Mexico’s progress in the 2006 World Cup depends much on their Group D standings and those of Argentina in Group C – if they can avoid the South Americans, they have a good chance of making it to the quarter finals where they might meet England (and you know how I’m predicting that).
Several people told me after the Mexico – Iran match (which Mexico won 3-1 thanks to two goals from Omar Bravo and one from Zinha) that it was a sign that Mexico would top their group – especially after Portugal struggled to a 1-0 victory over Angola. The big match for Group D will be Mexico vs Portugal on the 21st – till then I’d expect both Portugal and Mexico to win their remaining matches (against Iran and Angola respectively on 16th and 17th). Goal difference could come into play as it is entirely possible that Portugal and Mexico play a draw, and with that in mind Portugal should be going all-out to score as many as possible against Iran.
Portugal vs Angola was tipped to be a match played under political tensions but none arose – in fact it was a slow, cagey match in which Portugal, after gaining an early lead slowed down in the second half and preferred to keep posession rather than go forward. Angola themeselves must be given credit for defending much better in the second half, but the scoreline really shouldn’t have been 1-0.
Ronaldo – United‘s representative in the Portugal team – had a quiet game (apart from a early second half header that rattled the top bar) and was subbed out as Scolari chose to beef up the midfield.
The third match – Holland vs Serbia – turned out to be another attritional battle despite Arjen Robben’s excellent display – the man might have issues with ‘avoiding tackles‘ but he is an excellent attacking player, and his goal (flicked on by Arsenal’s van Persie) was just the icing on an all-round impressive match. On the other hand, Ruud van Nistelrooy had a pretty quiet game (despite his proclamations of wanting to light up the World Cup) and he too was subbed in the favor of strengthening the midfield. Our third rep, van der Sar, had little to do. The Dutch keeper has stated that he would trade in his European Championship title and all his league titles (5) for a World Cup medal. I doubt that would happen this time, even with the strength Holland have. A place in the quarter finals is still possible, although it will depend greatly on how Mexico / Portugal fare in the second round.
Are teams playing too defensively?
Is this a trend we should worry about? Portugal and Holland both played defensively in the second half (although Holland can be excused for ‘heat’ reasons) and despite the two goals Mexico was cagey as well. One thing these teams do really well is play excellent posession football (as opposed to England’s current strategy of long balls and fast attacks). It makes it hard to score against them, but with all teams fighting really hard in the World Cup it makes goal scoring a bit difficult as well. Still, a long, long way to go.