Paraguay 2-0 Slovakia
Italy 1-1 New Zealand
Brazil 3-1 Ivory Coast
Today was an absolute disgrace for international football.
Let's start today's report with the same storyline we began with yesterday; the story of the French national team and the incredible meltdown happening in their camp. After a player meeting, French team Captain Patrice Evra, one of the finest left backs in the world, told coach Raymond Domenech that team would refuse to practice today in protest of the dismissal of striker, Nicolas Anelka, who had screamed an expletive at the coach at halftime of Friday's 2-0 loss to Mexico. Anelka was subbed during the game and sent home to France afterward, kicked off the team. Anelka, who is sometimes known as The Incredible Sulk, seems to have had his finger on the pulse of the French team and Raymond Domenech has now lost complete control of the entire enterprise; Evra's message was greeted with hostility by France strength and conditioning coach Robert Duverne, who confronted the player on the training pitch:
Duverne resigned from the team in the hours after this incident and his resignation was followed by that of national team director, Jean-Louis Valentin, who resigned in disgust, outraged by the player's behavior. The players left the ground and met with the manager, who then read a statement from the players aloud to the media:
"If we regret the incident which occurred at half-time of the match between France and Mexico, we regret even more the leak of an event which should have remained within the group and which is quite common in a high-level team. At the request of the squad the player in question attempted to have dialogue but his approach was ignored. For its part the French Football Federation has at no time tried to protect the squad. It has made a decision without consulting all the players, on the basis of the facts reported by the press. Accordingly, and to mark the opposition to those at the highest level of French football, all the players decided not to train today. Out of respect for the public who came to attend training, we decided to go to meet the fans who, by their presence, showed their full support. For our part we are aware of our responsibilities as those wearing the colors of our country; also for those we have towards our fans and countless children who keep Les Bleus as role models. We forget none of our duties. We will do everything individually and also in a collective spirit to ensure that France regains its honor with a positive performance on Tuesday."
Valentin was unequivocal in his outrage:
"Ask the players, they do not want to involve themselves any more. It's unacceptable. They don't want to train. It's a scandal for the French, it's a scandal for the federation and the French team. It is a shame. As for me, it's over. I'm leaving the federation. I'm sickened and disgusted. Under these conditions I've decided to return to Paris and to resign."
Wow. France is in free fall and yet, amazingly, could still qualify if they beat South Africa by enough goals to cover Mexico's two goal advantage in differential, which would recede with a loss to Uruguay; France probably need three or four goals to make up the difference and with Anelka gone and the team shattering into a thousand pieces, I just can't see it happening. Still, what a story this is and what a story it could be if that drama were to unfold in the early matches on Tuesday.
On the pitch, the day opened with Paraguay dismantling Slovakia 2-0; Paraguay have come to play and they have an efficient, disciplined style of play that is really a joy to watch. This is one of the better "teams" in the tournament and while the side may be bereft of many big name players, their collective effort is something to behold. Paraguay simply presses the ball in all areas of the pitch, similar to a full court press in basketball, trapping opponents on the wings with two or three players around the ball at all times. While a technically proficient team might be able to pry them open (Paraguay do look vulnerable on set pieces for sure) here or there, Paraguay are in full damage limitation mode, incredibly compact in their approach and always pressing the ball forward to spring an attack. Every World Cup you watch one team and sort of adopt them, and based on their grit and determination and pure quality in their approach, it is Paraguay for me. I am loving watching them.
Today was no exception; Unable to get the ball to their star players in any kind of forward position, Slovakia did not have a shot on goal until Robert Vittek blasted a shot in injury time of the second half, one which Paraguayan goalkeeper Justo Villar pushed over the bar. Prior to that single moment, Paraguay were dominant, controlling the ball and instantly wiping out Slovakian attacks. The Paraguayan goals were both the result of small mistakes by Slovakia; after a sloppy throw in and a missed clearance by Slovakia, Paraguay seized on the ball and Lucas Barrios nutmegged a Slovakian defender to put the ball on the foot of Enrique Vera, who slid onto the ball with the outside of his boot and curled it inside the left post for a 1-0 lead. Late in the game, a set piece saw the ball come to Cristian Riveros, who took a small touch past a half-hearted defense and blasted the ball into the back of the next from 19 yards out; 2-0 and, once Villar made his save, game over. Slovakia have a lot to do now to stay in the competition and Paraguay just need a draw with New Zealand to guarantee a place in the knockout phase.
There Is No "I" In Paraguay: Team Power! (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
The second match of the day was one of the best matches of the entire Tournament so far, a gritty and determined 1-1 draw between New Zealand and Italy. Yes, you read that correctly; New Zealand, a tiny football nation who had never had a World Cup result until their goal at the death against Slovakia earlier in the Tournament, played Italy to a 1-1 draw. As sour and disappointing as England’s 0-0 with Algeria was the other night, this match never looked back from an early goal from New Zealand’s Shane Smeltz, who put himself in a perfect position in front of goal from a free kick (which seemed to me to have deflected off of an Italian defender, playing an otherwise offside Smeltz onside) and scored in the 7th minute, giving New Zealand a shocking 1-0 lead over the defending World Champions. From that moment on, New Zealand held on for dear life, literally; Tommy Smith was booked for holding Daniele DeRossi in the box and Italy were awarded a penalty, which Vincenzo Iaquinta coverted with precision. For me, that was a tough call on Smith who did have a handful of jersey and released it just in time for DeRossi to remember where he comes from and dive in the box. Let me put it this way; it was a foul for grabbing the jersey, but DeRossi turned it into a penalty kick by making a meal of it. I have no idea why refs keep buying what the Italians are selling, but they do; one high elbow to the jaw of Giancarlo Zambrotta saw the defender legitimately clutch his face, but after that, there were more hands going to faces than you'd see at a Home Alone retrospective.
