I’ve never played any form of organized soccer, so I have no way of knowing if the complaints about the adidas Jabulani ball are genuine or finding something to blame that can’t defend itself. But I do find it interesting that, after 14 games, the only team to impress offensively, Germany, has been playing with it since its introduction last December. And today’s Brazil v. North Korea match is the only in which both teams scored that wasn’t a 1-1 draw. Still, the low scoring totals can’t be blamed on defensive tactics, because I haven’t seen too much of that. I’ve just seen lots of bad soccer, with plenty of it on display today.
Slovakia 1-1 New Zealand
I was all set to spend this game making fun of New Zealand defender Andrew Boyens. Then their spoilsport of a coach decided to play with three defenders because, get this, it would improve their defense. As Don Henley learned, you get better when you don’t have to carry the dead weight. For what it’s worth, it worked, and took a full 49 minutes for Slovakia to score, which is probably a new shutout record for New Zealand. But even though they scored a thrilling equalizer in the game’s dying seconds, their attack will need a lot more than they showed today to break down Paraguay and Italy in their other games.
Prediction against result: I was 40 seconds from calling it exactly. Curse you, Winston Reid!
Ivory Coast 0-0 Portugal
It’s apparently easier for BP to fix an oil spill than for a FIFA referee to lose his license, because Jorge Larrionda of Uruguay, whose resume is littered with controversy and was suspended by the Uruguayan FA in 2002, was given this game. This did nothing to restore his name, and his inconsistent calls took the flow out of the game. After Christiano Ronaldo was unfairly booked for diving in the 21st minute (which partially made up for all of his actual dives), Portugal let the Ivorians control the game, even though they looked better in the second half. Granted, Portugal’s inability to hold the ball and contain Gervinho may have had something to do with it, but after 12 matches without incident, this was the first game where the officiating could be called into question.That’s too bad because this had the potential to be a much better match than it was.
Prediction against result: I’m not proving my credibility very well, am I?
Brazil 2-1 North Korea
Sure, you can give lots of credit to Bad Korea for its organized and clean team defense, and for scoring the late goal. We’ve all seen games where the plucky underdogs try their darndest and frustrate the heavily favored opponents, but what the hell is going on here? For Brazil to be kept off the scoreboard until the 55th minute, even against a team content to bunker, is crazy. Despite the insurance goal, the floodgates never came. It didn’t help that Brazil kept running into each other, shooting at ankles, and, in Kaka, had a playmaker who lived up to his name.
Prediction against result: I PAID FOR BLOOD!
Matchday 6 Previews
Honduras v. Chile 7:30 AM ET, ESPN
Under normal circumstances, I would have said that this would be an exciting, wide-open game with both teams giving the other space to attack and create scoring chances. But after the first five days, I’m not so sure that, even if that’s the intention, that either team is capable of pulling it off. After all, if Portugal and the Ivory Coast couldn’t do it, I don’t see any reason why these two can.
Prediction: Chile 1, Honduras 0
Spain v. Switzerland 10:00 AM ET, ESPN
Spain, on the other hand, should have little problems creating chances because they rely on a short passing game, so the new ball’s unpredictability when struck hard doesn’t come into question. If Xavi, who controls the pace of a game better than any midfielder in the world, has problems moving the ball, then something is definitely wrong. Still, I’m removing a goal from my original prediction for Spain.
Prediction: Spain 2, Switzerland 0
South Africa v. Uruguay 2:30 PM ET, ESPN
We’ll know if the first game of the second round of group play will result in more open games. As in the Mexico game, South Africa should be able to get a goal, which should push Uruguay out of their defensive shell long enough to pull level.
Prediction: South Africa 1, Uruguay 1