Talking Points: Italy 1-1 Paraguay

1. Wish you were here…

 				 Italy 1 Paraguay 1

How bad do Italy miss Francesco Totti? Not just Totti, but how bad do they miss Alessandro Del Piero and Robert Baggio? The age of the trequartista seems to be over in Italy with the former two approaching retirement, and with the only other real candidate in Antonio Cassano being as mentally stable as Lindsay Lohan, Italy have suffered as a result. Marcello Lippi has been forced to switch to the now universally-favoured 4-3-3 ahead of the traditional 4-4-2 (or 4-3-1-2, with the ‘1’ being the trequartista) and it just does not suit the current crop of players. They struggled to score in a weak qualifying group when compared to the other power nations at the World Cup – 18 goals compared England’s 34, Spain’s 28 or Germany’s 26. Holland also only scored 18, but they played 2 games fewer than the Italians, and boasted the best defensive record of any European team. It was this lack of creativity that screamed at us through our television screens tonight – even now as the game has just finished, you would struggle to recall a clinical chance that fell their way. A paltry 10 attempts at goal sums up a thoroughly uninspiring performance, especially when compared to Argentina, England, Holland and France who all had their respective struggles this week. Argentina managed 20 shots on target against Nigeria – double Italy’s tally – while the former three managed 18 attempts each in their own respective games.

2. Untraditional, Unfamiliar, Uninspiring

Italy just don’t do 4-3-3 formations. It’s a traditionally quick formation, for fast players and requires a lot of width from your two outside forwards. Iaquinta, the quintessential targetman, gets put out on the left and while he shows a Dirk Kuyt like persistance to make it work, it’s just not a position he’s suited to. You want him up top where Gilardino is, but then you’re leaving out the more clinical striker of the two. One of them must be sacrificed for Italy’s next game, and it should really be Iaquinta. Still, Italy’s squad lacks the two suitable players you would want there. Ideally, you want an Nani, an Arjen Robben or a Theo Walcott out there. The best Lippi’s side can offer is Di Natale and Pepe, both good players in there own rights, but still not entirely appropriate. Given this, if you don’t supply the front men then it doesn’t matter who you play there, and this was Italy’s main downfall tonight. De Rossi played his holding role correctly without being outstanding, and popped up with a crucial goal. But Marchisio and Montolivio offered very little to Gilardino and co. up front. Montolivio is more of a traditional ‘regista’ type Italian midfielder, while Marchisio is a lot more emphatic in his tackling. It would have made more sense to have Montolivio as the furthest forward midfielder, but this is a role Marchisio found himself occupying and he looked uncomfortable. He is at his best bang in the middle of the park, where you get the best out of both his defensive capabilities and his great array of passing. Montolivio lacks the bite of his Juventus counterpart, so he would have been more suited in Marchisio’s role. This was indeed shown when Camoranesi came on for Marchisio, and Italy looked more threatening than we had seen all night. With the 4-3-3, you also need a lot of forward runs from your full-backs, something we’ve seen Zambrotta do over the years on either side. The more defensive minded Domenico Criscito was reluctant to do this however, and Italy might be better served moving Zambrotta to left back and starting Napoli’s Christian Maggio next time out.

3. As Expected

 				 Italy 1 Paraguay 1

Paraguay have always been referred to as the most workman-like side to represent South America at this summer’s finals, and they conformed to type again tonight. But let’s be honest, Gerardo Martino was always going to set out his stall in the hope of containing the Italians and earning what would be an inevitably frustrating solitary point. They’ve achieved as much, albeit with a goal they never looked like scoring from their only attempt on target all night. That goal did however come about from their refusal to allow the Italian’s to dwell comfortably on the ball. For the first 70 odd minutes, they were like a team of Carlos Tevez and Darren Fletchers, hassling the Italians at every opportunity. Martino’s main concern will be the alarming rate at which fatigue set in come the midway point of the second half, but credit where it’s due, Paraguay battled hard tonight and opinion will be split on whether they deserved their point or not. As if they care!

