Posted by: mdegeorge | May 26, 2010

Friendly recaps, May 24-25

Australia 2, New Zealand 1

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The Socceroos, missing six regulars, struggled in Melbourne against New Zealand, but substitute Brett Holman’s stoppage time goal meant they still went home with a win.

The Kiwis had the better of play in the first half, with Christopher Killen finding the back of the net in the 16th minute. Australian goalkeeper Adam Federici has a somewhat rough go in the first half, and the halftime introduction of Brad Jones and four others (at the expense of expected starters like Tim Cahill, Marc Bresciano, and Vincent Grella, and Craig Moore) steadied the ship. Dario Vidosic made his bid to make the plane to South Africa, scoring in the 57th minute on a set up from Jason Culina.

The Aussies had some disciplinary issues, being booked four times, including a challenge by Grella that would have probably warranted red in a competitive match. That certainly has to be cause for concern for manager Pim Verbeek, as is getting his injured players back as soon as possible to restore some rhythm to this squad.

The late concession by New Zealand has to put a damper on an otherwise performance, but they did dominate the run of play and should have had a couple goals in the first half were it not for the woodwork denying Killen again.

South Korea 2, Japan 0

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Japan did little to leave the country with confidence in their World Cup prospects with a woeful defeat at the hands of their rivals in Saitama.

Some shaky defending by the Blue Samurai allowed Park Ji-Sung and his shorn locks (bye-bye Beatles look) to slip through a host of would-be tacklers and fire past Seigo Narazaki. Narazaki then committed a foul in the area in stoppage time, and Chu-Young Park converted from the penalty spot.

Things are looking gloomy for the Japanese, with reports that manager Takeshi Okada asked the head of the Japanese Football Federation whether or not he should step down prior to the Finals. The defense looked shaky at times and the offense almost non-existent, leaving very little to hang their hat on ahead of the trip to South Africa.

England 3, Mexico 1

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The absence of the Chelsea contingent for Fabio Capello didn’t make much difference for the Three Lions, who dispatched fellow World Cup finalists Mexico, 3-1.

It wasn’t a wholly positive night for Capello’s men, with some fairly obvious holes in the back four. Leighton Baines and Ledley King were unconvincing and susceptible to the speed of Mexico’s wingers, despite the latter’s goal. El Tri had the better of play in the first half and was it not for a strong half by Robert Green in goal, the result could have been much different. Jamie Carragher settled the defense when inserted at halftime, giving Joe Hart an easier go—though much of that effect may be attributable to Glen Johnson’s deflating wonder strike just after the interval.

Michael Carrick was ineffective in midfield and may find himself on the bench even if Gareth Barry is healthy enough to travel to South Africa. James Milner showed great energy, and even Tom Huddlestone has the opportunity to supplant Carrick in the pecking order. I’m not sure of Milner’s ability to play the stay-at-home defensive ability when paired with Frank Lampard, but the pair does have potential if they can develop some chemistry.

Wayne Rooney was creative and looked pretty healthy—though I wouldn’t expect to see him for more than 45 more minutes prior to the World Cup opener. Peter Crouch, as he always seems to be in an England jersey, was a constant menace in front of goal. Aaron Lennon looked more dangerous than the usual wide drifting of Theo Walcott, and Jermain Defoe was active without posing much of a threat to the Mexican defense.

Javier Aguirre’s men had the best chances in the first and should have had two or three goals. They are a quick team that is great on the counter attack, and need to work to improve the chemistry and that awareness of where others are in such situations.

Rafa Marquez is underutilized in the midfield, but with the lack of other options, he can help establish this as a counter attacking team and be a box-to-box guy who’s also good in the air to finish in the final third. The finishing ability is still a little suspect. Franco was able to put his chance away, but with all the running, width, and motion that is so integral to their game, there are a lot of demands put on the forwards. Franco is the closest they have to an out-and-out finisher (Giovanni dos Santos, Carlos Vela, and Alberto Medina are really attacking midfielder, and Cuauhtemoc Blanco plays like an aged trequartista.)

Portugal 0, Cape Verde 0

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Monday’s shocker came from Covilha, were the FIFA third-ranked team in the world was held to a frustrating and downright embarrassing draw by the 117th ranked team in the world (yet another strike against FIFA’s rankings system, but that’s another article). The Portuguese football federation is just fortunate they picked a small venue to minimize the amount of boos their team heard.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s performance was reminiscent of some of his earliest outings with Manchester United: lots of moves to get nowhere. He, Nani, and a host of others provided a lot of movement, but little in the way of actual threats on the goal tended by Fock (not a typo, people).

