Oh dear. If we thought France’s opening performance was awful the Les Bleus readily sunk to new and impressive lows with a pitiful shift put in against Mexico. At last, justice of sorts, as a team in green were deserved winners, and have left French World Cup hopes clinging by a thread. Raymond Domenech has certainly impressed as a coach. Quite how he has managed to get a side packed with footballing superstars to play like they’ve never met each other is nothing short of remarkable.
In what was a poor team performance Florent Malouda proved to be the brightest spark in France’s livelier moments. As we’ve seen so often this season he bustled in midfield, his pace and strength causing problems but he was often hemmed in by a well drilled defence. His stinging drive early in the second half was perhaps France’s best moment. If only Anelka had got as far as the second half. You had to feel sorry for the bloke in this game. The thankless task of a lone front man, with no midfield runners going behind him (or often remotely near him) he was never able to make an impact on the game. The useless Gignac and not Henry, who remained anchored to the bench in apparent misery throughout, replaced him. No wonder the verbals were directed Domenech’s way at half time. Much like France you have to say Anelka had underperformed so far and it anyone’s guess how the players’ revolt will affect their performance against the host nation. Former blue legend Billy Gallas was one of the worst culprits for the previous display, at one point backing away from Mexican winger Carlos Salcido as you would a venomous snake. It would be difficult to argue that he can still defend at this level after that. Partnering him at centre half was Abidal, their comedy routine of trying to keep offside may mean they get some Panto work as the new Chuckle Brothers this Christmas. Domenech’s decision to leave out the attacking threats of Benzema and Nasri looks smarter every game. France must now hope that the two South American sides somehow don’t fashion a convenient draw, so good luck with that. On the plus side, it looks as though two of our key players will be back in time for preseason.
Serbia followed in the early kick off at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. After crushing Australia with some sexy football Serbia had good reason to be cautious, in the end they may just have proved the Germans are fallible (and really can miss pens) after all. It was a dogged display from the Serbs and they had to thank an over fussy ref for the early dismissal of Miroslav Klose. A few minutes later this paid dividends with Liverpool-bound Jovanovic netting the winner from close range. Germany still proved to be much the better side in the second half, Vidic bizarrely opting to handle the ball and gifting Podolski a chance from the spot that was well and truly blown. Ivanovic again had a quiet game, there were no surges past the impressive Krasic, instead he was throwing himself into headers in a strong rearguard display. One lapse did see him leave Podolski completely unmarked on the left, the German had clearly left his shooting boots somewhere else though and blazed wide. Of the transfer rumours Mesut Ozil again looked a class act and would no doubt nicely fill that Joe Cole-shaped hole in midfield.
England produced a truly woeful performance against Algeria, many of the players looking hindered by the burden of expectation. At least the back four looked very strong, Terry again showing good form and we got more from Ashley Cole going forward, he bombed on past Gerrard on numerous occasions and had a claim to being the side’s man of the match. Lampard had England’s best chances, not being able to connect properly with his left foot in the first half and restricted to long range efforts in the second. Although he packed the biggest goal threat he was unable to influence the misfiring midfield and couldn’t get a grip on the game, something England badly needed. We’ll see if Capello listens to the calls for Joe Cole to start on the left and if England can actually put in a performance in this tournament. Rooney currently looks as far from being the world’s best as you can get, he’ll need to up his game, amongst others, if progress is to be made.
Finally Didier Drogba started up against Brazil alongside Chelsea team mate Kalou. Both were crowded out in the first period by Brazil’s two anchor midfielders, the Dunga defensive approach has worked well so far for the Brazilians. The horribly cynical and cheating centre half Lucio (who is also often brilliant) made sure he tugged and knocked Drogba’s broken arm as often as he could. Ivory Coast were powerless to stop Luis Fabiano and were left to chase the game in the second half. Kalou had some penetrating runs on the left side but created few clear chances, he was replaced with twenty minutes remaining. Drogba at last was finding space and getting touches of the ball. He directed a header back across goal and was unlucky it found the wrong side of the post. His luck was in next time, good movement saw him saunter into the box and nod home a cross from the left. Sadly it was only a consolation at this point but fittingly Didier has been the first Chelsea player to score in this year’s tournament.
This week is crunch time and we’ll soon find out how the groups finish and which big names will be joining Nicholas Anelka watching the world cup from the comfort of home.