CAIRO: Two weeks of mediocre play in the Fifa World Cup resulted in only a few moments of excitement, as the majority of the games of the first round produced score lines which, while not always disappointing, resulted in little of the flair usually associated with the World Cup.
Among the 16 sides that made it to the second round, Ghana caused the biggest stir by qualifying from Group E at the expense of a star-studded Czech side as well as a much-hyped U.S. squad. Moreover, Australia, in only their second time at the World Cup, qualified behind Brazil in Group F after they overcame Croatia and Japan. Switzerland s consistent form earned them top spot in Group G ahead of France. In Group A, host nation Germany found little to disturb them in their run to top of the group. In their opening game against Costa Rica, they were able to score four goals, two of which were scored by highly acclaimed striker Miroslav Klose; they did, however, concede two goals due to inexperienced defense. Germany marched on to achieve a hard-fought victory over Poland before thrashing second of the group Ecuador by three goals.
Ecuador, however, deserved to qualify to the second round following exhilarating performances against Poland and Costa Rica; both matches they won. Poland seemed unable to capitalize on their chances against Germany and Ecuador, and deserved an early exit. As for Costa Rica, poor goalkeeping, expounded upon by an undisciplined defense, saw them sitting at the bottom of the group without a single point.
With only a mediocre effort, England topped Group B following two victories over Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago. In their opener, an own goal by Paraguay s defender Carlos Gamarra seemed enough to seal England s victory, while England had to wait until the 83rd minute to break the deadlock against Trinidad and Tobago thanks to two great strikes by Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard. As Michael Owen is no longer available due to a knee ligament injury, England fans were relieved to witness the long awaited return of the supremely gifted Wayne Rooney to action against Trinidad and Tobago.
Sweden, despite failing to score against Trinidad and Tobago, managed to score a late goal against Paraguay thanks to midfielder Fredrik Ljungberg – a precious win which left the Scandinavian side in a need of a draw against England to assure qualification, which proved to be the case with a high-profile game that ended with a 2-2 draw and included the netting of the 2000th goal in World Cup history through Sweden s Marcus Allback. Trinidad and Tobago, a side that resorted to a defensive approach, failed to score any goals throughout their three games. As for Paraguay, fatal defensive mistakes against England and Sweden were sufficient to cost them the first round exit, in spite of a well-deserved victory against Trinidad and Tobago in the final day of the group phase.
In Group C, the so-called group of death, a high level of competitive football was displayed in all of the group games. Argentina deservedly came out on top of the group with two victories, the first over the Ivory Coast by two goals to one followed by a brilliant display against Serbia and Montenegro, which saw the South American side score six times without conceding any goals in return. The Netherlands did not impress much despite defeating Serbia and the Ivory Coast thanks to outstanding efforts by Arjen Robben before being held to a goalless draw against Argentina to settle into second place on goal difference. It was definitely the Ivory Coast that had a definitive impact in their first-ever visit to the World Cup; it was unfortunate for such a talented team to lose to Argentina and the Netherlands in tight games. However, they managed to put forth a sterling effort in coming back from two goals down against Serbia to score three goals in a what was their first-ever World Cup victory. Serbia had a dismal tournament, losing three times and conceding 10 goals.
Group D provided the dullest action, with Portugal and Mexico going through to the second round and leaving Angola in third place and Iran at the bottom of the group. Since day one it seemed obvious that both teams had the upper hand in the group, with Portugal beating Angola by a single goal and Mexico defeating a weak defensive Iranian side by three goals to one. Portugal went on to top the group as they overcame Iran by two goals in a clear one-sided contest. Surprisingly, Angola held Mexico to a goalless draw. The African side couldn t preserve their lead in their final game against Iran, however, with the match ending in a 1-1 draw; both sides were consequently eliminated. Portugal continued their winning ways by beating Mexico in the final day of the group to top the group with three consecutive victories. Ghana provided the biggest surprise in the tournament as two fine wins in group E against the Czech Republic followed by the U.S. earned them second place and a well-deserved qualification to the second round alongside group winners Italy. Ghana s two goal victory against the Czech Republic proved to be the turning point in the group.
As anticipated, Italy topped the group with two victories and a draw, although the real question lies in the odd setback that the Czech team had following a comfortable 3-0 victory over the U.S. The injury of Jan Koller, the empowered forward, seemed to have an adverse effect on the team’s ability to score, accompanied by naïve level of defense. The U.S. had inconsistent form, performing poorly against the Czechs – losing by three goals – then performing tenaciously with nine-men against Italy to achieve a draw before losing to Ghana.
Defending Champions Brazil had no trouble in topping Group F, as they comfortably won their three games. While there wasn’t the traditional Brazilian flair, the likes of Ronaldinho, Robinho, Kaka, alongside Ronaldo, can make all the difference against any opponent. Australia, under the command of Guus Hiddink, fought bravely to surpass Croatia and Japan. Despite a solid performance against defending champions Brazil, Croatia practically lost its chance to qualify to the second round as it couldn t infiltrate a poor Japanese defense in their second group game.
In Group G, Switzerland managed to qualify as group winners thanks to outstanding defense and great goal keeping; it is the only team yet to concede a goal in the tournament. France had a hard time in qualifying to the second round, as its lack of the necessary physique lead to the inability to beat Switzerland and South Korea before coming up with an unconvincing victory over Togo. South Korea s defeat against Switzerland saw the semi-finalists four years ago out of the tournament in spite of highly acclaimed performances against Togo and France. Togo, in its first-finals, had a dismal outing, losing all three games. It was quite an easy job for Spain and Ukraine to qualify from Group H, as it seemed inevitable that their opponents, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, couldn t compete at their level. It is worth mentioning that Tunisia and Saudi Arabia lost their chance to qualify as their game ended in a 2-2 draw. Later, both teams lost their remaining two games against Spain and Ukraine. Spain topped the group after three consecutive victories, with the most memorable being their opener, when they thrashed Ukraine 4-0. Ukraine, despite a setback at the beginning against the Spaniards, was able to bounce back quickly against Saudi Arabia and Tunisia thanks to the guidance of team s captain Andriy Shevchenko.
An overall total of 117 goals were scored throughout the first round, which featured 48 games, with an average of two and half goals per game. Germany s striker Miroslav Klose is the top goal scorer with four goals [up until the end of round 1], followed by Spain s Fernando Torres with three goals. Worth mentioning is that Brazil s formidable striker Ronaldo scored twice against Japan to level with Germany s former striker Gerd Muller, the
overall top scorer in the history of the World Cup with 14 goals.
Round one results