How often have we seen crucial games being decided by a captivating battle between two players? Many, many times.
Take the example of the recent Champions’ League semi-final between Internazionale and Barcelona. Javier Zanetti’s man-marking on Lionel Messi had a telling impact on the match. In the same vein, let us go through some of the potentially decisive clashes in the World Cup’10 group stage matches.
10. Greek pragmatism vs Argentine flair
Greece’s fairytale rise in Euro 2004 was helped by a strong and physical defense. They are not much different this time around; with four ‘no-nonsense’, huge defenders, led by Liverpool’s Kyrgiakos, forming the defensive line-up. The war-hardened Greek players will come up against the skillful, young upstarts of Argentina like Di Maria, Messi, Higuain.
A ‘clash of styles’ in every sense. Will Argentina be able to replicate the 4-0 score line from the same fixture in the 1994 world cup?
Can the Greeks stop the little master?
9. French central defense vs Suarez-Forlan
The French central defense is suspect against pace. Gallas’ form was indifferent in Arsenal and Domenech’s persistence of not picking an in-form Mexes further weakened the defense. Their task will be cut out against two of the most prolific strikers in Europe.
Last season’s golden boot winner, Diego Forlan continued his rich form this season, scoring 27 goals in all tournaments for his club, Atletico Madrid. He practically won them the Europa League on his own. Hard to believe but Saurez scored even more, hitting 33 goals for Dutch club Ajax.
The partnership of a 23-year old Suarez & veteran Forlan will determine whether Uruguay manage to make an impression in this world cup or not.
8. Gerrard–Lampard vs Donovan–Dempsey
USA’s 1-0 win over England in the 1950 world cup remains one of the biggest WC upsets of all time. The Americans would love to repeat it sixty years later. In their group game, the match maybe decided by who takes control of the midfield.
Four English league-based players will be on the forefront. Fabio Capello looks to have finally solved the mystery of ‘How to play Lampard & Gerrard together’. While Lampard’s form was ominous last season, Gerrard’s was patchy. Both Donovan & Dempsey excelled in Everton & Fulham respectively. Dempsey got injured in mid-season but came back strongly. Donovan’s strong performance on-loan at Everton turned the club’s campaign around.
Don’t go by the names, because the two lesser known Americans can outdo the world’s best on their day. Just ask Spain.
7. Vicente del Bosque vs Ottmar Hitzfeld
Remember the early 2000’s when Real Madrid & Bayern Munich were the two best teams in Europe? With 4 European titles between them at club-level, these two coaches are the best in the business. They first met in the second Group Stage of Champions League 1999-00. An unstoppable Bayern side won 2-4 & 4-1. Real had their revenge in the semi-finals, though, winning 3-2 on aggregate & would go on to win the title.
Bayern and Hitzfield returned the favour the very next season! They beat Real 3-1 in the semi-finals en route to their fourth European title. The tussle continued in UCL 2001-02 quarter-finals; Real winning the tie 3-2 on aggregate and going on to win the title. That was the last of the clashes. Both coaches had star-studded line-ups & served up memorable games.
Del Bosque still has a star-studded Spanish side but Hitzfeld leads an unspectacular but efficient Swiss team. The battle lines have been redrawn.
6. Kjaer–Agger vs the Dutch Attack
The Danish dynamites have often served up classic world cup matches. Mixing power football with skills, Denmark has perpetually been a tough team to break down. In the qualifiers, they topped a tricky group ahead of Portugal & Sweden, letting in just 5 goals.
The defensive duo of Kjaer – Agger can take full credit for it. While Kjaer is one of the highest rated centre-backs in Europe right now, Agger is coming off a solid season with Liverpool. They would need to be on their toes to stop the rampaging Dutch quartet of Robben, Sneijder, Van Persie and Van Der Vaart.
Each of these four amazingly skilled players is in-form. Their form gives the Oranje hope to reach their first world cup final since 1978, unless the Danish have other things planned for them.
5. Fabio Capello vs English media
Here’s the sequence – The World Cup arrives, the English media touts England as champion, England fails and the media decide to pick a scapegoat to cover their embarrassment. Popular choices – referee, coach or a random player.
