Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town
21 June 17.00 IST
The start to the World Cup campaign for both the teams was in sharp contrast to the expectations they were carrying pre-tournament.
North Korea, the lowest ranked team in this world cup was expected to roll over under Brazil, the top ranked team in the world. Portugal was expected to earn valuable points with their star captain, Cristiano Ronaldo being a likely candidate to dazzle the slightly insipid tournament.
What transpired was totally different. The Koreans lost to Brazil but earned universal praise for their defensive play. Portugal on the other hand, was very lackluster in their approach against Ivory Coast. They rarely threatened the opponent’s defence while the mighty Africans looked the most dangerous team for most part of the match.
North Korea was really impressive. Their defensive shape was an absolute delight to watch. As expected they put up two defensive lines and relied on fast counter attacks. Every time, Brazil went on attack they would have to get past two lines, the first composed of the three central mid-fielders and the final hurdle being the Back Four. The Full backs did a very decent job on the flanks. Bastos or Maicon were prevented from taking shots from edge of the box as the full backs and either one of CMs did a double marking there. The only man-marking happened on Kaka, who was rendered useless for most part of the match and that hurt Brazil. During the course of the match, the three centre-backs remained inside the box, never losing their shape, especially in the first half, despite the numerous counters from their more flamboyant South American counterpart. Brazil didn’t get one clear cut chance in 50 minutes of play.
In the second half, The Koreans lost their defensive shape as they pushed too many men up for corners, in the process of getting over ambitious. Brazil hit them on the counter immediately after that and for the first time in the match it was a 4-on-3 situation in favor of the South Americans. Maicon’s goal came a minute after that. The Korean’s didn’t track back to their original defensive plan and the Inter Milan man was given too much space on right while the left back was out of position. After Brazil scored the first goal, they would always get the second. The Korean’s pushed forward and they never really regained their defensive shape. They were rewarded with a deserved consolation when Ji Yun Nam strolled in unmarked to score on 89th minute.
The Koreans looked like a well drilled, fit team who played with a plan. Striker Jong Tae Se showed tremendous work rate. A touching scene was Se shedding tears when he was singing North Korea’s national anthem.
Portugal, on the other hand looked listless. Scoring goals has been a problem for them in the qualifiers. The problem persists, ordinary form of centre-forwards Liedson and Hugo Almeida meant that Ronaldo had to be slot in as a striker in a more centralized position. He created very little and was crowded out by the opponent defence. Ronaldo hasn’t scored a goal in national team jersey since Euro 2008. He needs to find his form quickly to lift Portugal to the next round. Portugal looked languid in front of the goal as well as in the midfield. Deco had a very poor game while former Chelsea team-mate Ricardo Carvalho’s lack of pace was exposed at times. North Korea would be buoyed by their opening game. If they can repeat their defensive heroics they can hold off a misfiring Portuguese attack. Portugal on the other hand would be looking towards their maverick Ronaldo, to deliver the knockout blow.
World Cup Head to Head Record: Despite the relative inexperience of both nations, they have competed in one of the classic games in world cup history. Portugal won the quarter final in 1966 by a 5-3 score line.
World Cup Win-Loss Stats:
Korea DPR: Played 5 Won 1 Lost 3 Drawn 1
Portugal: Played 20 Won 11 Lost 7 Drawn 1
Other key facts:
1) The match against Ivory Coast was the first match Portugal drew in their world cup history.
2) Korea DPR’s 1-0 win over Italy in ‘66 was the first win for an Asian team in world cup.
3) Portugal has reached semi-finals in 2 of the 3 world cups they played till 2010. They were 3rd in 1966, 4th in 2006.
Player to watch out for: Cristiano Ronaldo(Portugal)
Ronaldo has been underperforming for the national team for over two years. Ironically the last 2 seasons in the league has been the best in his career. He would want to prove his detractors wrong.
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
June 21, 19.00 IST
As expected, Chile started their world cup campaign with a blitz of attacking football. The trident of Matias Fernandez and Alexis Sanchez linked beautifully causing havoc on the flanks. Honduras started out by defending in depth, but couldn’t stop the Chilean offence. Fullbacks Isla and Vidal tried to make runs behind the defence as the forwards tried to play wide balls to connect them.
Chile’s goal also came from such a move; Jorge Valvida crossed the ball from right wing as it bounced off a Honduran defender, hit Beausejour and crept in. Despite all the attacking flair, Chile did miss Humberto Suazo. The hefty Suazo usually acts as an inverted pivot to the quick footed wingers. He is their main scoring threat. He was also the top scorer in the South American qualifying zone. His finishing and physical presence was missing in the match. Chile could have scored two or three more goals, if they were a bit more clinical. Waldo Ponce’s inability to score from a point blank range is one of the most incredible misses of this world cup so far.
Group H has the potential to throw up some intriguing tactical battles. The first round saw del Bosque – Hitzfeld, the second round promises an even more exciting battle. Hitzfeld takes on Marcelo Bielsa this time. Bielsa’s well known penchant for all out offensive football is a sharp contrast to Hitzfeld’s style of physical, well organized teams.
Ottmar Hitzfeld, despite having won European titles with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich is rarely mentioned as one of the best tacticians of this era. His is terribly under-rated. Yet, he most often delivers the goods. He had foiled Del Bosque several times in Champions’ League. And once again he tactically outwitted the Spaniard.
