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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Japan v Croatia, Brazil v Australia, France v South Korea

The Japanese played a very good game against the Croatians, as I expected they would lose. The very message for defenders in the box defending their goal is to be extra careful when making tackles and ensure you make contact with the ball more than the player. That is straightforward and at a professional level you would expect a defender to have integrated that message into his play but when captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto stuck out a foot on Dado Prso in the box, the penalty was given and I did not disagree. But it produced a splendid left hand save by Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi from Darijo Srna's spot-kick. Both sides looked dangerous in scoring but unexpectedly the game ended in a no score draw.

The implications of that result were none on the other Group F participants Brazil and Australia. Once again Brazil seemed slightly comatose in their play, not the Brazil we expect to see given their multi-talented faces. One spark for them was Kaka and Ronaldinho, to a degree, and also to a degree Dida keeping goal well. Australia were expected to suffer from the Brazilians but they played a much better game than that against Japan, from the start. Australia had numbers behind the ball, much like Trinidad and Tobago against England, which stifles the space needed to create chances. There were strong challenges from Lucas Neill while Jason Culina and Mile Sterjovski were on the flanks that faced the attacks of Roberto Carlos and Cafu, and Brazil were kept out until after the break, when Ronaldinho pass through to Ronaldo, and following a few stepovers Ronaldo squared across the box to Adriano. Adriano controlled with his left, as he is well known to do, to touch the ball forward and struck it low past Mark Schwarzer. Scott Chipperfield was suspect in not closing him down.

Australia came at Brazil with renewed determination. Harry Kewell came on for Tim Cahill and injected more flair into the Aussie attack. A Brett Emerton cross was not gathered by Dida and in doing so he spilled it to Kewell, who hit the ball over the bar with the goal open. Kewell went further to hit a 40 yard shot that dipped just over the bar with Dida off his line. Mark Bresciano made personal his aim to sting Brazil with a volley that Dida had to touch away but Brazil had their moments too. Ronaldo was off for Robinho, the substitute running on and touching the ball over Schwarzer but on to the roof of the net. A Ronaldinho corner was met by a superb Kaka header onto the crossbar. With Adriano off for Fred, Brazil made another goal. Fred passed along to Robinho, who aimed and fired off the post, the ball fortuitously rebounding and slowing just in front of Fred, who tapped it in.

Australia showed a good account of themselves, especially against the expected winners and current holders, but Brazil seemed reserve in their attacks as if they were holding back. A lot is made of Ronaldo but we have yet to see the best from him and I think we will. He was slightly better in this game and Ze Roberto and Juan played well defensively. Australia hold 2nd place and they are prepared to hot up for the Croatia final group game. Croatia will need to score two goals more than Australia to go through. The Japanese are energetic and very willing to get at the opposition, so if Brazil wish to enter into that game the same way, they could find themselves hit from nowhere. The likes of Celtic's Shunsuke Nakamura and Alessandro 'Alex' Santos are prepared to strike at goal from distance, so any Brazilian slacking could be punished, perhaps temporarily.

Now we come to France v South Korea, and again I expected France to come better and overcome the South Koreans in style. After their debacle play against the Swiss, Franck Ribery was dropped and Florent Malouda brought in. I actually expected Ribery to remain and on the wing, Zinedine Zidane on the other, Claude Makelele and Patrick Vieira central allowing Vieira to come forward, Sylvian Wiltord and Thierry Henry upfront, but it was a 4-3-3 and still looked good. Nine minutes in and Wiltord took a shot at goal that deflected off Jin-Cheul Choi and rolled, as if by destiny, to Henry to touch once with his right to control and then scored with his left. Henry's first in the tournament, France's first since Emmanuel Petit's in the 1998 final. And from there France looked in some control as the South Koreans simply continued to come forward, their fans still jubilant and chanting, which I thought was excellent, reminding me of the LFC fans when Liverpool were 0-3 down at half time and were chanting "We will beat you 4-3!!"

A Zidane corner from the French left was met by a Vieira header towards goal and the keeper Lee Woon-Jae got a palm to the ball to scoop it out but the ball looked very much to have crossed the line. Replays showed a strong indication of this, but the referee did not give it and the France players made no protest, perhaps the speed of it all made it inconclusive but it would be a first not to appeal for what looked like a legitimate goal. Players have appealed for everything before, penalties, offsides, fouls, even sighting Elvis in the crowd,but to their credit France continued with no fuss. It may be different when they see the replays. Their play from the second half kick off was much the same.

Ahn Jung-Hwan made an appearance for Chun-Soo Lee and eight minutes later the game was level. Seol Ki-Hyeon ran down the right and Eric Abidel allowed him to cross, which reached the head of Cho Jae-Jin. Cho nodded the ball down near the penalty spot and Park Ji-Sung came in to touch the ball up and over Fabien Barthez, the ball dropping down and into the net. William Gallas was clearly frustrated, nothing in comparison to the fans back home. The team held control for virtually the 80mins and then allowed poor errors to creep in and steal their thunder, with one goal to show for it. Abidel was booked two minutes before his error and Zidane too five minutes from time, both now out of the final match with Togo.



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