This year England does have a realistic chance. But what if they slip up? Will Don Fabio’s tactics be dragged across the mud? Capello is a hard customer & don’t expect him to give-in like ‘soft’ Sven. This surely will be an exciting off-field battle.
4. Hamsik vs Buffon-Chiellini-Cannavaro
Looks kind of surprising, doesn’t it? Two experienced world cup-winning legends & a highly rated centre-back against a rookie? Hang on! Three of the above-mentioned players played for Juventus against Hamsik’s Napoli. The result was that Napoli won both ties, and Hamsik was sensational in both games.
In the first game, an in-form Juve was leading 2-0 before Hamsik ran riot in the last 30 minutes, scoring two goals, as Napoli won 2-3. Buffon missed the away leg in Naples, but the centre-backs were still present. Hamsik was again all over the place. He assisted a goal, scored one & also missed a penalty.
The Slovakian starlet would like to relive that form when the two sides go head to head in group stages. And who would bet against him?
3. Lucio–Luisao vs Drogba–Gervinho/Kalou
In the 1980s, Brazil were often derided for their lack of good defenders. Adaptable as they are, they have kept churning out one quality defender after another in last ten years. Leading one of the strongest defenses in the world, is the veteran Lucio. He was immense for Inter this season, keeping the best attacks at bay.
Benfica centre-back Luisao will be assisting him. He is coming off a title winning season for Benfica & has formed a stable pairing with the former Bayern man, recently. In a classic case of ‘an immovable object meeting an unstoppable force’, they face off against the top scorer in England, Didier Drobga.
Lucio v Drogba: a mouth-watering prospect!
Drogba would love to avenge Lucio for his tight marking in the Champions League match. His partners in crime, the young Gervinho or Kalou can be trouble should the defenders give too much attention to the veteran. This game will be a crucial clash for both teams & none can afford a slip up.
2. Lahm-Badstuber vs Krasic-Jovanovic
Ever since bursting on the scene in 2006, Lahm has consistently been one of the best full backs in the game. A highly versatile player, he can play on either flank with ease. Holger Badstuber played almost every game in Bayern’s double winning season & excelled as an attacking left-back. But this pair’s job won’t be easy in the group game against Serbia.
They will square off against one of the most skillful wingers in Europe. Milos Krasic, the star-man for CSKA Moscow was brilliant in the Champions’ League, scoring 5 goals. He has been linked with a host of big name clubs this season. He will be assisted on the left wing by Milan Jovanovic, another standout player in this year’s UCL. The 29-year olds performance for Standard Liege earned him a move to English giants Liverpool.
Whatever the result of this game, the battle between four in-form players, near the touch-lines, will be a treat for football fans.
1. Nani–Ronaldo vs Bastos–Maicon
Nani was in all sorts of trouble this season. He was injured for a few games & was subsequently benched for his alleged differences with Sir Alex. But boy, did he come back after a three-month rest! Since returning, he scored 7 goals & notched up 14 assists. He was undoubtedly their best player for United after Wayne Rooney.
The in-form Man Utd player will be assisted by a former Red Devil on the right wing. Cristiano Ronaldo, the most expensive footballer on the planet, showed no signs of slowing down in Madrid piling goals & assists. Madrid based AS was prompted to call him “god” after a typical performance. So, how do you stop such rampant wingers?
Try a treble-winning right back in Douglas Maicon. Arguably Inter’s most important player in the last two seasons, Maicon is the perfect balance between attack & defense. And he can score some scorching goals too, like the volley against Juventus.
Michel Bastos will have a tough task on the other flank to keep out Ronaldo. His form took an upswing for Lyon in second half of the season. He or any other Brazilian left back would have to maintain that form, if they are to shackle the world’s best player.
Wingers, quite literally at times!
Apart from the above clashes, there are certain ‘clashes we would rather not see‘:
Fan vs Fan: World Cup’02 was tension free. There were some clashes in Germany, but we would not want a mini-war like the one between English & Tunisian fans in the 1998 world cup.
Dutch player vs Dutch player: Talented, skilled, yet their intra-squad tensions have held back the Dutch in many campaigns before.