World Cup Digest - Opening Weekend Recap
by Trevor Whenham - 06/11/2006
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Here's a look at the day's matches, and the news that is important for bettors making decisions on upcoming games:
German woes - The German team got the win that they were overwhelmingly expected to get against a Costa Rican team that intimidates no one, but fans and backers have to be a bit concerned with how it happened. Germany did score four goals but the two goals against, including one on the very first Costa Rican shot of the game, certainly wasn't what was hoped for. The Germans have shifted away from the strict defensive focus of past years, but if Costa Rica can score two goals what can a better team like Poland do? Add to that the bizarre Michael Ballack situation and you may have cause for concern. Ballack, the German captain, was hurt in a friendly late in World Cup preparations. He said he was ready to play but coach Juergen Klinsmann, who has struggled to get along with his captain, disagreed and held him out of the game to the dismay of the player, fans and the media. The situation should resolve itself when Ballack plays against Poland, but any tension could be magnified under the microscope that the team is being watched with.
The English aren't camels - England won the game against Paraguay as expected, but their performance was decidedly sluggish. Never lacking an excuse, the team has a creative enemy targeted this time - water. Normally the team drinks about 20 liters of water during a match. It was so hot during their game that they drank 70 liters and even that wasn't enough. They were unable to get more water during the game from officials, and blame the dehydration for their lack of energy. Another concern for England supporters was the surprising substitution for Michael Owen. Owen has been recovering from a serious foot injury and came out because of physical struggles and poor play. The pain of that situation will be eased somewhat by news that Wayne Rooney will likely be ready to return in time for the next English match.
Where's Messi? - As soon as Maradona retired, the search was on in Argentina for the "Next Maradona". The latest person given that title is Lionel Messi, the 18-year-old dribbling savant chosen by many to be one of the biggest breakout stars of the World Cup. He'll have to see the field first, though. In a move that surprised many, Messi was not only omitted from the starting line up in Argentina's 2-1 win over the Ivory Coast, but he was not inserted as a substitute. He is also not expected to start his team's next match against Serbia-Montenegro. Supporters will hope that his unexpected rest is because of depth on his team and not due to the injury that kept him out of action in Barcelona this year. If Argentina struggles, the management will have to answer calls for Messi to see the field.
A strong start matters - Here's a stat that would be unbelievable if it weren't true - 82% of teams that advance out of the first round in the World Cup win their first game. In the last two World Cups, only Turkey in 2002 rebounded from an early loss to move on. That's bad news for fans of upset victim Poland and the disappointing Swedes, who were shocked by a Trinidad and Tobago team that shouldn't have been able to stay on the pitch with them.
Mexico has work to do - The 3-1 win over Iran looked impressive on paper, but the game won't give Mexican supporters, who have high hopes for the team, much confidence. It took two goals late in the game to break open what looked destined to be a draw. For most of the first 75 minutes Mexico looked terrible. They were sluggish and disorganized and showed none of the spark they will need. They needed a horrific Iranian mistake to score their second goal, and only started playing with any confidence after that. The performance was enough to beat Iran but they will have to come out much better to get past Portugal, and even Angola, who was surprisingly strong against Portugal.
Portugal struggles in win - Portugal won, but the fans in attendance still booed them. They scored four minutes into the game, but then they failed to make a cohesive play for the rest of the match. The team is renowned for its exciting offensive play, but none of that was on display against Angola. As part of a bigger trend, Portugal's struggles, and the struggles of several other favorites, will be worth watching to see if they continue into the second games, or if it was just nerves at work. If the teams (Poland, England, Sweden, Mexico, Portugal) continue to struggle it could set up some real value bets in the third set of games.
Seeing yellow - Am I the only one that thinks that there have been a ridiculous number of yellow cards so far at the World Cup? Through the first 8 games, there were 29 yellow cards and one red card. Many of the calls have seemed to be on the questionable side. There seems to be no question that FIFA has told their officials to aggressively attempt to maintain order, even if it comes at the expense of game flow. If the trend continues, players and their teams could get into real trouble, as two yellow cards add up to a suspension.
Hope not lost for Ivory Coast - It would have taken a miracle for Ivory Coast to beat Argentina, but their performance has to give fans and backers some hope. They only lost 2-1 and Didier Drogba, unquestionably the best player on their side, scored the goal to start his tourney on the right foot. On top of that, the Ivory Coast out-shot Argentina, had twice as many corner kicks, and didn't go offside at all. The team definitely lost, but it wasn't a loss without a positive side.