The Day of Sudden Calamities:
Each day turned on a tragic moment (or two), upending games and one of the weirder days that I can recall. Two own goals, a DOGSO red card w/penalty kick goal in the 3rd minute, and a hockey-style jump into the game due to referee error leading to a winner. No great game today, but I found the middle match quite compelling, as I’d hoped it would be. My key takeaways.
Great sportsmanship in the Senegal-Poland game. That was a really hard fought game with some very physical players on both sides, lots of whacks but not a lot of whining. I really appreciated both teams’ spirit of play in a game both were desperate to win. Guus Hiddink predicted it would get chippy right away, but he was completely wrong.
Every so often I hear talk that the combination of DOGSO (Denial of Goal-Scoring Opportunity) and the PK is too big of a punishment. I’m not sure if there’s a good alternative,, but man does that ever completely change a game. Sanchez needs to know better, but things happen really fast out there.
Colombia’s response was EPIC!--Man down? Goal down? No James? We don’t care--We are COLOMBIA and we will play you off the field! And they did, for 25 minutes, coming after Japan, high pressure on D, all style and combos on offense, and the Japanese didn’t know what hit them. Falcao almost scored twice, and then they got that equalizer on that cheeky under the wall kick (and thank you goal-line technology). To Japan’s credit, they finally settled down and got a great header for the winner. Colombia just couldn’t keep it going (playing early in the day v. night didn’t help, either). I am bummed, because I LOVE this team. Japan’s not a very good side, got a huge gift, and then earned it with a better second half. But this one hurt.
I was really enthralled with Poland’s one-touch and quick restart play. They played too many one-touch passes, really, but there was a lovely network of short balls getting out of trouble in the back. Big and fast, but also very technical, much like the German team, really; I don’t know what percentage play in the the Bundesliga, but I’d guess quite high. Losing Kuba hurt them, and the own goal put them in a hole; it didn’t seem like they couldn’t dig out of it.
Poland was royally screwed on the “call-on” for Niang. The ball was high in the air when he was called on, and he was out of view of both the man who played the ball back and the centerback who thought he had time. It shouldn’t be that way, in a transitional moment. I guess Szchechny must have thought he could get there, but he was very wrong. What a chain of calamities. Now they’ve got their backs up against the wall.
Either Poland or Colombia isn’t going to advance, and Poland’s got the easier path at this point. That Poland-Colombia match on Sunday is going to be a very intense affair (and Sanchez will be out--and missed--trying to handle Lewandowski).
Senegal played very well, especially in the back. N’Diaye is a small keeper but did everything asked of him, and the backline was excellent, always surrounding Lewandowski with two or more players. Koulibaly plies his craft at Napoli, where he his highly regarded, and his combination of power and utter calm kept everything tight in the back. Probably the ball of the match, too, came from left back Sabaly, who sprung Diouf on the counter midway through the first half. Niang is a very strong man up front (he muscled the Polish right back off the ball in the sequence that led to the first goal). Coach Sisse got his midfield snapping hard at the Poles, and they never let up. With Mane floating in behind the strikers, they didn’t find him enough, but there was another steady and explosive force that could come into play, a positive waiting to be exploited. They are fast and physical, organized and cohesive, a team that can hurt you on the break, get some turnovers in midfield, and make it very tough near their goal. I think I’d rather see Mane higher (and no Diouf), but they’ve won a huge game here. Well done, Senegal.
Russia delivered; it took an own goal to unlock the Pharoahs, but credit Russia for going after the winner and then some, and showing that they’ve got a little more quality than just Golovin. In particular, the right back, Fernandez (a Brazilian Russian) was terrific on the right, keeping possession and with a great shimmy to get loose for cross that led to the second goal. That said, I think they’re going to meet their match with Uruguay, and I don’t expect any more goals.
Tough night for the Pharoahs, hitting Russia in the finest of form and then undone by an own goal. I thought they got a very good performance from Mohsen and were a few inches away from springing a combination, but the Russians were good enough keeping them out of the net until late in the game.
For the record, after nailing every score yesterday, I got every game wrong today (had a 2-2 tie for Poland-Senegal). Easy come, easy go.