Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Paraguay Make It Through After Penalties

Paraguay 0-0 Japan
Paraguay advances 5-3 on kicks from the penalty mark.

The first knockout of the competition to go the distance as Paraguay won 5-3 after kicks from the penalty mark to progress in their Round of 16 clash in Pretoria to send them onto Ellis Park and a quarter final clash against either Spain or Portugal.

Japan made a lively start, testing Justo Villar within the first 25 seconds of the game through a shot from Yoshito Okubo. Paraguay were enjoying plenty of posession, Edgar Benitez wasted a change for the Paraguayans, but everytime they got the ball the Japanese has men back in numbers to defend. Japan custodian Kawashima denied Lucas Barrios with a great save halfway through the first half and a minute later Villar was relieved to see a chance from Matsui go over the cross bar. The game struggled to catch the imagination and the teams went in level at the break.

There wasn't a lot of openness about the game at all, both sides began to cancel each other out. Gerardo Martino, the Paraguay coach, made the first bid for glory on the hour when he introduced Nelson Valdez into the game. The Japanese though finished the second half stonger as the Paraguayans sat back and awaited the extra period. It livened up a little in the extra period as both sets of players tired, Kawashima denied Valdez and Villar pushed a free kick from Honda round the post. Villar caused panic after dropping a free kick in the area but he was able to regather at the second attempt. The second half of extra time saw few chances as it came down to 12 yards.

Barreto got Paraguay off to the perfect start but Endo levelled. Barrios was also successful for Paraguay as was Japan captain Hasebe. Sunderland's Cristian Riveros put Paraguay ahead before Komano saw his kick hit the crossbar to put Paraguay in the box seat. Valdez then put Paraguay on the hill, but Honda coolly slotted home his kick to just about leave the door ajar for the Blue Samurai's hopes. That door was quickly slammed shut in their faces as Cardozo slammed the ball past Kawashima to cue scenes of joy from the Paraguayans who will have to play a lot lot better against illustrious European opposition if they are to progress any further. This also means a side from the CONMEBOL region will feature in each of the quarter finals raising the prospect of an all South American last four. Something that has never happened before in this competition.

Highlights are again courtesy of the official FIFA website. These are subject to local restrictions. We recommend our UK readers use the BBC Website.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Brazil Move On, Chile Move On Home

Brazil 3-0 Chile

Well, we were always going to lose one of our sides tonight after fate put Brazil and Chile together in the Round of 16 at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. The Seleção recalled Kaká after suspension and in the absence of the injured Felipe Melo, Ramires got a run in the starting line up as did Robinho who was rested for the Portugal game. The two teams of course, had met in qualification with Brazil winning both games and this would have given the Seleção the mental advantage over the Chileans. Marcelo Biesla though, plays the game he wants to and with the Seleção defence not really being tested too much so far in the competition was this the night that things could all go wrong for Dunga.

Chile made a bright opening to the game, forcing an early corner but the Seleção soon put their stamp on the game. To be fair to both side the opening half an hour was probably as entertaining as any of the other games that had taken place in the competition so far but it was the Seleção who took the lead in a very English fashion on 34 minutes. Maicon with the corner for Brazil and Juan rose highest to head home. This coming moments after Kaká found himself booked by referee Howard Webb for a clumsy challenge. The Seleção doubled the lead four minutes later after Robinho and Kaká combined to tee up Luís Fabiano, who went round the keeper to roll the ball into an empty net.

Marcelo Bielsa wasn't going to give this up easily and made a double change at half time, bringing Tello and Valvida on as they desperately searched for a way back into the game. But the Seleção were in total control and Júlio César was a virtual spectator for most of the second half. Brazil wrapped things up on the hour, Ramires taking the most of his opportunity with a mazy run through the Chilean defence and laid it off to Robinho to curl home the clinching goal from the edge of the box. Chile though wouldn't give up and kept pressing forwards but there were too many passes rather than someone taking control and pulling the trigger.

Luís Fabiano, Kaká and Robinho were all hauled off by Dunga with the next round in mind and he took the chance to give Série A regulars Kléberson and Gilberto some game time, whilst Nilmar got a chance to impress briefly but as hard at the Chileans tried they couldn't find a way past Júlio César. The Seleção now move onto Port Elizabeth where the Netherlands lie in wait on Friday afternoon (UK) as the FIFA World Cup really does come alive. We do though bid farewell to Chile, the first CONMEBOL side to depart this competition, but their contribution will not be forgotten.

Highlights are again courtesy of the official FIFA website. These are subject to local restrictions. We recommend our UK readers use the BBC Website.

Argentina Progess to Germany Showdown

Here follows a special contribution from Martyn Hindley, to who we pass our gratitude.

Argentina 3-1 Mexico

World Cup successes for Argentina have been historically characterised by the combination of controversy followed by devastating brilliance: the van der Kerkhof saga coupled with Kempes' brilliance in 78, Maradona outdoing Maradona for talking points in 86 - several alternatives before and since. In time-honoured tradition, the trend was continued against Mexico, Tévez stepping into the shoes formerly worn by his contemporary head coach with one piece of fortune outshone by a scintillating goal that booked a quarter-final place.

