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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Reflections On The Group Stages

The Group stages finished last night with Spain's 2-1 win over a 10 man Chile side, so now would be a good time to look back on the highs and lows of the 2010 World Cup so far.

The Hosts: South Africa got drawn in a very tough group but can hold their heads high after a solid draw with a good Mexico side and, of course, after putting France out of the competition in the final group match. Their performance should inspire the growth of the sport in the country and that's no bad thing.

The Surprise Packages: New Zealand were both a surprise package and a disappointment. They went home having not lost a match, but more attacking adventure against Paraguay in their final match could have seen them through to the knock out stages. What did they have to lose?

The other surprise package - for me, at least - was Japan. They had gone into the Finals on a run of very poor results and manager Takeshi Okada was under pressure due to the formation he had chosen. After all, playing a midfielder as a lone striker is not something most international managers would do.

He stuck with it. It worked very well, especially in Japan's 3-1 victory over Denmark. So Okada gets the 'I'm the boss and I know what I'm doing' award.

The Big Names : Well, in truth, Okada has to share that award with another manager: Fabio Capello. After two insipid England performances, many were calling for Capello to drop 4-4-2 and play a 4-5-1 formation for the final group game. He didn't. England won. Job done.

This is more than can be said for the 2006 World Cup Finalists - France and Italy. Both were pretty appalling and both ended bottom of their groups.

France, managed by walking disaster zone Raymond Domenech, imploded even before a ball was kicked. Rumours of player unrest, rows with the coach, and then Nicolas Anelka's expulsion from the squad made France as entertaining off the pitch as they were dire on it.

Italy weren't much better. To me, it looked like they expected to stroll through the group and didn't put any effort into it. They only really played football for 20 minutes in the whole tournament and that was too late.

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posted by mark_s at 8:15 AM


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