Tuesday, June 19, 2018

FIFA's World Tankings

Group H is topsy-turvy with the two lower-ranked teams, Japan and Senegal, topping the table after beating Colombia and Poland respectively.

Colombia


The Cafeteros were already beleaguered by James Rodriguez starting on the bench due to muscle problems and then had a nightmare start when Carlos Sanchez was sent off for an impromptu handball to stop a Japanese goal after two minutes. 

The goal came when an uncharacteristic mess-up from Davinson Sanchez, one of Colombia's best players, allowed Shinji Kagawa a shot on target. The other Sanchez, Carlos, opted in a split-second to stop the goalbound effort with his arm but in retrospect would have wanted to let it in.

Remember Luis Suarez in the 2010 quarter final? He sacrificed himself and it paid off as Ghana missed the penalty. Japan scored however and Colombia were a man down.

Kagawa scored with a fairly standard sidefoot close to the middle which David Ospina would have saved most days.

Japan were good value for their lead, having spurned other chances but Colombia's equaliser was worth its weight in pesos too, a delightful grasscutter under the wall from Juan Quintero.

Yuya Osako's header gives the lie to the feeling that Far Eastern teams do not play the aerial game well. 

Add to that the fact that Japan became the first Asian side to defeat South American opposition at the World Cup finals, and that makes it a historic match.

Colombia looked lazy, failing to press when they should have done, allowing their lower-ranked opponents to build their attacks and their confidence and unable to turn the screw when they had the momentum of the equaliser.

Maybe they missed a fit James more than they realised, or maybe the muscle of Edwin Cardona and the speed too of Yimmi Chara, who both missed the final cut.

Senegal flew the flag for African football following Nigeria's woeful show versus Croatia but what a crazy second goal. M'Baye Niang was well within his rights to chase the back pass as the Bahraini referee Nawaf Shrukalla had waved him on, albeit at an extremely opportune moment.

I cannot recall such a bizarre goal except for one Nottingham Forest once scored in the old Guinness Soccer Six tournament when Tommy Gaynor ran out of the sin bin to latch on to a through ball and score.

The Poles were understandably aggrieved but must also admit a trio of errors - Grzegorz Krychowiak's long-range and lofted back pass, Jan Bednarek's failure to get to the ball and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesney's 40 yard charge only to miss the football.

Poland's fightback was a goal too short but they still looked the better team, more proof perhaps that the better side does not always win. There is no such thing as having 'deserved to win'. It is goals which win games.

Russia made history too tonight by being the first host since Italy in 1934 to rack up eight goals in their opening two games and this from the team supposed to be so bad even Vladimir Putin was afraid get too close.

Who would have thought it? Certainly not the world governing body, if their official classification, on which the seedings are based, is worth anything.

If on one day Japan (16th) beat Colombia (61st) and the 27th ranked nation Senegal beat the eighth best Poland and finally the 70th best side in the world beat the 45th, then should we not just forget the FIFA world rankings?

Mo Salah finally got to play and score at the World Cup but left the field dejected, unable to reach 100% after a date from hell in Kiev with Sergio Ramos.

That said, Egypt's final balls left a lot to be desired and their marking in the box let them down for Russia's three goals too. Saint Petersburg was windy and rainy, a contrast to the plague of insects attacking England's players in Volgograd last night.

A tenth penalty in 17 games confirms this is the VAR World Cup. But it also looks like being Russia's, for now anyway.

Spasibo (thank you) & spokoynoy nochi (good night)

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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