The World's Blog: Day 6

All of Chile shouts "finalmente", Nkufo and Swiss pokes holes in Spanish cheese, and vuvuzelas silenced ... temporarily. Just another day in World Cup excitement.

Chile 1, Honduras 0

Lovely stuff from the Chileans today as they demonstrated the old phrase of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.  Chile does have good individual talent in players like Alexis Sanchez, Jorge Valdivia, Matias Fernandez and Humberto Suazo, but it was their ability to combine well and anticipate each other's runs that was so impressive.  They've all played together for a while and it was no surprise to see beautiful passing between former and current club mates, particularly Alexis Sanchez and Mauricio Isla who play together at Udinese.

Honduras did well to cut out the final pass early on, but it looked like only a matter of time before they would concede.  The goal finally came from a through ball from Fernandez into the path of the overlapping Isla who then slid it across for Jean Beausejour to put home.  Surely the floodgates would open after that.  Sitting back and defending a 1-0 lead was never in Chile's game plan as they continued to push players forward in search of more.  I counted 6 players in and around the area in the 80th minute -- a stark contrast to the rest of the opening matches were teams were trying not to lose rather than win.  Pushing that many forward comes at a price though and Chile looked vulnerable to the counter as they were sluggish getting back at times.  They also looked nervy at the start and too often went to ground early for a tackle, allowing the Honduran attackers to easily get around them.  Tougher opposition like Spain and Switzerland won't be so forgiving to defensive mistakes.  Doesn't matter though, their first game is in the books and Chile has their first World Cup victory since 1962.

28 years later... Honduras plays for the second time in a World Cup. Their first game against Chile was an exciting one. Honduras wanted to impress, and to me that's exactly what they did. They defended well against a very fast paced Chile attack, and had a few breakaways that unfortunately weren't able to capitalize.

A lot of people expected Honduras to fall apart and get embarrassed on the pitch. They stayed away from that and held their ground. Chile was only able to break through the Honduran defense once, even though they did have quite a few chances. Both sides were without their star strikers, both Suazos stayed on the sideline cheering their team on. Honduran striker David Suazo would have brought incredible attacking strength. He is very fast and very tough. The entire Honduran nation can only hope that he will be ready for a tough match against Spain. Honduras will have to fight an even tougher opponent and it will be very interesting to see what they can pull off.

Maybe a surprise upset yet again? Who knows, on the pitch its 11v11. The "Catrachos" have the heart and the will to keep the dream alive.

Switzerland 1, Spain 0

As Switzerland walks into Durban Stadium in Durban South Africa faced with playing the Spanish giants in the first game of the world cup, the task seemed daunting for the Swiss and the fans.  Thoughts of Iniesta flying down the left side or David Villa’s finishing touch or Xavi’s pose in the middle. This can seem like an automatic failed test for a side with unknown players to much of the world.

The Swiss full of big players that play tough and think defense first. The first half went to script and Spain controlled the ball but the Swiss clogged the middle and made thing rough for the Spaniards and caused them much frustration.  The back four for the Swiss were great and the midfielders were great in support. Another positive was the two Swiss strikers. The Bayer Leverkusen striker Eren Derdiyok and future Sounders FC striker Blaise N'Kufo showed some early chemistry and they were posed to create something on a counter.

You could feel at the start of the second half that the people of Basel, Bern, Geneva, Zurich and all of the Great country of Switzerland were gaining confidence, could it be that the Swiss can take down Spain even a tie would be good enough. Then comes the 52nd minute that sent the whole country into a frenzy. That striker pairing came though on a Long ball N’Kufo headed it to Derdiyok and with help from Spain defense Left midfielder Gelson Fernandes who worked hard all game took the rebound and fired it into a virtually empty net to begin the celebration in South Africa and Switzerland.

With the defense of Switzerland, confidence was high but still thoughts were racing through my head of Iniesta, Villa, Xavi and Torres waiting to be subbed on made me second guess my confidence.  18 times Spain had played Switzerland 15 times they have won three times they have played to a draw, not one time has Spain lost to Switzerland. This day however was the day for the Swiss, the 19th time would be Switzerland’s they held to the Spainish on slought of shots and crosses and took home 3 points in group H. June 16 2010 the Suisse made history, June 16th they made there country proud.