El Tri were holding their own - even more than that - when the flashpoint came on 25 minutes with Manchester City's Tévez in a clearly offside position when located by Lionel Messi, then nudging a header into an unguarded goal. Referee Roberto Rosetti needed some help from an assistant who seemed equally tailspun by events; the goal stood and Mexico's sense of injustice manifested itself in a half-time ruck behind the dugouts that forced Maradona into the almost uncharted waters of 'peacemaker'.

How much did the Albiceleste benefit from the timing of the Tévez goal? Unquantifiable. But it certainly made life easier for the Group B winners in Soccer City and leaves the watching audience wondering as to whether they would have the had the mental wherewithal to cope with the situation had the boot been on the other foot.

Coping with adversity is still a grey area for Argentina, as is the question of how they would withstand darting runs from midfield that have the potential to expose a defensive underbelly that may well be weak.

Mexico coach Javier Aguirre is still mired in a state of flux as to how best to work through his attacking options and although selecting Javier Hernández from the start, the service was not forthcoming for the Manchester United-bound striker with the kind of angled attacks that could be seen from Germany, Argentina's opponents in the last eight.

And thus, the game seemed virtually sealed with twelve minutes still to play before half-time when Maradona was jigging with delight for a second time, Ricardo Osorio pressured into giving up the ball to Gonzalo Higuaín, who coolly breezed aside Óscar Pérez to tap in goal number four of his finals to date.

On a day where officialdom came under the spotlight for all of the wrong reasons at the World Cup Finals, we will never know how the ratifying of Tévez's goal affected this fixture. What we do know is that the nation vanquished 3-0 by Argentina in the semi-finals of the 2007 Copa América, can have no such fury at the way that the former Corinthians craftsman repeated the scoreline in Johannesburg, smashing into the top corner with an effort of power and control.

Mexico had their moments but a fifth successive last-16 exit shows that their psychological block extends to further than just a weakening at the knees when they see Argentine blue-and-white.

That army bounds on to a date with Germany with scores to settle of its own after the 2006 penalty defeat to a team then coached by Jurgen Klinsmann. But they do so with just a slight doubt over the solidity of their backline after Hernández ended an evening of medium-scale profligacy with a consolation goal 19 minutes from time.

Highlights are again courtesy of the official FIFA website. These are subject to local restrictions. We recommend our UK readers use the BBC Website.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Uruguay Progress To Last 8

Uruguay 2-1 Korea Republic

Uruguay, after being the last team to qualify for the tournament, became the first team to qualify for the last 8 after a 2-1 victory over Korea Republic in Port Elizabeth. Goal machine Luis Suarez was the hero for Uruguay. After 49 goals last season for Dutch club Ajax he lifted his tally to three for the tournament after a double strike today. Not that the Uruguayans had it all their own way, Park Chu-Young rattled Fernando Muslera's post with only five minutes on the clock with a super free kick. Three minutes later and Uruguay were ahead, Diego Forlán's cross was allowed to run across the penalty area, was misjudged by Korea Republic goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong and Luíz Suárez ghosted in at the back post fire home.

Again, Uruguay sat back after the goal. Looking to hang on to their lead Korea Republic took to the offensive but Park Chu-Yong was wasteful. The Uruguayans luck finally ran out half way through the second half. Goalkeeper Mulsera was in no mans land and Bolton's Lee Chung-Yong headed home to give the Korea Republic a deserved equaliser. It was the first goal that Uruguay had conceded so far in the World Cup 2010 and raised the possibility of extra time. As the rain piled down, there were ten minutes left when a moment came good enough to win any game, Suárez cut in from the left hand wing, got beyond the challenge of Kim Jung-Woo and curled in a super shot that left Jung Sung-Ryong rooted to the spot. Cue celebrations from the bench and great skills from Suárez to jump the advertising hoardings to celebrate with the substitutes who were warming up behind the goal. Uruguay will now face either Ghana or USA in the quarter finals at Soccer City on Friday, the first time Uruguay have appeared at this stage since Mexico in 1970.

Highlights are courtesy of the official FIFA site. Local viewing restrictions will apply. We recommend our UK readers check out the BBC Website

Friday, 25 June 2010

Brazil, Paraguay Group Winners. Chile Also Through

Paraguay 0-0 New Zealand

Paraguay finished top of Group F after a scoreless draw against New Zealand in Polokwane. Despite being in the box seat in the group going into the game Paraguay still really needed a victory to ensure top spot in the Group whilst the New Zealanders had to win to have any chance of progressing.

In all honesty, it wasn't the best game of the competition. Shots were few and far between, Paraguay had only six shots on target all game compared to a single All Whites effort but on the whole Justo Villar was a mere spectator to proceedings. Paraguay's best opportunities fell to Roque Santa Cruz and and substitue Edgar Benitez but New Zealand goalkeeper Mark Patson was up to the task on each occasion. It was a performance that has Paraguay coach Gerardo Martino seething but his side progress to the Round of 16 where they take on Japan. Slovakia progressed alongside Paraguay after their shock 3-2 victory over Champions Italy, who now head back to Rome with their tails stuck well and truly between their legs.

Portugal 0-0 Brazil

Shocking game in Durban as Brazil progressed as Group Winners from Group G after a goalless draw against Portugal. The first half was dominated by the Mexican referee who dished out 7 yellow cards. Felipe Melo was hauled off by Dunga after his card as he was slowly losing the plot and some pundits reckoned Juan was lucky not to see red after a deliberate handball could have denied Cristiano Ronaldo an opportunity on goal.

