New Zealands Finest Hour (& a Half)

Shane Smeltz at a Wellington Phoenix warm up game.
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In what will probably go down in history as the biggest shock of the 2010 World Cup Finals New Zealand held the reigning Champions Italy to a 1-1- draw in Nelspruit today. It could have been even worse for Italy as they had to rely on a slightly harsh penalty to draw level and now face the very real possibility that they could miss out on the second stages.

In the game New Zealsnd started brightly and in the 7th minute Shane Smeltz (right)who’s UK football craeer was spent with Non League clubs Mansfield, AFC Wimbledon and Halifax Town stole in to score the opening goal following a lucky deflection off of an Italian defender.   

The goal might have been a touch fortunate, but the Italian equaliser was equally as lucky coming from the penalty spot when Daniele De Rossi impressively fell over in the box having hardly been touched. Vincenzo Iaquinta slotted the spot kick home with the minimum of fuss and with an hour to go Italy must have expected to go on to win with ease.

However despite dominating the play Italy failed to find a way through the determined New Zealand defense and it was no surprise that defender Winston Reid was voted ITV man of the match. Having headed the equaliser in the previous game against Slovakia, Reid will no doubt be gaining the attention of some of Europes bigger clubs.

The magnitude of this result was personified when Andrew Barron came on as a sub in the last few moments of injury time. He currently works in a Bank and had to ask his employer for time off to attend the Finals.  

Now Italy will go into their Final Game with Slovakia needing a win to ensure qualification and New Zealand will have the chance to achieve the unthinkable, a place in the last 16 if they can somehow beat Paraguay.

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Paraguay Close In On Place In Last 16

2010 FIFA World Cup logo
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A convincing win for Paraguay all but books their place in the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup finals and although Slovakia looked bereft of flair and ideas this will still serve as a warning to their opponents on the second stages.

Goals from Vera after  27 minutes and Riveros in the 86th were enough to beat a disapointing Slovakia who looked bereft of flair and following their opening draw with New Zealand they must now fear the worst in what is their 1st appearance in the finals as an independent nation.

The crowd was a disapointing 26,643 which will probably be one of the lowest attendances in the finals.

Final Score

Paraguay 2-0 Slovakia

  • Venue: Free State stadium
  • Attendance: 26,643
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    Slovakia V Paraguay Preview

    Official seal of San Juan Bautista de las Misiones
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    Group F is curently all square with both the opening games having finished 1-1 but on their respective showings Paraguay should be good enough to win this game. Slovakia were held by New Zealand who have already exceeded their expectations in getting that point and it is highly unlikely that either Paraguay or Italy will slip up against them. Paraguay on the other hand outplayed group favourires Italy for much of their game and only a tactical blunders by the Latin Americans in choosing to go all out defensive playing 5 at the back too early in the second half which allowed Italy to get back into the game. The expected win here for the Paraguay will practically ensure they are in the last 16.

    Sadly this game doesnt seem to have enticed the crowds and the stadium looks pretty empty just before kick off

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    Cameroon Become The First Team Eliminated

    de: Samuel Eto’o - Inter Mailand en: Samuel Et...
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    Despite taking the lead Cameroon became the first team to be eliminated from the 2010 World Cup Finals. In one of the tournaments better games the Indomitable Lions started brightly and it was no surprise when their captain Samuel Eto’o opened the scoring after 10 minutes when Cameroon took advantage of some lax defensive play.

    Cameroon looked a completely different team from the one who were dest described as awful in their opener against Japan and in the first half an hour looked like taking control of the game. However they were caught out by a lovely Danish break on 33 minutes when Simon Kjaer hit a 60-yard cross-field pass to Rommedahl and his low cross was popped home by Bendtner to level things up. Some more terrible defending could have seen a 2-2 half time score when first Song blocked a Danish goal bound shot and then Eto’o hit the post for Cameroon.

    The second half continued the enterprising style of the first half and both sides had early chances, however the decicive moment came from another swift Denmark counter attack and the impressive Rommedahl sped past  Jean Makoun before slotting the ball home for 2-1.

    Denmark then tightened up at the back and despite some frantic Cameroon pressing were good value for their win which now makes them favorites to progress to the last 16 with Holland,  so maintaining their impressive record of always getting out of the group stages in World Cup Finals they have attended.

    Sadly Cameroon have became the first team eliminated and being from the home nation this ignominity will be hard to take for the home fans. Unfortunately the way the groups are shaping up Africa will be lucky to have any representatives in the last 16.

    The result also ensured that Holland would definitely make the last 16 so Cameroon will have the chance of redeeming some pride in their final match which will probably be against Hollands reserves.

    Final Score

    Cameroon 1-2 Denmark

  • Venue: Loftus Versfeld Stadium
  • Attendance: 38,704
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    10 Man Australia Keep Their World Cup Chances Alive

    Media conference
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    Australia had a man sent off for the second game in a row but despite this handicap they gained a well deserved draw to keep their hopes of qualification alive.

    In a hugely entertaining game Australia took a 1-0 lead through Brett Holman and looked like making swift amends for their opening hammering by Germany.

    However in the 25th minute their run of bad luck continued as Harry Kewell received a straight red card for blocking a goal bound shot with his arm. Given the power of the shot it might have been a little harsh but the rules gave the ref no choice and Ghana levelled the scored from the resulting penalty.

    The game continued at a frantic pace and although Ghana produced plenty of chances they tended to be long range shots. Like all the African countries there seemed to be a desire to be the hero and on many occasions a pass rather than the shot would have resulted in a much better goal scoring opportunity. Until this tactical naivety is eradicated no African team will consistently be a match for the top European or South American squads.

