The warm-ups are finished – so what exactly did we learn along the way?
Tim Rich on who shone brightest and which teams slipped up in the friendlies
Friday 11 June 2010
Which teams are in peak form?
the one concern about Spain was what impact the injuries to Cesc Fabregas and Fernando Torres that ended their Premier League seasons early might have. Those who came to Murcia to see the favourites off with a 6-0 demolition of Poland on Tuesday, witnessed Fabregas take minutes to put his name on the scoresheet while Torres kicked the rust off his boots against some supine opposition. The outstanding performer was, however, Andres Iniesta.
Holland, the most thoroughbred of dark horses, had the opposite experience; with Arjen Robben a late casualty in a 6-1 demolition of Hungary in Amsterdam. Worse, is the indecision in the Dutch camp about whether their single most influential player could be risked in Monday's opener against Denmark. Their physio says yes, their manager, Bert van Marwijk reckons no.
Compared to the chaotic, careering way in which they approached the last World Cup, Germany's acceleration has been Mercedes-smooth, with comfortable victories over Hungary and Bosnia, although their former captain, Lothar Matthäus, claims they "lack individual class", especially without the injured Michael Ballack. But that is precisely the point. They were short of individual class in 2002 and in Euro 2008 and they still made the final.
Which sides have struggled?
step forward France. There are many who think that because of Thierry Henry's handball in the play-off against Ireland they should not be in South Africa at all, a view the French squad seem to share. Their preparations began with a lacklustre 2-1 victory over Costa Rica and went rapidly downhill, via a 1-1 draw with Tunisia and a 1-0 defeat to China. Reports of a player revolt and criticism of their luxurious training base have all added to a desperate mix.
It says something for the way England have prepared that they are the one team to have made Japan look good. The statements by their coach, Takeshi Okada, that they would "definitely" reach the semi-final are beginning to compare with Ally MacLeod's "Scotland will win the World Cup" in 1978 for fatuousness. After defeats to Serbia, South Korea and Ivory Coast , Okada claimed: "This is a team still capable of going places." Straight back home.
Fabio Capello might be relieved that Algeria, whom England meet in Cape Town, have lost their best player, midfielder Mourad Meghni, to injury and dropped their captain, Yazid Mansouri.
And who will walk away with the Golden Boot?
a word of warning. The player who scores more goals than anyone else in a World Cup is not necessarily the best player as Miroslav Klose proved four years ago. One hat-trick, such as Gary Lineker's against Poland in 1986, can be enough. David Villa was Euro 2008's leading marksman despite missing the final and the semi. His hat-trick against Russia was sufficient. So while Argentina's forward line looks formidable, their goals are likely to be shared among Higuain, Di Maria, Messi and Tevez. You need a dominant striker who will meet a terrible defence on their way to the latter stages. Wayne Rooney might strongly fancy his chances of tearing Algeria to shreds and Robin van Persie would think the same when Holland run into Japan in Durban.
Sometimes, the best striker in the world does end up with the Golden Boot. Ronaldo's displays for Brazil in 2002 is the case in point. Lionel Messi faces too much competition from his own strikers, Cristiano Ronaldo is part of a Portugal side that is in danger of not progressing to the knockout stages. It could be Rooney, it could even be Robinho, but much more likely it could and maybe should be Fernando Torres.
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