Thursday, June 17, 2010

First Round Reactions

From The Reporter web-site, written by yours truly.

By Andrei Greska

One round of group play of Africa's first World Cup is officially in the books and there is only one thing that comes to mind: Snoozefest.

I'm sure by now you have read all about the dreaded vuvuzela, the plastic horn driving fans bonkers with its incessant bee-like hum, as well as the fearsome Jabulani, the new adidas ball criticized by everyone from the players to the water boys.

The fact is, the only reason such a big deal was made about both is because the play on the pitch has been nothing to write home about, so writers don't. Scoring is down, teams are playing too defensively and referees are having outstanding performances during this tournament. The soccer played has not been of the highest quality, resulting in too many low-scoring ties.

Nevertheless, the first round of group play was not without its interesting plot lines. Here are the top four:

Switzerland beats Spain
Do you remember the 1997 Bulls team? You know, the one that won an NBA record 72 games and is widely considered as the greatest regular season team ever. Well, Spain is the '97 Bulls on steroids. They don't have a Michael Jordan on their team, instead they have 10 Scottie Pippins. Every single player on that team can ball. In fact, in the past two years, they played 50 games and lost exactly one game, to the United States no less. They were heavy favorites against the Swiss, who while not completely incompetent, are not a world power by any stretch of the imagination.

But that my friends, is why they play the games. Spain attacked and attacked and attacked some more, outshooting Switzerland 24-8. The ball simply refused to go in. Then in the 75th minute, a long ball skipped over the Spain defense, rattled around in the box and ended up in the back of the Spanish. It proved to be enough as the game ended 1-0, handing Spain a shocking defeat and the biggest upset in the World Cup since Senegal beat France in 2002.

U.S. beats England 1-1
I know you can't win by a score of 1-1, but the draw against England sure felt like a win for the United States. After falling behind in the fourth minute when Steven Gerrard slotted home a great ball, the U.S. rallied and controlled much of the first half. It paid off near the end when Clint Dempsey put a weak shot on goal and England keeper Robert Green committed the gaffe of the year, allowing the ball to bounce off him and into the net. The U.S. held on in the second half as England put all hands on deck and went into full attack mode. The result puts the U.S. in great position to advance to the next round for the first time since 2002. They play two relatively easy teams now in Slovenia and Algeria and should post W's for both of them.

North Korea impresses
It's hard to root for North Korea. Their dictator is a menace to the world, their army is about to start a war with South Korea and their country is sealed off to everyone else. Yet here was this plucky team, up against five time World Cup Champion and No. 1 ranked team, Brazil. This was going to get ugly. North Korea was ranked 105th in the world, hadn't been to a World Cup since 1966 and even had to train in a public gym in South Africa. After on half, the score was 0-0. No matter what happened the rest of the match, they could hold their heads up high knowing they held Brazil scoreless for 45 minutes. The game ended 2-1 in favor of the South Americans, but North Korea won respect from the rest of the soccer world.

South African celebration
South Africa is the weakest team ever to play host to the World Cup. Ranked 83rd in the world, most predicted it would become the first host nation to not advance from group play. It opened against Mexico, not a power but definitely respected nation when it comes to the beautiful game. At first Mexico dominated, playing keep-away for the first 20 minutes. South Africa gained confidence as the game progressed and in the 55th minute, launched a lethal breakaway that ended with a rocket shot in the upper 90 to send the stadium and the nation as a whole into a tizzy. Although it could not hold on for the victory, the tie gave the Bafana Bafana reason to believe it could continue to perform well at the biggest stage.


  1. Jinxed it as soon as you said the refereeing was fantastic... First the Germany game with the World Cup high 9 yellow cards, then the US games

  2. Yup, I completely jinxed it against both Mexico and the US.