This is a well-deserved result and gives me a great deal of schadenfreudish pleasure... especially since the players' post hoc rationalization is that they refused to practice to support Nicolas Anelka, a notoriously ill-tempered player who was sent home allegedly for telling incompetent coach Domenech to "go f*ck himself" at halftime of the last match. (In reality, Anelka never should have been picked for this team: He's not a team player, but a poacher, and France simply doesn't have the players to support a poacher-striker approach. Chelsea does, which is why Anelka was effective last season in the Premier league... not to mention that little privilege of being able to pick up scraps from Didier Drogba.)
On to the on-field fireworks... or lack thereof.
Paraguay 2:0 Slovakia I saw only about half of this match due to the necessity of feeding the remora on Sunday morning, so no grades... and I think both Slovakia and the officials should be glad of that. Paraguay wasn't exactly clinical, but from what I saw did more than enough to deserve a two-goal victory. Unfortunately, the referee was simply not in control of the match by the end, and it could very well have resulted in one or more injuries; it was less rough than silly.
New Zealand 1:1 Italy Italy's trademark slow start at the World Cup (except for 2006... when the US was the only team to spoil a 100% record) made the first seventy minutes of this match a chore. This time, it's demonstrating how dependent Italy is on Andrea Pirlo... and showing any team that meets Italy in the knockout rounds (presuming Italy makes the knockout rounds) that marking Pirlo out of the game will probably mark Italy out of the game. For this one, though, the Italians seemed to have few ideas and nobody willing to take a risk and do the unexpected... and that's what it ordinarily takes to beat a team that is throwing ten men behind the ball. A soft (but valid) penalty for Italy was balanced by an arguably offside goal for New Zealand. New Zealand "won" this match mentally, particularly its goalkeeper (who should be expecting a change of address this summer and a hefty paycheck). The referee maintained control, but neither did the teams really challenge him. B/B-/B
So that leaves Group F looking like this, with one match remaining for each team:
which leaves all four teams alive, somewhat similar to Group C. Here's how it will work:
- Paraguay advances with any combination of results except losing to New Zealand plus Slovakia defeating Italy and making up a four-goal goal difference deficit. If that sounds familiar, it should: It is not quite as severe as what it took the US to advance to the knockout rounds at last summer's Confederations Cup (overturned a five-goal deficit).
- Italy and New Zealand advance by winning their respective matches, regardless of the outcome in the other match.
- If both matches end in draws, we're in for the tiebreakers again, as Italy and New Zealand are level on head-to-head, goal differential, and goals scored heading into that last match. They are, at the moment, down to a coin flip... something that FIFA should abolish, instead giving the tiebreaker advantage to the team with the lower pre-tournament FIFA ranking.1
Now on to the first of Group G's second matches.
Brazil 3:1 Ivory Coast Brazil played poorly with a few moments of sparkle (and one goal that should have been ruled out for two handballs by the same player), but the Ivory Coast was trying to play street ball and failed. That said, those are the highlights. The officiating was doing fine until that second goal, and then things really fell apart. For one thing, Brazilian coach Dunga should have been cautioned several minutes before the first yellow on Kaka (let alone the second one, which was probably not a proper caution... and should also have resulted in a caution to Kaïta for diving and exaggeration). For another, the referee had missed so much off the ball that he had little credibility remaining with the players. B-/C-/C-
Groups G and H will both finish their second rounds tomorrow. Then the third matches will begin, and (unlike 1982) the final matches in each group will start simultaneously. There will thus be four matches each day starting Tuesday: Two kicking off at an unreasonably early hour (CDT), and two kicking off in early afternoon (CDT). Thank Cthulhu for picture-in-picture!
- Something needs to be done about the unrelenting Eurocentricity of FIFA's governance system and rankings. They're relics of what the game looked like a quarter of a century ago: European national teams are not "on average" 12% better than national teams from North and Central America (see the coefficients on page 2 (PDF))... especially after controlling for travel distance/time and the gross historical disparity in home and near-home matches. Really, now: The Faroe Islands are inherently 12% better than Haiti or, more to the point after this morning's match, 15% better than New Zealand? Of course, as long as the real money in club football is so concentrated in Europe, this isn't going to happen... just as there won't be any reforms to the BCS in US college (gridiron) football so long as the money is concentrated where it is.
If this reminds you of the IOC under Avery Brundage and Juan Antonio Samaranch, it should. It's the same damned thing.