When I was bringing up the possibility of Uruguay and Mexico being the two favourites to advance from the Group while in France this past spring, a natural reception of disbelief affronted me. The French press, as is the symptom with many large teams this World Cup, refused to correctly appraise the state of their team, the long overstretched candidacy of their lunatic coach, and most importantly the growing strength of the „middle teams” as embodied in this case by Mexico and Uruguay.
France’s meltdown should NOT overshadow the great play of Uruguay and Mexico, who could have advanced even if the French team didn’t mutiny.
So here its critical not to look at France’s very clear and easy to explain failures, and instead focus on little Uruguay’s outstanding performance which saw them keep 3 clean sheets and put on an exceptionally integrated team performance.
GOAL DIFFERENCE (FOR, AGAINST)
Uruguay’s Monumental Performance
A Gourd of Mate a Kilo of meat,
Little Uruguay are hell to beat,
If their iron defence you can breach,
Their babyfaced goalkeeper does easily reach,
And find Forlan with a rainbow pass,
Your own defence give a kick in the .... grass.
A little hand held camera is following the Uruguayan team in the hands of Diego Forlan. They are relaxed, in a good mood, drinking mate... they even brought their Uruguayan grillmaster with Uruguayan meat. All of this is documented on Forlan’s youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/DiegoForlan7Oficial and Twitter from the striker himself: http://twitter.com/diegoforlan7 . French coach Raymond Domenech should know, that a good atmosphere is the key to great team play, and getting the most out of your players.
The little country with 3.5 million Uruguayans inhabiting a land of rivers and coastline, stuck between giant neighbours Argentina and Brazil, is one of the most hospitable, safest and most laid-back destinations on this planet, I beg to be challenged on that. Besides Slovenia and New Zealand, the Uruguayans represent the smallest countries at this tournament. Yet, football wise they have together with Argentina won the most South American Championships (14) and incredibly, two World Cups, the most famous of which was in 1950 where they won the final in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium against Brazil.
Analysis : Allowing 0 goals in the last three matches is a rare achievement only matched by Switzerland in 2006 (also in France’s group), Argentina in 1998, Italy 1990, and Brazil 1986. Looking closer at this trend though, it does seem to imply that the defensive strengths of „smaller” teams are improving. The defensive unit of Lugano-Muslera-Godin-Fucile-Victorino is going to be very hard to beat for any team. Lugano and Godin work fantastically as a team, they are very well covered by the highly defensive midfield of Diego Perez and Arevaldo Rios and they are equally good in the air as on the ground. Not that Uruguay’s attack is bad! Diego Forlan is once again proving his worth, not as much by goals but by excellent, dangerous movement up front on which their offence is built. He comes deep to hold up the ball so his colleagues can advance out of their defensive shell around him before acting as an offensive playmaker.
Strengths: Uruguay has an excellent defence, and excellent defensive midfield, and still has a lot of their best attacking players on the bench. So far we have seen the Uruguayan defensive mode, but against South Korea, Tabarez should not shy-away from a slightly more offensive setup.
Prognosis: Uruguay are favourites to advance against South Korea, but they have weaknesses, in that they don’t get the ball forward rapidly and effectively all the time. This could mean that their attack could stall against a stronger and well organized team. Uruguay should advance at least to the quarterfinals.
Mexico’s Solid Swim
The Aztecs surge and the Aztecs try,
Against any opponent they are not shy,
A little less tequila a little more hot peppers eat,
It should make millions of Mexicans shout „arriba!” and leap,
Allowing the team to hand Argentina defeat,
And a life's-worth of taco-carbohydrates eating reap!
Despite their loss to Uruguay last night Mexico seems to be constantly improving. Flashbacks from the past will be haunting players and fans alike, as they face traditional party-spoilers Argentina in the round of 16. They will remember the game they lost to Argentina 2-1 at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where despite a heroic performance a last gasp super-goal from Maxi Rodriguez settled the progression.
This Mexican team has a lot of strengths, but scoring is not one of them. Guillermo Franco is a capable goalscorer, but hasn’t found his form yet during this tournament. He is a naturalized Argentine who spend much of his renowned career in the Mexican league, and scoring against his country of birth on one of the few opportunities he will get will be his last chance to mark himself on the history books.
Strengths: The Mexican team is rapid and creative in attack, although their best offensive moves have lacked finishing. The France game as an example, when in the first half they produced no less than 7 brilliant goal scoring opportunities none of which found the back of the net. Their two goals in the second half came from less inspiring moves.
