South Africa 1 – Mexico 1
The tournament couldn’t have started better for South Africa, as a stunning, top-corner strike from Siphiwe Tshabalala put the home side ahead early in the second half. With over 80,000 fans and the blaring vuvuzelas urging them onward, the Bafana Bafana played an exciting, uptempo game—but a defensive lapse inside their own penalty area allowed Mexican captain Rafael Marquez to score an equalizing goal in the 79th minute. Though Mexico controlled most of the possession, it was South Africa that nearly grabbe
France 0 – Uruguay 0
Fans still buzzing from the scintillating back-and-forth action of the tournament’s opener quickly had the mojo sapped from them by this dreary affair. The highest drama may have been the tournament’s first red card—Uruguay’s Nicolas Lodeiro was sent off following a second yellow card in the 81st minute. With only six shots on goal between them throughout this match, neither side did much to endear themselves to fans—except, perhaps, those of South Africa and Mexico, who saw that Group A was still completely wide open after the World Cup’s opening day.
Next: Day 2
South Korea 2 – Greece 0
Perhaps it’s part of the austerity measures being imposed back home, but this shutout marked Greece’s fourth consecutive World Cup match without scoring a goal. They came close less than a minute into the game, but a shot from Vassilis Torosidis sailed just wide. And despite the Greeks’ vaunted defensive capabilities, they allowed South Korea to open the scoring in the 7th minute, with Jung-Soo Lee redirecting a well-taken free kick into the Greek goal. The 2002 semi-finalists then doubled their lead in the 52nd minute, when Manchester United’s Ji-Sung Park took advantage of a bad giveaway, strode into the Greek penalty area and swept a left-footed shot into the goal.
Argentina 1 – Nigeria 0
Lionel Messi demonstrated some of the movement and footwork that’s earned him the label of “world’s best player,” but it was defender Gabriel Heinze who scored the game’s only goal, with a rocket of a header in the 6th minute. Argentina looked dangerous (as expected), but some quality saves from Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama (including a point-blank stop of Messi in the 81st minute) kept the African side within striking distance right up to the final whistle.
England 1 – USA 1
It was a tale of two goalkeepers—a catastrophic miscue by England’s Robert Green, combined with top-notch shot-stopping from American Tim Howard, produced an unexpected 1-1 draw. England looked poised to open the floodgates after a smoothly converted goal from captain Steven Gerrard in the 4th minute, but Green’s bobble in the 40th minute off a long-range shot from Clint Dempsey allowed the USA to equalize. Green redeemed himself somewhat with a good save off a bad-angle shot from Jozy Altidore in the 65th minute. His English teammates created a number of chances in the second half (including Emile Heskey’s near-breakaway in the 52nd minute), but Howard and his defensive counterparts were able to do enough to shut them down. Afterwards, the soccer world still buzzed about Green’s miscue, though some (including Gerrard) blamed the new ball being used in the 2010 tournament.
Next: Day 3
Slovenia 1 – Algeria 0
It was a triumphant day for the team from Slovenia—the smallest nation represented in this World Cup, population two million—as they claimed their first-ever World Cup victory. The run of play presented few dangerous scoring opportunities for either side, but the turning point came in the 73rd minute when Algerian striker Abdelkader Ghezzal (unsuccessfully) attempted to replicate Maradona’s infamous Hand of God goal—problem was, it was clearly spotted by the ref, who showed him his second yellow card of the game. With the African side down to 10 men, the Slovenians pounced, with Robert Koren scoring the decisive goal in the 79th minute, curling a low shot into the corner of the Algerian net.
Ghana 1 – Serbia 0
Boasting the likes of Nemanja Vidic and Milos Krasic, Serbia looked ready to make an impact in its first-ever World Cup game as an independent nation (Serbia & Montenegro competed in the 2006 tournament). But poor decision-making was their undoing: first, Aleksandar Lukovic, who was sent off in the 74th minute after picking up his second yellow card. Five minutes later, Krasic got a good scoring chance in from 12 yards out, but Ghanaian keeper Richard Kingson pushed the ball over the crossbar. Then, in the 83rd minute, more bad decision-making (a needless handball) by the Serbs gave Ghana a penalty kick, which was blasted into the back of the net by Asamoah Gyan for the decisive goal.
