National teams took center-stage this week with the two 2014 World cup qualifiers rounds scheduled, the first of which took place this weekend.
Portugal travelled to Russia to play a crucial encounter in group F that could decide who qualifies directly from the group and Giovanni Trapattoni’s men hosted a very efficient German team captained by the returning Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Russia vs Portugal
Aleksandr Kerzhakov’s sixth minute goal was enough to secure all three points for the home team against group rivals Portugal. Roman Shirokov’s perfect through ball found Kerzhakov, who lifted it to the right of the advancing Patricio and into the back of the net.
The goal had woke up the visitor’s and Ronaldo came close to equalizing in the tenth minute. Moutinho’s delightful through ball to Ronaldo beat Kombarov but the burly figure of Berezutski ensured the Real Madrid man could only fire a weak shot at Akinfeev. Portugal kept up the pressure and came even closer in the 14th minute, but Postiga headed the ball over the cross bar from a Bruno Alves shot. Bruno Alves was denied again seconds later when his header was parried away by the excellent Akinfeev. That was the end of the good chances Portugal got for the game. The Russian back four soaked up everything that was thrown at them and the towering figure of Ignashevich kept a tight leash on Rolando who had now swapped places with Postiga to play centrally.
With Portugal controlling 70 % of possession, Capello’s central men Denisov and Shirokov, did well to hold themselves back and help out the back four. The duo slotted perfectly in front of the center backs helping the full backs check the runs of Nani and Postiga as well as interrupting the flow of passes from Moutinho and co. The 4-2-3-1 had literally turned to a 6-2-2. So compact was the Russian backline that, Ronaldo and Nani had to be content with wild shots from outside the box. Nani’s cross to find Postiga towards the end of first half was blocked by a brilliant last ditch effort by Ignashevich.
Capello would have been quite pleased with his defense going into the break. The Portuguese started the second period at the same pace but found it increasingly difficult to penetrate Russia’s air tight defense. Denis Glushakov’s introduction in the 46th minute changed the formation to 4-3-3 with a flat, deep defending central midfield. This ensured Russia had three midfielders to match Portugal’s largely ineffective midfield. Through balls were intercepted and any flowing move was nipped in the bud at the right time.
A sliding Ignashevich intercepted Pereira’s cross that was inches away from Ronaldo two minutes before the hour’s mark. That proved to be last of Portugal’s chances for the match as the Russian defense completely shut shop leaving the visitors frustrated and down. Andrei Yeschenko replaced goal scorer Kerzhakov in the 65th minute that saw Russia finishing the game in a 5-4-1 formation.
It was a well-deserved victory for the hosts and they should be lauded for their spirited and determined defensive display.
Ireland vs Germany
The Irish defensive strategy adopted a completely opposite approach to that of the Russians. The odds were heavily against Trapattoni’s men even before the match started and the bookies weren’t disappointed. Trapattoni adopted a 4-3-3 formation with the three central midfielders, Andrews ,Fahey and McCarthy concentrated in the middle of the park to counter and disrupt Germany’s possession football. But what was quite good in theory did not make up for the lack of skill and talent. Germany and Bayern’s ‘midfield general’ and skipper for the day, Schweinsteiger playing his first game since the Euro’s, settled in quite comfortably to dictate the play.
The Irish midfield trio failed miserably in trying to keep tabs on Ozil, Schweinstiger and Khedira. Their restriction to the middle of park, forced full backs Coleman and Ward to come out of their shells and provide the width for Ireland. This was exactly what the Germans were waiting for and in the 30th minute, a delightful Schweinstiger chip found the galloping Schmelzer whose poor touch fell to Reus and the in-form Dortmund attacker produced Germany’s first goal. Germany’s second was also assisted by a full-back in the form of Boateng on a quick counter. Oezil found the unmarked Boateng on the right, who had enough time to lay the ball onto Reus on the left flank for his second.
Ireland’s failure to close down both Boateng and Reus was quite evident here. O’Dea’s unnecessary foul on Klose made it three for Germany in the 54th minute. 58 minutes on the clock saw Germany’s captain produce a truly wonderful through ball into the box to find Klose. O’Dea and O’Shea’s dreadful day continued when Klose ghosted his way in between them to produce a sublime finish taking him 3 goals short of Gerd Mueller’s record.
Toni Kroos’s introduction piled more misery on the already frail Irish defense. O’Dea’s headed clearance fell to Kroos who produced an 18 yard stunner to make it five. Ireland seemed to shift to a 4-2-2-2 when Shane long was introduced in place of Fahey but that made no difference to the German approach. Ireland’s failure to close down their opposition yet again led to Germany’s sixth. Kroos teased McCarthy twice before unleashing a fierce drive to cap a night of total dominance by Germany and a miserable performance from the Irish defense.
Trapattoni will have a lot of things going on in his mind before his side’s clash with the Faroe Islands on Tuesday. The game against Germany displayed a lack of organization, communication and ownership of responsibility in the Irish defense.