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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Switzerland v Togo, Saudi Arabia v Ukraine, Spain v Tunisia

With France held by South Korea, both sides of Switzerland and Togo needed the points to take advantage. Togo emerged from a row over payment to take their place on the pitch, thankfully, but their efforts went in vain. At times they would go on the attack but moved too slowly, Swiss numbers coming back and thwarting any chances. Defending became a weak area too. Ludovic Magnin made great progress down the left and crossed deep. Tranquillo Barnetta, my MOTM, was not tracked by Cherif-Toure Maman, and allowed Barnetta to head back across goal and between two defenders Alexander Frei tapped in. But Togo were very unlucky not to have been granted a penalty when Emmanuel Adebayor danced down the left and cut inside Patrick Muller, Muller then stuck out a reverse leg that impeded Adebayor, but the referee waved play on. I thought it was a silly challenge and deserved to be punished.

In the second half, Togo earned great points for their determination to get forward and attack Switzerland's goal but they did not comprehend that you need players in the box if you wish to cross the ball in front of goal. Players leapted for balls they could not get and did not for balls they could reach. Their rate of pace in attack just wavered between wantign to get there and preference to take it easy. While they did come close to scoring, Togo just did not seem to have the balance and focus to actually threaten Pascal Zuberbuhler. Switzerland ensured they too placed pressure on Togo, Hakan Yakin came on for Daniel Gygax and responsed with a long range shot and one at close range that was blocked by Kossi Agassa. However, despite Togo's keenness towards goal, their failure to punish emanated from Switzerland grabbing their second.

Mauro Lustranelli crossed over towards the right where Barnetta was lurking, and despite a defender in his way Barnetta shot, the ball just deflecting off the defender's studs and the post on its way in. Two-nil to the Swiss, who now top the group with none conceded, followed by the surprise of South Korea. The Swiss appear to be more astute at the back and their captain Johann Vogel is a terrier in midfield, so it will be interesting to see how the South Koreans fare in that last game.

The table now looks with France in third place with 1pt and nil goal difference. Without Zidane and Abidel, I expect Mikael Silvestre to come in at left back, Claude Makelele and Patrick Vieira in the middle between Florent Malouda and Franck Ribery, Sylvain Wiltord with Thierry Henry upfront. France have to score, they should do as they need nothing less than a win. theyprobably will win if Togo continue to play with no one coming forward in attack, that is how Togo generally looked against Switzerland. Then again, could France fare as they have done so far, without Zidane, and continue to draw, which would simply be catastrophic.

In a nutshell, which is where I wish to leave this match, Saudi Arabia are another side that is taking up space more worthy for another team who will play to win. They were brave and very unlucky against Tunisia but yesterday evening they capitulated. Keeper Mabrouk Zaid made a hash of his goal kick and the ball came back to go for a corner, which Maxim Kalinichenko curled in and Andrei Rusol touched with his knee, for the ball to go through Zaid's legs. You score a goal like that then the keeper is having a bad day. The Saudis' rolled their luck with Andriy Shevchenko havign an effort off the line and then just failing to get at the end of a cross. But 10mins before the break Ukraine struck again, Anatoliy Tymoschuk squared across for old West Ham and Spurs striker Sergei Rebrov to hit a shot over the keeper.

After the break, Saudi Arabia went further behind, as the two Chenkos', Andriy and Maxim, combined, Kalinichenko crossed for Shevchenko to head in. Ten minutes after Omar Al Ghamdi broke into the Ukraine box and went down from a challenge but was booking for simulation, rightly so, by Graeme Poll. Ukraine received their fourth after 30mins when the two Chenkos' combined again, this time Shevchenko squared across goal for Kalinichenko to side foot in.

Spain made a lot of work of their game against the Tunisians. Zaid Jaziri ran down the right past Carlos Puyol and then proceeded to withstand three Spanish tackles to pass across to the advancing Joahar Mnari, who should have been watched by Marcos Senna. Mnari's first shot was blocked well but he followed up to score. Spain came forward seeking the equaliser and they made a number of routes to goal through the work rate of Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres, Luis Garcia and David Villa, but to no avail. As the Spaniards went in a goal down at hlaf time, Luis Aragones needed to inject more spark into their strategy. That didn't occur until the second half, with the introduction of Cesc Fabregas and Raul for Senna and Garcia, and then later with Joaquin on for Villa. There was no break up of Spain's rhythm but with the poring of Tunisia's defence, the North Africans hardly looked able to break out and score, laying siege instead to Spain's attacks.

But inevitably there came a breakthrough. Joaquin squared to Fabregas for the Arsenal midfielder to hit another shot to match one earlier, which was parried by keeper Ali Boumnijel into the path of Raul for the equaliser on 72mins. Four minutes later Tunisia began to crumble, Fabregas again threading a pass for Torres to run onto, Boumnijel coming out of goal despite the ball going across away from goal, and Torres tapped the ball a little further then cut it past the keeper for no.2. A rush of blood from Boumnijel when at 1-1 all level heads were definitely needed. As Tunisia hadn't fared well in attack, Spain made them pay even more through Torres in the box, judged to have been held by Alaeddine Yahia. Torres took the kick that Boumnijel got across to well but the ball went under him.

A good result for Spain, no doubt, when it look ed as if the game would drift into a defeat or perhaps a 1-1 draw. With Saudi Arabia and Tunisia on 1pt each, Spain are clear through to round two. Now, the implications are the Ukraine need to win against Tunisia, Tunisia need to win too. That is if Saudi Arabia beat Spain, which, frankly, I cannot forsee. Tunisia are capable of holding Ukraine provided they play as they did for 70mins and up their tempo, for they cannot sit back on anything. But with the Ukraine on jubilant form with their win yesterday, I think they can beat the Tunisians.



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