The World's Blog: Day 4

The Danish and the Dutch differentiate themselves once and for all. Honda makes more than cars out of Cameroon, and the defending World champs escape Paraguay with a point.

Netherlands 2, Denmark 0

The battle between Holland and Denmark was an ideological battle between two forms of football. In the case of the former, free flowing and modern; in the case of the later, defensive and organized.

As the camera panned across the players’ deadpan faces during the anthems, Dutch victory overwhelmed me. Any squad that bears Wesley Sneijder and Robin Van Persie, while their best forward is injured, is an extremely devastating prospect to all sides between them and the title. The prospect of Totaalvoetbal without Robben was difficult to cope with, but after a 2-0 victory, perhaps this prospect is now in the past.

With that said, Holland did not play their best football. Van Persie suffered from Robben’s absence, as he was forced to drift out on the right flank, thereby neutralizing his supernatural left foot. The gap created by Van Persie’s drift was poorly filled by Van Der Vaart, who could not stay wide out left, and constantly infringed on Sneijder’s monopoly in the playmaking position. Van Der Vaart was the disappointment of the match for me, and his replacement, the superhuman Eljero Elia, was the match’s dark horse.  In the case of Sneidjer, his role at Inter is marked by a delicate omnipotence that allows him to preside behind the forwards, playing elegant through balls (as he did on Kuyt’s goal) and scoring on command. However, this position is a matter of feeling and intuition, and Sneijder’s influence will only be fully felt with a couple more games behind Van Persie.

With exception to the Germans, the Dutch side looked  the most exceptional in the first round thus far – and with an arm tied behind their back. The kinks formerly noted were largely put to silence by Holland’s almost constant possession, one-touch passing, and their sensational supporter turnout, which the vuvuzelas effectively neutralized (point of inquiry: does the vuvuzela violate the Geneva Convention on torture? I feel tortured).

The Dutch defeated the toughest team in their group with grace, and are looking at advancement with the prospect of playing a likely Paraguay in the round of 16. With two more games of experience and fine tuning, count Holland in for a deep Cup run.  

I decided to wake up at 4:00 this morning to watch the pre-game show before the Denmark/Netherlands match, but was sorely disappointed with the amount of time they spent focusing on the Dutch squad. Yes, I know that Gullit is an Oranje hero, but between highlights of his career and an interview with a brightly painted orange man that was barely coherent, I wished I would've had those 30 minutes of lost sleep back.

Finally though, after what seemed like an eternity, the match was about to begin. Nervously, I sat on the floor of my dark living room with only the light of the TV screen keeping me company. When the camera panned around the stadium, my walls glowed orange from all the Dutch fans dressed in their bold and blinding outfits. It was almost sickening. However that nausea quickly passed when I realized that Bendtner was in the starting lineup after hearing all weekend that he would be sitting this game out. Excitement took over my body as the first whistle blew, and I hoped his presence would be a much needed spark for the team.

The match didn't get off to the best start for us. A miscue by Agger in the first 30 seconds already had my heart racing, and not in a good way. Sloppy passing and slow, methodical play laced the first 45 minutes, and although we did a great job hindering their attacks with a loaded midfield, I hoped that we could find a more consistent offense in the second half. I spent the break trying to settle the butterflies in my stomach with a hearty breakfast of coconut/pineapple ice cream and a tall glass of apple juice. I don't think it worked.

By the time the match resumed, my knee, apparently hopped up on sugar, was bouncing with ferocity, and I watched, almost in slow motion as Van Persie sent a beautiful cross into the box and Simon Poulsen headed the ball into our own net. My heart sank right then and there, and all I could do was shake my head in utter disbelief. Talk about a quick way to shift the momentum and to crack our confidence. I don't care if it's a local game in the park or if it's the World Cup: it's hard to come back strong after a play like that.

The Danes eventually went on to lose 2-0, but not without many bright spots sprinkled throughout the match. I was definitely disappointed with the outcome but also optimistic about Saturday's game against Cameroon. Sorenson looked sharp and our counter-attacks were quick and with intensity. There were moments where we showed just how dangerous we can be. And hey, at least we know that Poulsen can score...but hopefully next time it'll be in between the right posts.