The decision was either go to a bar/pub and drink at 7am (not be a sensible adult) or wait for a more appropriately timed game to engage in the true way to watch a soccer match; taking all I had learned . . . and learned FROM in college, I decided my drink of choice would be coffee and the game would be watched with my dad and dog courageously cheering against Spain as the true Sounders fans that they are (Nkufo!). 

So there I sat ready to finally watch La Roja live up to their name, standards, and statistics of their previous World Cup opening matches.  The whistle blew and the game supposedly started, but I still waited to see mi equipo start playing . . . and waited and waited.  The ball was continuously pushed up our strong left side only to be lost in the towering Swiss defense repeatedly for much of the first half.  It seemed throughout the first and some of the second half that Spain was shooting the ball when they should have been crossing (Ramos in 16 or so minute) and crossing when they should have been shooting (David Villa 44’).  These were not isolated breakdowns in communication, they continued at both ends of the field for Spain. 

The rest of the game played out with a Swiss goal that can mostly be attributed to their will to succeed on opportunity, some fabulous defense on their part, and a lack of tenacity on our part.  Our only player with any apparent force or proximity to the net seemed to be Iniesta through the 64’; although Ramos and Silva gave it a go, mistake after mistake left all empty-handed.  A glancing header of hope off a corner for Spain in the 60’, Alonso’s powerful strike off another corner ten minutes later, but both to no avail; 1-0 Swiss maintain their lead. 

The commentators said the last 2minutes were “a last desperate attempt” but it wasn’t just those 2minutes, it was the last 20minutes of desperate soccer by the Spaniards that left them with an empty side of the scoreboard. 

My final thought is . . . today statistics show they can’t predict everything:
1) Spain has lost 1 game of the last 48
2) Spain has never lost to Switzerland
(both stats changed now)

Hopefully this next stat can also be changed by La Roja during this World Cup:

No World Cup winner has EVER lost their opening match . . .

Uruguay 3, South Africa 0

All the stars seemed aligned for Bafana Bafana as they marched out alongside La Celeste. The energy in the stadium radiated through television sets into living rooms and pubs throughout the world. The South African crowd belted out their anthem as if the winner of the game would be decided by the relative energy level of their fans.

Luckily, for Uruguay, it wasn't. And the energy level of the crowd was not matched by the South African players.

Uruguay entered the game as one of thirteen teams yet to score a goal through the first round of games. This cup has been littered with score lines of 0-0, and 1-0, as if every match pitted the Sounders versus the Mariners. Uruguay broke that pattern in glorious fashion scoring three goals, and now look like the favorite to advance out of group A.

As I suggested before the beginning of the tournament, the reason Uruguay would win their third World Cup could be summarized in two words: Diego Forlan. The Uruguayan talisman showed exactly why in this game. He's good.

The other notable name was that of referee Massimo Busacca. He did exactly what FIFA couldn't - temporarily silence the vuvuzelas.

Supporters of Bafana Bafana need to take off the yellow-tinted sunglasses after Wednesday, as a demoralizing 3-nil loss to Uruguay in Pretoria put South Africa's chances of advancing from its group on life support.

Uruguay thoroughly deserved the three points, but the scoreline was rather flattering. Diego Forlan opened the scoring with a long-range shot that deflected off Aaron Mokoena in the 24th minute, then killed off the game ten minutes from time via the penalty spot after Bafana keeper Itumeleng Khune was sent off for allegedly taking down Luis Suarez, whose theatrical diving was Ronaldoesque.

The third goal came during injury time by Uruguay's Perreira, whose namesake coaching South Africa saw his conservative tactics going forward completely backfire. South Africa played without any 'Ayoba' spirit despite raucous home support in Pretoria, lacked guile and never really tested the keeper.

Mphela was the lone striker all game, Stephen Pienaar a sad shell of himself in midfield, and Mokoena cemented in the back. The last time a World Cup host nation failed to win either of its first two games was the USA in 1994, where Carlos Alberto Parreira coached Brazil to the title.

There's a glimmer of hope to advance, but at this point it should be all about going out in style. With such a coach that's almost an impossibility.