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Talking Points: Holland 2-0 Denmark

1. Time for Plan….A? 				Holland 2 Denmark 0

I wasn’t overly impressed with Holland today. Granted, they were missing their star man in Arjen Robben, but their lack of a contingency plan in his absence puzzled me more than anything. Rafael Van Der Vaart was brought in initially as a direct replacement, but it’s been nearly 10 years since Van Der Vaart was the electrifying teenage wing sensation in the Ajax youth set-up. He’s very much a central player these days, and struggled out wide for me today. Bert van Marwijk obviously shared the same view, as he shuffled his deck by allowing Van Der Vaart to swap with Robin Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder from around the thirty minute mark onwards. But they didn’t look as fluid and composed as one would expect from a team who won all of their qualifying matches. Still, they will be delighted with the win, and another clean sheet (they only conceded 2 goals en route to South Africa) in what was always going to be the trickier of their three group games this summer.

2. Where to go from here?

Rather than answering any doubts about how to cope with Robben’s absence, the Dutch opened the floor for more questions today. Van Marwijk got it wrong, perhaps not in keeping the same formation, but certainly is his direct replacement. Eljero Elia perhaps should started. His impressive cameo towards the end certainly provided some backing for this particular argument. He’s a very quick player, and can cause lot’s of problems with his ingenuity on the ball. Van Marwijk now must decide, assuming Robben misses the Japan match, whether to change his formation to accomodate today’s starting eleven, or to keep things as they are but draft in Elia for Van Der Vaart. The Real Madrid midfielder is a great little player, but I feel Wesley Sneijder already offers what Van Der Vaart does, and more.

3. Almost Flawless

With the self proclaimed best player in the world™ in Nicklas Bendtner up front,  I expected Denmark to cause the Dutch more problems today. However, what I was most impressed by was the Danish defence. A youthful centre back pairing of Simon Kjaer (21) and Daniel Agger (25) held their own today, and winger-turn-left back Simon Poulson had a decent game apart from one glaring error which resulted in the Dutch opening goal. Kjaer looks a real prospect at centre back, and while he could have done better in tracking Dirk Kuyt for the second goal, he and Agger coped well against a frightening Dutch attacking quartet. It’s refreshing to see two uncompromising centre backs playing side by side, and boy do they know how to tackle. Denmark can feel hard done by – they were beaten today by a combination of graft that the Dutch didn’t expect they would need, and a couple of fortunate deflections – one off Daniel Agger’s back, the other from the woodwork.

4. Excuses, excuses

Football fans blowing vuvuzelas

We’ve avoided discussing the dreaded vuvuzela’s in Talking Points so far – hearing folks complain about them is almost as annoying as the incessant buzzing itself. But with Patrice Evra partially having already blamed the horns (or are they instruments?) for the poor French performance on Friday, Robin Van Persie was next in line to voice his discontent – claiming he did not hear the referee’s whistle when playing on after the official had blown for an offside. I don’t agree for one second that the vuvuzela’s should be banned to make the match experience more comfortable for those watching at home, but if Evra, Van Persie and co. are right about on-pitch performances being compromised, then FIFA have to step in.

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Talking Points: Germany 4-0 Australia

1. Özil Rules

 				Germany v Australia

The tabloid headlines tomorrow will be full of Oz puns, but they won’t be referring to Australia. Mesut Özil delivered upon the hype that has surrounded him in South Africa following a stellar season for Werder Bremen. Özil plundered his way to a man of the match performance on the right hand side in tandem with Phillip Lahm and Thomas Müller. Indeed, all four German goals were as a result of the good work from those three players – Özil in particular. He drifted into a more central role before his substitution in the second half, not before setting up Cacau prior to his exit. Australia’s answer in a sensational first half for the 21 year old was to have Vince Grella man mark him, which in theory, seemed the right way to go about it. But consider that Grella has only made 25 appearances for Blackburn in 2 years due to injury, and you get the idea on why it proved to be ineffective. Brett Holman was introduced in the second half but there was little the more attacking minded Alkmaar midfielder could do against the current star of the World Cup.

