There weren’t many surprises during the midweek international football friendlies, as most teams are just kicking off their preparations for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa later this year. But we’ve managed to learn a few things from these matches.
All Whites pleased with result
Ricki Herbert seemed happy with his team’s overall performance against Mexico in the All White’s 2-0 defeat, especially after Mexico had come from a 5-0 hammering of Bolivia last month. However, the lack of goals seems to have more to do with a tentative Mexican attack in the first half than with the All Whites.
The debutants in the New Zealand backline, Andy Boyens and Tommy Smith, did a decent job, although they did suffer for a lack of training together. On one play, Ben Sigmund played Giovanny Dos Santos offside but Smith followed the Mexican winger and played him on, leading to a chance at goal. Those are exactly the errors that some more time together will iron out and 19-year-old Smith, who plays for Ipswich Town in the English Championship, looks like an excellent find.
The All Whites put a lot of energy in the match from the beginning, as opposed to a lacklustre first 45 minutes from Mexico, but unfortunately never managed to generate chances in attack. Another first-timer, Auckland City’s Chad Coombes, typified that. He did a great deal of work down the right wing until he got subbed out, but could never put a pass in a dangerous position, despite having several opportunities.
Surprisingly, Herbert did not make any substitutions until late, which may indicate that he is quite happy with his roster and is only looking to fill a few extra spots for the tournament in June. That is consistent with his statement that the 18 players involved in the playoff with Bahrain were guaranteed a spot in the 23-man roster for South Africa.
If that’s the case, there’s 5 additional spots up for grabs and Tommy Smith certainly seems to have made a good enough impression to snatch one. He’s an important addition, considering Ryan Nelsen’s injury history.
One worrying sign was Mexico’s second goal, where Arsenal’s Carlos Vela outmuscled Sigmund, who has otherwise been a rock at the heart of the All White defence. Shoulder charges such as Vela’s are a sign of things to come for New Zealand. The Italians and Paraguayans are a level above Mexico when it comes to toughness, and the All Whites will need to step up in terms of strength.
For Mexico’s part, we may be seeing the beginning of a world-class forward duo. The second-half performance of Vela and 19-year-old Javier “Chicharito” (The Little Pea) Hernández brought some much needed excitement to the match. Their goals were definitely the highlights of the evening. Hernández in particular looks set to be a difference-maker for Mexico and could be in their starting eleven at the World Cup.
Around the World
Elsewhere, there were a few performances of note. England’s 3-1 win over Egypt, Spain’s easy 2-0 victory against France and Argentina’s surprising organisation in a 1-0 result againt Germany in Munich were the most significant.
Is Peter Crouch the most efficient forward in international football? The statistics tend to bear that out, with 20 goals in 37 appearances for England. And his appearance in the second half for England made the team look a lot better, much more like the Cup contenders that they are meant to be. Fabio Capello could do a lot worse that the gangly Tottenham forward to accompany Wayne Rooney up front. He certainly seems to add more than his club teammate Jermaine Defoe. And he can definitely score, which is more than can be said for Emile Heskey.
Spain made their tag of World Cup favourites stick with a tightly controlled win against a French team that will be dogged by controversy in the entire runup to the World Cup thanks to Thierry Henry’s “helping hand” against Ireland. Spain won 2-0 without main midfield man Xavi and top scorer Fernando Torres. Not that it matters, the Spanish team is so deep that there is no reason to thing that their backups would’ve faired any worse against their European neighbours. The only thing that can keep Spain from winning may very well be their history of folding in the big tournaments. They managed to ignore that history to win the European Cup, there’s no reason to think that it wouldn’t happen again.
Argentina, meanwhile, have nearly as much depth and talent as Spain. They also have possibly the world’s worst manager and a reputation for self-destruction. “Volatility” has been the byword of this team for the entire qualifiers, so how surprising was it to see them deliver a measured, somewhat conservative performance in Germany against their hosts? You don’t go into Germany and expect to control the match, so Diego Maradona did the sensible thing (for once) and deployed a two man deep central midfield with Juan Sebastián Verón and Javier Mascherano to control the tempo and used a great connection between Angel DiMaría and Gonzalo Higuaín to score. If the Argentine’s approached more matches in this fashion, they very well might have a chance in South Africa.
At the same time, Germany looked completely toothless. Argentina’s organisation aside, the South American nation’s central defence lacks pace and has been caught out several times during qualifiers. The fact that Germany generated few chances at home has got to be a major concern for manager Joachim Low. Then again, this is Germany we’re talking about, however rubbish they might look before a World Cup, once the tournament begins, they always seems to be in the last four.
Macedonia 2 - 1 Montenegro Ivory Coast 0 - 2 South Korea Armenia 1 - 3 Belarus Georgia 2 - 1 Estonia Greece 0 - 2 Senegal Angola 1 - 1 Latvia Cyprus 0 - 0 Iceland Slovakia 0 - 1 Norway Bosnia-Herz. 2 - 1 Ghana Moldova 1 - 0 Kazakhstan Nigeria 5 - 2 Congo DR Malta 1 - 2 Finland Turkey 2 - 0 Honduras Algeria 0 - 3 Serbia Hungary 1 - 1 Russia South Africa 1 - 1 Namibia Romania 0 - 2 Israel Luxembourg 1 - 2 Azerbaijan Switzerland 1 - 3 Uruguay Austria 2 - 1 Denmark Poland 2 - 0 Bulgaria Albania 1 - 0 Northern Ireland Belgium 0 - 1 Croatia Germany 0 - 1 Argentina Netherlands 2 - 1 United States Slovenia 4 - 1 Qatar Wales 0 - 1 Sweden England 3 - 1 Egypt France 0 - 2 Spain Scotland 1 - 0 Czech Republic Portugal 2 - 0 China Venezuela 1 - 2 Panama El Salvador 1 - 2 Guatemala New Zealand 0 - 2 Mexico