There were World Cup surprises galore yesterday as France blew out Switzerland and Italy lost 1-0 to World Cup minnows Costa Rica, who now, improbably, top their group. With Spain bowing out, England limping out, and the Latin American teams putting in a great showing this is shaping up to be one of the most interesting World Cups in recent memory. Well, that is if countries like Costa Rica can continue their form.
In the France game Giroud continued his tremendous run of form and put in a man of the match performance. Sure, Benzema wins all the plaudits but it was Giroud working hard on and off the ball which got France the breakthrough and I count the opening goals as much more valuable than the 4th and 5th.
Giroud scored France’s opener off a bullet header in a well crowded box. Swiss defender Senderos was left gawking at the ball and is all the reason you need to know why he no longer plays for Arsenal. In fact, the Djourou/Senderos partnership was a disaster at Arsenal and neither player looks to have improved much since their time away from the Gunners.
Neither of the Swiss defenders can read the game and both seem to play like their heart isn’t in it. Worse, they have the footspeed of a Turkish camel and both were constantly opened up by the French forwards. When you see Djourou losing a footrace to Giroud, which happened for Olly’s assist, you know that’s a defender who is slower than molasses in January.
Do we need another metaphor for how slow they are? No? How about an illustration. Giroud’s assist was an impressive sequence of play which started with Giroud clearing the ball in defence and then racing up the field to receive the long pass as Johan Djourou sprinted to get back into position. Giroud looked up and saw Valbuena steaming forward and picked out a perfect pass. Then he invited Valbuena on to his back Masterblaster style.
With the result settled Karim Benzema decided to show up just as he had done in the previous match after Palacios was sent off. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh but it is odd that Benzema has won man of the match twice now but only turns on the afterburners once the result is essentially settled or down to 10 men. Not saying that he is “crap” but rather that has always been the case for Benzema, he doesn’t take over games when they need a winner but rather puts a gloss on a game once already won. Perhaps this run of form will go a long way toward settling that and turn him into the world class player he seems ready to become.
If you have £60m in your pocket, do you offer the starring role to Benzema this season? I would. But only if we can play against a 10 man Honduras and every opponent has Djourou and Senderos as the center back pair (SARCASM!).
In the Italy match there was a player who already is world class but who, more than ever, needs a fully functioning team running around him to be successful. In a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica, Andrea Pirlo put in a tired performance, man marked by the Costa Rica midfield for 90 minutes, and held to a mere 104 touches compared to his masterful 117 touches against England (SARCASM!).
People are so weird about Pirlo but he is the best midfielder in the game right now. His head is always on a swivel looking upfield for teammates. And he plays with such a beautiful economy of the game. He’s passing at nearly a 95% rate. In case you’re wondering, Pirlo has 221 touches in two games, he’s attempted 195 passes, he’s been dispossessed one time and turned the ball over one time, and he’s only misplaced 11 passes. What’s that, 6% of his touches have gone bad over 180 minutes? WASTER!!!
Watching Pirlo play is like watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel.
And by “touches gone bad” I mean that his teammates have not played up to his level. Let’s face it, the entire Italian side looked very poor yesterday. They combined for a tournament high 11 offsides in the game but it wasn’t because Costa Rica were good at springing the trap. It was because Italy were just terribly off timing. For example, even the Italian subs were offside. They kept just trying to rush their runs. In the end, Pirlo only created one shot for his teammates but he should have created at least 6. His incisive passes which cut apart the Costa Rican defense kept being hauled back for offside.
Balotelli got all the blame for that but only had three of the offsides and was the recipient of Pirlo’s master pass. Balo took the ball down with a heavy touch but got back in time to lob the keeper. His lob was well off target and it was the best chance of the game.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Balotelli had a good game, he was poor. I would merely say in his defense that the entire Italian team looked sluggish and off their game. If there ever was a game for Balotelli to carry his teammates it was that one. Sadly he was happy more as a passenger.
Lest I’m accused of bias against the Costa Ricans, I loved that they played such a solid game and implemented their tactics to a tee. I also loved that Joel Campbell showed a maturity that eludes Balotelli at times. Pushed over by Chiellini in the box he should have won a penalty for his team. After, he complained a bit but then got on with his game. And considering how little he saw of the ball he made quite an annoyance of himself which didn’t show up in the box score.
I like Campbell, I’m sold on him I think, though with reservations. I love the fire in his belly, his speed, and his vision. If you compare Balotelli to Campbell picking him over Balotelli is the safer bet. At £27m transfer fee and with a mooted salary of £185k a week, Balotelli would cost £65m over 4 seasons. Not bad if he turns out to be a great player. With Campbell there’s no transfer fee and I’m sure he’d jump at a 4 year deal at £75k a week. Even with rises every year you’re looking at £25m over 4 years.
The question would be what’s the payout? Which of those two players will turn out to be the next 30 goal a season striker? There is almost no down-side to Campbell but the upside is still unknown, he’s so raw. On the other side of the bet, the upside to Balotelli is pretty clear. But so is the down side — maybe his newly announced nuptials will tame him a bit?
Why pick just one? Buy them both!
More dispatches from my couch tomorrow after the USA match.