SLOVAKIA 0 PARAGUAY 2
South American success continues to be the recurring theme of the tournament as Paraguay comfortably beat Vladimir Weiss’s side to take control of Group F in Bloemfontein. Enrqiue Vera put them in front just before the half hour with a dinked finish beyond Jan Mucha. Borrusia Dortmund striker Lucas Barrios provided a fine assist. It took going a goal down to spark Slovakia into life, but they remained well below par. Without having to step up a gear in the second half Paraguay looked comfortable, continued to threaten and added a second late on with Sunderland-bound midfielder Cristian Riveros pouncing on lacklustre defending from an Aureliano Torres free kick which nobody in white reacted to. His edge of the area strike rounded off a solid midfield display.
It will be difficult for Slovakia to take positives from this display, but they know they will have to beat the holders Italy in the next match in order to have a chance of making the knockout stages. Marek Hamsik looked more comfortable in a more attacking role today than last time out. The soon-to-be Everton goalkeeper Jan Mucha must improve his kicking because he simply wastes possession too much.Overall it was an all-round poor performance. Gerrado Martino’s men on the other hand have much to be pleased about. Argentine-born Barrios looks to be the complete centre forward on today’s performance and you can easily see why he did so well for Dortmund in the Bundesliga. His club mate Nelson Haedo Valdez was also bright in the first half. At the other end both centre halves, Sunderland’s Paulo da Silva and Antolin Alcaraz, signed by Wigan, impressed with an excellent defensive display. Manchester City’s Roque Santa Cruz managed to play a full ninety minutes today but still did not offer enough for me and thirty-eight goal Oscar Cardozo really ought to be in the XI especially if Paraguay progress.
ITALY 1 NEW ZEALAND 1
The four times champions were held to a draw by Ricki Herbert’s Kiwis in Nelspruit. The Oceanian outsiders took the lead inside ten minutes with the Italian defence failing to defend properly from a Simon Eliott free kick that was tapped home by Shane Smeltz off the desperate lunge of Azzurri captain Fabio Cannavaro. Was the former Halifax strike offside though? Marcello Lippi’s men pressed and pressed and just before half an hour young Ipswich defender Tommy Smith was seen pulling back the shirt of Roma’s Daniele De Rossi leaving the referee no choice but to point to the spot. Juventus forntman Vincenzo Iaquinta stepped up and scored from the spot.
No doubt New Zealand rode their luck at times. Fiorientina midfielder Ricardo Montolivo was so unlucky not to score from range, hitting the post in the first half and meeting inspired goalkeeping from Mark Paston after the break; that in stark contrast to his poor display in the first group game against Slovakia. Young West Brom striker Chris Wood came on in the second half and showed promise. Wave after wave of Italian attacks were repelled by the man of the match Blackburn’s Ryan Nelsen. The kiwi hero from the last match Winston Reid again looked good. As far as the holders go they must now beat Slovakia in the last fixture, so like England at least they know what they have to do. Iaquinta was playing wide for much of the match, a tactic that makes no sense when you consider his height and build. After an impressive Serie A season Giampaolo Pazzini of Sampdoria was almost anonymous when he came on at the hour mark. Lippi will be hoping playmaker Andrea Pirlo will be fit for the next match. New Zealand deserve all the plaudits but Italy continue the trend of top European sides struggling in South Africa.
BRAZIL 3 IVORY COAST 1
Dunga’s much fancied Brazil put together back-to-back wins in Group G with a comfortable victory over Sven Goran Eriksson’s Ivory Coast. Luis Fabiano who had not found the net for his country since last autumn bagged a brace either side of half time. The Sevilla forward’s first finished a move that saw him exchange passes with Kaka before his clinical finish into the top corner. The second saw him handle the ball twice but took on three defenders before powering it past Boubacar Barry. Elano added a third after an hour from a great pass from Kaka again who got round the back as the former Manchester City midfielder peeled off his marker. Elephants captain Didier Drogba headed a goal back with ten minutes to go, Gervinho’s good work to get in behind before passing to Barcelona’s Yaya Toure to cross for the Chelsea striker to profit.
The much improved Kaka, criticised for his performance in the first group game against North Korea, had his evening marred by two bookings, the second yellow resulting from a coming together with Abdul Kader Keita who made the most of the contact. The match had showed signs of boiling over as the Ivory Coast players became frustrated as the game wore on. Aruna Dindane offered very little again and Gervinho really should have started. Robinho and Michel Bastos did not seem quite so effective against African opposition and swashbuckling right back Maicon had a quiet game by his high standards. This match was littered with controversy as after Fabiano’s second goal it appeared as though the referee asked the player if he handled. Elano suffered an injury in the second half and the sending off will create substantial debate. At least Brazil have the option to rest players now having taken six points and the Ivorians may still qualify if they can beat North Korea, depending on tomorrow’s result between the Asian side and Portugal of course.