Filed by Gentry Estes
A few thoughts from the couch on World Cup opening weekend:
—; Argentina is really good. Against one of the most dangerous opponents in the field, Argentina held off Ivory Coast 2-1 to dodge a trendy upset pick and leap ahead of Group C, the toughest of them all. The level of play by both sides in Saturday’s game was the highest in the tournament to this point. By winning, Argentina proved strong enough to claim its spot at the favorite table with South American rival Brazil. How sweet would it be to have those two in the final?
—; As friends will attest, I’m a guy who loves his soccer. But even I couldn’t keep from dozing off during the second half of England’s lifeless 1-0 victory over Paraguay on Saturday. If you missed it, and I sincerely hope you did, England got a lucky deflection for an own-goal in the first few minutes, and then proceeded to play keep-away for an hour-and-a-half.
Though it won, England showed little effort, skill or innovation in essentially running out the entire game clock. Criticized immediately at home, England’s stars later whined the 77-degree temperature at kickoff was too much for them.
“It was very hot, which is why we didn’t play as well as we probably could have,” said goalkeeper Paul Robinson. “A win’s a win, though.”
Indeed. Perhaps worse than England’s lethargy was a Paraguayan side that sat back and seemed content with a 1-0 defeat, since the goal differential wasn’t too bad. What!?! You endure two years of qualifying, cost fans a small fortune on a trip across the globe, and you don’t even play for a draw because you think England is too good? Disgraceful.
—; Through three days, the team scoring first has won each time. Many of those goals came in the opening minutes. The U.S. would do well to learn from this before its Monday opener against Czech Republic, a game almost certain to be decided by that first strike. An early goal by the U.S. would force the already attack-minded Czechs even farther up the field, opening wide gaps for speedy Americans on counters. If the U.S. falls behind, however, it will be nearly impossible for smaller attackers to crack a large, physical Czech defense if there are 8-10 men entrenched in the box.
—; I like the German team’s new all-out attacking style. It may just mean a 6-0 loss once it actually plays someone good, but hey, who needs defense? A World Cup that opens with a 4-2 result can be all bad, and German coach Jurgen Klinsmann remains undaunted. He’s determined to prove the best defense is a good offense.
Why is this important? Klinsmann may be German, but he lives in California, making him a candidate to coach the U.S. team in 2010 should Bruce Arena finally take the big money with some club in Europe.
—; If anyone ever wondered why Africa has to fight for respect on the international soccer stage, take a peak at the state of Togo’s team right now:
In summary, a few days before Togo’s first-ever World Cup finals appearance, coach Otto Pfister quit over money. FIFA said Sunday that Pfister was still speaking with Togo’s federation, meaning this could all be a high-profile contest to see who blinks first.
But who would want that right now? Such an embarrassing story at such a big event hardly disputes the renegade, third-world stigma attached to most African squads.
E-mail Gentry Estes at email@example.com