2. Tactical Masterclass

If you were watching either RTE or ITV’s coverage tonight, you might have picked up on the fact that Germany fielded a much younger side than their Australian counterparts. For those that have ignored any build up to this game, Australia surrendered an average of 6 years per player to the exuberant Germans, with an average age of 30.7 vs 24.7 respectively. And boy did it show. Germany were very fluid in attack, their passing was precise and very slick. Their three pronged assault on the right hand side saw Lahm, Müller and Özil in particular run riot in a relentless first half where the Australians were lucky to be down by only 2 goals. By allowing Özil to take his pick of either drifting in between a very advanced duo of Müller and Lahm on the right hand side, or nestling in between Klose and Müller up front, the German’s drew the Australian midfield and defence towards them. With Chipperfield triple-teamed, Grella was forced to lend a hand but it proved fairly futile. Podolski was allowed loads of room to power home his opener with all the Aussie attention on the other side of the pitch.

Left: Germany’s formation changed to a 4-1-4-1 when in possession. Schweinsteiger was the link between defence and attack, a role he has taken upon himself as he has progressed as a footballer. Khedira often fell into the hole behind Klose, while Ozil dovetailed with Muller on the right hand side with Lahm in support. Podolski found himself with lots of space on the left as a result.

3. Tactical Dunce

Just what was Pim Verbeek thinking with his selection? If you insist on not playing any strikers in your starting 11, then at least persist with a backs to the wall approach. How the Aussies expected to catch Germany on the break without a proven goalscorer up top is beyond me, as is their decision to stick their most influential midfielder in Tim Cahill as a lone forward. Culina offered support on the few occasions Australia threatened, but it was an incredibly flat and uninspiring performance from the Socceroos. Equally as baffling was the decision to stick with an offside trap that clearly wasn’t working, much due to a weary back four with an average age of 32 between them. The scoreline could have been even more embarrassing had it not been for some wasteful finishing from Miroslav Klose, and a couple of questionable offside calls from the referee’s assistant.

4. Cut it out

It was great to see referee Marco Rodriguez not allow any leniency on a couple of shameful dives from Özil and Cacau. With this being the stand out performance from a team in South Africa so far this summer, the majority of players will hopefully have seen that there is no room for simulation this month. Yellow cards have a habit of racking themselves up in these finals, and should Özil or Cacau miss a particularly important game for the Germans later on in the tournament, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves. Tim Cahill may not be so complimentary about the Mexican official however. His straight red card was quite harsh, albeit resulting from a clumsy tackle that summed up a frustrating night for the Everton man. He will now miss Australia’s remaining 2 games, and with that disappears and minuscule hope they had of progressing.

5. Goals! Glorious, glorious goals! 				Germany v Australia

What a relief to finally see a team trounce their opponents this summer. Argentina should have, England could have, but wouldn’t you know it, it was those boring Germans who scored more goals than Groups A, B and C’s respective four teams. This is not a “typical German” team (are you reading Sir Alex Ferguson?), and having been criminally overlooked in the build up to South Africa, and Joachim Loew will relish taking his side from unusual underdogs to one of the favourites. It’s Germany. What did you expect, seriously?

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Talking Points: Serbia 0-1 Ghana

1. Nil

 				Serbia 0 Ghana 1

A lot of people were predicting this game to be the first goal-fest of the 2010 World Cup, but look at Ghana’s recent competitive record, and you’ll find this result popping up a lot. In the 17 matches they have played in both qualifying and the 2010 African Cup of Nations, seven of those games ended in a 1-0 scoreline – with four of those going in favour of the Black Stars. Added to what appears to be an added emphasis on not conceding rather than scoring this summer, and this game was always going to be a close fought battle. Gyan’s penalty was well taken considering the problems we’ve seen from dead-ball situations with the Jubilani, and Ghana were worth their victory in the end. The only striker to score at the World Cup so far was unlucky not to double his tally with a sublime shot soon after.

