Slovenia 1-0 Algeria
Ghana 1-0 Serbia
Germany 4-0 Australia
Three matches. Three red cards.
Minor Threat: Seeing Red
Let’s get to it.
I have made an agreement with my wife that, as long as there is a World Cup match being played at 7:30 AM, I will get up with my son when he wakes up at 7:00 AM (the boy is like clockwork). After yesterday’s 1-1 draw between my USA team and England, I was eager to scout the opposition and see what is in store for the remainder of Group C. So, I was up and at ’em for Slovenia vs Algeria, and for the first 60 minutes, all I could do was wish my son had slept in. I was really hoping for a 0-0 draw, so I wasn’t too disappointed, but the match was nothing much to look at. That is, until Algeria decided to go searching for a goal and brought on mohawked striker Abdelkader Ghezzal and he proceeded to accumulate two absolutely stupid yellow cards in roughly 15 minutes. The second card, which he was justly given for blatant handball in the penalty area, will probably go down in Algerian history as one of the dumbest plays ever. After Ghezzal was sent off in the 73rd minute, the game remained tame until Robert Koren took a speculative poke toward the far post, allowing Algerian goalie Fawzi Chouachi to try to catch the ball instead of pushing it around the post. That decision was costly, as Koren’s shot skipped into the net and Slovenia walked out 1-0 winners.
Slovenia 1-0 Algeria (Robert Koren)
That stupid handball followed by Koren’s fluke goal means that Slovenia sit atop Group C with three points and that the USA cannot afford to draw Slovenia when the two get together on June 18th; that game has suddenly become a must win affair. That won’t be easy; despite the disparaging comments about Slovenia’s performance, they are a very organized team that will be playing for a spot in the second round. Team USA will have it all to play for, and maybe without Tim Howard, who may have broken a rib in a first half clash with Emile Heskey’s boot in last night’s game, which means that perhaps Marcus Hahnemann will be on for us (not terrible news, but I prefer Howard in the later rounds). Three points for Slovenia really puts the U.S. under the gun and we’ll need to break down their highly organized defense in order to secure three points. That said, if we can’t beat Slovenia, we don’t deserve a place in the second round, plain and simple. So, a game that we were hoping to win just became a must-win. Let’s see if we can shine as favorites for once.
Anyway, after the interval between the matches, Serbia took the field vs Ghana. In my preview of the group, I picked Serbia to make it through and stated that Ghana could not overcome the loss of Michael Essien unless Sulley Muntari pulled out something magic; it looks like I “misunderestimated” Ghana. Muntari didn’t play (he was rested due to a lingering injury), but Ghana came through in a game that was both wide-open and surprisingly contained; there were not a lot of chances for either team in front of goal and with Serbia’s strikers struggling to put shots on target, Ghana kept themselves in the match through physical, disciplined play. Like the first match of the day, this match saw a player sent off; Serbian defender Aleksandar Lukovic picked up two yellow cards and was gone in the 74th minute. The game seemed headed for a draw, with Serbia playing disciplined defense and actually offering something more in attack until Serbian substitute defender Zdravko Kuzmanovic made a huge mistake and lifted his arm in the air, purposefully handling the ball in the penalty area. The penalty was justly given and Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan, one of the most dangerous players on the night, buried the penalty and gave Ghana the win, making them the first African team in this World Cup to secure three points.
Ghana 1-0 Serbia (Asamoah Gyan)
With a crucial three points in this match, and without Muntari and Essien, Ghana look certain to play in the second round; they face Australia in their next match and after the demolition they took at the hands of an outstanding German side today, Australia have to be very very worried about their future in the Tournament. If Ghana can get three points against Australia, they seem poised to defy my expectations and set up a barn burner against Germany on June 23rd.
Speaking of Germany, holy shit, they looked great today tearing Australia apart 4-0. This is a very young team, but their excellent attacking play, holding tight to the last defender and staying onside to receive pass after pass after pass behind the Australian defense, proved to be too much for Australia today. Lucas Podolski and Miroslav Klose put Germany up 2-0 in the first 26 minutes, virtually eliminating any chance of an Australian result; that fate was sealed in the 56th minute when Tim Cahill went all Paul Scholes on Bastian Schweinsteiger’s ankles and found himself staring at a straight red card from Mexican referee Julian Rodriguez Santiago, a man who sees those tackles ten times a game in Mexico but who, on this occasion, decided to brandish the red card. It was a harsh decision (yellow seemed right) and it means the Australia now face Ghana and Serbia with no Cahill (barring FIFA overturning his suspension which, unlikely). From there, German manager Joachim Löw decided to turn the game into target practice, bringing on wave after wave of fresh attacking players in the hope of allowing all of them to join in the fun; while Germany went on to score two more goals in the next 14 minutes, it was Scheweinsteiger who was pulling all the strings in midfield, playing a deep cetral position and spraying the ball around the park, most dangerously to Philipp Lahm, who was deadly all night long getting forward and shutting down the Australian left flank. Mesut Özil was as advertised, constantly playing smart, fast and direct balls into the feet of his attackers and finding gaps in the Australian backline to break through without so much as a dirty look from Lucas Neill and the gang. I am now officially starting my official “Özil to Liverpool” campaign; he is for real and was sublime all night long. This was Germany being Germany, but there was a flair and creativity with the power this time around, and they look the team to beat by a long, long mile in Group D.
Before I sign off for the day, a word about the broadcasts; It is one thing to have some homers in the studio offering their analysis of the game, but is anyone worse than Alexi Lalas? He comes off as rude, provincial and completely clichéd as he constantly makes the same point over and over and over again. ESPN’s formula is as follows: Chris Fowler or Bob Ley make a few general statements about the match, throw to Alexi who says a bunch of obvious bullshit, and then hands it off to the foreign experts, who vary in quality from excellent (Wigan manager Roberto Martinez) to okay but kind of mailing it in (Holland’s Ruud Gullit, a former employee of Alexi Lalas’ at the LA Galaxy) to pure homers (Jurgen Klinsmann and Steve McManaman, who are at least funny about it). At the sign of the first two-shot, we always see Lalas staring at his colleague in judgment, frowning, simply waiting to interrupt, which he does constantly and never with anything meaningful. I thought Steve McManaman was going to punch him in the face when Lalas interrupted him for the fifth time in 60 seconds with an incisive “what do you know? You’re English!”, a comment which followed a crack about Mcmanaman’s “hair gel”; what a giant douche bag Lalas is! I can’t stand listening to him and his “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again”– actually, yes, you have said it before. How about a new perspective, twat? Mostly annoying was his analysis of the day’s three red cards; “you gotta know that you can’t do that…” “you have to know you’re on a yellow…” “why make that tackle? You have a Mexican referee, you have to know better…” Just unbearable.
Up Next: Day 4