Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Thoughts from Italy v. Paraguay, Other Notes and a Preview

Coming into Focus
A fan takes in Netherlands v. Denmark in Johannesburg

--Gotta love the Italians making a fashion statement.  The Azzurri wore their traditional blue jerseys now sponsored by Puma, but had their names in all lower case letters in an unusual script.

--Paraguay wasn't going to be phased playing the defending champions.  Having to qualify in places like Buenos Aires, La Paz, Recife and Lima makes a neutral site game in Cape Town relatively straightforward, even in the pouring rain on the biggest stage.

--The refereeing thus far has been excellent.  From getting the offsides call right in the opening match to handing out cards judiciously, it has been consistent and fair.  There has also been much less flopping and diving than in previous years.  If one team could be expected to continue with the theatrics, it was the Italians.  It wasn't outrageous, but they didn't disappoint.

--It's unclear the effect of the new Adidas ball to this point.  Three very bad goals have been conceded, by England, Algeria and Paraguay, but it is hard to pin any of those directly on the ball.  Most notable is that players appear to be having trouble judging the bounce of the ball when receiving long balls.  It seems to be consistently higher than players expect.

--Tomorrow's matches in Group G, El Groupo de la Muerte, should offer some of the most entertaining soccer thus far.  Ivory Coast and Portugal both assume they are playing for their ticket into the final sixteen.  A win by either side would be huge.  Didier Drogba and his broken elbow will be a game time decision for Cote d'Ivoire and Ronaldo's performance, after a series of substandard matches for the national team in qualifying, will be a referendum on his world class status and will go a long way in determining Portugal's fate.  I like the Elephants in this one.

--The other Group of Death fixture pits Brazil v. North Korea.  Brazil is always entertaining, but with Dunga as manager there is concern that they won't play the beautiful game as beautifully as their fans demand.  North Korea offers intrigue if nothing else.  The matches won't be shown back home for fear of epic failure, but it is worth noting that in their only other World Cup appearance in 1966 they knocked out the Italians.  They have fared well in youth internationals in recent years so they should be worth watching.  A stingy defensive style is their calling card this time around so the matchup with Brazil will put them right to the test.

--Stories like this make you wonder who minds the store in Pyongyang.  Gotta hope, at least a little, that these guys put on a respectable showing.  For their own sake.

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