Brazil rested Robinho and gave a chance to Nilmar and he looked very dangerous for Seleção at times and he had the best Brazil chance of the match when he ghosted in at the back post and Eduardo somehow managed to push the ball onto the crossbar. Portugal had made four changes from their victory on Monday and their best chance when Lucio deflected the ball across the box and Raul Meireles shot wide. Ramires went close for the Seleção in the closing moments but Eduardo kept his clean sheet record and Portugal will now face Spain in the Round of 16 next Tuesday.

Chile 1-2 Spain

After their opening defeat to Switzerland it looked like the Champions of Europe would be following France and Italy on the long haul flight back to Europe but they steadied the ship against Honduras and ended up winning the Group after victory over 10 man Chile in Pretoria. It took two flashes of brilliance from the Spanish to establish their lead. Chile only needing a point controlled the first twenty minutes of the game, but when Chile keeper Claudio Bravo made a hash of his clearance David Villa put the ball in from fully 35 metres. Beausejour should have equalised when one on one with Iker Casillas but Gerard Pique saved the day.

The second goal had class writted all over it. Andres Iniesta exchange passes with Torres and Villa before slotting home from the edge of the area. In the build up, Torres went down in a challenge from Marco Estrada. It was a nothing challenge, the no malice or intent in it and Torres made a five course meal out of it and the referee deemed fit to issue a second caution to Estrada and dismiss him. Marco Bielsa made two changes at the break and his team havled the defecit two minutes after the break when Rodrigo Millar's shot deflected off Pique to leave Casillas stranded. Spain though, saw the game out to finish top of the group but that means that Chile will now face Brazil in the Round of 16.

So all five of the CONMEBOL teams make into the Round of 16 and we'll bring you the round up as and when the games happen.

Apologies again, highlights are courtesy of the official FIFA Site. Highlights are subject to local restrictions and we recommend our UK readers use the BBC website.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Uruguay and Argentina Win Groups

Uruguay 1-0 Mexico

Uruguay finished top of Group A after a 1-0 victory over Mexico in Rustenburg to put them into the Round of 16. A game which many cynical pundits, me included, down for a draw and it was odds on the draw before the match started with most bookmakers, the first time this has ever happened. Finishing top of the group also means that Uruguay will avoid, barring some strange events, a "Battle Of the River Plate" against old rivals Argentina. Mexico also qualified for the Round of 16 on goal difference despite the Bafana Bafana defeating the disgraceful French 2-1 In Bloemfontein and they will now face the Albiceleste. More about them to follow.

Despite a promising start by Uruguay it was the Mexicans who nearly took the lead after a 30 yarder from Guardado came off the crossbar and away to safety. Diego Forlán had hand in the Uruguay goal right on hald time, his pass found Cavani who whipped in a super cross for Luís Suarez to head home. Mexico went close on the hour when Rodriguez should have done better with a Pablo Barrera cross and despite some late pressure Uruguay held on to record their second victory of the competition and their third clean sheet.

And making it a hat-trick here's yet another special contribution from Martyn Hindley for which we are grateful for.

Greece 0-2 Argentina

To read some previews of this World Cup, you would think that Argentina are the side bearing scars; the mental damage of a tumultuous qualifying campaign and the over-powering presence of an eccentric Head Coach who just happens to be one of the greatest footballers ever seen.

But with the Albiceleste due to take on Mexico in a knockout round for the third major tournament in succession, the psychological strain could weigh heavily instead on Javier Aguirre’s side with the CONCACAF side having won just one of their last thirteen meetings.

The Copa America semi-final of 2007 will thus be repeated in Johannesburg and also the rasping last-sixteen match of four years ago, that was settled by Maxi Rodriguez and his scintillating skill for the volleyed winner in extra-time.

Three wins from three is as good as it can get for Diego Armando Maradona, who celebrated wildly the manner of the latest one against Greece as if it were 1986 revisited. In truth, anything less in a group also involving South Korea and Nigeria would have had dissenters mumbling away even in the shadows of La Bombonera.

Greece were mystifyingly negative when presented with their chance to forge a pathway to the second phase and Maradona’s selection – containing just four of the players who had started against South Korea – were able to ease to victory.

It could be argued that the European Champions of 2004 were so deferential as to mean we can read nothing into the ninety minutes at all.

They had their moments, notably when Georgios Samaras missed with a dainty chip early in the second half following a slip by the otherwise dependable Martin Demichelis. But others were tougher to detect.

Maradona’s seven changes were expected but Lionel Messi being among those on the team sheet was a surprise. El Diez clearly sees a little in Messi of what he had in himself during the playing days, so one ex-Barcelona craftsman gave a contemporary Catalunya-dweller the captain’s armband in the absence of the rested Javier Mascherano.

It meant another place in the history books for Messi, two days shy of his 23rd birthday, the youngest to skipper Argentina. But tellingly, it also appeared to be an olive branch to a man on whom too much stifling pressure had been placed in qualification and this display was all about his new liberated-self in national colours, even at less than full tilt. It might have been crowned with a goal had the left-hand upright not foiled him for the second match running.

