Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Amateur Hour (and a Half)

In which I continue my ill-advised mouthing off about the 2006 World Cup, despite knowing next to nothing about The Beautiful Game.

After watching (South) Korea and Togo struggle through 90 minutes of football last night, I find myself a little less critical of Japan's performance against Australia. To put it mildly, both teams sucked. For the first 25 minutes of play, I don't think either side put together more than three passes in a row, and no-one could manage to hold onto the ball when challenged. I have not seen Togo before, so I did not know what to expect from them, but the Korean side was a far cry from the confident team that took the world by storm in 2002. True, they were in front of a home crowd then, but I think the real difference was Guus Hiddink's presence on the sidelines. I dislike the man (he seems arrogant to me, I dunno), but I think he is one of the greatest coaches in recent history.

The Koreans did not show exceptional pace, nor ball-handling skills, nor teamwork. And they took more dives than Jacques Cousteau. I hate few things in football more than a dive, and even more frustrating was the fact that the official left his yellow card in his pocket, even when he saw a dive and failed to award a foul to Korea. And one of the times he did produce the yellow card was to show it to Jean-Paul Abalo in the 53rd minute to punish Togo's captain for a "tackle" which the replay showed pretty clearly to have made no contact with the Korean player. Not that you would know that from the way the Korean theatrically launched himself pitchward, rolling around and clutching his ankle in "pain". This was Abalo's second yellow card, which to you non-football-savvy readers means that a red card was immediately shown, and Abalo was ejected from the match in the 53rd minute, leaving Togo with 10 men to face Korea's full complement of 11. If that is not adding insult to injury, I don't know what is.

Despite the sloppy demonstration, Togo did manage to feed a good long ball to forward Mohamed Kader, who outran his marker and then beat the keeper from 16 metres with a well-placed shot. This took place in the 31st minute, giving Togo a 1-0 lead that they managed to hang onto for the rest of the first half and nearly 10 minutes of the second, before conceding a free kick just outside their goal area in the 54th minute. Chun Soo Lee took the spot kick and curved the ball neatly up over the wall and just past the lunging keeper and into the back of the net to equalise. The spot kick was well-taken, but I am pretty sure that a real goalkeeper could have kept it out. At least the foul was legitimate, and not another lovely display of thesbian skill by the Koreans.

The goal that put Korea ahead, however, was an excellent shot, from none other that 2002 Korea-Japan hero Jung Hwan Ahn. It came in the 72nd minute, from a couple of metres outside of the area, and was struck with pace and precision, leaving Togo's keeper with little option other than to watch it into the goal.

Korea deserved the win, but the aggregate level of skill on display was on par with a kickabout in the park, not a World Cup match. Too bad Japan did not find themselves in Group G, where they would have steamrolled the bush-league competition offered by these two teams.

Speaking of which, in my previous entry, I hope I did not come across as dismissive of Australia's performance. Australia played extremely well, and certainly deserved the win. I was just frustrated that Japan, which actually played reasonably well for at least 80 minutes of the match, could not generate any real offence, despite having enough raw talent on their team to make a real impact in the tournament.

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