Japan 1, Cameroon 0

Excitement has reached its highest point at our first World Cup in the African continent. But that's the problem; the host country or continent often plays crazy great games.  So how great  would the already strong African teams be when the World Cup is hosted in their continent?  Of course, the first game for team Japan is versus Cameroon.  On the one hand I felt high excitement, on the other there was anticipation about this first match.  When last Thursday Japan ended up with scoreless draw on the practice game with Zimbabwe I worried as to how you could score against the strongest team in Africa if you couldn't even score against one of their lower ranked team...  I was hoping they fixed this problem before the game.

Probably Japan's win surprised the world.  There were signs of it becoming a long boring game in the first half until Japan made their first, winning, goal of this World Cup.  Both teams were not quite able to find or make chances, and seemed to struggle in building their own rhythms.  In such an apparently unexciting game, Keisuke Honda didn't miss his chance and made a goal evenly and certainly.  Japan was desperate for this win even though we are a young team in FIFA history. 

Compared to the energetic Cameroon team, Japan's staying power seemed to diminish in the end.  The image of the match was "Japan clearly got away with this one," however winning is winning.  The world should know that we DO have high ambitions inside.

The Indomitable Lions had a certain swagger as they sported their vibrant yellow and green kits, while the Japanese wore a pedestrian blue kit that can be seen on every U-11 team across the US. Any doubts of Eto’o’s commitment were dashed as he stepped onto the pitch and belted out Cameroon’s national anthem, “The Rallying Song” with his teammates.

But as I waited for the Lions to roar, I was dismayed as the Blue Samurai, scored in the 39th minute; their first shot of the game!

As I watched the Indomitable Lions forget who they were, I could see their 2010 World Cup dreams slip quickly away. The team played like a bunch of lion cubs that could only meow.

I tortured myself more by listening to the post-game commentary. I cringed as I heard comments like “biggest upset of the tournament,” “a shocker,” and “an embarrassment.” I should not have listened because my ears were already burning from having to listen to those vuvuzelas all game long.

Anything short of a solid win against the Danes and a miracle against the Dutch will send the Indomitable Lions home much sooner than anyone thought.

Italy 1, Paraguay 1

Current world champion Italy took the field for the first time today in defense of their title.  Amid such doubt, dour predictions, and unfavorable commentating about all things Italy, I swear I must have been drunk, because I saw a great start from the Azzurri.  On a rainy and cold night in Cape Town, South Africa, one point was secured by a gritty comeback. 

It’s only one game in for Italy and already I’ve heard enough complaining about their style, age, and lack of star power.  I don’t think limiting Paraguay’s possession and giving up one shot on goal (which was a questionable decision) is a bad thing.  Also, with an average age of 28, they have plenty of gas in the tank. 

Italian football is an acquired taste; not always attractive or honorable (see the heinous simulation by De Rossi in the 11th minute), but an art form in and of itself.  The Italians possess skill, guile, the pedigree of the “blue shirt,” and a win-at-all-cost kind of desire.  Just look at number 7, Pepe, with his all-out hustle, my clear man of the match. 

With De Rossi’s equalizer in the 63rd minute, 60.2 million Italians erupted with joy.  The “masters of patience” found their way back into the game, and thus, the tournament.  Count out Italy at your own peril.  The 4-time champions showed today they are just getting revved up.

Combating arguments against their age and lack of star power, Lippi suggests the following:  “Single players don’t win world cups.” And also, “We’re not old, we’re experienced!” Last time around in 2006 many people were saying the same things and we all know how that ended.  Lippi says, “This time around, we aren’t letting anyone jump on the bandwagon.”  Forza Italia!  Forza Azzurri!

Paraguay battled to a 1-1 draw against World Cup holders Italy today, and would have won if not for a shocking howler by captain and goalkeeper Justo Villar. Villar's poor judgment on a corner, while not on Rob Green's level of error, will have cost a brave Paraguayan side two points, but the result will be seen as a good one.

The first surprises of the day came in selection, where Nelson Valdez was paired with his Dortmund teammate Lucas Barrios, at the expense of Roque Santa Cruz. On the Italian side, injuries forced Pirlo and Camaronesi to make way for Montolivo and Marchisio. Paraguay's strong back line held Italy well, and after weathering the Italian pressure for the first half hour, they were awarded a free kick after a foul on my Man of the Match Enrique Vera. Aureliano Torres' ensuing kick was headed powerfully into the net by new Wigan man Antolin Alcaraz.

Overall, I would say Paraguay looked good, a little slow, but solid at the back. If I'm honest, I expect their strong attack to dominate New Zealand, especially if they stick to their 3-4-3, making the Slovakia game very important if Paraguay are to progress.