Goals instead came from Gonzalo Higuain in the last match and he was rested here in favour of Diego Milito. The Inter man somehow paved the way for the shackles to be broken 13 minutes from time, Demichelis heading into his body and then smashing home the rebound from the loose ball.

There seems a workmanlike honesty about Argentina that meant nobody begrudged them the goal; Maradona even saying that he couldn’t drop Messi because people had paid to watch him and deserved it; to rest would have been “a sin” in his eyes.

But the humility was more evident when Martin Palermo, the evergreen striker brought on late in the game at 36 years of age, repaid the faith of his coach with the second, crowning goal. The admiration was evident on El Diego’s face – not just a smile from one who donned the Azul y oro to another – but one of appreciation for the man who came back from a decade-long international absence to net the crucial goal against Peru in qualifying; ironically at the home of River Plate.

Juan Veron reported no discomfort on return from injury meaning that only Walter Samuel remains a doubt for Mexico at the weekend when maybe, we’ll start to discover just HOW special this Albiceleste side really can be.

Again, we've had to resort to the official FIFA site for highlights. They are subject to local restrictions and may not be available at the time this article was posted. UK readers may well be better off using the BBC website for highlights.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Paraguay Win, Brazil Win, Chile Win. Happy Days

Slovakia 0-2 Paraguay

Paraguay took control of Group F after a convincing 2-0 victory over Slovakia in Bloemfontein. The opening goal came after 27 minutes, when a flowing move saw Enrique Vera curl the ball past Mucha with the outside of the right boot. It was an indifferent performance from the Slovakians who showed no urgency in the game, even after going a goal behind.

Paraguay then went into containment mode as they were happy to hold onto what they had but the Slovakians couldn't find a way though the resolute defence. Paraguay went for the throat and grabbed a second four minutes from time when a fierce drive from Riveros from the edge of the area found the back of the net. With Italy and New Zealand drawing it means a point will be enough for Paraguay to reach the Round of 16.

Brazil 3-1 Côte D'Ivoire

The Seleção made sure of qualification for the Round of 16 after a 3-1 victory over Côte D'Ivoire at Soccer City. The Ivorians included Didier Drogba from the start, only 16 days after breaking his elbow in a warm up match but he couldn't inspire his team. The Seleção took the lead after 25 minutes when Luís Fabiano and Kaká combined and the Seville striker slammed the ball home. Fabiano doubled the lead five minutes after the break, after some close control and a hint of handball he finished from close range.

The Seleção were in control, Kaká should have made it three but shot straight at the keeper. Moments later though, Kaká turned provider and Elano grabbed his second goal of the tournament on 62 minutes. A header from Drogba pulled a goal back for Ivorians ten minutes from time before a controversial finish to the game. After getting himseld stupidly booked moment earlier, Kaká was dismissed by French referee after Abdelkader Keita collapsed holding his face after a collision between the players which should have warranted a yellow card to the Ivorian player for simulation rather than the dismissal of Kaká.

Kaká now miss the final group game against Portugal on Friday. The Potuguese defeated DPR Korea 7-0 leave themselved in second place in the group. A draw will suit both sides on Friday but a win for Portugal would win them the group and it could mean
the Seleção avoid the currently struggling Spaniards in the Round of 16.

Chile 1-0 Switzerland

A late header from Mark González was enough to see Chile make it two from two and almost certainly put Chile into the Round of 16. It ended up with referee Khalil Al Ghamdi playing the biggest part in this game, he booked Humberto Suazo for a poor challenge within 70 seconds of the game starting and this set the tone for the afternoon. In all the referee dished out 6 yellow cards to Chile players and three yellows and a red to Switzerland with Valeron Bahrami the player to see red after elbowing Arturo Vidal after 32 minutes.

After the dismissal Switzerland set about hanging on for a 0-0 draw and set about defending for their lives. They eventually beat the record for the longest run without conceding at the World Cup Finals but they were breached 15 minutes from time. Estaban Parades with the cross and the CSKA Moskva player was at the back post to head home despite the efforts of Lichtsteiner on the line. Swiss substitute Eren Derdiyok then bombed a golden chance from 12 yards to level late on but Chile hung on to take the three points.

We've had to resort to the official FIFA Site for highlights. There maybe some restrictions on viewing the videos. This is beyond our control and we apologise for this.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Uruguay and Argentina Impress

South Africa 0-3 Uruguay

Uruguay's first World Cup Finals victory in 20 years put them in the driving seat in Group A after a convincing and potentially devastating victory over the hosts in Pretoria. After being more defence minded in the opener against the French in game one the Uruguyans came out on the attack and they took the lead after 24 minutes when Diego Forlán's deflected 30 yarder dipped under Khune's crossbar.

Forlán was running the show as Uruguay created chance after chance but they didn't extend their lead until ten minutes from time. Bafana Bafana keeper Khune bought down Suarez in a one on one situation and was subsequently dismissed. After a 5 minute delay, while a replacement keeper was sorted, Forlán slammed the penalty past replacement Josephs. Forlán had a hand in Uruguay's third in the last minute of stoppage time. His pass finding Suarez and his cross evaded Josephs and the ball was bundled home by Pereira to put the icing on the cake.

