The first day of qualifying matches for World Cup 2010 in South Africa is done. Beginning today, I will do a thumbs up, thumbs down recap of the action in qualifying. Naturally, thumbs up will be given to players or teams that impressed, while thumbs down will go to those that didn't.
I won't go over all of the games. For example, Germany's 6-0 win against Liechtenstein was expected, so I won't go into matches like that.
Latvia—We may not see them too often on the thumbs up side, but it's always nice to see a weaker squad get off to a winning start in qualifying. Girts Karlsons and Vitalijs Astafjevs scored in a 2-1 victory over Moldova.
Israel—Yossi Benayoun and Ben Sahar scored to erase a 2-0 Switzerland lead, and secure a point in Israel's opening match. Sahar was the difference maker, setting up Benayoun in the 73rd minute, and then equalizing for his team in injury-time.
Hakan Yakin—He scored all of Switzerland's goals (3) in Euro 2008. The World Cup qualifying campaign will be another chance for him to showcase his talent. His goal was a beautiful free kick that went over the wall, and bounced in off the crossbar.
Martin Skrtel—His job was keeping the dangerous David Healy off the scoresheet. Not only did he do it, he also chipped in with a goal himself to give Slovakia a 2-1 victory over Northern Ireland.
David Villa—After missing a penalty in the 36th minute, Villa made amends by scoring in the 58th. Spain escaped with a narrow 1-0 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Bosnia-Herzegovina—They lost; however, it was by just one goal. Also, the match was in Spain against the best national team in the world right now. Bosnia didn't have a shot on goal, but the defense worked hard, giving the Spaniards a tough time.
Joe Cole—He gave England, and new head coach, Fabio Capello a sigh of relief. Two goals, and a win in Andorra.
Andriy Shevchenko—A return to the San Siro certainly had to put a smile on Sheva's face. He'll have more reason to be happy after his 90th minute penalty shot gave Ukraine a 1-0 win against Belarus.
Croatia—It was a heartbreaking loss to Turkey in Euro 2008. It's good to see the Croats taking care of business once again with Niko Kovac, Luka Modric and Mladen Petric scoring against Kazakhstan. Modric and Petric both missed in the penalty shootout against the Turks, so this should bring back some confidence.
Lithuania—They defeated Ukraine in Euro 2008 qualifying. A 3-0 win in Romania today has got to be the biggest victory this team has ever seen. To be fair, Romania were missing Adrian Mutu, Cristian Chuvu, and Razvan Rat. Next up for the Lithuanians is Austria. Could this be their next big upset?
Austria—I predicted that France would win this easily. I was wrong. Austria defeated the French in convincing fashion—3-1. Perhaps they would have qualified for Euro 2008 if they hadn't been the host nation.
Antonio Di Natale and Gianluigi Buffon—These two saved the blushes for Italy. Di Natale struck twice, including the winner in stoppage-time. Meanwhile, Buffon made a number of fine saves.
Cyprus—Despite the loss to Italy, Cyprus outplayed Italy for the majority of the game. They should have won. If performances like this continue in the future, it'll only be a matter of time before they're rewarded.
Ilco Naumoski—He scored in the fifth minute against Scotland. It proved to be the difference maker in a historic win for Macedonia.
Nikola Zigic—What happened to this guy? I haven't seen him in much action for Valencia. Glad to see he struck today for the Serbians.
Arjan Begaj—His fine goalkeeping earned Albania a point against the Swedes today.
Scandinavian nations—Both Sweden and Denmark finished in goalless draws today, against rather easy opponents. Each country possesses great talent, but you can't win if you don't score.
Poland—A terrible Euro 2008 and things only seem to be getting worse. A 1-1 tie at home against Slovenia isn't the way to start a qualifying campaign.
France—Karim Benzema, Samir Nasri, Thierry Henry. The magic can be made, but where is it from this squad?
Karim Benzema—Lyon's tremendous striker can't seem to pull it together on the international stage.
Samir Nasri—Like Benzema, isn't firing on all cylinders for France.
Poland Head Coach, Leo Beenhakker—This should focus on players and teams, but I can't ignore this. Beenhakker suspended goalkeeper Artur Boruc for three international matches because he went out drinking after a match in Ukraine last month. Okay, suspend our best player. I believe he should have cut Boruc some slack. Had it not been for him, the Poles would have easily conceded 10 goals instead of four in Euro 2008.
France Head Coach, Raymond Domenech—His time with France may be winding down. He and Beenhakker should go for a "piwo" (Polish for beer) sometime.
Brian Said, Jan Durica and Jon Roi Jacobsen—All fired in own-goals against their team.
Fabio Luis Ramim, Jonas Tor Naes, Stanislav Angelov—All picked up red cards in their matches.
David Healy—If he doesn't play well neither does Northern Ireland. Don't mean to dump it all on him, but it pretty much is in his hands.
Spain—We should have seen a two or three-goal victory against Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Romania—Injuries aside, this team should have put up a better performance. They should defeat the Faroe Islands in the next match, but then they need to prepare for France.
England—How about some support for Joe Cole?
Luca Toni—Didn't perform well at Euro 2008. He was inaffective once again today, leading to a second half on the bench.
That's it for the first edition of thumbs up, thumbs down on the World Cup 2010 qualifying matches. This Wednesday on Sept. 10, the action will continue, as will my coverage.
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