Week two of the 2010 FIFA World Cup kicked off with some very competitive football from the tight Group C and Group D races.
European sides Germany and Serbia were first to do battle with Germany looking to take the inside track for the pole position of the group and Serbia looking to reinsert themselves back into contention.
The second match was a crucial Group C encounter that was either going to produce the first team to clinch a spot into the second round in Slovenia or a nation that was going to rejuvenate and scramble the group back up for grabs in the USA.
The final match of the evening was expected to be the most lopsided encounter of the three with group favourites England matched against North African nation Algeria.
GERMANY 0-1 SERBIA (Jovanovic 38)
Nelson Mandela Stadium was the site for this Group D fixture that was bound to impress with two experienced and talented European nations in Germany and Serbia.
Germany applied the first threat in the seventh minute when Lukas Podolski greeted a dangerously headed clearance attempt from Nemanja Vidic of the Serbian defence with a powerful lashed volley that just tailed wide of the target.
The referee set an unfortunate precedent handing out yellow cards like candy early on in the match, and it was quite evident that the teams were surely to be affected by it as the match wore on.
Miroslav Klose was the first to be booked in the 12th minute, when the referee appeared to think he cut down a player from behind intentionally, or he was seen to be persistently committing infractions.
Branislav Ivanovic was the first player booked for Serbia, after some aggressive contact from behind, but the booking was unnecessary and teammate Aleksandar Kolorov joined him seconds later in the book with a sloppy challenge of his own. This one was well deserved after he slid through a German along the sideline.
German midfielder Sami Khedira joined the party with a well-deserved booking of his own when he clearly took down a streaking Milos Krasic to deliberately slow down a Serbian counterattack.
Germany captain Phillip Lahm was next to be cautioned in the 33rd minute when a late lunge caught Krasic belatedly as he tried to touch into the German area.
Despite the bookings being the center of attention Serbia was doing well keeping their shape and tactics at a sharp level to contain the free effective wing play Germany put to display in their opening match against Australia.
In the 37th minute, the match took a rude turn for Germany, when that costly yellow that spectators felt coming, came in abrupt fashion in the 37th minute, when Miroslav Klose was once again at the center of attention, when he stretched for a poke to dispossess the dribbling Dejan Stankovic, but instead he tripped the captain causing the referee to not only whistle, but show Klose a second yellow card and give him his marching orders.
Now the referee was way out of line to make such a bold move and send off a player for suck a minor trip. The only explanation he could try to legitimize is that Klose was repeatedly making minor infractions, as he did proceed to chip a ball in the goal after being whistled for offside just before the final trip. But even that would be seen as harsh because this is the World Cup and one expects to see something serious to send a player off the pitch so soon.
It didn’t take much time for Serbia to capitalize on their man advantage, as a minute later the ball was sent wide nicely to Krasic who supplied a picture perfect cross to the backpost where big frontman Nikola Zigic dropped a header back to open teammate Milan Jovanovic who promptly chested and smashed home from close range to give Serbia the 1-0 lead.
Germany didn’t shy away after the red card, as they almost equalized just before the half when Ozil supplied a dangerous ball into the area that was punched by Serbia goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic, but right to Germany’s Khedeira who chested down and blasted by the charging keeper, only to ring his effort off the crossbar. Muller flicked a weak effort on net on the scramble for the rebound, but it was easily cleared off the line by a well positioned Kolorov.
The second half’s best early chance came off the foot of Bastian Schweinsteiger in the 54th minute, when a rolling ball came to him from the right side by Muller only for him to sidefoot an effort right at the keeper.
After seven bookings in the first hour it became pretty clear that players all over the pitch started to shy away from delivering any aggressive tackles in fear that a vital booking would be in the cards for them. It was a shame that it came to that.
Ozil began to put his tremendous playmaking ability on display after that by producing two great opportunities for Podolski in a three-minute span. Shockingly manager Lowe decided to sub out the effective Ozil, who may have been tiring out a bit, but in no way should have been yanked.
