World Cup Digest - Monday, June 12
by Trevor Whenham - 06/12/2006
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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:
Cahill for President? -If there were an election in Australia today, Tim Cahill would win unanimously. He's been hurting, and wasn't ready to start, but he went in after 51 minutes and provided a monster spark for his team. The Socceroos were down 1-0 at the time but Cahill scored two goals (one by just being in the right place at the right time, the second was a masterpiece) to lead his team to victory. Cahill has to share credit for the incredible comeback with coach Guus Hiddink. The Wonder Coach clearly has the squad believing in themselves despite their inexperience on the world stage and his substitutions were masterful. The game left all sorts of questions for Japan's backers, but ended as well as Australia's cheering squads could have hoped.
Ugly Americans - What can you say about that 3-0 loss against the Czech Republic? It was an absolute American disaster. The offense, with just one striker on the field, was non-existent; the defense had more holes than 200 golf courses; the team refused to use anything but the middle of the field; and they showed little energy. Even the most optimistic fan would struggle to find a bright spot for the performance. Unless they find a way to right the ship quickly the Americans don't stand a chance against Italy.
Koller Falls - In the true soccer tradition, Czech star Jan Koller hit the turf near the end of the first half looking as if he had been shot. Though unlike most soccer injuries he wasn't acting. He got carried off the field on a stretcher and was taken to the hospital. Koller had just returned from knee surgery last month and his expression made it easy to believe that he had damaged the leg again. Koller, his team's all-time leading scorer, scored the first Czech goal, and his absence from the tournament would leave a gaping hole in the Czech offense.
Italy Answers the Call - One of the big questions coming into the tournament was how Italy would respond. Their country is in turmoil after a massive soccer scandal has erupted, complete with match fixing, illegal gambling, corruption, and even kidnapping. Several top officials have lost their jobs already and many more executives and even players are expected to suffer before it is resolved. There was speculation that the problems, which have dominated Italian media, would be too much distraction for the team and cause them to struggle in an otherwise winnable group. The first game eased those fears. The Italians beat Ghana 2-0 and they looked good doing it. They played a very disciplined game, enjoyed solid goalkeeping, and had no problem getting scoring opportunities. That's good news for Italian backers, and more bad news for the Americans.
Turmoil for Togo - Togo is going through a situation that can only be called bizarre. The country's soccer federation has yet to come to an agreement with the players over a bonus system for the World Cup. The players want $200,000 each to play in the tournament. Players repeatedly sat out of practices late last week in protest. Coach Otto Pfister actually quit his post on Saturday because of frustration over a lack of resolution. He was replaced by a committee of assistants, and refused to reconsider his decision despite pleas by the players and media. Pfister went home to Switzerland, but is returning to Germany today to resume his post as coach in time for Togo's opening game against South Korea after a resolution of sorts was reached. Togo is ranked 61st in the world and was unlikely to do anything in Germany anyway, but this ridiculous situation almost certainly ensures that any faint hopes they had are crushed.
Injury woes for France - It was supposed to be a simple last tune-up for France against China before departing for Germany, but last week's friendly turned into a disaster for the French. Djibril Cisse, the forward who plays for Liverpool and led the French in scoring in World Cup qualifying, suffered a badly broken leg which ends his World Cup before it begins. The situation is eerily similar to 2002, when Zinedine Zidane was injured in the team's last friendly and was largely incapacitated for the World Cup, though he was able to play a minor role towards the end of the tournament. This time there is no chance for a return for Cisse. The pressure will be on the rest of the French team without the scoring touch of Cisse. The injury definitely makes the first round more difficult for the team, and consequently more interesting for bettors.
Brazil loses. In practice? - Brazil is such a soccer-crazy country that their observers attach far more importance to practice performance than most. In fact, national team practices are regularly televised and often draw massive crowds. After the roster was named for the first World Cup match, Brazil's starters played a 40 minute match against the reserves. The reserves won, sending the media into a tizzy, and putting coach Carlos Alberta Parreira on the defensive. You could reasonably argue that the Brazilian reserves are better than most teams in the tournament, but the loss is clearly of concern for those who have nothing else to talk about until the real games begin.
Where are the stars? - Wednesday's battle between Group H powers Spain and the Ukraine will likely be lacking some serious star power on both sides of the pitch. Spain's Raul will almost certainly start on the bench. He was already struggling to come back from a knee injury that had limited his effectiveness for Real Madrid this year, and then he left a scrimmage on Monday after being injured in a collision with a teammate. He returned later in the game, but not before Spanish fans' hearts skipped a few beats. On the other side, Andriy Shevchenko, coming back from a knee injury sustained in May, is questionable. He practiced separately from his team on Monday. Though the loss of Raul would hurt Spain they have the depth to recover. Shevchenko, on the other hand, is incredibly important to the Ukraine and his loss would be a huge blow to his team's chances.