Ghana 1-1 Australia
The Netherlands 1-0 Japan
Denmark 2-1 Cameroon
Before we begin with a recap of Day Nine, quick news from the dissolving French camp; striker Nicolas Anelka has been sent home from the Tournament by French manager Raymond Domenech for speaking out against the manager. For Anelka, whose own professional wanderings have often found him on the outside looking in to the French national team, this is no real surprise, but it speaks volumes about Domenech, who has been an absolute disaster as a manager of this team. From The Guardian:
“According to French sports newspaper L’Equipe Anelka exploded in rage in the dressing room, verbally abusing the coach. He is reported to have said, ‘Go fuck yourself you son of a whore.’ L’Equipe claim Domenech responded by substituting the player.”
Ah, France. You always give give give and what do you leave for yourselves? *sigh*
Onto the matches of Day Nine, which began with a professional display from both The Netherlands and Japan. Once again, facing little threat in terms of a meaningful Japanese attack, Dutch manager Bert van Marwijk decided to stick with the “winning” formula that saw his team play under the potential against Denmark; playing Rafael van der Vaart on the left (he is a central midfielder) and Mark van Bommel and Nigel De Jong as holding midfielders, The Dutch were rarely able to put the Japanese defense under meaningful pressure. I don’t get it, but van Marwijk stuck to his guns. “Why do we focus on good soccer instead of winning?” van Marwijk said. “Let me assure you that we really, really want to win and if we can do that in style, then great. But you have to be able to win ugly games.” My question is; why are you the one making them ugly? There is no question that with Ibrahim Afellay and Eljero Elia on either wing, with Dirk Kuyt using his lack of pace to stay up top and lay things off for Robin van Persie, and Wesley Sneijder behind them utilizing either van Bommel or De Jong as a defensive minded, holding midfielder, The Netherlands would run most teams off the park; instead they played in neutral most of the match, until the 53rd minute, when van Persie tapped a pass to Sneijder at the top of the 18 yard box and Sneijder pounded the ball off of the hands of Japanese keeper Eiji Kawashima and into the net. It was all The Netherlands would need, and despite late threats at both end of the pitch, when the final whistle blew, the Dutch walked out 1-0 winners, on 6 points and in command in Group E.
Kuyt Flies (AP Photo/Roberto Candia)
The day’s second match was a nail biter in Group D between Ghana and Australia. The Aussies came in need a result to stay alive in the Group, and they started off brilliantly when Ghanian keeper Richard Kingson spilled mark Breciano’s free kick into the path of an on rushing Brett Holman, who chipped the fallen keeper and put Australia up 1-0. The celebration was short lived however as Ghana, pressing forward for an equalizer, capitalized on some very poor defensive work from The Australian back line and saw a cross sent flying across the box from a player who should have had the ball cleared from his feet; instead, Ghana’s Jonathan Mensah found himself alone at the top of the box and he blasted a shot at goal, which came off the shoulder and upper arm of Australia’s star player, Harry Kewell. Italian referee Roberto Rosetti didn’t hesitate, handing Kewell a red card for denying a clear goal scoring opportunity with his arm. Another Group D red card; it may have been harsh, but it was certainly within the letter of the law. With Kewell gone, Asamoah Gyan stepped up for his second penalty kick in as many games and leveled to the bottom right corner of the goal, 1-1. From there, it was a sea-saw affair, with Ghana controlling most of the possession in the first half and Australia, down to 10 men but ever resilient, taking charge for long stretches of the second half. Australia may even have won it when a break away by Brett Emerton found him in on goal, but his shot was pushed as far as Joshua Kennedy, who couldn’t do much with the bouncing ball, allowing Kingson to make an easy save look dramatic. The match stayed 1-1t but still, even after the 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Germany, Australia can get through with a win over Serbia and a German loss to Ghana. Ghana, for their part, lead Group D and control their own destiny; a win or a draw with Germany sees them through to the knockout stages. With a simultaneous start on Wednesday, Germany will be looking for the win against Ghana in order to assure safe passage out of Group D; it has turned out to be quite the Group after all.