Who Shot Giorgio Chiellini? (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
How are Italian fans not embarrassed by the simulation? It only made me pull harder for the All Whites, who battled relentlessly and got in front of every shot, cross and pass to deny the Italians a winner until, in a crazy counterattack in the 83rd minute, Kiwi striker Chris Wood dragged a shot just wide of the post. If he had hit that shot, bedlam would have ensued; instead, New Zealand walk out of this match with a proud draw. Italy, notoriously slow starters in World Cups (remember their 1-1 draw with a nine-man USA in the second game of the Group phase in 2006? Yeah, Italy went on to win the tournament, so, you know, first things first), will be facing a lot of questions back in the home country about how and why they were unable to break down New Zealand, but hopefully cooler heads will prevail. I still see Italy beating Slovakia and with Paraguay perhaps a bridge too far for New Zealand (although you never know!), I see Italy coming in second in Group F, which could set up a crazy match between The Netherlands and Italy in the Round of 16. Very interested to see how this Group finishes. Everyone save Slovakia are in with a shout; should be a great day of football on Thursday when everything is decided in Group F.
Smeltz Scores An Historic Goal For New Zealand (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
If the Italians were guilty of diving, Kader Keita will enter into the rarefied air of infamy for his simulation against Kaka in Ivory Coast's 3-1 loss to Brazil today. Kaka, Brazil's playmaking superstar, was on a yellow for a shove on the touchline in the match's final ten minutes when, only moments later, Keita ran into Kaka and instantly fell to the ground, clutching his face and pretending to have been hit. The officials missed it, but the players all reacted and when the dust settled, Kaka was shown a second yellow and a subsequent red card and will be forced to miss the next match for Brazil. That should be good news for Portugal; Brazil have already qualified and without Kaka in the lineup, the Portuguese have a better chance of getting a crucial result against Brazil. Nice job, Keita. You've helped your opponent. Well done.
Keita Fakes It (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Keita's act was only one of many awful simulations by both Brazil (Luis Fabiano, I'm looking at you) and Ivory Coast, and it sent the game to a chippy conclusion, a conclusion on worsened by Brazilian manager Dunga's incessant pleas for cards against Ivorian players and his histrionics on the touchline, which did nothing but fan the flames of the rising tensions on the field. This isn't the first time Brazil have been involved in a simulation controversy; In the 2002 World Cup, Brazilian forward Rivaldo faked a facial injury in one of the worst simulations ever, a moment that truly stained the player's career and for which he will be remembered above all else. Hakan Unkal kicked the ball over to Rivaldo, who was preparing to take a corner. The ball hit Rivaldo in the leg and he clutched his face and fell over; the ref sent Unkal off.
Rivaldo Lives In Infamy
Keita was no better today and his actions put a stain on an otherwise great performance by Brazil, who dominated the scoreline through a Luis Fabiano double and a great Elano run that ended in a tidy finish in front of goal. Kaka was pulling the strings on the opener, when Fabiano flicked a nifty back heel to Kaka, who slid a simple ball about three feet through the outstretched legs of Kolo Toure and onto the feet of Fabiano, who walked in and blasted the ball into the roof of the net from a tight angle. After the half, the Ivory Coast challenged a few times, with Didier Drogba pushing a header wide of the far post, before Fabiano got on the end of a long clearance, used both arms to control the ball in the air, and scored; the goal should have been waved off for handball, but the ref clearly missed the call, even joking with Fabiano that he thought the ball seemed to hit the players arm. Hmmm. A few minutes later, Kaka found himself chasing down a ball on the left of the goal only to slot the ball to Elano, who cut inside of his marker and tapped in for 3-0. Didier Drogba pegged one pack with a perfectly timed run into the box, where he received a gorgeously weighted ball from Yaya Touré, which Drogba calmly poked with his head into the far corner. With the scoring settled, it was left up to some highly theatrical performances from Dunga, Keita and Fabiano to provide the sparks in the dying minutes.
The only other thought I have in this game is for Elano, who took a nasty challenge to his shin in the second half; watching that challenge in slow motion, every sinew of Elano's leg snapping against the studs of his opponent, was a scary thing, a reminder of the real physicality of this game and how dangerous it can be. That only makes all of the faking and diving that much worse for me; if the player's don't have a healthy respect for the true danger of injury, how can the protect one another and preserve the integrity of the game? If anything, FIFA should be looking at post match bookings for clear simulation, with suspensions and real penalties for players who bring shame to the game. There was a lot of that shit out there today. I hope that's the last we see of it, but you know the worst is to come when the stakes are at their highest.
Up Next: Day Eleven-- Can Spain Get Back On Track?