2. Travel Sickness

It’s been well documented leading up to this summer’s festivities that a European nation has never won the World Cup outside of their own continent, and nothing we have seen so far suggests that trend will come to a halt in South Africa. Out of the 5 European teams to have taken to the pitch so far, only Slovenia have (barely) taken 3 points. Serbia – who were fancied to do well this summer, France, England and Greece have all disappointed thus far. The rest of the cartel of European power nations – Germany, Holland, Italy, Portugal and Spain – will have the expectations of a continent on their shoulders as the first round of fixtures continues.

3. Happy Familiarity

While both teams failed to look completely assured on the ball, Ghana looked more assured in possession, despite what the statistics indicate. The communication in the Ghanaian camp is good – this is a young team, many of whom are FIFA Under-20 World Champions (8 of the squad are still under 21, and only 2 are over 29) andthey have played together for a long time. Compare that to an unfamiliar Serbian squad, none of whom play together at club level – they come from 23 different clubs – and you get a clear picture of why Ghana were the superior side today.

4. Celebration Time 				Serbia v Ghana

Those Ghanaian folk sure do love to celebrate, don’t they? The crowd were electric, and the tempo in the stands often mirrored that on the pitch. Gyan’s celebrations after his goal seemed to last an eternity, as did the post-match festivities – complete with laps of honour. A bit over the top for an opening fixture, no? Ghana aren’t exactly underdogs – they progressed from the group stage in 2006 after all. I wonder how Premier League champion Michael Essien or Champions League medal holder Sulley Muntari would have reacted at the full time whistle had they been on the pitch? Maybe they just really love to party, so I won’t begrudge them a good time!

5. A few statistics…

There has only been 9 goals in the opening 7 games this summer. That’s 1.28 goals per game. The lowest scoring World Cup was back in Italy in 1990, with 2.21 goals per game. Granted, it’s early on and a lot of the big guns have yet to take to the field (Brazil, Spain, Holland), but there has also been a relatively low number of shots on target (56 out of 175 attempts). Hopefully things will improve as the tournament progresses and the vast array of stars on show find their feet.

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Talking Points: England 1-1 USA

1. The Curse That Won’t Go Away

 				England v USA

Another game, another English goalkeeping horror. Poor Rob Green. He was given the ultimate vote of confidence starting ahead of David James and Joe Hart, and he goes and….does that. Can we blame the Jubilani football? Not at all, just a silly error and lapse of concentration from Rob Green. It happens all goalkeepers eventually, it just so happens that if you’re English, it happens more often. It wasn’t a particularly great strike from Dempsey – the ball did bounce but it was well in front of Green. Given how replays showed how furious Capello was with Milner’s booking, we just can’t imagine him giving the West Ham ‘keeper a shoulder to cry on. He did make a very good save from Jozy Altidore in the second half, but his high profile gaffe could very well spell the end of Greens international career considering the media scrutiny. We just hope he hasn’t got rid of these gloves just yet.

2. How many times do I have to tell you?

Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard cannot play together in midfield! It’s been repeated by almost everybody at this stage, so why Fabio “I make tough decisions” Capello insists on trying to make it work is beyond us. Gerrard summed up his season at Liverpool with a Jekyll and Hyde performance. His sublime finish in the 4th minute was almost overwritten by a fairly sub-par performance which saw him lose Clint Dempsey far too easily for the USA’s equalising goal. If Gerrard’s club form meant this display was not overly surprising, then Frank Lampard’s peformance is a mystery. He’s rarely less than brilliant for Chelsea, and is usually dependable for England, at least capable of grabbing a goal when it matters. But the Chelsea midfielder was anonymous tonight. It was a midfield performance that will have the nation anxious for a holding player like Gareth Barry to return, or God forbid, the forgotten squad member that is Michael Carrick.