Serbia once again seemed to crack under the similar stress and pressure in their own area in the 60th minute. This time it was the experienced Nemanja Vidic, who blatantly handed the ball off a cross in his own penalty area, conceding a penalty kick.
Vidic clearly felt beaten and thought there was a German behind him to tap in a dangerous cross, but he was wrong and the handball was a lethal mistake.
But lucky for Vidic and Serbia, Lukas Podolski failed from the spot, sending an ordinary attempt goalwards that was easily stopped by Vladimir Stojkovic, the Serbian goalkeeper.
Serbia did well to intervene on the non-creative German attack for an equalizer from that point on and clearly had the more dangerous of opportunities to score.
Like in the 67th minute, when Krasic split two German defenders and laid off for Jovanovic in the area whose left footed attempt hit the post. And in the 74th minute, when another dangerous ball by Krasic found Zigic in front of goal, where he preceded to head off the crossbar. Zigic wasn’t done there, as in the 81st minute his header laid off for Gojko Kacar’s volley that just wide high over the target.
Despite Serbia’s willingness to risk a counter the late attacks didn’t result to any goals and at the final whistle it was Serbia who held on for a much-needed 1-0 victory.
Serbia will leave this match with pride and confidence. Their true potential was put to display in this match and they proved that when on their form they can defeat any nation in the competition.
Yes, they may have benefited from the man advantage, but the positives were already in line before the expulsion. Serbia did well to contain the dangerous German wing attack and if they can avoid that stupid mistake in the back that they tend to make once a match they have the potential to hold a clean sheet against anyone.
The attack was also very sharp in this match through the exciting play of Krasic and the size of Zigic up front. Combine that with a finishing Jovanovic and Serbia is a side to be reckoned with.
Germany will feel slightly betrayed after what they will portray as an ill-advised expulsion for Miroslav Klose, but they will also come to realize that despite being a man down they had more than enough opportunities to even the scoreline.
The defense was rather soft in the middle down the stretch and the attack failed to step it up it the late stages of the match, but this may have had something to do with the fact their formation and tactics were stunted by the numerical disadvantage.
The Germans will surely recover from this loss in time to advance, but it won’t be easy against a talented Ghana squad.
Men of the Match
GERMANY: Mesut Ozil
SERBIA: Milos Krasic
USA: (Donovan 48, Bradley 82) 2-2 SLOVENIA (Birsa 13, Ljubijankic 42)
Johannesburg was the site for this Group C battle that had serious implications in the fight for a second round place at the 2010 World Cup.
The match started in a physical manner with hard challenges around the pitch and a high elbow from American Clint Dempsey to get the blood flowing.
It didn’t take long for a goal to come along, as Slovenia struck first and it was in classy fashion.
It was Valter Birsa’s left footed bending ball that left Tim Hoard still, en route to the back of the net in the 13th minute that gave Slovenia the 1-0 lead.
American defender Oguchi Onyewu failed to close in on Birsa and that much space can’t be yielded in such a dangerous spot atop the area. Not only did Onyewu fail to close in on the shooter, but he also looked to have screened Howard preventing the keeper from making any type of reaction.
USA struggled in the attack early on in the first half. They failed to string together passes up front and were relying on long crosses much too often.
Slovenia’s defence was up to the challenge and was far too sturdy to be beaten that way.
USA put their first real threat on net in the 36th minute, when Jose Torres bent a free kick around the wall from a tough angle, but Slovenia goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was aware and palmed it aside.
Robbie Findley sparked an attack in the 39th minute, turning the heat up with numbers into the area, but a Findley ball looking for Donovan across the area was intervened. Findley needed to be more aggressive with the position and space he had so close to goal.
In the 40th minute, America provided a real scare in the Slovenia area, when the ball was sent into the danger area and pinballed around before being cleared off the line by Slovenia defender. The referee whistled for a handball infraction anyway, but the headman was incorrect in his decision.
