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The Cup Running Over


June 15, 2010 4:30 PM

Tuesday Review: The Highlight of the Day is, gulp, New Zealand?

Who'd have thunk it? On the day Brazil, Portugal, and Ivory Coast make their debut, the woeful Kiwis steal the show. We have our first huge surprise in South Africa.

NEW ZEALAND-SLOVAKIA

This 1-1 draw is a real upset. New Zealand, ranked 78th in the world, is frankly terrible, and for it to earn a point against a solid Slovakian side is nothing short of astounding. The Slovakians looked sharper throughout the game, but failed to convert their control of the match into goals. Stanislav Sestak was particularly guilty of wastefulness, and this was a far less ruthless Slovakia than we saw in qualifying. Still, credit has to go to the New Zealanders, who secured a point through a last gasp header deep into stoppage time. ESPN analysts can talk about the American squad's "belief" all they want, but based on the final 15 minutes of this game this New Zealand side has a 'never-say-die' attitude that would put the Americans to shame. All four teams are now tied on points - - could be an interesting group after all.

IVORY COAST-PORTUGAL

Going in, we wondered whether offense or defense would win out. When it ends up 0-0, you have your answer. Still, this was more exciting than your average 0-0. The Elephants looked sharp throughout, with fast, attacking wing play, but clearly missed the presence of its captain and target man up front Didier Drogba, who did little after he was introduced late in the game. Yaya Toure in particular was ubiquitous, and his excellent positioning may be the saving grace of a weak Ivory Coast backline. Portugal looked as Portugal always looks: impenetrable at the back and lifeless up front. The center backs Bruno Alves and Ricardo Carvalho never looked uncomfortable, but Portugal never looked like scoring, with its only real chance coming from a long-range Cristiano Ronaldo shot that rocketed off the bar. If this team is going to score, it will probably be through him, but the fact that he never found the net in qualifying will not encourage the squad.  This group could well be decided on goals scored, which spells trouble for Portugal.

BRAZIL-NORTH KOREA

This was a far tighter contest than most - us included - anticipated. It was a chilly night, and the cold appeared to prevent Brazil from working its usual magic. The first half was stiff, slow, and unexciting, with the five-time world champions probing the North Korean backline again and again to no avail. For an attacking side, there were surprisingly few shots, with Kaka and Luis Fabiano in particular looking strained in the final third. T The team was better in the second half as North Korea began looked tired: Maicon's impossible shot showed again why he keeps getting the nod over Dani Alves, and Robinho played a delicious pass for an easy Elano goal. But this is where things got worrying - - instead of turning superior possession into a rout, Brazil got unusually sloppy up front and went to sleep at the back, even allowing Yum-nam Ji to race behind two defenders and pick up a consolation goal for the North Koreans. Dunga's side has a reputation for replacing flair with efficiency, but Brazil will have to be far more ruthless if it is to pick up trophy number six. Its match against Ivory Coast will be telling.

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