Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Day 4 Review

Yesterday belonged to Australia. Having played only once before at the World Cup (an experience that prompted no goals to be scored in three games), the Socceroos finally made the breakthrough with a tough 3-1 victory over Japan.

Japan took the lead on 26 minutes thanks to a controversial goal from Nakamura, but the Aussies battled on and enjoyed most of the possession as Japan's efforts dried up. Then late on, Guus Hiddink sent Tim Cahill into battle and 6 minutes from the end he finally got the equaliser they worked so hard for, thus earning his place in World Cup history as Australia's first scorer in the Finals.

But that was just the beginning. Five minutes later, Cahill added a second before John Aloisi scored a third right at the end to give Australia a somewhat flattering but comprehensive win. They will now watch the other game in the group - Brazil v Croatia (today) with much interest.

Elsewhere, the Czech Republic cruised to an easy 3-0 win over the United States. Unable to find a way behind the Czech back line, the USA struggled to find their way through a strong defence while the Czechs with their slick, accurate passing made many in-roads at the other end.

Jan Koller headed home for his side's opener on five minutes but before Rosicky added a second on 36 minutes, USA's Claudio Reyna managed to hit the post from just outside the penalty area. Six minutes later, Koller was stretchered off with a muscle strain and the Czech's range of attacking options seemed all the more limited.

Those fears were allayed in the second half when Rosicky, Ujfalusi and Poborsky fired numerous efforts at the American goal, one from Rosicky hitting the bar. Finally in the 76th minute, the Czech Republic made certain of the three points when Rosicky got his second of the game to go top of Group E.

The 8 o'clock kick-off saw another African debutant take to the stage as Ghana faced up to many people's favourites to win, Italy. As expected, Italy looked the better of the two teams and were all the more threatening with their attack play. Ghana lacked a decent striker and were forced to rely upon midfielder Michael Essien for inspiration which was very few and far between.

That said, Ghana performed well and showed no sign of nerves or inferiority. Their physical strength and speed on the attack gave the Italians something to think about, but when Pirlo finally struck home with his 40th minute shot, it was always going to be difficult for the Africans to get back into the game.

Francesco Totti made his return from a broken leg and eventually found his form later on in the game while his team-mates Perrotta and Toni fired shots at Ghana keeper Kingston too, particularly in the second half.

Ghana battled on and tested Buffon with one or two shots but their undoing came in the 83rd minute when Kuffour under-played his back pass to Kingston, allowing Iaquinta to intercept and round the keeper to make it 2-0.

So another spirited performance from an African side at this World Cup and once again a need to re-evaluate their status as whipping boys. That said, it's looking like an uphill struggle for them at this tournament and they'll be looking for more promising results against weaker opposition when the opportunities arise.

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