It became even harsher when he booked Robbie Findley, calling it intentional and costing him the third match of the group stage via suspension. In the end, it was a tough break for Findley, but nothing resulted from the play, so the match went on.
USA was still pushing for their opener seconds later when this time Clint Dempsey penetrated the area very nicely and slipped a perfect ball to the farpost, where Landon Donovan stood waiting for the tap in, but Slovenian defender Miso Brecko aggressively cleared away with a last ditched effort. One can’t help to want more from Donovan on that play, he needed to be more aggressive and attack that pass if he was hungry for an equalizer.
Just as the field began to tilt in the USA’s favor, Slovenia hit back on the counter with a gut-busting goal. Milivoje Novakovic precisely slipped Zlatan Ljubijankic through, who timed his run perfectly and was onside by a blade of grass, and in on net routinely to slip the ball by a charging Howard, who clearly took an extremely poor route to the attacker by leaving a bulk of the net free.
Slovenia led 2-0 at halftime and the United States were sure to get a stern talking to in the locker room.
USA were fully capable of coming back and drawing if they came out with the right mentality and played with some intensity and they got just the start they were looking for just minutes into the second half.
A long-ball for the US was played up the right wing by Steve Churundolo and Slovenian defender Bostejan Cesar whiffed on a poor sliding clearance attempt that sprung Donovan in alone on goal from a tricky angle. He dribbled near the endline towards the goal patently waiting for a runner to feed to in the front of the net. When that never came and he was just about into the six-yard box he just decided to give it a blast, powering it over a scared keeper from close range.
The goal sparked the emotion of the Americans and started what was soon to be a very exciting finish.
The United States were pushing hard for the equalizer and Slovenia seemed content to sit back and guard their slim 2-1 lead.
Jozy Altidore was the first to really threaten for US’s second in the 70th minute when he hit a hard effort directly at Handanovic from just atop the box.
The US began to push hard in the final ten minutes, but they were looking challenged by what was a very organized Slovenia defence at the time.
Manager Bob Bradley threw on an extra attacker subbing out a poor Onyewu in a last ditched effort to find a goal and just minutes later he got just that.
In the 82nd minute, Donovan sent a long ball towards the frontline where Altidore rose and headed down perfectly into the path of an on running Michael Bradley who skillfully beat the keeper and tied the score at 2-2.
Bradley stormed to the sidelines overjoyed with the equalizer to rejoice with his squad, but the match was far from complete.
The momentum was now flying high with the Americans and after winning a free kick from a dangerous area just wide of the box things were about to get interesting.
Donovan bent in a threatening cross in the danger zone and it was ran onto and finished enthusiastically by the substitute Maurice Edu, but just as the Americans were about to go into a frenzy of celebration they heard a whistle calling back the goal for an unknown infraction. No offsides or fouls looked to be present in the replay and a dejected US side was robbed of a third and winning goal.
When the final whistle blew, it ended what has been the most intense and dramatic match thus far at the World Cup. The ending was unfortunately rather controversial, but not a deadly blow for the Americans in any manner.
USA will feel robbed after the shameful retraction of their third and what would have been match-winning goal in the dieing minutes of this match. After a slow start that put them in a 2-0-halftime ditch, the Americans fought back showing their best quality in the process.
The disallowed goal will get the headlines for the time being, but USA must focus on Algeria because a win against the North Africans and they will assure advancement.
Yes, it is a shame that the referee botched such an important historical goal, in what looks to be a very unprofessional manner, but USA still proved themselves to be a force and still controls their own destiny. So lets see if they can build from this moment and grow to push their nation into uncharted waters further on in this competition.
Slovenia will leave this match with very mixed feelings. They will be proud of their tremendous first half, where they couldn’t have played a better half of football. They will be frustrated and regretful to blow the two-goal lead in the second half on an early mistake that boosted the American confidence. And they will also feel lucky and relieved to be saved by the referee in the disallowing of what would have been the third American goal.
Slovenia will watch the tape and remain confident knowing that they also control their own destiny despite having to play a frustrated England side. If they remain organized in defence and get the same English form that USA and Algeria got they will surely have a great chance to advance.
