The dust has settled and the tournament is now in full swing. Each squad has played one game, and as always there have been a few surprises.
A few of the powerhouses have yet to get going (Spain, Italy, Brazil) and the pundits who came into the World Cup critical of teams like France and England are still wearing their grins.
That said, here are a few observations from the first six days:
Germany’s strongest team so far
Germany quickly silenced any doubt about their attacking ability following the loss of Michael Ballack, routing upstarts Australia in a rare display of style from the Mannschaft. Aside from usual suspects Thomas Mueller, Miroslav Klose, and Lukas Podolski making life miserable for the Australians, a surprising performance came from 23-year-old Sami Khedira, Ballack’s replacement in the midfield. Khedira proved a solid link in the German attack, routinely finding his attackers up front and refusing to give any balls up to the opposition.
It’s still to early to call, but watching Germany’s dominant performance it is evident that this team boasts an ideal combination of youth along with experience in the right positions. A tougher test lies ahead with an upcoming match against the Serbians, who literally handed themselves a loss to Ghana and will be treating this game as a final.
South Korea, Japan in position to sneak through
Don’t look now, but the hosts of the 2002 World Cup are back and causing headaches for teams in Groups B and E. South Korea played with speed and confidence under the direction of Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-Sung, who notched a goal and was named Man of the Match in a 2-0 victory over Greece.
Next up is Argentina in a pivotal game that will determine who wins Group B.
One of the first upsets of the tournament can be credited to the Japanese, who took rode a first half strike by Keisuke Honda to their first World Cup victory ever on foreign soil against Cameroon. To say nothing of the importance of this victory to the country (Japanese media hailed it as historic), the win also puts Japan in good position to get through a very difficult group and into the elimination round.
Both Japan and South Korea can draw inspiration from prior successes in World Cup football, and combined with the lack of pressure to win, versus that experienced by European and South American nations, this could see them become the biggest surprises of the tournament.
French ineptitude continues
For supporters of Les Bleues, watching France’s opening match against Uruguay was both painful and aggravating. Although other teams (Cameroon, England, Serbia, Italy) gave lacklustre efforts in their games, the French were so ineffective in their attack that it prompted Zinedine Zidane, essentially the talisman of French soccer, to publicly call out the team for their lack of unity and the coach for his inability to, well, coach.
And Zizou did not get it wrong. France’s main method of attack came in the form of hopeful outside crosses that either sailed out of bounds or were easily picked up and cleared away from the Uruguay defence. Had forward Sidney Govou been able to convert the one gift cross that he was given in the first half, these problems would have been overlooked with a France win.
As this is not the case, the team now finds itself again embroiled in criticism, with the French Football Federation deserving the most of it. The Federation’s public statement that manager Raymond Domenech would be leaving following the World Cup, a month before the World Cup was to kick off, seems both bizarre and irresponsible and has done nothing to improve the already fragile unity on the French squad.
Spain loses? Brazil edges North Korea by a goal?
Nothing much to say here, except everyone needs to calm down.