3. Emile-ion Times Better

The lads on RTE had a go at Emile Heskey at half time, but I thought he put in one of his best displays in an England shirt, considering his role. He set up Gerrard’s goal beautifully with a slick through pass, and was always a route through which the English attack could progress. Whether his presence on the pitch influences a route one approach is another thing, but you can hardly expect him to refuse to play for the best of the team. It’s the World Cup, and the most (and least) you can expect from a player is for them to do their best, which Heskey did. Sure, he could have done better when one on one with Howard early in the second half, but the American is a top ‘keeper, and was off his line quickly to reduce Heskey’s target area. Any criticism directed towards the Villa man is surely another desperate attempt in the long line of scapegoat finding by “pundits”.

4. Fit as a Findley

 				England v USA

Robbie Findley was very impressive for USA tonight. A player of such pace is always a huge weapon, but against the lead-footed duo of Terry and King, he was always going to be one of the Americans’ favoured outlets. Jamie Carragher was exposed for pace and quickness a few times after his introduction, picking up a booking for a cynical foul on Findley and almost being at fault for an American goal when outpaced by Altidore in the 64th minute. The USA could be a dangerous prospect for one of the more fancied teams should they progress from the group stages, and once Altidore returns to full fitness, their attack will be even more formidable.

5. Where are Roo?

 				England v USA

Spare a thought for Wayne Rooney. England’s talisman has had to put up with comparisons with Lionel Messi all season – a battle he lost in part due to his end of season injury, but mostly down to Messi being the clear victor. After Messi’s verging-on-inspirational performance for Argentina against Nigeria this afternoon, all eyes turned to Rooney as the second act of the Messi – Rooney – Ronaldo circus took centre stage. But the Manchester United man found himself starved of chances, and when he did find himself with the ball, he was quickly surrounded and forced to bundle possession away to a team mate. He was close to producing a moment of magic in the 75th minute with an imaginative long-range effort, followed by a close range flick from a corner soon after, but Tim Howard was for the most part untroubled by Rooney tonight.

6. Don Wrong Demarco

Don Capello hasn’t gotten much wrong in his time as England manager, but his selection tonight seemed a bit off. James Milner was suffering from illness during the week, and was far from 100%. A yellow card proved to be the straw the broke the camel’s back as he was replaced by Shaun Wright Phillips at the half hour mark. It will be interesting to hear what the Italian has to say about Ledley King too. Has intensive World Cup preparation training affected his ever so brittle fitness? England’s lack of pace in central defence without Rio Ferdinand is alarming, and it hampers their tactics in more ways than the obvious one. We’re so used to seeing Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole as spiritual wingers for England, but they were forced to put more emphasis on their defensive covering tonight to assists the central pairing. As a result, England were more impotent than usual with their attacks from wide positionsas Johnson and Cole were late in offering Wright-Phillips and Lennon their support. The two early changes also meant that Capello had less cards up his sleeve as England chased the winning goal, with Peter Crouch being the only fresh legs he could introduce.

7. Got dole?

A quick word of reassurance for the technical director at ITV who allowed their HD broadcast to cut to a Hyundai advert just before Heskey played Steven Gerrard through in the biggest football match England has seen for four years, in front of an audience of millions. Don’t worry mate, this recession won’t last forever. I’m sure you’ll find a new job eventually.

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Talking Points: Argentina 1-0 Nigeria

1. Cometh the Hour… 				Argentina 1 Nigeria 0

Cometh the man. The world was watching as Lionel Messi took the pitch in Johannesburg today, and the little wonder did not disappoint. Messi was at the centre of almost everything Argentina did going forward, and his personal duel with Nigeria ‘keeper Vincent Enyeama was a delight to watch. Granted, Messi did not replicate the meteoric high performances we’re used to fawning over at Barcelona, but he was Argentina’s best player today and a variety of delicious dribbling and sizzling attempts at goal were a pleasure to watch. It’s common knowledge that if Argentina are to go far this summer, Maradona will have to get the best out of the World Player of the Year. So far, so good.