There follows another special contribution from Martyn Hindley, which we are again grateful for

Argentina 4-1 Korea Republic

The bluster and bravado of Argentina briefly deserted them in Johannesburg but the self-doubt was cast aside by a man El Diego looked set to ignore twelve months ago – Gonzalo Higuain the name on everyone’s lips as the Albiceleste finally brought the World Cup Finals to life.

The saga of Higuain was such a puzzling soap opera through 2009 as he was constantly overlooked by Maradona, who netted plenty of criticism for it when qualification hopes took another battering in Asunción with the loss against Paraguay.

But even if he admits it under his breath, El Diez does occasionally hold his hands up to being wrong and the watching world benefits from it – El Pipito selected again ahead of Diego Milito and rewarding his coach with a treble to trounce Korea Republic, 4-1 in Group B.

Maradona is getting his fair share of stick from all comers in these finals, those who made their mind up that this was a disastrous selection, and are now too stubborn to change their own beliefs. Whatever his credentials on the training paddock, his charges were emancipated from the weight of expectation by his broadside at the game’s great and good in the pre-match press conference; Pelé and Michel Platini the focus of his ire.

And so, unlike Spain and Italy, Argentina opened up here with a casual grace to their game and became the best crossers of the tournament to date. Only sixteen minutes had passed when Park Ji-Sung missed a defensive header to a Lionel Messi free-kick and having evaded Martin Demichelis too, the ball cannoned in off Park Chu-Young for an own goal.

From that moment onwards, Maradona’s Mourinho-esque touch was evidenced.

His pre-match comments had noted the ‘taekwondo’ style of play with which the Argentines were greeted by the Korea Republic in Mexico ’86, when opposition coach Huh Jung-Moo had been part of the Taeguk Warriors line-up.

And perhaps that had psychologically damaged the Korea Republic, who didn’t want to get close to even ruffling the hair of an opponent until they found themselves two down courtesy of Higuain’s far post header.

Once they did, their persistence was impressive and Argentina looked haunted by anxiety. Demichelis had his pocket picked by Bolton's player of the year Lee Chung-Yong on the stroke of half time for 2-1 and Argentina’s lead looked precarious when Yeom Ki-Hun stole through on goal but was intimidated by the onrushing Sergio Romero and punched his complicated finish into the side-netting.

Hurried and hassled, Argentina didn’t like the changing of the wind so decided to hit back with a gale of their own. Messi danced into the penalty area and was credited with an assist when his effort slapped into an upright and sat nicely for Higuain to tap in and the Real Madrid man emulated Gabriel Batistuta in scoring a World Cup hat-trick when heading the fourth just three minutes later.

For three quarters of the match, Argentina were imperious – the other twenty minutes or so will interest rivals just wondering how to stop them. It has been noticed just how tactile Maradona is with his players, it might be the case that putting an arm around a few players and being a motivator might be far more useful than coach and tactician to the Albiceleste because they have, quite simply, more natural talent than any other side in South Africa.

We’ll see more of its depth for the final group match against Greece with Walter Samuel a doubt after limping off injured in the first half at Soccer City and a yellow card for Jonas Gutierrez rendering him banned for that match

Draw, Win, Win - Paraguay, Brazil, Chile update

Here's a quick round up of the other three sides from CONMEBOL and their first World Cup games....

Italy 1-1 Paraguay

Paraguay were held to a 1-1 draw by defending champions Italy after shocking the Azzuri when an Antolin Alcaraz header put Paraguay into a lead they took into half time. An old Italy side were slow out of the blocks and then suffered a further setback when they lost keeper Gigi Buffon to injury at half time. The Champions though were gifted an equalizer after Paraguay goalkeeper Villar missed a corner form Pepe and Daniele de Rossi headed home the leveller. With the other game in the group between New Zealand and Slovakia finishing with the same scoreline it's all to play for in Group F

Brazil 2-1 DPR Korea

The Seleção finally overcame a resiliant DPR Korea in Johannesburg after a goalless first half left Dunga scratching his head wondering why his team didn't have the game in the bag already after dominating possession. The Seleção finally broke the deadlock ten minutes after the break after a wonder goal from Maicon, who scored from an impossible angle and bending the much maligned Jabulani ball past a disbelieving Myong-Guk Ri in the DPR Korea goal. With 18 minutes left Elano doubled the lead, converting a super ball from Robinho to slot home. Credit to DPR Korea who didn't give up and they grabbed a consolation from Yun-Nam Ji in the last minute to put a smile on the face of the Dear Leader. The other game in the group finished goalless to put the Seleção in the box seat for qualifying.

Honduras 0-1 Chile

Chile earned their first World Cup Finals victory after success over Honduras at the Mbombela Stadium. Chile dominated the game against their CONCACAF opponents, who themselves were at the finals for the first time since 1982. It took one goal to seperate the teams and that came eleven minutes before the break when Jean Beausejour's deflected shot beat Valladares in the Honduras goal. It was a deserved lead for Chile who easily saw the game out and coupled with Spain's capitulation means victory over the Swiss in their next game would be enough to see them into the Round of 16.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Argentina win, Uruguay snooze

Argentina 1-0 Nigeria

Special contribution on this game from Martyn Hindley, to which we are grateful for.

