En Fuego: World Cup

Monday and early Tuesday World Cup Wrap

It was an intriguing day of soccer in the
tournament's fourth day, with Japan and Paraguay pulling off surprising
results, though Holland did what was expected with a 2-0 win over Denmark in
Monday's early match, while New Zealand stole their first-ever World Cup point
early this morning with a 1-1 draw against Slovakia.

My heart goes out to Danish defender Simon Poulsen (above right) who had
somewhat of a howler in the group opener...Though it's Daniel Agger's name next
to the "OG" on the scoresheet, its Poulsen's errant header that was
the real culprit in the day's first goal. Towards the end of the match, it was
Poulsen again who allowed Dirk Kuyt to easily finish after Dutch substitute
Eljero Elia's initial effort struck the post.

The performance was atypical for a Danish side that is usually very organized.
On the flip side, Holland never looked poised to lose, but weren't completely
dominant either.

The day's second match saw an upset at least in geographic terms. Japan became
the second Asian side to secure a victory in this year's tournament with a 1-0
win over home-continent team Cameroon in Bloemfontein. Keisuke Honda (right)
gave Samurai Blue their first World Cup victory away from home after winning
two matches while co-hosting the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

Cameroon's best chance came with Stephane Mbia's second half rocket which
blasted off the top part of Eiji Kawashima's goal frame. A disappointing
opening to the World Cup for Cameroon, given they looked to be the team that
would advance from this group. The talent and leadership of Samuel Eto'o will
be needed now more than ever if the Indomitable Lions hope to advance out of
the group stage.
 

Perhaps yesterday's most shocking result, a
1-1 draw between Paraguay and defending World Cup champions Italy in Cape Town.
The South American side ran out to a 1-0 lead just before halftime when Antolin
Alcaraz's header beat Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon in the 39th minute.

A stingy Paraguayan defense held off the World
Champions until the 63rd minute when Daniele De Rossi capitalized on goalkeeper
Justo Villar's mistake... The result was a fair one for the South Americans, if
not a tad bit unsatisfying. For Italy, yesterday's match should serve as a wake
up call for their two remaining group games.

Today's early match saw Slovakia, a team
making their first World Cup appearance, since the "Velvet Divorce"
in the early 90's against a New Zealand side making only their second World Cup
appearance and first in 28 years....

This match held special interest for me, after
drawing the Kiwi's in the Fire's World Cup office pool last Thursday afternoon
and for large amounts of the first half the side from Way Down Under looked better than the Eastern European
favorites. That all changed coming out of the interval when Robert Vittek
placed a beautiful header past goalkeeper Mark Paston in the 50th minute.

The Slovaks pressured more with New Zealand
resorting to counter attacking soccer, looking to steal a point late, and late
it came, as Shane Smeltz's cross found Winston Reid (right) in the 93rd minute,
earning the Kiwi's their first every point in the World Cup and making Reid one
of three New Zealanders to tally in the tournament.

Much the way Group A currently sits, the
result keeps all four Group F teams on one point and with the same goal
difference going into the second round of matches, where New Zealand will face
their toughest test against World Champions Italy.