2. In-Vince-ible

Arsenal were reported to have pulled out of a deal for Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, apparently unimpressed by his £2 million price tag. After witnessing him come out on top against Messi and co today (everywhere except the scoreline that is), Arsene Wenger must be kicking himself. Enyeama was in scintillating form. It takes the very best saves for a goalkeeper to capture the viewer’s imagination, but today Enyeama made three world class stops, and looked assured on almost every occasion. £2 million? An absolute bargain, but you can be sure the ‘keeper’s stock will have risen dramatically after this display. With that, so has his price tag.

3. No Gut = Glory?

I don’t like picking on a player after one match, but Jonás Gutiérrez looked uncomfortably poor at right back before he came off today despite the relatively poor opposition. It’s understandable – not many left sided winger’s are capable of putting in a shift at right back. What’s baffling is that Maradona has a dependable Nicolás Burdisso and a highly-rated Nicolás Otamendi – both natural to the position – on the bench. Nigeria’s only real threat came down the left in the first half. Coincidence? Not really, Gutiérrez was caught out several times leading to Nigerian chances. Surely Maradona will make a change for their next match against a highly organised South Korea.

4. All Eyes On Me

 				Argentina 1 Nigeria 0

All eyes may have been on Leo Messi today, but all cameras were on Diego Maradona. With José Mourinho on holiday for the summer now that his future has been sorted, the media need a new controversial managerial figure to focus on, and it’s in this role that Maradona thrives. Looking incredibly dapper in a designer suit, Maradona was flashed on our screens countless times during the match today. Despite a more or less comfortable victory, the fiery Argentina was seen barking at the fourth official on numerous occasions. A highly competitive South Korea await, and with tougher fixtures ahead in Argentina’s inevitable forray into the knock-out stages, Maradona’s temper will be tested. As a result, a sneaky trip to the bookies on Diego to see red and be sent to the stands may be in order.

5. Fallen Angel

Just a quick word on Angel Di Maria, who has been predicted by many – myself included – to steal the show this summer. It wasn’t the best of World Cup births. Di Maria was anonymous for the majority of his 85 minutes on the field. Rather than the youthful exuberance of the Benfica winger, it was the masterful veteran touch of Juan Veron that dictated Argentina’s approach. With Seba pulling the strings in the middle of the pitch and Javier Mascherano patrolling behind, Messi, Tevez and Higuain were allowed to flaunt their stuff up front. Despite the solitary goal, Argentina’s attacking options will pose a lot more problems for teams later on in the tournament than they did against Nigeria today.

6. No Need For Stereotype

One thing you can be sure of, or so we’re told, is the energetic and relentless athleticism from the African nations this summer. With that cliché, I raise you another: there are no sure things in football. Nigeria looked tired, if not lazy against an Argentine side who were content to stroke the ball around the pitch and make the Super Eagles work for possession – a task that was, for the most point, beyond them. Keeping up with our watch on how teams get around the pains of the Jubilani football, Argentina kept their passes short and – more importantly – relatively low. It worked, with Maradona’s side controlling 58% of the possession today and rarely surrendering possession poorly.

7.  Threat as a Threat

 				Argentina 1 Nigeria 0

One thing we noticed about Argentina today was their main weapon. Not Lionel Messi, but their potential. With a relatively straight forward 4-3-3 formation, Maradona relaxed any defensive responsibilities to his front three. Lukman Haruna rarely got forward as a result – the threat of Messi, Tevez and Higuain’s capabilities on any potential counter attack firmly outweighine the assistance Haruna could offer those ahead of him. This mentality hampered a lot of Nigeria’s attacks today, with their forwards being vastly outnumbered on the break, but it worked a treat for Argentina. It may also come off against South Korea and Greece, but with potential knock out clashes ahead where they may be underdogs against the likes of England and Spain, sticking with this approach for the whole tournament may be ill advised.