He focused on strong organization and discipline of this defence and midfield. The strong and physical Swiss players exploited the lack of brawn in the Spanish midfield and choked the flow. Spain playing with one striker would always mean that they lacked goal scoring opportunities. Double covering was done on Villa to render him useless. Silva & Iniesta add mobility; Iniesta was picked for some cluttering tackles by Spanish defenders. Silva had an off-day. This robbed Spain off their usually good off-the-ball movement. The Serie A pair of full-backs, Reto Ziegler and Stefan Lichsteiner both had excellent games, completely negating the Spanish wingers and full-backs. Barnetta and Inler made intelligent runs through the heart of the Spanish midfield and always kept their opponents on their toes. Youngster Eren Deriyok and Nkufo combined well upfront. Nkufo held the ball well and created space for the fast and skillful Derdiyok. The Swiss youngster was hugely impressive; he set up the goal and almost scored another with arguably the best move of the game. Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio was in inspired form.
The shock win over Spain, puts Hitzfeld’s men in pole position for a place in Round-2. Switzerland is most likely to retain their tactical approach. Humberto Suazo is an important piece of the puzzle for Chile in this game. Despite being skillful, the trident of Sanchez, Gonzalez and Fernandez are not physically gifted and it can get a bit crowded in the Swiss defence. Former Arsenal man Philip Senderos will be missing this game.
Overall, be prepared to witness another fascinating tactical battle.
World Cup Head to Head Record:
Chile 3-1 Switzerland (1962, First Round)
World Cup Win-Loss Stats:
Switzerland: Played 28 Won 8 Lost 13 Drawn 5
Chile: Played 26 Played Won 8 Lost 12 Drawn 6
Other key facts:
1) Switzerland hasn’t conceded a world cup goal in 490 minutes.
2) Chile’s win over Honduras was their first in a world cup since ’62.
3) During their memorable 3rd place finish in ’62 the Chilean team is said to have eaten Swiss cheese before beating Switzerland, spaghetti before beating Italy, and drank vodka before beating the USSR. They also drank coffee before the match against Brazil, although they did not win that match.
Player to watch out for: Eren Derdiyok (Switzerland)
THT had picked Derdiyok as one of the potential trailblazers in the tournament. He didn’t disappoint in the first game. He was responsible for the Swiss goal and almost scored a second after some sublime skill. His composure to try a cheeky finish is something you rarely see from European players.
Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg
June 22, 00.00 IST
No one would have thought about this script. Spain, the overwhelming favourites are suddenly looking at a premature exit. Hailed as the perfect team in pre-world cup buildup, they came a cropper in their first match. The same fate was suffered by Barcelona against Inter Milan, the team on which Spain is modeled on. They failed to break the “bus”.
Del Bosque’s strategy of starting with a lone striker has come under criticism. Lack of a physical holding midfielder made him start with Xabi as well as Busquets in a 4-5-1 formation. Benching Torres meant Spain had only one pure goal scorer, David Villa. Among the midfielders, except David Silva none can be considered as prolific scorers. The lack of goal scoring threat was painfully apparent as Spain did very little with their lion’s share of possession. Del Bosque was spot on with his substitutions. Jesus Navas, in particular had a splendid game. Two of Spain’s best chances came in the second half when Xabi hit a piledriver against the post and Jesus Navas skipped past the Swiss centre-back but was checked in time by Ziegler. Another curious mistake of Spain was not setting Xabi up for his trademark long rangers. It was Iniesta who took long rangers for most of the time. The only chance Xabi had, he hit the post.
While North Korea relied on their defensive shape against Brazil, Switzerland relied on man to man marking. One difference was, the Koreans tried to keep it clean but the Swiss were very physical and never stopped short of going into a cluttering tackle. Silva and Iniesta offer the mobility for Spain. While, Silva was having an off day, Iniesta was singled out for some “special” treatment. He was fouled umpteen number of times and had to be taken off after a good but dangerous tackle from Lichsteiner (good game from the Lazio wingback). Spain conceded a very poor goal in which Casillas’s timing of a tackle on the striker, was questionable. The Spanish defence was caught napping by Derdiyok’s run. Left back Capdevilla looks a possible Achilles’ heel. Del Bosque should field a more offensive minded team against one of the tournament minnows. Spain cannot afford anymore slipups.
Honduras didn’t have a particularly positive start. They tried to defend in depth against the Chilean onslaught, but were frequently stretched in the flanks. After conceding the goal, they tried to attack in the 2nd half and looked much better going forward. Gerogie Welcome, who replaced veteran striker Carlos Pavon looked lively. Centre-back Maynor Figueroa had a good game and was responsible for keeping the scoreline down. He would look to repeat the same authorative performance against one of the best attacks in the world. Goal-keeper Noel Valladares looked calm and reliable and was unlucky to let in Chile’s goal. Honduras might start off with a 4-5-1 and Del Bosque might start with Torres and Villa upfront from the start.
World Cup Head to Head Record:
Honduras 1-1 Spain (1982 First Round)
World Cup Win-Loss Stats:
Honduras: Played 4 Won 0 Lost 2 Drawn 2
Spain: Played 50 Won 22 Lost 16 Drawn 12
Other key facts:
1) The last time Spain lost their opening game, they were knocked out in first round in ’98.
2) European Champions have struggled in subsequent world cup. Denmark & Greece failed to qualify in ’94 & ’06 respectively. France was knocked out in round 1 in 2002 world cup.
3) Spain has never lost to a Concacaf team in world cup.
Player to watch out for:Xavi (Spain)
Xavi had an ordinary game against the Swiss. He should flourish against a less physical team. Expect some of his trademark through-balls in this game.