South American World Cup Qualifying

South American qualifiers has now passed the half way stage and there were some fascinating games in the last round of fixtures.

The first game I watched was Uruguay and Paraguay and it was very good with both teams evenly matched for a lot of the game and both teams knew they needed a victory. Uruguay’s team is really impressive and they should qualify for the World Cup and could be outsiders for the trophy, with an attacking trio of Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani they will cause problems for any defence. With the game at 0-0 all three of these were on the pitch and they were creating chances with Cavani missing a volley that he should have done a lot better with but even though he was in a lot of space he didn’t even hit the target.

Uruguay took the lead from a great volley from Luis Suarez and they thought that would have been enough to finish the game as it was in the 81st minute but Paraguay who were not creating clear cut chances but looked threatening equalised just four minutes later. They also have decent forward players in Oscar Cardozo and Nelson Valdez but neither of them had many chances and Cardozo eventually had to go off injured which could be good news for Newcastle as he is Benfica’s main man and it looked like a hamstring injury which could keep him out for a little while. Edgar Benitez scored the equaliser and he really impressed me when he came on because he had a lot of pace and his movement was causing Uruguay problems.
A draw was probably a fair result but it left Paraguay bottom of the qualifying group and Uruguay in fourth place so they will need to improve results to qualify for the tournament in Brazil.

Argentina also played Venezuela and they stretched their lead at the top of the group to four points, however they have played one more game than second placed Colombia. Yet again, Argentina have a very impressive front three with Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi so they probably were expected to beat Venezuela easily. The game didn’t quite turn out that way but a 3-0 win was deserved. Higuain opened the scoring after some wonderful one touch football involving Messi. The second goal came from the penalty spot with Messi smashing it home, then Higuain added a third in the second half.

The interesting thing from this game from me was how deep Messi played, behind him at Barcelona he has Xavi and Andres Iniesta so he knows the creativity is there and doesn’t have to drop deep to get the ball. But for his national side there isn’t as much creativity in Javier Mascherano and Fernando Gago, who are both good holding midfielders but they may not see the passes as quickly. Messi was popping up all over the pitch and it did slightly take something away from his game but he still proved he is the best player in the world.

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Player of the day- Xavi

Spain have created history by winning their third major international competition in a row and they deserved their victory after yet another scintillating performance.

Firstly, though I did feel sorry for the Italians and it is always sad to see professional footballers crying on the pitch and to see players like Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo looking on with tears in their eyes was not easy to watch. They were gracious in defeat even though they lost 4-0 and in all honesty were never in the game. David Silva opened the scoring after some good work from Cesc Fabregas and it was all downhill from there, as Jordi Alba scored a second just before half time after an exquisite through ball from Xavi. The game was almost over and then when Thiago Motta had to go off injured, that was it they had no chance of getting back into it as they had already used all three substitutes. Then the game turned into the Fernando Torres show who had been wrote off a few times during the tournament but the man could be back as he has finished with the golden boot as he got a goal and the assist which he needed to take over Mario Gomez. His finish was superb as he beat the onrushing Buffon with ease then after being played through again he played it to his Chelsea teammate Juan Mata to put the ball into the net.

Man of the match- Xavi- For me he was the difference between the sides and he played slightly different to usual as it seemed like he was told to push on more. Not only did he dictate play for Spain, he also stopped Pirlo playing and made him look his age. His through ball to Alba for the second goal was in my opinion the pass of the tournament and not many other players in the world could have played it with the right amount of weight. It was a perfect performance from him as he hardly gave the ball away and won the ball high up the field. Italy didn’t have an answer to him and he just outshone Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso.

Xavi has 115 caps for Spain

Player of the day- Andrea Pirlo and would the Italian get in the Spain team?

England have crashed out of yet another tournament after losing in a penalty shootout against Italy, however they were massively outplayed by their opponents.

The Italians deserve their place in the semi finals and they will give Germany a better game than England would have so at least it will be a good game to watch. It is disappointing that England have gone out on a personal level but to be fair to the players and Roy Hodgson nobody really expected us to win the group so that should be seen as a massive achievement. But, onto the game and it was all Italy and they had numerous chances to win the game and had a lot of attempts on Joe Hart’s goal. Mario Balotelli was threatening in behind with his pace and was almost through one on one but was blocked out by John Terry. The game finished 0-0 and in extra time the pattern of the game didn’t change and the Italians poured more and more men forward with Antonio Nocerino having a goal disallowed just before it went to the dreaded penalty shootouts. Italy won 4-2 with Ashley Young and Ashley Cole missing. I enjoyed the Italian penalties actually as they mostly showed their composure and showed the English how it was done. Balotelli’s was brilliant as no keeper would have saved and Andrea Pirlo’s well it is difficult to describe it as he was under so much pressure and he had took it like he didn’t have a care in the world and it wasn’t in front of millions of people around the world.

Man of the match- Andrea Pirlo- The Italian midfielder is my player of the tournament as he has just been fantastic, every time he gets the ball he produces something special, his through ball to Balotelli was outstanding and his awareness was incredible. He picked up the ball near his own box and casually chipped the ball through right into the path of Balotelli who just couldn’t take the chance. He could have got man of the match just for his penalty but his passing is in my opinion unrivalled as not many players can drop in deep and play little one twos then play a cross field pass with so much accuracy. A lot of people will argue that Spain’s midfielders are better because they have a better passing average but Pirlo dictates a game by himself whereas Xavi and Xabi Alonso etc do it more as a partnership. That is just my opinion and I think if he was Spanish he would get into their first 11.

Has Pirlo been the best player at Euro 2012?

Player of the day- Jordi Alba

Spain and Italy are the next two teams to qualify for the knockout stages and eliminated Croatia and Ireland in the process.

Ireland were already out of the competition but they were still looking to win their final game however they were beaten 2-0 by Italy which put a lot on the other game as both Spain and Croatia could have went out. Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli scored the goals and sent them through in second place.

Spain as expected had most of the ball in their game but Croatia easily had the best chances and should have had a penalty. Ivan Rakitic should have scored with a header from a wonderful cross from Luka Modric but he sent it straight at Iker Casillas in the Spain goal. The Spanish did not look confident when defending crosses and Vedran Corluka was clearly being fouled as he jumped up for a header late on but the referee missed. However, Corluka should have scored anyway but it hit his shoulder and went agonisingly over the bar. In the last few minutes substitute Cesc Fabregas chipped a lovely ball through to Andres Iniesta who squared for Jesus Navas to tap in. But, this wasn’t the end of Croatia because if they had scored they would have went through knocking out Spain in the process but they couldn’t really create a clear chance.

Man of the match- Jordi Alba- It was difficult to choose a man of the match because of how well Croatia played and if they had managed to find an equaliser then Luka Modric and Gordon Schildenfeld would have been in contention. But I am giving it to the Spain left back who made countless attacking runs and looked more like a winger than a fullback. Spain weren’t at their best with their main players such as David Silva and Andres Iniesta only being on the edge of the game for the most part and with Xabi Alonso and Xavi not being able to find a killer pass. For me the left back looked most likely from the players that started the game to create something and even though his defending at times wasn’t the best, he managed to make a few important interceptions. As said, it was his attacking intent that impressed me and it just shows in the stats, he made 19 successful passes in the attacking third.

Alba has been linked with a number of clubs this summer including Barcelona and Manchester United