To the uninitiated, this was the same old Argentina – hugely superior against Nigeria, but like four years ago, opening up with a margin of victory that didn’t tell the full story.

One goal was enough to account for the Super Eagles and for all of the sparkle on show it was scored in sleeves-rolled-up style; the industrious Gabriel Heinze – one of only two starting survivors from the opener against Côte d’Ivoire four years ago, stooping to power a firm header beyond Vincent Enyeama from Veron’s precise corner.

So was this the Albiceleste that treaded water in qualifying? The disjointed rabble that did for Peru in the pouring rain after the hammering in Bolivia and the fans’ revolt of Rosario after Brazil stormed to a 3-1 win? Well, no. In fact, this was a much improved showing.

16 years after the infamous drug-test failure in the United States, Diego Maradona didn’t feel as though he had anything to prove to the footballing WORLD but instead, to the Argentine public. His selection was that of a team unit not a collection of individuals and on the field, it was fairly solid except for Jonas Gutierrez at right-back, whose inclusion must have had Cristian Ansaldi scratching his head watching with the Rubin Kazan squad on summer tour.

Lionel Messi was less of a parent to the remainder than a colleague in this game, so much so that Nigeria forgot to monitor his progress for much of the first half. His first touch almost brought a delightful ball for the onrushing Carlos Tevez, his second contribution – a curling 20 yarder with minimal backlift – drawing an outstanding save from the enigmatic Enyeama.

Compared to that game in USA 94, won by the brilliance of Claudio Caniggia, Nigeria here were guilty of showing far too much respect. Time was so normal as a commodity for Messi that he found the supply line to Gonzalo Higuain open regularly in the first half. The Real Madrid man was foiled by man-of-the-match Enyeama and still, the Higuain-Milito question rages on, the latter having come off the bench for an enterprising final 11 minutes.

Of course, so astronomical are the expectations of Maradona’s mob that 1-0 can only be celebrated in hushed tones. Had Kalu Uche smashed Nigeria’s main chance beyond the underworked Sergio Romero rather than getting underneath an awkward bounce, then El Diez would have had his bubble burst.

Plusses outweigh minuses. Veron’s distribution was everything that fans of Estudiantes have come to expect but with his legs now 35 years young, a tournament team needs options with the boundless energy of South Korea to come next at Soccer City on Thursday and those are provided by Maxi Rodriguez, benched in this game but solid on his introduction.

There remains a slightly lopsided look to the midfield but the return of discipline to this Argentina side was as if Maradona just dusted down some of his own from the Napoli Scudetto year and fetched it from his cupboard. It might not have been the rugby score adored by Pumas fans but in football World Cups, foundations are laid first, trophies later. The concrete may well set.

France 0-0 Uruguay

Last night saw the first scoreless draw of the tournament as France and Uruguay finished scoreless in Cape Town. The only thing of note to happen in the game was the first red card of the tournament for Uruguay's Nicolas Lodeiro. A game of few chances will see more questions asked for Les Blues than Uruguay, whose best chance fell to Diego Forlan.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Campeonato Brasileiro Série A Week 7

Avaí 0-3 Fluminense
Flamengo 1-2 Goiás
Vitória 1-0 Atlético Paranaense
São Paulo 3-1 Grêmio
Santos 4-0 Vasco da Gama
Botafogo 2-2 Corinthians
Atlético Mineiro 0-1 Ceará
Guarani 1-0 Prudente
Atlético Goianiense 2-1 Cruzeiro
Internacional 1-1 Palmeiras

In the last round before the World Cup break, Fluminense go into it the team on fire after their impressive 3-0 win at Avaí. After dominating the first period Flu finally took the lead two minutes before the break through Leandro Euzébio. Fred doubled the lead four minutes after the break and Alan wrapped things up to cap an impressive start to the season. Flamengo though enter the break in crisis after defeat at home to an ever improving Goiás. Flamengo were in the driving seat after Toró had given them the lead five minutes into the second half. They were six minutes away from victory when Hugo levelled for Goiás. Two minutes later the Maracanã were left stunned when Otacílio Neto grabbed a winner for the visitors. Vitória picked up their second win of the season when the got the better of Atlético-PR. Schwenck's fourth goal of the season ten minutes from time gave Vitória the points.

As expected, Grêmio again fell to defeat on their travels, this time to São Paulo. This was despite the visitors taking a 7th minute lead through Hugo. The lead lasted ten minutes before Dagoberto levelled for São Paulo. A second from Daboberto half way through the second half put São Paulo ahead and he completed his hat-trick two minutes later to wrap things up. Santos cruised to their expected victory over Vasco da Gama. André put Santos ahead from the spot ten minutes before half time and Maranhão doubled the lead six minutes after the break. A second for André on the hour made the game safe and Madson wrapped things up 15 minutes from time. Corinthians go into the break top of the pile but only after a dramatic finish at the Engenhão against Botafogo. Bruno César put the leaders ahead on the half hour but Renato Cajá levelled for Botafogo two minutes after the break. Lúcio Flávio then put Botafogo ahead 18 minutes from time and it looked like Corinthians would fall to their first defeat of the season before Paulo André popped up two minutes into injury time to rescue a point.

