Most and Least Impressive Teams Through Round 1

By Kevin Koczwara and Ryan Fleming

Every team has played a game in the World Cup Finals now. It took almost a week for each team to play a game in their group, but it was well worth the time it took because there have been some great games and only a few stinkers (France and Uruguay for sure). Now it’s time for Ryan and Kevin to look back on the week that was and pick a few teams that stood out to them, for good and bad reasons.

Most Impressive

Kevin: South Africa didn’t get the easiest of draws in the group stage for a host country when they found out they would have to take on European power France, Central American dynamos Mexico and two-time World Cup winners Uruguay (1930 and 1950 respectably). Just about anyone with half a brain was picking them to drop out after the group stage, a first for a host country, and lose their opener against Mexico, also a first for a host country. But the Bafana Bafana had other ideas as they went on to shock the Mexicans with an inspired 1-1 draw. While they may not make it out of the group stage, the South Africans did put on a great show against a very skilled and technical Mexico side.

Siphiwe Tshabalala sent the home crowd into a frenzy when he scored a blistering goal in the 55th minute. Bafana Bafana was not able to hold the lead and Mexico equalized in the 79th minute, but they did get their chances on net near the end of regulation. If South Africa had put away one of their few shots on net at the end of the game and continued to defend like they did — with spirit and organization — they surely would have had three points and the stadium would have erupted like Mount St. Helens.

Ryan: Switzerland started their World Cup Final against the No. 2 ranked team in the world, Spain. Most looked at the matchup as being a sure win for Spain, automatically plummeting the Swiss at the bottom of the group with Honduras, after Chile’s 1-0 win. The Schweizer Nati, though, proved their naysayers wrong.

Swiss played with spirit and didn’t let up and inch while Spain closed in on their own third of the field. Stephane Gritching, Philippe Senderos and the rest of the Swiss defense played spirited ball, repelling the Spainish attack.

Gelson Fernandes scored the lone Swiss goal on the counter attack, finishing while Gerard Pique and Spanish keeper, Iker Casillas, were on the ground. Eren Derdiyok should get most of the recognition for the goal, as the forward charged at the Spanish defense, confusing them to a point where Fernandes was left alone.

Switzerland’s well-known defense hasn’t let up a goal in 490 minutes of World Cup play. The stingy defense will be depended upon to advance in the round of 16.

Least Impressive

Kevin: Slovakia made its World Cup debut on Tuesday against a hapless, but spirited New Zealand side and Slovakia was anything but convincing. The Slovaks had the perfect opportunity to get their countries first ever win in the World Cup and take the cupcake points in their group, some points they will surely need to advance, but failed to get the three they desired.

Slovakia has an impressive squad with some world class players, but they failed to show up in a winnable game that could have seen them get a good start on powerhouse Italy and a very good Paraguay squad.

Slovakia was also gifted their first goal when Robert Vittek was clearly offside and they gave up a stoppage time goal that should never have occurred. New Zealand had never scored in a World Cup, they were shut out in 1982 and lost all their group games, and Slovakia gave the All Whites a free header in stoppage time to equalize and make history.

What made Slovakia so disappointing was the almost non-existent play of their star play-maker and captain, Marek Hamsik. He has been described as a phantom, making ghost like runs into the box and scoring for his club team Napoli. He was a different type of ghost, he was invisible, save for a long distance effort in the first half.

In fact many of Slovakia’s skill players decided to take the day off. The squad looked like they had a long night before the game. They were slow and lethargic on the field, their only threats were crosses into an empty box. They really needed all three points from the game and failed to collect them. Slovakia was a popular pick out of group F and now they have an uphill battle against a very good Italian team and an underrated but tough Paraguay team.

Ryan: I know they aren’t one of the favorites to win the tournament, but when they’re on, they’re on. France tied Uruguay in their opening game, 0-0, and didn’t display a real offensive threat. The substitutions didn’t make much sense either. When Yoann Gourcuff was taken off in the second half, I shook my head without ever really thinking. Gourcuff, hands down, had the best chance for Les Bleus. Gourcuff swung a free kick that curled and dipped its way near the Uruguay near post, forcing a stop by Fernando Muslera.

Raymond Domenech waiting too long to take Sidney Gouvou off, nevermind making the wrong decision in starting him. Thierry Henry was put on in the 71st minute and immediately added spark. I’d look for Henry to start later today and Andre-Pierre Gignac to get more playing time.

Domenech needs to make better decisions fast. His team often looks lost and fails to communicate on the pitch. Then again, if my choice for his successor, Laurent Blanc, was named before the start of the World Cup, I’m not quite sure my head would be in the game either.

Ryan Fleming and Kevin Koczwara are the editors and writers for The Soccer Guys.

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