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Talking Points: Uruguay 0-0 France

1. Play it safe

Now it may just have been Uruguay and France’s respective tactics, but there war far fewer “hollywood passes” in this game than there were in the opener between South Africa and Mexico. As a rule, both teams kept their passes short and simple which allowed them to hold on to possession for a lot longer than their group A counterparts earlier in the day. You get the feeling that the Jubilani football, combined with the altitude of 1800 metres, posed more problems than we could have imagined in the opener. Indeed, we nearly saw the usually dependable Hugo Lloris embarrassed by a misjudged bounce at one stage. Managers across South Africa will have taken notice, and their could just have been a lot of swift changes in tournament tactics as a result.

2. I don’t give a damn about a reputation

 				Uruguay 0 France 0

Three players in particular had come into this game playing a predominant role in this summer’s transfer rumours, each one carrying a weight made up of expectation and hype in equal measures. Franck Ribery still baffles me. He had an above average tournament in 2006, and has not excelled beyond that level in any great form since. How he has earned himself the reported £50 million price tag banded about by the press this summer is either the biggest indicator of a broken transfer market, or some sterling work by the PR men at Bayern Munich. Yoann Gourcuff continues his backward decline since his dream season in 2008/2009. He’s just never cut it on the big stage for France, which is a criminal offence for an international player, never mind one who has been dubbed Zinedine Zidane’s natural successor. Luis Suarez is the only player who we allow some benefit of the doubt to, as the majority of Uruguay’s attacking play went through Diego Forlan (and rightly so – he looked very good with the limited amount of chances that fell his way). Still, Suarez looked slightly selfish at times, and surrendered possession cheaply on few occasions. At the moment however, Dutch football’s latest hot shot looks more of a Mateja Kezman than a Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

3. Step Up

Don’t worry, we weren’t critical of everybody on show yesterday. Abou Diaby put a disappointing season – both at a personal and club level – behind him with a solid performance for France. He’s been criticised by the Emirates faithful after a lacklustre season for the London club, but yesterday Diaby did his stock the world of good. He glided past the Uruguay defence on a number of occasions with the close control and skill we know he is capable of, but so rarely displays. On his day, Diaby is Patrick Vieira-reincarnate. He just needs to believe in himself a bit more, and being one of the few silver linings on a dreary French display yesterday will have helped him do that. With Cesc Fabregas’ future in doubt, Arsenal may need Diaby to do so sooner rather than later.

4. This time, it’s personal

Rumours of a training ground bust-up between Raymond Domenech and Florent Malouda must surely be true. Why else would Domenech – mental instability aside – leave out the in form player in his squad? Malouda has been sensational for Chelsea for over a year now, and yet found himself playing second fiddle to a sorry Sydney Govou. The Chelsea man has since admitted that the found it frustrating to be only allowed 15 minutes of playing time at the end. Don’t worry Florent, you’re not alone. We don’t understand it either. We suspect you’re not the only one who can’t wait for Domenech to step down after the World Cup.

5.  Such a crying shame

 				Uruguay 0 France 0

Nicolas Lodeiro came into this World Cup tipped as one of the young players capable of announcing his name on the world stage. With the game finely poised at 0-0 late in the second, Oscar Tabarez introduced the Ajax starlet, and you got the feeling he could just make that name for himself at the first opportunity. However, the would be hero quickly became the villain for picking up two silly yellow cards. With that, Uruguay’s hopes of snatching a winner quickly transformed into defensive desperation in their attempt to hold onto a draw. It’s a pity, as Lodeiro really was a player we were looking forward to watching this summer. Now he will miss their next game against the hosts South Africa, and will be lucky to feature against Mexico in the final match day, despite Ignacio Gonzalez’ early futility.

6. Insert hand pun here

I’m sorry. Call it bitter, call it small-time, call it what you want. But we couldn’t help but fashion a twisted smile when Thierry Henry’s claims for a late penalty due to a handball were turned down by referee Yuichi Nishimura. Come on, you hardly thought it wouldn’t come up, did you?


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