Germany 4 – Australia 0
Of the tournament favourites, Germany was the first to put its authoritative stamp on the 2010 World Cup, dispatching the Socceroos with a dazzling array of perfectly-timed runs and incisive passing. Lukas Podolski opened the scoring in the 8th minute with a left-footed blast, and Miroslav Klose doubled the lead in the 26th minute, heading home a perfect cross from Philipp Lahm. Keeping with the theme of the day, Australia had a man sent off early in the second half when Tim Cahill was shown a straight red for a dangerous tackle on Bastian Schweinsteiger. The sending-off squelched any hopes of an Australian comeback, as Thomas Muller and Cacau potted their own pretty second-half goals to add plenty of icing to this slice of Black Forest cake.
Next: Day 4
Netherlands 2 – Denmark 0
It took a few fortuitous bounces, but the Oranje opened the World Cup the way they finished (and started) qualifying—with a victory. Robin van Persie looped a cross into the Danish penalty area in the 46th minute that deflected off of two defenders and found its way into the net for the opening marker. Wesley Sneijder’s shot in the 82nd minute also took a big bounce off a Danish defender and nearly found its way into the Danes’ goal; instead, it struck the crossbar. And in the 85th minute, a crafty shot by Eljero Elia struck the post, but a fortunate bounce (notice a trend?) allowed Dirk Kuyt to easily slot home the rebound. As the saying goes, you need to be good to be lucky, and lucky to be good.
Japan 1 – Cameroon 0
In their quest to win a World Cup game on foreign soil for the first time (they co-hosted the tournament in 2002), Japan struck the most important blow late in the first half: Daisuke Matsui sent a beautiful cross into the Cameroon goal area, which was gratefully accepted by Keisuke Honda and thumped into the net in the 39th minute. Cameroon seemed unable to find any sort of creativity or effective offense, lofting one futile long ball after another towards the Japanese goal in the second half—the closest they came was in the 86th minute when a shot by Stephane M’Bia struck the post. But good defending from the Japanese—along with a preposterous save from goalkeeper Elji Kawashima in the dying minutes—helped preserve the one-goal victory and move Japan onto its next quest: qualification for the Round of 16.
Italy 1 – Paraguay 1
The first action of the tournament for the defending champions saw them go down by a goal to the upstart South American side in the 39th minute, when Antolin Alcaraz directed a perfectly-aimed header past Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Not the best way to begin your defence of the title. But the Azzurri, in trademark fashion, found a way to get the result they needed: midfielder Daniele De Rossi received a corner kick in the 63rd minute and calmly put it in the back of the Paraguayan net. Italy did salvage the draw, but on the bad news front, Buffon picked up an injury that could keep him out of future games. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, they say—and after this game, the Italians’ crown got a bit heavier.
Next: Day 5
New Zealand 1 – Slovakia 1
Many were worried about the possibility that New Zealand could embarrass itself in the tournament, especially following a less-than-impressive performance at last year’s Confederations Cup. A goal by Slovakia’s Robert Vittek in the 50th minute only stoked those nervous flames. But New Zealand held things together—maintaining a slim advantage in ball possession throughout the game—and in their first World Cup appearance since 1982, the All-Whites made sure to give their fans something special to cheer about. In the third minute of second-half injury time, Winston Reid wrote his name into Kiwi sporting lore, heading home a cross from Shane Smeltz and earning his side a hard-fought point. With the 1-1 tie between Italy and Paraguay on Day 4, all was square between the four teams in Group F after their first matches, creating plenty of intrigue for the next round of games.
Portugal 0 – Ivory Coast 0
The first match in the so-called Group of Death produced a stalemate between two sides whose stars had been featured on the cover of a recent edition of Vanity Fair—Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and the Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba. Ronaldo patrolled the pitch with his trademark speed and passion—a clever turn gave him the space to rip a long-range shot in the 11th minute that struck the goal post. But he was goaded into a yellow card in the 21st minute after retaliating against some harsh treatment from the Ivorians—a card that Portugal has since appealed. As for Drogba, he watched most of the game from the sidelines, still nursing a broken arm suffered in a pre-tournament friendly match. But in the 66th minute, he received a roaring ovation from the crowd as he entered the game. His impact was limited, though, as were his team’s scoring chances. Both sides will ultimately need to find a way to put the ball in the net if their high hopes in this tournament are to be met.
