Hernan Crespo and Arjen Robben watched from their respective benches as Argentina and Holland fought out an absorbing 0-0 draw in Frankfurt last night.
Both sides rested players at risk of picking up a further yellow card which would see them suspended in the second round, and while the game was hardly short on star quality it failed to live up to the pre-match hype. Marco van Basten’s side acquitted themselves well against the likes of Tevez, Messi and Riquelme, but offered relatively little up front with a tactical plan that looked more about containment than winning the game. Argentina were afforded little space and time and were unable to find the kind of rhythm that led to the 6-0 rout of Serbia and Montenegro, but even without four or five key players the two-time winners looked to be playing well within their capabilites.
The draw meant that Jose Pekerman’s side topped the group by virtue of their superior goal difference, which set up a last sixteen clash with Group D runners-up Mexico on Saturday while Holland will face Portugal on Sunday.
Group D was decided by Portugal’s 2-1 win over Mexico in which former Chelsea midfielder Maniche scored for Scolari’s side. In the day’s other games, the suspended Didier Drogba watched his Ivory Coast teammates record an historic 3-2 victory over Serbia and Montenegro, their first win in World Cup history, having fought back from being 2-0 down inside the first twenty minutes. Both sides had a player sent off and the game was notable in that it was the first time that a team had come from two goals behind to win a World Cup match since West Germany beat England 3-2 in 1970.
Elsewhere in Group D, Iran and Angola shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw which gave the African side brief hope of qualifying for the second phase having taken the lead through Amado Flavio’s header, in the knowledge that Mexico were behind against Portgual. Iran ended their hopes with an equaliser fifteen minutes from time, but Angola leave the competition with two points having conceded only two goals – an impressive record for a team expected to be the tournament’s whipping boys by many pundits.
Following a fairly predictable end to the so-called ‘Group of Death’ which saw the two favourites qualify with relative ease, today sees eight teams in action with numerous possible outcomes and one or two potential shocks. In Group E, Italy face the Czech Republic in Hamburg needing a draw or better to make the last sixteen. Petr Cech will appear in goal for the Czechs, who need to win to be certain of qualification. In the group’s other game, Michael Essien’s Ghana face the U.S.A. with a very real prospect of making the second round in their first ever World Cup appearance. A win for the African side will put them through and they may advance with a draw, dependent on other results. The U.S.A. can also progress, but need a win and must hope that Italy beat the Czech Republic if they are to do so.
Group F has only one certainty about it before today’s games are played – Brazil have qualified. A win or a draw against former Brazil legend Zico’s Japan will see them top the group. In the more intriguing fixture this evening, Australia face Croatia knowing that a win or a draw (provided Japan do not pull off the result of the tournament and beat Brazil) will see them qualify for the second round for the first time.
Finally, despite domestic football being some way from the nation’s mind at present, the Premier League publish the 2006/7 Premiership season fixture list this morning at 10am. Full details on here later today.