Monday, June 12, 2006

Redemption for FWC 2006!

Just as I thought the first day of the World Cup was going to be the only decent day in terms of excitement during this tournament, I was, thankfully, proved wrong. First, I witnessed the most exciting match of FWC 2006 so far. Then came the most dominant performance.
The first game of the day was between Japan and Australia. After some bright play early on by Australia, Japan got a completely undeserved lead through Shunsuke Nakamura's cross when 2 Japanese players wrestled Aussie keeper Mark Schwarzer to the ground, hence allowing Nakamura's cross to float into goal. Mysteriously, the ref didn't spot a thing, much to the fury of Socceroos coach Guus Hiddink. Sadly, this travesty let Japan have the lead well into the second half as well, until Hiddink, out of desperation, brought on Josh Kennedy, Tim Cahill and John Aloisi. Kennedy caused problems to the Japanese immediately with his aerial ability and his unique movement when on the ground. Cahill and Aloisi took time to settle down, but when they did, the game was turned on its head. In the 84th minute, after confusion in the Japanese penalty area following a throw in, Cahill slotted the ball home. 5 minutes later, he received the ball on the edge of the box, and slammed one onto the inside of the post. 2-1. The Japanese were fading fast, and Aloisi then compounded their misery, and Hiddink's selection headaches for the next match, by running through the defence to score his 23rd international goal. Easily the best match of the tournament so far.
Things were to get even better for football in general, and for the Czechs in particular. After a dominant performance at Euro 2004, many felt they were past their best after having to scrape through to the finals after 2 1-0 wins in the playoffs against Norway, and 2 defeats by Holland in the group stages, their World Number 2 ranking seemingly undeserved. Today, they proved their doubters wrong. They put in the most dominant performance of the last one year, at least, at club and international level (and I am including 6-1, 6-0,7-0 results and even Brazil's 8-0 win over a Swiss second division side). The best way to express how the United States players and coaches must have felt during the side's 3-0 loss to the Czechs can best be expressed in boxing terms. Imagine you are a boxer, and you draw your hand back to deliver what you think is a killer blow to your opponent. And while you are drawing your hand back, he punches you 4 times in the face and knocks you to the ground. He does this many times, and just tries not to deliver a knockout blow to see how long he can keep the fun going. Imagine yourself in this state and you would know just how USA coach Bruce Arena felt. His side dominated possession, but just to try and keep the Czechs from getting the ball.
Not that it worked. Rosicky, Nedved and Poborsky just kept going at the US defence. And Koller up front scored an early goal. It must have been heartbreaking for 6 foot tall Damarcus Beasley to leap and find the ball flying over him, and then turn around to see the tallest player in the tournament crouch to head the ball in. Even when he left with a hamstring injury, the US had no respite, as 6'5" Vratislav Lokvenc came in. No need for Milan Baros, it seems.
Elsewhere, Rosicky, aided by Nedved, plagued the Americans, and slammed 2 beautiful goals, the first arguably the best goal in the tournament (at least as good as Frings') and the second after being released by a beautiful piece of vision from Nedved. All in all, 3-0 doesn't even begin to convey the Czech dominance, and it makes one wonder why Arsene Wenger wants to convert one of the best attacking midfielders in the world (Rosicky) to a winger. Especially when his last such experiment, Aliaksandr Hleb, is still to perform at around 5% of his capabilities (hopefully, he will get there).
Anyway, I am pretty glad I decided to watch all the matches today. Now to watch Italy take on Ghana. So long!


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