Brazil 2 – North Korea 1
If you told someone that North Korea—playing Brazil in their first game—would score a goal in this tournament before France, Nigeria, Uruguay or Portugal did . . . well, you’d have gotten some very strange looks. But, indeed, there was Yun-Nam Ji, crisply striking home a goal in the 89th minute, for the team’s first World Cup goal since 1966 (their only other appearance in the tournament). The narrow one-goal loss was no fluke, as the Asian side showed plenty of offensive spark, particularly in the game’s opening 15 minutes. Now, of course, let’s not forget that Brazil, five-time World Cup champions, actually won the match. Maicon’s tight-angle goal in the 55th minute generated plenty of debate over whether it was a piece of brilliance or just good luck—in either event, it was a joy to behold. The same can be said for Elano’s cool finish in the 72nd minute, finishing off a series of passes and demonstrating what the South American juggernauts are capable of.
Next: Day 6
Chile 1 – Honduras 0
Canadians who attended the U20 World Cup in 2007 might remember the skillful display by some of the young Chileans—and the entire world got to see it in the team’s opening match at the 2010 World Cup. The team played a smooth, attacking game, even though their goal wasn’t the prettiest—a 34th minute cross into the goal area that was bundled into the Honduran goal by Jean Beausejour (even if he knew nothing about it; the ball deflected off of his back). Chile nearly had a second goal in the 64th minute on a diving header by Waldo Carrizo, but Honduran goalie Noel Bonilla made a terrific save with his outstretched arm to keep the final score 1-0.
Switzerland 1 – Spain 0
Neutrals (of the soccer-watching variety) rejoiced as the Swiss pulled off the first major upset of the tournament. Spain played the role of heavy favourites early, stringing together dozens of passes and maintaining a massive advantage in ball possession. But despite plenty of neat footwork (and 21 shots at goal), the Spaniards couldn’t put the ball past Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, who made several critical saves. On the other end, Gelson Fernandes finished off a scoring chance in the 52nd minute—and Eren Derediyok could have made it two with a swooping run into the Spanish penalty area later on, but his shot hit the post. Spain applied plenty of pressure—Xabi Alonso struck a right-footed shot off the crossbar in the 70th minute—but some solid Swiss defending ensured the team would claim its first-ever victory over Spain, and three massive points in Group H.
Uruguay 3 – South Africa 0
While the South Africans came into their second match riding the momentum of a positive result against Mexico, the Uruguayans quickly quieted the home crowd. Diego Forlan hit a highlight-reel goal in the 24th minute that dipped in the air and found its way under the crossbar. Uruguay applied unrelenting pressure and kept the ball in South Africa’s half for most of the game. One of the Africans’ few chances came in the 40th minute, when Katlego Mphela knocked a header just wide. But the game—and possibly the tournament—fell completely apart for South Africa in the 76th minute. Goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune was shown a red card for bringing down Luis Suarez in the area—a decision questioned by many, including South Africa’s coach. Forlan converted the ensuing penalty kick, and for good measure, Alvaro Pereira added a third Uruguayan goal deep in injury time to seal a rather convincing victory for the South Americans.
Next: Day 7
Argentina 4 – South Korea 1
The Group B favourites began to hit their stride in this match, and were the beneficiaries of some early good fortune, as a 16th-minute corner kick was inadvertently redirected into his own net by South Korean striker Chu-Young Park. Argentina then made it 2-0 when striker Gonzalo Higuain headed home a well-played cross in the 33rd minute, and kept the pressure up: Angel di Maria nearly made it three with a dangerous strike in the 40th minute, but goalkeeper Sung-Ryong Jung stretched to punch it wide. But just as Argentina seemed to have everything under control, Chung-Yong Lee took advantage of a horrible brain-freeze moment by defender Martin Demichelis to nab an unexpected goal 30 seconds before halftime. That goal changed the flow of the game, as the second half was much more balanced between the two teams—but after Jung made several huge saves, Higuain finally put the game away for Argentina in the 76th minute, after a shot from Lionel Messi hit the post and Higuain was left with a wide-open goal from two yards away. Higuain completed his hat-trick with another short-range goal in the 80th minute, heading the ball in from six yards away.
