duminică, 17 iunie 2018

Don't cry for me Argentina

France - Australia 2-1 (Griezmann pen '58, Behich og '81 - Jedinak pen '62)
Argentina - Iceland 1-1 (Aguero '19 - Finnbogason '23)
Peru - Denmark 0-1 (Poulsen '59)
Croatia - Nigeria 2-0 (Etebo og '23, Modric pen '71)

I've seen a lot less than I would've like from the 8 hours of football yesterday, but there's been some great moments in there, so I'm hoping to recover between the games today. I haven't, for instance, seen any of the France-Australia game bar Griezmann's penalty. Which was not a penalty in my opinion, just as Ronaldo's against Spain was not, despite what VAR might say. Contact, yes, but there's hundreds of contacts in the box throughout a game. And I think, if more and more penalties are being given as VAR is relied on more and more, the face of the game might very well change, which could be this World Cup's legacy, just as the marking foam was the legacy of the 2014 World Cup: defenders are going to be more and more weary of touching forwards in the box, meaning it will be harder to get in the box; defensive lines are going to be stretched along the 18 yards line, which means midfielders will have to be pulled back resulting in a more defensive game; most goals will then be scored from penalties and long range shots and, hopefully, skill will start to matter again, as taking out a man from a defensive system will be an increasingly valuable asset. This is is all yet to be seen, of course, but so far I tend to be rather disappointed with the VAR technology, as no matter how many cameras you put on a field, it is still the refs in front of the screen who make the decision. No chance of error with goal-line technology, for instance, where the computer is the sole decider.

In regards to the result of the game, I'm glad it wasn't a straightforward one. Australia will never become a football powerhouse, but their teams have always shown great dedication to the game, they're hard-working and pleasant to watch. Maybe an infusion of European immigrants will take them to the next level?

Denmark beating Peru however, makes life very difficult for the Socceroos. I only caught the second half of the game, but from what I've seen the profiles of the two teams couldn't be more different: Peru has no big names in the team bar maybe Farfan, but they do seem to have the South American flair in their game; they play attacking football and the ball flows nicely forward, with some very good skills on display. I was impressed with Andre Carillo, and if he keeps this level up he might strike the fancy of bigger teams than Leeds, whose fans seem to have eyed him already

Denmark on the other hand is the better team on paper and the team sheet is peppered with some big names, but the football they've shown is ugly and highly pragmatic: defend and wait for the error or the individual piece of skill. They were lucky yesterday, as the piece of skill did eventually come in the shape of a calmly executed shot from RB Leipzig's forward Yurary Poulsen, arguably the best Danish player. Seeing the name Schmeichel in the Danish goal brings back some very sweet memories, some going back to one of the first football games I remember clearly, the 3-0 hammering of Romania by Denmark in Copenhagen in 1989, when the other Schmeichel was unbeatable. Gone are the days of the original Schmeichels, Poulsens and Laudrup brothers though, and unlikely as it was for Denmark to be crowned European champions in 1992, it is unlikelier still for this generation of Danish footballers to come anywhere near those achievements. 

It is just the naivety of the South Americans that lost them the game, and potentially the qualification. The remaining two games will be very difficult, yes, including the one against Australia, so Denmark is now in pole position to qualify alongside France. Which is a shame, as it seems they'll be getting away with it, what with the lucky win yesterday and them playing France in the last game of the group, as Les Bleus have a habit of dropping points when they no longer need them. I'd love for the Socceroos to beat Denmark, but I don't really see it happening.

Has two left feet.
Can still kick better than Messi with the right foot.
The only whole game I've seen yesterday was the most delightful one: Argentina - Iceland. The smallest nation ever to qualify for a World Cup is still an unknown quantity: was their great Euro performance two years ago a fluke, or there's more in store from the Vikings? Looks like the latter judging by their performance against a star-studded team that many people see in with a chance to win the competition. The quality within Argentinian ranks is undeniable and their attacking prowess is scary, though not for Icelanders, apparently. Of course Hallgrimsson's boys took to the field with the intention of holding out for a draw, but they did manage to snatch a goal immediately after Aguero's wonder opener and their game plan seemed to actually work better than the Argentinian's, what with Caballero being forced to a few difficult saves. Confronted with this unexpected sturdy resistance, Argentina resorted to a game plan that is as misguided as it's inefficient: give the ball to Messi. And, just like the goat displayed obsessively in the 2D screens around the pitch, Messi seemed to only have legs on one side. Heap all the praise you want on him, he can't shoot with his right foot to save his life. Or the three points, in this case. Yeah, yeah, you can show me YouTube compilations all you want, Sigurdsson and Arnason weren't impressed.

Not only did Iceland do a wonderful job at annihilating Messi, and thus the Argentinian threat, they always looked dangerous when counter-attacking. yeah, point me to the statistics, possession and number of passes, I'll point you to the score. And frankly, if this is the whole Argentinian game plan, I even fancy Nigeria getting something against them.

And boy, have Nigeria been poor or what? In theory at least, their game against Croatia should have been fairly evenly balanced. But Croatia controlled it start to finish and didn't even need to do much to win it quite categorically. Croatia has a better team than I expected, but against Nigeria they failed to produce too much quality football. And if even that is enough to win the game in such a firm manner, I fear the Super Eagles' plane is starting to warm up its engines.

Iceland to win the world cup? 500/1 with William Hill, thus making it 16 times more likely than Leicester was to win the Premier League in 2016.

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