Friday, January 25, 2008

Group A, Day Two.

I wasn't able to watch games the last two mornings --I miss evening classes and not having to worry about getting up past noon on days I don't work, by the way-- so these were my first matches since the triple header and it provided the best game I've seen in the tournament and, thankfully, a close night game. I was dreading the inevitable destruction of Namibia after watching their first match, it's not that I'm usually so empathetic to the failings of athletes (Eli Manning's game against the Minnesota Vikings, for example, was hilarious), but I wasn't anticipating enjoying watching Ghana run all over them, but more on that game in minute.

Guinea v. Morocco
The first half played out with very few chances for either side. Guinea played defense like they had in the second half of the opening game with Ghana, as though their play in the first half of that tie was an aberration, likely due to nerves or something.

Morocco's attack was without Alloudi and, the Cristiano Ronaldo look-a-like, Marouane Chamakh, they looked very little like the side that was up 2-0 within the first five minutes against Namibia. The long balls that were setting up easy opportunities for their strike force were nowhere to be found, as if they were only brought out against the lowest ranked team because who needs to spend a lot of time developing strikes when everything is coming so simply?

They had two shot attempts in the first half. It's possible both were by Youssof Hadji. I know one of them was because I made a note at the time that I have little faith in him actually putting something in the net when he's on goal. Of course, that was before I saw more of Chamakh. Put it this way, it's not surprising that his best play of the first game was passing the ball off the deflection of his own missed strike to Alloudi for the first goal against Namibia. That's likely the closest he's going to come to scoring in this tournament, his touch is awful; were it not, his team likely would've scrounged a point.

Aside from Pascal Feindouno's fantastic free kick from the left side of the penalty area in the 11th minute, neither side were able to get anything by each other until a flurry of goals around the 60th minute. The first was a wonderful set up by Feindouno finished by a perfect strike by Ismael Bangoura; followed by a goal from the just subbed in Hicham Aboucherouane that came from distance and was so quick that the live broadcast was only able to show the ball in the back of the net because they were still replaying Bangoura's shot; a minute later, after a questionable penalty call --the commentator said that if the foul had been committed in the French Ligue, it would have been a free kick; I know from experience that it would have been in FIFA-- Feindouno made it 3-1.

It seemed all but over, unless Morocco had another non-sequitur goal or two in them, but Feindouno was goaded into kicking a defender who had stepped on his foot and was immediately ejected. The resulting half hour, with occasional breaks, the Moroccans were in Guinea's side attempting to close the gap. Despite a few great opportunities, they wouldn't score until the final minute of regulation, and then proceeded to squander the last minute of stoppage time --in which they had a free kick-- feuding with Guinea. It seemed like a waste to me, that maybe they could have used that time to set up something a little better than a long range kick with their last possession of the match, but it's possible there are things about proper late game strategy I need to learn, being a relative neophyte to the game.

Two things things that stood out.
First, early, multiple Guinea players were forced to leave the pitch to cover weddings more than they already were taped up. The guy announcing the game (I've yet to retain the name of any of the people involved in putting on these broadcasts --not knowing most of the players involved, I'm forced to focus my attention on learning those-- by African Cup of Nations 2008 I'm hoping to have that down) seemed to think that the attention these rings were getting was odd. I certainly don't remember this happening in any other game. I wonder if Guinea are notorious for fouling with their rings, if they use them as a brass knuckle or if they attempt to get close to people and pinch them between in the skin of their finger and the band. Either way, this South African ref was abysmal and this had nothing to do with it.

Second, I wasn't initially sure what I thought of Pascal Feindouno after the Sunday. He seemed good and all, but I couldn't tell whether I was under that impression simply because of the attention he received being the captain and everything, but I've definitely come around. He might be my favorite player of the tournament I didn't already know (although Salomon Kalou of the-great-goal-against-Nigeria-fame-who-would-rather-be-playing-for-the-Dutch-national-team is intriguing), the unfortunate red card notwithstanding. Apparently, the rumor is that Blackburn is looking to sign him this month to replace the departed Anelka for a fifth of the money they retained from his sale. I don't know anything, really, but it seems like a good deal to me.

Ghana v. Namibia
Ghana dominated this match. Really, it played a lot like the first half of the kick-off match. Ghana with over 60% of possession, getting chance after chance, missing all of them (except, of course, the Agogo off-the-keeper chip). It's possible that I've just seen three really mediocre halves from an ordinarily really good team, but I wonder if they weren't the home team if they would have won either of these matches. Despite having the ball, roughly, 38% of the time and being out shot 20-7, Namibia really could have tied this game and put a lot of pressure on Ghana to even qualify for the next round. It's possible they're one of those teams that play down to their competition, but save for a great long distance goal from Muntari at the end of the opener and Agogo miraculously not missing the goal from 5 feet out, I don't know if they're capable of actually finishing. I think Morocco can beat them (and obviously Guinea can beat Namibia) and potentially eliminate them from the tournament. Either way, it should be an exciting final day, on Monday, for these four sides. Well, three of them.

Claude LeRoy was wearing a black jacket and a black v-neck sweater.

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