If Wanderlei Luxemburgo is still at Atlético-MG after the break is yet to be seen after they fell to their fifth defeat of the season, this at home to Ceará. One goal seperated the sides and that came from Washington nine minutes into the second half to see Ceará into the break undefeated so far this season and in second place in the table. Atlético-MG also finished with ten men after Rafael Jatai was sent off in injury time. Guarani also maintained their decent start to the season after Série A leading scorer Roger's sixth goal of the season four minutes into injury time defeated Prudente. Atlético-GO picked up their first win of the season when they defeated Cruzeiro. Rodrigo Tiuí put Atlético-GO ahead just before the half hour but the teams went into the break all square after Wellington Paulista struck three minutes before the break. The game seemed to be heading for a draw but Pedro Paulo grabbed a winner for Atlético-GO five minutes from time. Finally for this part of the season, Palmeiras picked up a respectable point and the Beira-Rio against Internacional. Lincoln put Palmeiras ahead after 14 mintues but Inter levelled half way through the second half through Giuliano.

So that's it now until we get back underway on July 14, for all the gossip and chat about the Rio clubs please see friend of the site Rio Futblog (see the links column on the left hand side of the page). We will though, be keeping tabs on our five sides in the FIFA World Cup.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Campeonato Brasileiro Série A Week 7 Preview

Avaí x Fluminense
Flamengo x Goiás
Vitória x Atlético Paranaense
São Paulo x Grêmio
Santos x Vasco da Gama
Botafogo x Corinthians
Atlético Miniero x Ceará
Internacional x Palmeiras
Guarani x Prudente
Atlético Goianiense x Cruzeiro

Three games on Saturday as the round opens with Fluminense travelling to Avaí. After a blistering start Avaí have gone off the boil but will still provide a big test for a Fluminense side that is showing some promise under Muricy Ramalho. Goiás take their back to back wins to the Maracanã against a Flamengo side buoyed by their superb win at the Pacaembu against Palmeiras in midweek. The loss of Adriano hasn't affect the Rubro-Negro but they need to sort out the future of Vágner Love sooner rather than later. Atlético-PR's midweek win over Botafogo will have been a big boost for the club. Vitória have struggled to get their league season off the ground and need to improve on their form rather than rely on winning the Copa do Brasil to save their season.

In the early games on Sunday, the travel sick Grêmio should pose no resistance to São Paulo at the Morumbi despite their recent mixed results. The two teams are next to each other in the league table with identical records but Grêmio are ahead on goals scored at the moment. Vasco's return to the big time isn't going as planned and a trip to the Vila Belmiro the form they are in isn't what is needed. Saying that, Santos failed to score for the first time since a defeat to Flamengo at the end of October last year in midweek but you don't hold out much chance for Vasco. Leaders Corinthians have another tough examination as they travel to the Engenhão to take on Botafogo. Corinthians are still one of two teams with a 0 in the L column this year and will be looking for the victory that will take them into the break at the top of the table. The other team with a 0 in the L Column is newly promoted Ceará and they travel to the Minerão to take on an Atlético-MG that has lost it's last three games.

In the late games on Sunday, Internacional host Palmeiras and both sides will be looking to bounce back from midweek defeats. Inter currently lie in 16th in the table and despite reaching the semi finals of the Libertadores have nothing really positive to show from the year so far. Palmeiras have a 50% record and the manner of their late defeat to Flamengo in midweek would have been a huge blow to them. Guarani entertain Prudente after their superb late victory at the São Januário in midweek. Prudente claimed a valuable win over Atlético-GO in midweek and can't be written off in this one. When Prudente want to turn up and do the business they can and Guarani will need to be at their best. Finally this first part of the season closes when rock bottom Atlético-GO entertain Cruzeiro. No matter what happens on Sunday Atlético-GO will be bottom of the table through the break whilst Cruzeiro will be looking to build on their midweek performance when they became the first team to keep Santos goalless in the long time.

Campeonato Brasileiro Série A Week 6

Atlético Paranaense 3-2 Botafogo
Fluminense 2-1 Vitória
Prudente 1-0 Atlético Goianiense
Ceará 2-0 Avaí
Palmeiras 0-1 Flamengo
Goiás 2-1 São Paulo
Cruzeiro 0-0 Santos
Grêmio 2-1 Atlético Miniero
Vasco da Gama 0-1 Guarani
Corinthians 2-0 Internacional

Atlético-PR opened the week by defeating nine-man Botafogo 3-2 after going two goals down after German Herrara and Lúcio Flávio put Botafogo in control in the opening 25 minutes. Paulo Baier halved the defecit before the break and then put Atlético-PR level two minutes after the break. Leandro Fahel was then sent off for Botafogo and Alex Miniero put Atlético-PR ahead for the first time. Botafogo were then reduced to nine when Oliveira Wellington but Atlético-PR finished with 10 men after a second red card of the season for Wagner Diniz. Fluminense made the three wins on the spin after a 2-1 win over Vitória. Fred put Flu ahead after twenty minutes but when Jonas levelled six minutes from time it looked like Vitória were going to steal a point. With three minutes left though, Alan popped up to grab the winner and keep Fluminense in the top four. Atlético-GO are being left adrift at the bottom of the table after their defeat at Prudente. One goal seperated the sides and that came from Tadeu after 33 minutes.