Prognosis: The Mexican team is strong enough on their attacking wings, that they can pose a significant danger to Argentina. Their defense and midfield will have to be on full confidence and concentration, and their attacking moves will have to produce efficient goal scoring, as they will likely get less chances.
South Africa’s Honourable Mention
The little host nation goes out with song, Nkosi Sikelel sung with astounding Harmony to an cacophony of mourning in-discriminant vuvuzelas. They depart having played their best tournament ever, and laying a foundation for the continued improvement of the South African team... the Bafana Bafana will be back.
Although the organizing committee and South African government is guilty of propaganda overrating their team in the eyes of the public in order to attract viewers to the stadiums, the team still managed to perform better than expected. They even could have qualified if they managed to score 2 or 3 more goals against a demoralized, depleted French team.
France’s Cold Catastrophe
Too many words have been used already. In the ecstasy of the European and World Cup victories the French Football association lost touch with its roots. The good atmosphere around the 1998 team gave way to a Robespieran reign of terror from a coach with one talent: spreading controversy and thus winning just enough support to continue his guillotining ways.
Leaving a World Class squad of dedicated players at home, introducing no tactical and team-building solutions of note, and prioritizing player horoscopes over performance is what Domenech will be unfondly remembered for. French players represent a lot more in the World of football than was on display here, but this cold shower, and the appointment of a far better manager: Laurent Blanc will certainly see them returning in force soon.
The failure of the players is mixed: The biggest blame goes to the stars, Ribery and Anelka, the most successful in club football, who did little for the team during the course of this tournament except spread backroom scandal. Ribery caused national scandal with an underage prostitute, which didn’t help his concentration and performance, while Anelka did very little for the French attack, leading an egoistic revolution which caused the French team embarrassing defeat to South Africa.
Best 11 –
Hugo Lloris – If not for his performances in goal France would have fared even worse. He had the most saves and best composure of all the goalkeepers in the group. This young goalkeepers future looks central in the rebuilding of a devastated French team. If you don't agree with the choice watch his first half with Mexico, and his second half with South Africa.
Ricardo Osorio – The best right defender in the group, he forms a backbone of the Stuttgart team of recent years, and his ability to link solid defending with steady attacking support has been impressive for Mexico.
Diego Lugano – Another classy Uruguayan defender in the mould of Paolo Montero. A little bit dirty at times, slapping and frustrating opponents when the referee is not looking, his aerial ability and tackling makes up for it. His presence is key to the stability of the Uruguayan defence and he is a real leader on the pitch, responsible for the the hard shell that protects the Uruguayan goal.
Diego Godin – Tall, strong and technically capable, the Urguayan center back forms an excellent defence with Diego Lugano. Very little gets past him, and he is the type of defender that sticks to the game plan but manages to think out of the box in defensive situations.
Carlos Salcido – The PSV defender has performed with the Mexican left defence, especially when contributing to the attacking movements of his team. Surprisingly dangerous going forward, he normally is a dedicated central defender, but this has allowed him to shut down all of the right sided attacks of Mexico’s opponents, except for the excellent cross from Uruguayan Edinson Cavani to Luiz Suarez which was his only mistake of the tournament so far.
Gerardo Torrado – The old man in Mexico’s defense is not at the level of his former under-appreciated glories, but he is still a stable element in a solid team. He is key to Mexico’s possession game, and against Argentina will be leading the effort to limited the creativity of the Messis, Verons and company. In other words it is set to be a pivotal game in a great career.
BEST IN THE GROUP: Diego Perez – The Monaco man is known for being weak in attack but excellent at the destructive game. He got little appreciation, and his work goes easily unnoticed, but he has been spectacular in frustrating opposing teams.
Giovani dos Santos – Poor club form (Galatasaray and Tottenham) has not prevent this little cosmopolitan from forgetting the fact that his brother was left out of the team and putting in three excellent attacking displays for Mexico.
Egidio Arevalo – Something of an unknown before this tournament, still playing his club football in Montevideo, this bald workhorse was chosen ahead of two much more famous Uruguayan midfielders to the surprise of many. He has however been excellent in plugging holes and giving constant energy to the Uruguayan attack, making Uruguay’s manager Tabarez seem like something of a genius.
Diego Forlan – He is adding thousands of fans to his already thousands of fans with this World Cup. A star that plays his best for his nation, his Tweeting and Youtube channel are attracting heaps of visitors and that is just for off the field charm! On the pitch he was dangerous, and unselfish, working to motorize Uruguay’s offence at the expense of scoring himself, although his first goal against South Africa was by no means ugly! World Cup top scorer?
