World Cup Morning Report – Group of Death to buck the trend?

It would not be hypercritical or particularly churlish to suggest the opening round of games in each group of the competition thus far has unfortunately left plenty to be desired in terms of entertaining football. The majority of the 22 teams that have begun their World Cup campaigns so far have opted for the cautious, measured and safe approach, playing at a relatively slow tempo and putting a strong emphasis on defensive solidity.

This is perhaps characterised by the fact only 18 goals have been scored in the 11 games to date. Just the one game has contained more than two goals and only Germany, who scythed apart Australia with some scintillating football, and perhaps Argentina, left any inhibitions in the dressing room. Even the notoriously adventurous and attack-minded Dutch failed to produce any pyrotechnics in a decidedly dull affair against Denmark yesterday.

Despite the absence of mouth-wateringly entertaining football as we enter day five of the tournament (Germany the exception), no-one can blame any team for prioritising the preservation of a clean sheet in their first game. If a coach of a team believes that is the best way to approach their first game of the competition and to progress to the knockout stages, then that is his prerogative. After all, no-one wants their team to be reckless in the most important games they are likely to compete in. However, today’s games in Group G, the so-called ‘Group of Death’, could potentially contrast considerably to the largely tentative and circumspect theme that has weaved its way through the matches so far, and led to the odd yawn or two from avid Premier League admirers who are more accustomed to fast-paced and constantly thrilling spectacles.

In the opening match of the group Ivory Coast meet Portugal, whilst five-time champions Brazil face the minnows from Korea DPR in the final game of the day. Clearly Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Ivorians coming up against Carlos Queiroz’s Portuguese starlets is the game of the day, and it should not be anywhere near as cagey as some of the previous games we have seen. Both sides are replete with players possessing brains naturally programmed with attacking intent. Former England Coach Eriksson’s key men will surely be the Chelsea twain of Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou, but should FIFA decide Drogba is not permitted to sport a protective cast to protect his fractured arm, the Swede can call upon either Aruna Dindane or Lille’s Gervinho to lead his attack. Yaya Toure is of course another outstanding talent at Eriksson’s disposal, and arguably the Ivorians best player.

The Portuguese are similarly blessed with a host of stellar quality in attacking positions with players such as the incomparable Cristiano Ronaldo, the skilful Simao and the experienced Liedson. The most important player for Portugal is without doubt Ronaldo, but the unsung hero of the side and player who could well enhance his reputation markedly if he plays to his ability in South Africa, is Porto’s midfield schemer Raul Meireles. At 27 he is in his prime and should start the game today, tasked with supplying the goalscoring opportunities for his teammates to finish off. We could not blame them if they have, but for entertainments sake let’s hope these two teams’ Coaches have not reprogrammed their players’ minds to a defensive and overly careful setting.

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