The match revealed a startling lack of quality in the final third of the pitch and a lack of depth in the striking corps that could be this team’s downfall. Liedson is adequate up front, but he’s another runner for a team that needs a target man who’s strong in the air. Hugo Almedia is better adapted for that role, but hardly the only solution. With the tremendous width this team has and the quality of service into the box (though not in this instance for long stretches) someone like Peter Crouch would easily score a goal a game.

This team may have some of the best wing play in the world, but someone has to step up in the midfield and provide a support striker option. One of the central midfielders has to step up and be a legitimate threat in the channels. Whether it’s Deco, Pedro Mendes, Miguel Veloso (who was dreadful against Cape Verde) or Raul Miereles, they have to make themselves available to fill the gaps stretched by the team’s width. This team doesn’t have a Pauleta on it, but it does have players who can step up like Luis Figo and Rui Costa did for years on days when Ronaldo can’t do it all by himself.

South Africa 1, Bulgaria 1

The hosts performed well against a formidable European opponent, albeit one not at full strength. Bafana Bafana jumped out to an early lead through Siyabonga Sangweni, but was pegged back just 11 minutes later by Valeri Bojinov.

South Africa had the lion’s share of chances in the first half, but could capitalize on just the one. It also may a cause for concern that the introduction of Aaron Mokoena, the team captain and a starter, at halftime slowed down their progress going forward.

Nigeria 0, Saudi Arabia 0

Cameroon 0, Georgia 0

Goals were hard to come by for both African squads against mid-level opponents in their tune-up matches in Austria.

The Nigerians threw everything a host of striking options at the Saudis with seven different strikers seeing time on the pitch and the team playing the second half with four strikers on the pitch. Yakubu and Peter Odemwingie were held out, as was midfielder Jon Obi Mikel.

A Samuel Eto’o-less Cameroon side was unable to get on the scoresheet against Georgia. Tactically, Geremi played in the midfield while Arsenal’s Alexandre Song was deployed in the center of defense.

Argentina 5, Canada 0

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There isn’t much to add to the scoreline, except to say that it was done with Lionel Messi sitting on the bench. But since there has to be come criticism/analysis of aspects other than Diego Maradona’s homeless man’s beard and his nauseating embraces for every player substituted, here goes.

Five goals against anyone is impressive, and they did dominate possession by a margin that I would imagine hovered about a 75/25 split. But none of their goals resulted directly from a sustained buildup of pressure. The first goal game off a free kick (albeit one that resulted from a long possession in the attacking third), two came off egregious defending errors, and two were in the counter attack.

The other criticism is in the overall shape of the team. Three defenders, plus Jonas Gutierrez playing as a winger somewhere between midfield and defense, may work against a team like Canada. And if there’s a group for Argentina to survive with just three defenders, it’s Group B with its myriad offensively-challenged clubs. I know Javier Mascherano is the quintessential stay-at-home midfielder, and it probably makes sense to throw the extra man into the attack if three plus Mascherano can hold down the fort. But I’m skeptical of how it will work against teams that can possess the ball and patiently wear down the Albiceleste defense.

Ireland 2, Paraguay 1

Finalists Paraguay suffered a set back in Ireland thanks to first half goals by Kevin Doyle and Liam Lawrence for an Irish team trying to prove something to itself.

It may be early to complain about how much Salvador Cabanas is missed for Paraguay, but with Roque Santa Cruz out of form (and responsible for a miscue that led to an Ireland goal), goals could be at a premium. Lucas Berrios did step up to peg one back in the second half, but seven shots—only two of which were on goal—with a 2-to-1 possession advantage is not enough for the Albirroja.

Greece 2, North Korea 2

Two teams known for defensive proficiency put forth a surprisingly entertaining match in Austria. Kostas Katsouranis opened the scoring in the second minute before being answered by Jong Tae-Se 20 minutes later. Angelos Charisteas put the Greeks ahead again just after halftime, but they were again pegged back by Tae-Se after just three minutes on a beautiful solo effort.

Otto Rehhagel’s men had a different posture than expected, with a long more focus on the attack. Part of that may have been the Korean’s desire to sit back and absorb pressure, but it is a welcome sight for Greeks fans wanting more attractive soccer. Time will tell whether this is a sustainable approach for them or one that was tailored to their opponents.

The strikers, Charisteas and Theofanis Gekas, were active and looked a constant threat. The backline, surprisingly enough, looked a little shaky and the second goal by Tae-Se, albeit from an excellent individual effort, could have been prevented.

The Koreans appear more comfortable with a prevention-first, counter-attacking style. If they can get someone like Tae-Se to convert as efficiently as he has—14 goals in 21 internationals—then it may be a winning approach.


  1. […] themselves available to fill the gaps stretched by the team’s width. … Original post: Friendly recaps, May 24-25 « The Sports Doctor Share and […]

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