Sunday, June 11, 2006

England, Argentina Unconvincing

By some coincidence, I managed to miss the opening World Cup game from 1990 thru 2002. I had to settle for witnessing the shock that Senegal handed France on a computer monitor in a Chennai cybercafe and I thought I'll do better this time. As it turned out, I was blissfully unaware of the exact date of the opening game and couldn't even catch the highlights of the Germany-Costa Rica game except for some grainy footage on the official FIFA site. That made it all the more imperative that I watched England and Argentina's opening games, even if the timings here in Melbourne are absolutely brutal. But that is an occupational hazard for a sports fan. In the event, only the Argentina-Ivory Coast game made it really worth my while, but the England game brought home the World Cup atmosphere for me. The Sweden - Trinidad and Tobago game was a blur between fitful naps, sandwiched as it was between the two games I really wanted to watch. England's display will have their manager and the legion of supporters (there are quite a few of them Down Under) worried no end. They did control proceedings for most of the game, particularly in the first half when the Paraguay defense was in shambles. But the fact that England got their winner from an own goal (cruelly, it had to be the experienced Gamarra) tells quite a bit of the story. Cole, Lampard and Beckham all had their moments of brilliance, but no one quite took charge of proceedings. John Terry was solid in central defence, but the recently rehabilitated Ashley Cole looked a touch slow and shaky. England did not create enough in the second half and looked content to be cruising against a below par Paraguay, but it could have so easily been a point shared had Nelson Valdez finished better early in the second half. Argentina fared better in making their intentions clear against the African Nations cup finalists, but they had perhaps not contended with such a stiff challenge. Ivory Coast may have lost and may bow out early (and that would be a shame), but their abundant talents were on display. A large part of the first timers' contingent are established European pros and so they are not the usual minnows. Apart from Didier Drogba and Kolo Toure who are virtual household names, Bonaventura Kalou and the diminutive Boka impressed a great deal. They did everything but score, and had Argentina scoring twice against the run of play, the first one an opportunistic strike from the predatory Crespo and the second one a brilliant through ball from Juan Riquelme that produced the silkiest of finishes from little Saviola. In the end Drogba's goal came too late to inject much needed confidence and the Argentineans were too determined to let slip three points in what has been termed the customary Group of Death. Argentina would be relieved no end considering their shock exit from a similarly ruthless group in the last edition. They seem to have a similar embarrassment of riches to Brazil, and the fact that Lionel Messi was just cooling his heels on the bench would be an unnerving thought for any opposition, but they need to much tighter in defence if they are to progress far. Ivory Coast managed to rip apart their defence on quite a few occasions and Pekerman should be concerned. As for Sven-Goran Eriksson, he has the world to worry about! - NK

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