New Zealand 1 Slovakia 1
Group E remains wide open after the early match was drawn in Rustenberg, a result which matched last night’s Italy vs. Paraguay game. The defending champions will still expect to get through to the knockout stages as they have nothing to be afraid of based on this evidence. The Kiwis looked organised, playing three at the back frustrated the Slovakian front line and a point was well deserved for Ricky Hebert’s side. The starring role was played by centre half Winston Reid who played well at both ends, getting the late equaliser from a Shane Smeltz cross. Despite his advancing years, the 36 year old Simon Elliott continues to deliver, but ex-Bradford keeper Mark Paston had a couple of very dodgy moments, ensuring the controversy over the Jubalani ball will just not go away. New Zealand’s success came largely down the left today with Tony Lochhead having an all-action game.
Slovakia on the other hand were nothing short of a disappointment. Playmaker and star man Marek Hamsik couldn’t get a grip on the game and the team looked as though it was really missing the injured Miroslav Karhan. His experience and distribution to more attacking players was certainly missing from their performance today. Robert Vittek’s early second half goal was well taken and Stanislav Sestak playing in behind the front two linked up well. The manager’s son, also called Vladimir Weiss, had an impressive game for one so young, like most twenty year olds however the end product is lacking. Tricks are nice but they have to lead somewhere. Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel was poor today and must shoulder the blame for losing his nation two valuable points.
Ivory Coast 0 Portugal 0
The honours were also even in the opening game in Group G. Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo came closest to scoring when he hit the post from fully thirty-five yards out after ten minutes. Another match that failed to live up to the hypre Carlos Queiroz did not risk the fitness of Simao from the start, with the vastly overrated Danny taking the wide left berth. Similarly Elephants captain Didier Drogba was only fit for the bench leaving Sven Goran Eriksson playing a front three of Salomon Kalou, Gervinho and Aruna Dindane. The latter lacked discipline, popping up on the wing too often for a man playing as the focal point of the Ivorian attack and had no joy all afternoon. In the absence of their talisman it was the Lille winger who has had an impressive season in Ligue 1 who tried to provide the creative flair and Gervinho did show flashes. Drogba got twenty-five minutes but the discomfort his broken arm/elbow is giving him showed. The Chelsea man flashed a delicious ball in at the end but nobody else attacked the box.
Benfica full back Fabio Coentrao starred for Portugal. Earning only his fifth cap, the twenty-two year old showed no signs of his inexperience at this high level defending solidly, ensuring the Ivory Coast got nothing down that flank. For a player billed as a wingback he really impressed but has set the bar very high. In stark contrast the players expected to figure prominently in the headlines were found wanting. Apart from his long range effort Ronaldo could not get his through balls and crosses right. I can’t help feeling having the captain’s armband on is burdening him, reflected perhaps in him failing to score for his country in nearly eighteen months and not finding the net at all during the qualifying campaign. Paulo Ferreira continues to be a liability and Deco took far too long to feel his way into the game. Danny was little more than a passenger and I don’t know why Queiroz rates him at all. Liedson will only score goals if he gets the service and that will have to improve if Portugal are to get to the business end of the tournament.
Brazil 2 North Korea 1
A far from comfortable victory for the five time world champions at Ellis Park. Maicon’s drive from a tight angle and Elano’s consummate finish from Robinho’s incisive pass enough to secure three points against the mystery package of Group G. Ji Yun-Nam pulled one back late on from a deep free kick headed on by impressive centre forward Jong Tae-Se. The one hundred and fifth ranked team in the world have nothing to be ashamed of, defending exceptionally well in the first half, but it took its toll. Luis Fabiano looked frustrated at being closed down at every avenue by a well organised back five. Ri Kwang-Chon caught the eye at centre half.
Much will be made of Maicon’s goal. The Brazilian right back used the outside of right foot to put Dunga’s much fancied side in front, but did he mean to shoot or cross? The latter is certainly a skill he has been criticised for in some circles. Robinho looked in better shape than when he left Manchester City for his loan spell at Santos in January, but Kaka seemed somewhat sluggish. Tonight’s win leaves Group G entirely in Brazil’s hands. A potential quarter final against European champions Spain is mouth-watering.