With much of the talk on the group games being too defence-minded and drab up stepped an inspired Portugal to thump North Korea seven nil and banish such thoughts to the distant past. There was only one Chelsea player who took part in that familiar looking score line, Ricardo Carvalho. Riccy very nearly got the ball rolling as well, thumping a header onto the woodwork in the first half. Deco was missing due to a thigh injury and Ricardo Costa was preferred to Ferreira. It was Chelsea old boy Tiago who stole the show, neat finishes saw him bag an impressive brace and he was instrumental to much of Portugal’s second half goal feast. If only Jiri Jarosik could say the same. Portugal’s plentiful goal difference practically ensured their passage to the second round, a drab, defence-minded game against the Samba Boys confirmed it. Again Deco and Paulo missed out, Riccy was our only representative in what was a dismal match – hell, even Brazil can look bereft of creativity and ideas. Carvalho has stealthily gone about being one of the tournament’s finest defenders, his three clean sheets a notable achievement. So the likeable Ivory Coast needed a minor miracle to progress and it was one that stirringly seemed possible in a first half onslaught. Drogba’s fine header looked to have opened the scoring but was unfortunately ruled offside. He was even more unfortunate in the second goal. A sublime touch and turn left the Korean defence chasing shadows, his snap shot thundered against the underside of the bar, Romaric was well placed to finish. Rumoured Chelsea target Yaya Toure looks to be City bound, which makes his slide rule finish and all action performance all the more lamentable. The second half failed to hit the heights of the opening half but our own Kalou came off the bench to nicely volley in a third for the Black Elephants, the third Chelsea goal scorer in the tournament.
Florent Malouda was our second Chelsea scorer, again having to come off the bench to notch a consolation tap in against South Africa. Even a Uruguay win over the Mexicans couldn’t inspire his side. Once again France were puzzlingly poor, the South Africans fully deserving their victory. Anelka might have been shaking his head in disbelief if he wasn’t sorting out a contract extension with the proper Blues. Serbia missed out in group D, they didn’t have enough against a stubborn Australia and will feel hard done by to be leaving the tournament at this stage. They had much of the game but a strong second half saw the Aussies edge it. Schwarzer made a fine one handed save to deny Ivanovic a vital goal. Ultimately the win over Germany wasn’t enough to hide a lack of cutting edge in the final third for the Serbs.
England at last delivered a win in their final group game, Slovenia were undone by a fine James Milner cross and a shinned effort from Defoe. Before kick-off there was excited talk of a midfield diamond being adopted but again Capello pig-headedly stuck to the rigid four-four-two. The team played with more purpose without ever finding top gear. It wouldn’t be an England world cup game without Lampard nearly scoring, the ball breaking to him after a save from Rooney he seemingly had the goal at his mercy. Going for power over placement meant his shot from the edge of the area swerved over the bar. It was a comfortable win, Slovenia toothless against an imperious John Terry marshalled defence. Using his face in a last ditch dive to block a shot could only make you feel proud, especially after the candid ‘mutiny’ pre-match conference. He would have been man of the match had it not been for Milner’s strong play on the right wing. Out on the other side Ashley Cole was once again very good, driving forward to overlap the often wasteful Gerrard.
Onto the second round and all the positives from the Slovenia game were quickly forgotten. Where previously the defence had often looked the most solid part of the English outfit they looked as though they had only just met before kick off against a rampant Germany. Germany could and should have scored before the calamitous opener gave a bad name to school boy defending. A straight punt from a goal kick saw Terry out of position and allowed Klose to wrestle free from Upson to net easily. The second soon followed, JT, Johnson and Upson seemingly on walkabout, the erratic Podolski slotted home and England looked to be in serious trouble. Upson made some amends for his lacklustre defending by scoring with his face from a corner. Then, what will sadly be one of the moments of the world cup, fifty odd seconds latter Lampard was denied a brilliant chipped equaliser. I don’t need to tell you it was so much over the line it was barely believable. The ball only just hit the underside of the bar on the way out, there wasn’t a man alive who could’ve called it wrong bar the most important person. It denied Lampard his first world cup goal and would have been just rewards for arguably England’s best performer in this game. He had earlier went close from a driven free kick. In the second half England recklessly chased the game and, reminiscent of Chelsea’s second half meltdown against Man City, the German’s and Muller broke with deadly efficiency. The difference being England still had all eleven on the pitch but the point remains. Terry may have had an ever changing partnership and defensive positions but it was still a poor performance given his excellent displays in the group games. Ashley Cole dealt well with attacks but was restricted going forward by the system, Gerrard going infield too often and allowing Lahm to attack the left side at will. Rumoured Chelsea target Ozil adds another five million to his price tag with each appearance, his displays might now have put him out of our price bracket. The questions on what went wrong and why will remain and it is only the French and Italians who can be more aghast with their team. It was one of the worst England performances in memory and a sour end to the tournament for the three Chelsea players. Given the amount of abuse the three have received from the England boo boys it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see if their international involvement gets reassessed in the cold light of day.
The other second round game involving Chelsea players saw local rivals Spain and Portugal lock horns in Cape Town. Again Carvalho was the only Chelsea starter and Portugal enjoyed a solid if uninspiring first half. Spain’s tippy tappy football created little and Portugal were comfortable but left star man Ronaldo isolated and so even more petulant in attack. Carvalho was excelling until oddly the substitution of Torres with Llorente caused a few problems in the backline. David Villa, one of the players of the tournament, was the man who finally beat (keeper of the tournament) Eduardo at the second attempt. It finished off a typically intricate passing move and Spain were deservedly through to the quarter finals. Another rumoured target David Silva failed to get any minutes for Spain as did Deco, another odd coaching decision from the cautionary Queiroz as his creativity might have meant Portugal went out with a bang rather than a whimper. Again Ronaldo gave a limp, ineffectual performances and, if it wasn’t for Wayne Rooney, would be one the biggest disappointments of this world cup.
So no Chelsea players have made it through to the quarter final stage of the competition but individually there will be few who can be disappointed with their performances. Although Anelka will quickly want to forget about the world cup and international football, much of what went on wasn’t exactly his own fault. Malouda looked assured and sharp when the coach gave him some minutes, sadly there wasn’t enough of them. Drogba fared better and showed his class, if he was fully fit for the first match against Portugal it might have made all of the difference. Kalou only showed in bursts what he is capable of. For the second world cup in a row Ivory Coast played well but didn’t have the luck in the group draw. Ivanovic was a quietly effective figure for the Serbs, solid but not as prominent as he has been for Chelsea this season. Carvalho performed well throughout but it was Portugal’s negative tactics that was ultimately their undoing. Paulo and Deco did okay in the first game but weren’t given the minutes afterwards to impress. Ashley Cole was England’s most consistent performer, Frank Lampard was very unlucky not to get on the score sheet and get the reward his performances merited. JT was excellent in the group games, he looked world class at times but the Germany game will be one to forget for many. A patchy tournament in many ways but on the plus side we’ll hopefully have a great selection of first teamers back earlier than expected for preseason and ensure a good start to the 2010/11 season.