualification from behind, with a huge match against Germany approaching and then the grudge match against rivals Australia, while their main qualification rivals Ghana have the upper hand from the beginning on both points and head-to-head standings.

That said, if Serbia do manage to get a result against the Germans, they would still be in a good position to get one of the qualification places if they can keep their head against Australia.


Again, I touched on Spain's surprise 0-1 defeat against Switzerland earlier. I have included them as one of the biggest losers for a few reasons, the obvious one being that Spain were the favourites to win this tournament at the beginning, and losing the first game is a huge shock.

The other reason is that Spain were a bit unlucky in this game, they didn't play particularly poor, but were left with nothing after 90 minutes. Compare this to the likes of France, Italy and England, who played fairly bad but managed to leave with the draw and gain at least a point.

Spain had opportunities, Xabi Alonso even hit the bar, but Switzerland played a tactically superior game and took all three points. Also to be noted is that Spain were forced to bring a not completely fit Fernando Torres off the bench to try to win the game, something which del Bosque would not have planned unless Spain were comfortably leading the game.

This result now makes this amazing group even more exciting. Switzerland and Chile have three points each, and with Spain expected to beat Honduras next week, it will all be down to Switzerland x Chile and Spain x Chile to see who will grab qualification... It might even go down to goal difference.

Now that's it for now, hope you have enjoyed reading this and have enjoyed the World Cup so far. One more thing before I go, on Tuesday I was at home with ten Brazilians watching Brazil beat Korea DPR 2-1. It was an amazing day, the match was good, but being able to support Brazil and join in the celebrations was so cool. Football is everything here in Brazil and watching that game was an awesome experience. Thanks to everyone involved for an awesome day, and I can't wait until the Ivory Coast game now.


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