Greece 2 – Nigeria 1
Both teams knew a loss would almost certainly mean early elimination from the tournament, so the game started a bit cautiously. But when Nigeria was awarded a free kick in the 16th minute, Kalu Uche cracked it into the net from 25 yards out, as Greek goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas was caught cheating to the wrong side of the goal. Then the momentum turned when Sani Kaita was shown a red card in the 40th minute for senselessly kicking out at Vassilis Torosidis. With the Super Eagles forced to play with 10 men, the Greeks stepped up the attacking pressure, and were rewarded with their first-ever World Cup goal in the 44th minute when a Dimitris Salpingidis shot deflected past Nigerian keeper Vincent Enyeama. With both teams pressing for the win, the second half was wide open and full of scoring chances. Enyeama made several outstanding saves, but when he dropped a shot in the 71st minute, Torosidis was there to pick up the rebound and score a priceless winning goal for Greece.
Mexico 2 – France 0
France was a team in turmoil heading into the tournament; they barely scraped into the World Cup after a controversial playoff victory against Ireland. And while they showed some faint potential in the first half of this game, disorganization allowed Mexico to get the majority of scoring chances. Defender Carlos Salcido had two of the best in the first half, hitting shots just wide in the 18th and 27th minutes. Javier Hernandez eventually broke the scoreless deadlock in the 64th minute, beating the French offside trap (barely) and dribbling around the goalkeeper before sliding the ball into the net. Mexico may have put the nail in France’s World Cup coffin in the 77th minute, when Pablo Barrera was tripped in the area, earning his side a penalty kick. Mexican legend Cuautehmoc Blanco stepped up and slid the ball into the corner for a solid Mexican victory and, most likely, another ignominious World Cup exit for the French.
Next: Day 8
Serbia 1 – Germany 0
The Germans were looking to build on their dominant win over Australia, while the Serbs were desperately seeking points after an opening-game loss to Ghana. The referee seemed intent on asserting control, showing plenty of yellow cards early—including two to German striker Miroslav Klose in the first 33 minutes, reducing the Germans to 10 men for the remainder of the match. Serbia capitalized a few minutes later, with Milan Jovanovic scoring from inside the German goal area. Sami Khedira almost tied it in first-half injury time, but his screaming shot hit the crossbar. The momentum looked set to shift again in the 58th minute, when Nemanja Vidic inexplicably handled the ball inside his own penalty area, gifting the Germans a penalty kick—but Vladimir Stojkovic made an excellent save on Lukas Podolski’s effort. German coach Joachim Loew made three offense-minded substitutes in the second half, pressing for an equalizing goal. But the Serbs held on through a frantic final 30 minutes, handing the Germans their first loss in the group stages of the World Cup since 1986.
USA 2 – Slovenia 2
Slovenia had one of the stingiest defences in European World Cup qualifying (conceding only four goals in 10 matches), but in the first half against the USA, they showed they’ve got scoring punch too. In the 13th minute, Valter Birsa was left unmarked and unleashed a shot from 25 yards out that left American keeper Tim Howard completely flat-footed. The early goal rattled the US side, and the Europeans doubled their lead in the 42nd minute, when striker Zlatan Ljubijankic found some open space and coolly slotted the ball past Howard. But halftime rejuvenated the USA—Landon Donovan went on a strong solo run in the 48th minute and cracked the ball into the top of the net. Then, in the 82nd minute, the Slovenian defence was penetrated again, as Michael Bradley took a headed pass from Jozy Altidore and roofed the equalizing goal. American fans thought their team had taken the lead in the 86th minute, but a goal by Maurice Edu was disallowed by the referee for reasons that no replay seemed to adequately explain. An exciting comeback and an impressive display from the tournament’s smallest country made this one of the best matches of the group stages.
England 0 – Algeria 0
And from one of the tournament’s best games so far, to one of its worst. Despite the bevy of high-profile stars and pre-tournament hype, England could muster almost nothing of note against Algeria, failing to create scoring chances—or even string passes together. Their best chance came in the 33rd minute, when Frank Lampard hit a left-footed strike from 12 yards out, forcing a good lunging save from Algerian keeper Rais Ouhab. In the 71st minute, Emile Heskey looked to have a scoring chance for England, but his attempt at goal was deflected away on a sliding tackle from defender Rafik Halliche. That play summed up the game, as Algeria’s defence firmly repelled the anemic English attack, and both teams were left still alive (but not looking particularly dangerous) heading into the final day of play in Group C.
Daniel Squizzato writes for Some Canadian Guys Writing About Soccer, which takes a passionate (and often irreverent) look at the Canadian soccer scene, major international tournaments and all sorts of odds and ends related to the beautiful game.