The results from yesterday meant that the other finalist of Germany’06 and title holders, Italy are eliminated from the tournament. For reasons that are obvious, they would not have gotten far had their managed to win against Slovakia. Marcello Lippi’s ageing team found it tough to compete against a very solid opponent. Robert Vittek was the star of the show as he outran and outpaced every single Italian defender in the match. Both his second goal and Kamil Kopunek’s winner were result of one player being faster to a lose ball than the other.
One look at the strikers on show for Italy and opponents of them would no fear. Vincenzo Iaquinta, Simone Pepe, Antonio Di Natale and Fabio Quagliarella are not exactly household names and from the start, the advantage was already lost. Though take nothing away from Quagliarella’s wonderful chip goal, the beauty of the goal not matched by the results desired by the incumbent world champions. With the style of play that Lippi employed, they needed a real winger of pace and quality rather relying on strikers pushed out in wide positions.
Elsewhere, New Zealand finished their campaign with yet another credible stalemate against group champions, Paraguay. The Oceania side found it hard to even get out of their half and could not even force a single corner of the South American, let alone a shot in anger at the Paraguay goal. However, we should not discount the magnificent achievement of these mix group of professionals and amateur players. They remained unbeaten despite going out of the tournament and even managed to hold Italy to a draw. Compared to the Italians, the New Zealand side can go home with their heads held high.
In group G, Japan stunned their more illustrious opponent to secure their place in the last 16. Two well taken freekicks set them on the way in the first half. First, Keisuke Honda drilled a left footed effort past a hapless Thomas Sorenson before Yasuhito Endo curled another dead ball effort past the Stoke keeper. Honda helped to seal the cherry on the cake by deftly turning Lars Jacobsen before laying the ball for Shinji Okazaki to tap in. The Danes were left torn apart by Japan’s precision passing and spirited desire to chase after every lost ball and when not in possession. Credit to the Asian side whom I thought will finish last in the group but certainly have stepped up in the tournament.
Holland and Cameroon faced each other in the other game but with both nothing else to play for. Contrastingly, Holland have already secured qualification in the group while Cameroon have no chance of progressing to the last 16. It was a bit puzzling to see the Bert Van Marwijk putting out what looks to be his first eleven except for Khalid Boulahrouz coming in at right back. Robin Van Persie opened his World Cup account, this time with his right foot after a nice interchange with Rafael Van Der Vaart. Cameroon managed to equalise in the second half before the introduction of Arjen Robben added pace to the Dutch attack and he duly helped to set up the winner for Klas Jan Huntelaar.