Luiz Suarez – The little Ajax man can still do more, but he has been a very dangerous element of Uruguay’s attack, and one to watch for the playoffs.
Honourable Mention – Fernando Muslera – The Uruguayan goalkeeper joins a rare club of goalkeepers who have achieved shut-outs in three World Cup matches, and we will be seeing a lot more of this 23 year old Lazio shot-stopper! His best attribute is excellent teamwork with his defense, a rare sign of maturity for any goalkeeper. He is probably three times as good as any English goaltender, but that is not saying much.
Coach: Alberto Parreira – Edges out Oscar Washington Tabarez for managing to significantly improve a team that could not even win a game in recent years. He introduced the elements of self-confidence, team spirit and optimism to the South African camps, and quite successful tactics that nearly manage to qualify South Africa to the next round.
Worst 11 –
Oscar Perez – Not so bad, but has been a little bit un-present for Mexico at the back for 2 of the 3 games. He is a good goalkeeper though, and should recover, well has to recover against the ferocious attack of Argentina.
Bakary Sagna – Anonymous, overpaid French star, doing little to nothing in France’s right defence, and offering no explanation as to why any of the four other candidates for the position were overlooked by Domenech. His dispassionate and underachieving performances will be all-too-familiar to Arsenal fans.
Eric Abidal – A good performance for being played out of position by Domenech, his speed looked good in defense at first, but then his lack of ability in the position caused France a lot of trouble, most notably for the first Mexican goal. In case there is any doubt left Raymond, Abidal is not a central defender.
Willam Gallas – Hit by injury before the World Cup, it proved a bit much for the Arsenal man to really contribute to his flagging team during this tournament. Philippe Mexes should have been playing instead of or alongside him. Yes, that is addressed to you again Raymond.
Patrice Evra – The Manchester United captain tried to bridge the mutiny during the French training with the coach, and ended up disliked by both parties sitting out his last game. He contributed very little football wise, although he was one of the better French players in the opening match against Uruguay. Not looking forward to his press conference "exposing all" to the French public this week.
Kagisho Dikgacoi – Every time this ungracefull South African got close to an opponent he fouled. A very sloppy defensive midfielder who has a lot of physique but really was out of his league at the World Cup. Sibaya should have been playing instead. This style of play is suitable for the Fulham and the Premiership given the relaxed referees there, its unacceptable at the world stage.
Franck Ribery – Made sure that the memory of the French team at this World Cup will be mostly around his under-age prostitution scandal. He made two or three good plays in three games, to continue his disastrous form clearly stemming from his scandal-born distraction .... far too little for such a brilliant midfielder. The French counter-revolution should begin by letting him breath a bit, as he wasn’t anywhere nearly up to the task of filling Zidane’s shoes this World Cup. He would get the biggest flop award if not for his assist for France’s only goal.
Yoann Gourcuff – So much expected of him, but his red card against South Africa, however controversial was deserved. The worst of it was, that he failed to carry his club form to the French team, often looking lost and unproductive failing to find his place in the creative center of the French midfield as he did this season in the Champions League with Bordeaux. His only positive was a great freekick against Uruguay which Muslera heroically saved.
Andres Guardado – An immense talent on the left wing in the Spanish Liga with Deportivo, but under-performing for Mexico for around 12 months already. His lack of creative impact on the team, and the wastefullness of his play are compounded with the fact that this rare talent is more of a dead weight rather than a leader of the Mexican team.
BIGGEST FLOP: Nicolas Anelka – We don’t yet know what love-spat between the superstar and his insane coach broke the spirit of the „highly determined” French team, but his banishment from training caused a rebellion by the French players. The truth is in the football, Anelka was ineffective as an attacker failing to score, produce or even move sufficiently. The biggest flop of the group and candidate for the tournament.
Sidney Govou – Sidney Gowho? Exactly! He was a waste of space on France’s right wing, with his best Lyon days clearly long behind him why was he a starter with France? Yes he was good once, but that means maybe Zidane should put on his boots again.
Coach: Raymond Domenech – Little words can describe the long overdue departure of this loony. A definite candidate for worst manager of this tournament, he did everything wrong, and the negativity with which he trained the French team made them look like unmotivated overpaid stars, of which only the second half is true. Tactically he did very little, having a formation he never changed, constantly calling up new players and creating discord in the team with his secretive, totalitarian methods. Goodbye and good riddance.