The Wizard Of Oz: Holman Scores
Back in Group E, Denmark and Cameroon lined up for a crucial encounter which, with The Netherlands controlling Group E, would reveal a great deal about who might make it out of the Group. With both teams on a loss and Japan on 3 points, it had the feeling of a must-win encounter for Cameroon, especially because they will be playing The Netherlands in their final match. After a tense opening, Caeroon broke through on an error by Danish keeper Thomas Sorenson, who played the ball short to a well-marked Christian Poulson, who in turn played a blind pass straight to the feet of a Cameroonian player, who immediately slid the ball in to a hard charging Samuel Eto’o, who drilled the ball past Sorenson. 1-0 Cameroon; a huge goal for Eto’o and a nice moment for the player and the team. From that moment forward, the highlights of the game could best be summarized in this instructional video:
This ended up being the most wide open match of the Tournament so far, with Denmark drawing level on a great ball out of the back by Simon Kjaer that flew to the feet of fast-as-shit Dennis Rommedahl, who took one touch and slid the ball to the middle for an onrushing
Narcissus Nicolas Bendtner, who slid in and pushed the ball into the goal. 1-1 and it stayed open from there, with Cameroon having the better of the chances and spurning all of them until Rommedahl got on the end of another deep ball and waltzed his way at 100 miles an hour into the box and hit a fine strike just inside the post of a diving Souleymanou Hamidou to make it 2-1 to Denmark. More ping pong as the ball flew back and forth from goal mouth to goal mouth until finally, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon had to admit that they were, in fact, domitable and were eliminated from contention for the second round as they walked out 2-1 losers to the Danes. It was a breathless, end to end game, but Cameroon manager Paul Le Guen again let the team down with his tactical choice of not pulling back a midfielder and giving some support to Alex Song. (who at leats started in this game). After a team meeting, Le Guin did have the courage to make several lineup cahnegs and Song was the best of them; he played a good game, but because of Le Guin’s dreaded 4-3-3 formation, he was on an island in the middle of the park.
No Man Is An Island, Except Alex Song
With Eto’o running the right channel and Pierre Webo missing about 20 chances in the middle of the box, Cameroon suffered from the lack of a creative midfielder in the middle playing with Song and instead utilized an effective Geremi on the right and the deep runs of Benoit Assou-Ekotto on the left to provide width. The plan backfired when, after Assou-Ekotto whipped in a dangerous cross near the 18 yard box, Rommedahl took off and Kjaer found him on the run, right in the spot where Assou-Ekotto should have been; from there Rommedahl went on to score the match winner. It seems simple really, but while Cameroon were dangerous in the attack, they were missing the vital shape and organization in the middle of the park that might have provided a little more control and structure to their game. Still, they will be playing for pride against the Dutch and while I don’t expect them to get thrashed (as I see it, Bert van Marwijk is way too conservative to allow that to happen), still, they are looking at a loss if they don’t get their shape together. Denmark on the other hand have a real chance to escape the Group if they can handle a well organized Japan; they need to win, as a draw will see Japan through on goal difference (Japan is +0, Denmark is -1). Should be a great match on Thursday as Denmark and Japan battle for a place in the knock out stages.
Nicolas Bendter Celebrates His Goal
One last thing: I am still not over the goal that was taken away from the USA by Malian referee Koman Coulibaly, but I received a comment on yesterday’s blog post that accused me of being ‘arrogant’ and ‘offensive’ for calling him “a douche bag from Mali”. My point was not to insult the people of Mali, obviously, but to point out the lack of a professional footballing environment in that country and to re-iterate the fact that FIFA should not be allowing a referee to adjudicate World Cup matches when he has no day in, day out experience with the game at this level. Also, when you blow your whistle against the attacking team on every single corner and free kick into the box in order to cover your ass, you are, by definition, a douche bag. So, I hope I didn’t upset my Malian readers out there; nothing against you at all, but Koman Coulibaly is a douche bag. And he is from Mali. So, there you go. Yay Momo Sissoko! Is that better?
Huge game between Brazil and Ivory Coast tomorrow. Can’t wait for that one… THE GROUP OF DEATH!! returns…
Up Next: Day Ten