Men of the Match
USA: Michael Bradley
SLOVENIA: Valter Birsa
Algeria 0-0 England
This Group C fixture from Green Point Stadium fielded European power England against North African side Algeria. Both sides decided to go in a different direction at goalkeeper after gaffes in the net cost both of them vital points in the group openers.
The match began with some play that seriously lacked creativity. Matter of fact, it was rather dull and boring with both nations failing to even produce a serious threat for the first half-hour.
It can easily have been argued that Algeria was the better side early on, but England was the first nation to get a legit scoring opportunity in the 33rd minute off the foot of Frank Lampard.
Aaron Lennon sent a cross in that was attempted to be headed clear by Algerian defender Rafik Halliche, but instead fell right to the feet of Lampard in the area whose left footed effort didn’t have the pace to beat the Algerian goalkeeper.
Algeria clearly proved by halftime that they weren’t going anywhere. They more than held their own weight and were having no troubles blending in, in competition with the English.
The majority expected England to come out a new inspired side after the break, but this never came to be.
England produced a half-chance in the 62nd minute, when Aaron Lennon lifted a tantalizing ball to the farpost, where a leaping Wayne Rooney awaited, only for an Algerian defender to just get a piece of it with the top of his head deflecting it for a corner.
With the dieing minutes ticking away England still remained lifeless. They were playing sloppy lazy football and lacked any real movement off the ball or neat passing.
Capello even introduced Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch into the fold for a three-striker attack, but one could hardly tell the difference.
At the end it remained a scoreless draw that the Algerians fought hard for and earned.
Algeria will be proud to come off the pitch with a point and knowing that they fully frustrated a highly reputable England side filled with world-class talent. Algeria showed their spirit and played a big part of stunting the growth of any English attack. Algeria might not have threatened the England goal themselves, but they live on with a draw and now still have hopes of advancing in their next fixture against the hated United States with a little help from in the other group match.
England will come out of this scoreless draw with Algeria in no panic under the management of Fabio Capello. Despite the reaction that the English press is sure to parade upon the slow starting English, Capello will keep his side composed and patient. Yes, they may have looked like an ordinary disappointing average side in their first two matches, but they still are in complete control of their own destiny.
Wayne Rooney may look like a shadow of himself at the moment, but there is still time to recover. Lampard and Gerrard might not be performing to their standards while sharing the pitch together, but there still is time for this to be solved. It still may be shocking to see Heskey even inserted to the lineup, but there is still time for his benching.
The point is despite the sloppy disappointing start England still is under complete control. Despite how bad they have been they have only conceded once and should that have really happened? (Ask Robert Green)
Capello will have the Three Lions prepared to beat a fellow European Slovenia side to advance to the second round.
Just remember Capello is an Italian and even though their advancement might not be pretty, it is the result that always matters.
Men of the Match
ALGERIA: Karim Ziani
Goal of the day: Valter Birsa’s left footed bending effort that had pace and placing to be admired. Responsible for Slovenia grabbing the early 1-0 lead on the USA.
Celebration of the day: Could have easily awarded it to the dancing fun bunch of Slovenia for the second time just for laughs alone, but we will give it to Bradley and the sliding American on pure emotion sharing hugs with his fellow teammates who charged off the bench.
Match of the Day: USA-Slovenia
Mistake of the day: Quite obvious on this one, the Mali referee’s decision to whistle for an infraction on what would have been the third goal for the USA.
Group C didn’t give us any answers today in the chase for the two advancing spots. Slovenia and the United States both only showed up for half a match each and the official made a treacherous decision to cost the US points at the death.
Group D’s match also only added to the already spicy competition that has evolved this tournament at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The Germans were forced to play a man down for the bulk of the match and couldn’t overcome a 1-0 Serbia lead despite being awarded a penalty and having multiple chances to equalize.
Both of these group’s conclusions will have to await for the third and final fixtures.
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