France emerge as South Korea's chance expires
Switzerland and France it is to meet with the Ukraine and Spain respectively, two good matches for analysis. France v Spain is on June 27th in Hanover, the Swiss face the Ukraine in Cologne on the 26th.
Spain changed their enitre eleven - Santiago Canizares, Michel Salgado, Carlos Marchena, Antonio Lopez, Gutierrez Juanito, David Albelda, Antonio Reyes, Andres Iniesta, Joaquin, Cesc Fabregas, Raul - to face Saudi Arabia and made excellent work of the Saudi keeper Mabrouk Zaid, who denied on several occasions. Spain's only goal, that of the game too, came via a Reyes freekcik that curled for Juanito to head in. I suppose with the Ukraine's thumping of the Saudis', Luis Aragones was confident of another stern performance from a second string yet on balance of the result could have come stuck. The coach is at least aiming for the kill and that has to be applauded when you compete amongst the best in the world.
Tunisia held a slim chance of qualification and almost provided a fighting finale to threaten the Ukrainians, but throughout the match they generally failed to show the necessary touch near goal to take the lead. Crucially Radhi Jaidi was becoming susceptible at the back though at one point came in with a great tackle to deny Andriy Shevchenko. Yet when you seek a win and no less to progress, one must remain sensible and, more importantly, on the pitch. Within nine minutes Ziad Jaziri was booked for a blatant dive while being watched by Andriy Rusol, superb decision made even more so through the replay, but Jaziri may feel he was harshly sanctioned for a challenge on Anatolii Tymoschuk that occurs readily in the Premiership. Tunisia down to ten.
The Ukraine never pressed their numerical advantage in the second half and the game turn slightly droll with either side not producing quality passing and possession to entertain the watching numbers. Tunisia did win a freekick yards from the Ukrainian box, and as it was taken by Ania Yari the ball deflected off an raised arm from Andriy Voronin for a corner, quite a clear change of direction that was overlooked. That could have been a telling moment. Shevchenko went on to challenge for a long ball missed by Jaidi, leaving the Ukraine front man with keeper Ali Boumnijel and defender Karim Hagui. Shevchenko bustled through the confusion and then tripped over his own leg, the decision given was penalty. Shevchenko converted the kick, Ukraine went on to earn their meet with Switzerland.
The Swiss went light work of their qualification with a 2-0 win that sunk South Korea's chances of going through, provided Togo beat or drew against France. Park Cho-Young pulled back on Tranquillo Barnetta that allowed Hakan Yakin to deliver into the box, Phillippe Senderos making a colossal thump of a header to gain the lead, and a gash on the forehead. At times I feel Senderos panics and becomes rash or overeager to challenge, but he has the tenacious energy at times where he refuses to let anything get by him, and this header showed he meant business. Textbook defender header, like John Terry. I can forsee Tomas Rosicky delivering such balls, one to watch out for.
Switzerland increased their lead on 77mins, through slight controversy. Sub Xavier Margairaz aimed to pass across but the ball was intercepted by the foot of Seol Ki-Hyeon into the path of Alexander Frei, who was in an offside position. As the ball came off a South Korean player, Frei was within the laws and went on to round the keeper to score. It can be argued that the South Koreans stopped playing after the linesman flagged offside but they should have played to the whistle. The decision was 100% correct. The sad news is Senderos is likely to miss the clash with the Ukraine with a dislocated shoulder injury.
France needed to win, no less. Had the South Koreans drawn, France would need two clear goals to supersede into 2nd place via goal difference. As it turned out the French made strenuous work against Togo. Franck Ribery and David Trezeguet missed excellent chances to score while the Togolese keeper Kossi Agassa was in inspiring form with a number of saves and catches from corners and crosses. The anoying thing was Togo were eager to get forward and then labour on the ball as France regained numbers, at one point of attack there were three Toglese players and at first three France players which then quickly increased to six France players. You had Abdel Kader Coubadja then Moustapha Salifou trying to bustle their way through into the box but Togo didn't look like scoring. It was only a matter of time before France did, albeit they had the respite to re-think their efforts.
Patrick Vieira was excellent, far better than before, hassling his way through from midfield, regularly feeding Florent Malouda or Ribery, Thierry Henry made a number of bursts at the Togo defence, Ribery himself ran from left and right to creat panic. It was his run that emerged into the box to find Vieira forward, the former Arsenal captain gathering then turning to hit a 55th minute lead. Henry made it the requisite two six minutes later, the current Arsenal captain picking up from his former colleague Vieira's head-on and turning to cut across Agassa. After the initial panic and concern from the first 45mins that made for a potential 0-0 draw, France exuded their class. They will have Zinedine Zidane and Eric Abidel back if need be, to rekindle a Euro2000 flame they blew out against Spain.