World Cup Group F Redux: Paraguay Pressure, New Zealand's Offside Goal, Italian Penalty

21 June 2010

New Zealand's players gesture to spectators after the 2010 World Cup Group F football match against Italy. (Credit Image: © Xinhua/ZUMApress.com)
Slovakia Undone by Paraguay High Pressure
For a formation not often used in international football anymore, Paraguay sure know how to frustrate their opposition. What’s even more amazing about it is how they undid Slovakia today by applying pressure regardless of where they were was on the pitch.
It paid off twice, and nearly a third time. On the opening goal, Paraguay applied even more pressure than they had over the opening twenty-five minutes. It forced Slovakia into a bad touch, and Barrios made them pay for it. With time to turn, he was able to spot out Enrique Vera making the run from deep midfield. His pass was inch perfect and it left Vera in all alone on goal. It was a matter of finishing the chance, something that has been a bit of a problem so far during the World Cup. Vera made sure there was no doubt. On the balance of play, it was nothing more than they deserved.
Paraguay’s second goal showed two things: their will to fight for every ball, and how you don’t have to bring everyone into the attack on a free kick if your tactics are right. It was a dumb decision by Martin Skrtel to put his arm around the face of Oscar Cardozo. Paraguay only had five in the penalty area, while Slovakia had 8. The free kick went far post, where it was headed right into the danger area. Slovakia rushed their clearance and it went right to Paulo Da Silva. He spotted Cristian Riveros, who had a clear shot on goal. With the Slovakian defense screening Jan Mucha, all Riveros had to do was pick a post and shoot. He picked the near post and scored. Jozy Altidore, please take note.
Slovakia though, in kindness, were worse than lethargic. They didn’t bother Justo Villar until late, and they never looked interested in attacking. Even a woeful Italy should have no problem with them.

New Zealand’s Goal Was Quite A Shock, Even More So Since It Was Offside
Off a free kick from Pepe on Rory Fallon, Simon Elliott did the impossible: got off a free kick that broke through the Italian defense. The initial touch came off Winston Reid before coming off Cannavaro; Smeltz was just the bystander in touching it home. However, the flag should have gone up the second Reid touched the ball.
The offside rule was adjusted not too long ago to deal with issues such as this. Before the latest change to what should be the easiest law of the game, even after Reid touched it, Cannavaro’s touch would have canceled out Smeltz being offside. After the change was made, the last attacking touch is where offside is judged. With Smeltz well past Cannavaro, the flag should have went up.
While I had the benefit of the rewind button on my DVR, the assistant linesman did not. Winston Reid’s touch was so slight, as it only went off his hair, that it would have been hard for the linesman to see it. Since the ball didn’t change it’s flight, the referee simply incorrectly assumed that there was no touch.

Just Because It’s Inconsistently Called, Pulling the Shirt in the Box is a Penalty
It could be the second most contentious call so far of this World Cup; the infamous shirt pull on De Rossi by Tommy Smith in the twenty-eighth minute. It might be everything we hate about the sport, but that doesn’t mean the referee wasn’t within his right to point to the spot.
Yes, De Rossi gave up on the play immediately after he felt the tug and went to the ground like he had been shot: the unfortunate thing is that was the only way he was going to get that call. It might be the most inconsistent call made in the game today, which in my eyes makes it something that should be drilled into officials to have the guts to call more often. Maybe then, the behavior will stop.
In a perfect world, Smith would have received a yellow for unsporting behavior, but Daniele De Rossi would have also been booked for simulation. Unfortunately, we won’t be seeing that happen anytime soon. What sad about this entire sequence is I don’t think Smith had to worry about holding the shirt. De Rossi had given up on the play at about the same time he realized he wasn’t getting to Giorgio Chiellini’s cross. Had he kept his hands off, New Zealand maybe celebrating a famous victory instead of a famous draw.

Make no bones about it; regardless of the decisions, this is a famous result that will live in New Zealand sports history until the end of time. I listened to the end of the Radio Sport New Zealand commentary of the match, and it was great to hear the genuine emotion coming from the two presenting the match. It choked me up then, and it’s choking me up now just thinking about it. The color commentator (I wish I knew his name) was openly weeping at full time, knowing that he had just witness his countrymen do something that was not thought possible. When they qualified in October, the All Whites talked about their One Shot for Glory. As the Radio Sport commentary ended, they played what I thought was an appropriate song. Since arriving at the World Cup, all New Zealand have done is cause a hell of a lot of White Noise.
What’s even more remarkable about that fact is, if they can find a win against Paraguay, it might be an even more famous victory as it will propel them to the knockout stages for the first time in the nation’s history. Just get away from the hype for one second and think how emotional that might be.

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Johnathan Starling, the self proclaimed 'most brutally honest man on the net, dishes out his own unique brand of opinions, and analysis on the Premier League, Bundesliga, and all things US Soccer.

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