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World Cup – Day 10

Not a great day for good football, as it was marred by blatant cheating in two of the three games.

Slovakia 0 – Paraguay 2

Paraguay controlled the early part of the game, and were rewarded on 27. Slovakia couldn’t clear, Paraguay retook possession inside half, and Lucas Barrios fed a perfect pass to Enrique Vera at the top of the box between two Slovakians.  Vera had time for only one touch, but that touch was perfect .. directing the ball into the corner.  The game continued in the same vein, Paraguay controlled, uneventfully.  They created few good chances, until the 86th minute, when Christian Riveros slammed a loose ball at the top of the box past the Slovakian keeper.  The outcome was correct, and the game was entertaining and not controlversial, except perhaps for the Slovakians who will certainly feel they should have played better.

Italy 1 – New Zealand 1

Conventional wisdom was that the All Whites would keep 9 or 10 men behind the ball and play for a draw.  Nope .. New Zealand came out attacking.  They scored on 7′ to take a shocking lead. A free kick from 45 yards out near the touch line was beautifully delivered into the center of the box, misplayed by Italian defender Fabio Cannavaro, and slotted home by Kiwi Shane Smeltz. The ball may have brushed a Kiwi head, which would have put Smeltz offside. Far more controversial was the very soft penalty given on 29′. Italian Daniele DiRossi conned the referee, and Vicente Iaquinta converted.  The second half had some exciting moments, most favoring the Azzurri, but none were converted as the Kiwi goalie and back line were resolute.

The Group F final day (Thurs 24-June) certainly looks interesting. Paraguay controls the group, but all except Slovakia ensure advancement with a win on Thursday (24-June), and Slovakia can advance with a win against Italy and some help from Paraguay.

Brazil 3 – Ivory Coast 1

This is one of the most anticipated group stage games, because both teams are just so talented.  But the Brazilians dominated the game, with the Ivorians making few meaningful attacks until they were down 3-0 early in the second half.  The first Brazilian goal on 25′ was simply gorgeous, as Luis Fabiano, Kaka and Robinho had a wonderful passing interlude before Kaka put Fabiano in and he put it away cleanly.  The second goal early in the second half was pretty, but marred by the (dirty cheat) Fabiano handling the ball TWICE while cutting across the top of the area and banging a very nice strike. Kaka had a hand in the third goal on 62′ – he got the ball on the left wing, ran at Kolo Toure, got to the byline and sent a nice cross to Elano, who had the easiest finish of the tournament. Ivory Coast prima donna Didier Drogba scored on 80′ when beat the Brazilian offside trap and nicely headed in a Yaya Toure cross from dead center 10 yards out.

Near the end came serious controversy, as Kaka got two yellows 3 minutes apart and was sent off.  Problem is, the second one was totally undeserved, as Ivorian defender Keita ran at Kaka and feigned an elbow in the face.  The cheating was obvious to everyone on the field except French referee Stephane Lannoy, who gave the second yellow. It was the final act in a whole series of play acting and faking by both sides.

In a delicious bit of justice, if Portugal beat North Korea tomorrow, Kaka’s missing the final Brazilian game against Portugal will work against Ivory Coast, as to advance they need to beat North Korea and Brazil needs to beat Portugal and between them overcome goal difference.

And then the French …

Perhaps the French referee was distracted by the craziness with his national side, who are self-destructing! There has been trouble for several years, but it has bubbled over in the merciless pressure caused by their poor performance.

Apparently, at halftime of the loss to Mexico on Thurs (17-June), diva Nicolas Anelka had harsh words for coach Raymond Domenech. Someone inside the dressing room leaked the substance of the exchange to the media. Anelka refused to apologize, and so was then booted off the team and sent home on Saturday. Patrice Evra, the captain, spoke publicly and bitterly criticized the traitor who leaked the halftime incident.

On Sunday, the players, led by Evra, refused to train in protest of Anelka’s dismissal.  Evra got into it with the team trainer Robert Duverne, who threw down his stopwatch and World Cup credential and apparently resigned.  Then the Managing Director of the French Football Federation Jean-Louis Valentin spoke to the assembled press and also resigned, citing his shame at the refusal of the players to train. The players released a statement (read by Domenech to the press!) indicating the reason for their protest: the lack of FFF support for Anelka.

They play on Tuesday against the hosts. They need to beat South Africa by several, and for Mexico and Uruguay to not tie in order to advance. This is actually very possible, given that neither Mexico or Uruguay particularly like each other or are inclined to pack it in defensively.  But collusion has happened before.

I am not much into schadenfreude, but I am enjoying this. There isn’t much about the French to like in recent years; they manage to play poorly and whine incessantly while being condescending and arrogant. Domenech should have gone after their pitiful performance at Euro 2008.

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