    Australia probably had the best chances overall and if they can keep 11 men on the field in their final match against Serbia then they could still emulate their feat of World Cup 2006 and reach the last 16. Ghana need a point against Germany to go through and on this showing they will struggle to achieve it given their lack of goal scoring prowess.  

    Final Score

    Australia 1-1 Ghana

  • Venue: Royal Bafokeng Stadium  
  • Attendance: 34,812
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    Holland Make Hard Work of Beating Japan

    Wesley Sneijder
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    Holland scraped past a defensively well drilled Japan side to all but book their place in the last 16 today. If Cameroon fail to win against Denmark latter today then they will be the first team definitely through.

    The game its self was quite entertaining and although Japan started slowly they began to claw their way into it late in the first half and looked marginally the better team going into the half time break.

    However the Dutch came out for the second half looking much more determined and in the 52nd minute Wesley Sneijder picked up the ball just outside the box and lashed in a fierce shot which deflected into the net off Japan keeper Eiji Kawashima, who really should have done better.

    This forced Japan to become more adventurous and as the game opened up both sides had chances and Japan could count themselves a little unlucky when in the 89th minute first substitute Shinji Okazaki shot over when left totally unmarked in the penalty area and then a few seconds latter Yuto Nagatomo appeared to be brought down in the box, but the penalty appeals were waived away.

    This defeat still leaves Japan with a chance of qualifying and they still have their destiny in their own hands.

    Final Score

    Holland 1-0 Japan

  • Venue: Moses Mabhida Stadium
  • Attendance: 62,010
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    England Well Below Par in 0-0 Draw With Algeria

    Celtic v Manchester United
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    England produced another inept performance tonight against Algeria and now must beat Slovenia in their final group match to progress to the last 16.

    The game was poor at best and dismal in parts and neither side produced a clear cut chance of note. Algeria deserve plenty of credit for their hard running and occasional nice touches, and England can be thankful for their naivety around the box,often choosing to take wild shots rather than play through balls which could have caused problems.

    The few bright spots for England were competent performances by Heskey and Barry and the steady goal keeping by David James – elevated to starter after Robert Greens howler against the USA.

    Less positive was Capello’s  inability to change his game plan when things were obviously not going well, and the sub standard performance from Wayne Rooney who looks a shadow of the player who starred for Manchester United last season.

    Now everything hinges on the final game a draw will send Slovenia through and probably send England out and if Cappello’s men perform anything like they did tonight then they will be flying home on Thursday.

    Final Score

    England 0-0 Algeria

  • Venue: Green Point Stadium
  • Attendance: 64,100
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    USA Battle Back to draw 2-2 with Slovenia

    In what epitomises the cliche of football being a game of two half’s, the USA came back from 2-0 down to force a 2-2 draw, and really should have won it but for a poor decision from the eccentric referee Koman Coulibaly.

    Slovenia looked to be cruising at the interval 2-0 up and pretty much in control thanks to goals by Birsa, who hit the tournaments best long range goal so far and one from Ljubijankic.

    The second half saw Bob Bradley change things around a bit bringing on Feilhaber and Edu, and this soon paid off as the USA pulled a goal back through Landon Donovan.  Although both sides continued to create chances it looked like Slovenia were going to hold on and make the last 16. However with 10 minutes to play the  USA manager took the bold decision to pull off a defender and throw on another striker and 2 minures latter it paid dividends as his son Michael Bradley hit the equlaiser.

    The USA probably should have won the game but had what looked like a perfectly good goal ruled out for a foul that only the referee saw. A draw kept both teams hopes alive but FIFa really needs to review the quality of the refereeing as Koman Coulibaly looked way out of his depth in this game.

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    Germany 0-1 Serbia

    german football player Miroslav Klose at a pra...
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    Germany’s demolition of Australia in their opening game had elevated the expectations for this young  team, however they were brought crashing back down by Serbia who snatched a 1-0 win. The refereeing in this game was probably the worst in the finals so far and the sending of of Klose for two innocuous looking fouls pretty much summed up the Spanish Referee’s day. However this is no excuse and this now means that Germany will have to beat Ghana to be in with a chance of maintaining their excellent record of having reached the last 8 of every World Cup Finals since 1938. Serbia can qualify, possibly at Germany’s expense if they beat Australia comfortably in their final match and Ghana hold Germany to a draw. Things will become a bit clearer in this group once Ghana play Australia tomorrow. 

  • Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium
  • Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (Spain)
  • Attendance: 38,294
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    Mexico Too Good For France

    Coat of arms of Mexico.
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    Mexico dispatched a disapointing France Team 2-0 last night to all but book their place in the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup. 

    France reeling from the heavy criticism which followed their drab 0-0 draw with Uruguay recalled Florent Malouda for the match and to be fair they looked a whole lot better. Ribery in particular looked lively early on, however Mexico also seemed to be in better shape than when drawing agaoinst South Africa in their opener and they looked just the better team at the end of an entertaining first half which ended 0-0.

    In the second half started slowly but as it wore on Mexico started to assert their authority on the game and folowing what was to prove two inspired substitutions, first bringing on Hernandez and then Blanco a few minutes latter they finally took the lead when Hernandez beat the French offside trap to calmly round the keeper and tap the ball into an empty net.

    France seemed to be shell shocked by this and never really mounted any attempt at a comeback. It was no surprise when Barrera was brought down in the box and Blanco calmly smashed the penalty into the roof of the net to sew the game up.

    Mexico were good value for their win and despite looking somewhat lighweight up front they could be one of the surprise teams of the finals. As for France they will need a lot of luck to avoid another ignominiuos early exit to add to their Euro 2008 woes.

    Final Score

    Mexico 2-0 France

  • Venue: Peter Mokaba Stadium
  • Attendance: 45,372
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