Ceará temporarily went top of the table after their fourth home win of the season, this time Avaí were their victims. Miseal put Ceará ahead with 15 minutes to go and Lopes wrapped things up with a second in injury time as the promoted side continued their good start to the season. In the big of of the night at the Pacaembu Palmeiras fell to their second defeat of the season as the Champions Flamengo stole all three points. The winner came from Vágner Love, three minutes from time, against the club where he spent the best part of last season on loan. Goiás are suddenly settled in mid-table after back to back wins. This time a come from behind success against São Paulo. Marcelinho had given the São Paulo the lead with 14 minutes on the clock but Bernado's 38th-minute penalty levelled matters. The game was heading for a draw butJonilson secured the win for Goiás with just three minutes left. No goals at the Mineirão as Santos failed to score in a game for the first time since last October (a 1-0 defeat to Flamengo) as Cruzeiro managed to nulify the most potent attacking force in Brazil at the moment. The visitors though, did finish with 10 men after substitute Marcel was sent off twenty minutes from time, only five minutes after entering the play.

In the final three games on Thursday night there was a positive result in each game. Fortress Grêmio seems to have returned after they made it consecutive home wins with Atlético-MG being the victims this time. Hugo put Grêmio ahead seven minutes before the break but Ricardinho's fourth goal of the season levelled matters a minute before half time. A second from Hugo on the hour won it for Grêmio but Atlético-MG finished with 10 men after the dismissal of João Pedro six minutes from time. You can only worry for Vasco da Gama now after Guarani picked up their first away win of the season at the São Januário in a battle of the promoted sides. The winner came very late, three minutes into injury time and it was Roger's fifth goal of the season that seperated the sides and gave Guarani a vital win. Finally, after a break of 24 hours, Corinthians went back to the top of the table after a 2-0 win over managerless Internacional. Veteran Roberto Carlos put Corinthians ahead seven minutes before the break and Iarley wrapped things up eight minutes into the second half.

This weekend sees the final round before the FIFA World Cup™ break. They line up like this

Avaí x Fluminense
Flamengo x Goiás
Vitória x Atlético-PR
São Paulo x Grêmio
Santos x Vasco da Gama
Botafogo x Corinthians
Atlético-MG x Ceará
Internacional x Palmeiras
Guarani x Prudente
Atlético-GO x Cruzeiro

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Campeonato Brasileiro Série A Week 6 Preview

Atlético Paranaense x Botafogo
Fluminense x Vitória
Prudente x Atlético Goianiense
Ceará x Avaí
Palmeiras x Flamengo
Goiás x São Paulo
Cruzeiro x Santos
Grêmio x Atlético Miniero
Vasco da Gama x Guarani
Corinthians x Internacional

Week Six of the Brasileiro is the penultimate round before the month long World Cup break and the second midweek round of the season. The week opens up with three early games on Wednesday night. Atlético-PR host Botafogo in what is becoming a must win game for the home side. Their defeat to Internacional at the weekend exposed their weaknesses in defence and attack. Botafogo currently lie fifth after the weekend and will be looking to do better than their last away trip at Cruzeiro. Fluminense lie third after their back to back wins and will be favourites against a Vitória side that has struggled for goals so far, bar their only win of the season against Atlético-MG. Prudente's decent home form should be enough to see them home against an Atlético-GO side that is really struggling to find it's feet in the top flight. OK, this game may be 17th v 20th but there should be only one winner.

The later games on Wednesday begin with Ceará looking to defend their 100% percent home record against Avaí. The win against Cruzeiro lifted the newly promoted club into second. Avaí haven't been as effective on the road and the goalless draw at weekend against Vitória was a disappointment. Then, what probably is the game of the round as Palmeiras take on Flamengo at the Pacaembu. Palmeiras have made a decent start to the season after their poor Paulista season and currently lie sixth. Flamengo have had more turmoil, failure in the Carioca and Libertadores has seen Zico appointed director of football and despite dominating at the weekend they were held at home by the travel sick Grêmio. It's a big test for both sides and one which may set their paths for the season ahead. Goiás got their season underway with a win in the derby at the weekend whilst São Paulo drew a blank at Guarani. Touch to call this one but you should expect the visitors to have too much and take the points from this one. The last game on Wednesday sees Cruzeiro entertain Santos. Santos will be smarting from their first defeat of the season at rivals Corinthians while Cruzeiro will have a point or two to prove after defeat at Ceará at the weekend.

Thursday night sees Atlético-MG having the unenviable task of of snapping a two game losing streak at Fortress Grêmio. Despite still being able to find the net on attack the Atlético-MG defence has been leaking too many goals and Grêmio isn't the place for bad defending. In a clash of promoted clubs Vasco da Gama entertain Guarani and both clubs have had contrasting starts to the season. Vasco have stuggled to get their season going but the come from behind defeat of Internacional will have given them the confidence ahead of this game. Guarani have only one defeat so far this season, that at Santos, but are slowly becoming the draw specialists. Finally Corinthians will look to hold onto top spot when they entertain Internacional. Inter, who are on the look out for a new coach after the sacking of Jorge Fossati, will be looking to bounce back from their defeat at Vasco at the weekend after being two goals to the good at one stage. Corinthians will take much confidence from their victory over Santos at the weekend and despite being without Ronaldo look favourites to go into the break top of the table.