Man of the Match: If your standard is judging a player against the responsibilities of his postion, Yuto Nagatomo was the best man on the field. The Japan left back’s runs through Iraq’s right flank were key to maintaining the Samurai Blue’s dominance of possession. Consistently able to beat whomever tried to mark him, Nagatomo took advantage of a deep-sitting Iraq defense to leave space behind his runs, room Japan used to make their 25th minute goal stand up.
Packaged for takeaway:
- Japan came into the match with a five point lead in the teams’ World Cup qualifying group, though Japan had played one match more than Iraq and Australia (tied for second with two points). Still, the defending confederation champions’ +9 goal difference through three rounds hints they are the class of the group.
- Iraq, on the other hand, still had questions to answer. They’d drawn their first two group matches (at Jordan and hosting Oman). Today, their first match against one of the group’s top two, should have provided a hint as to whether the Iraqis can qualify for the first World Cup since 1986.
- At the onset, it was clear Japan was going to control the match. Iraq rarely had the ball in the first four minutes, though an early corner saw the visitors create the first serous scoring chance.
- By in large, that’s how the first 15 minutes played out. Japan dominated possession, but Iraq had enough energy to force corner kicks fro transition the few times they got control of the ball. After 10 minutes, Iraq had already forced three corner kicks.
- Slowly Japan started taking more control of the match, with Iraq often setting up a line of six at the back once their wide midfielders had tracked back. But the approach wasn’t as stoic as it sounds. Tight man marking compelled Iraq’s players away from their line.
- Once Japan got used to Iraq’s approach, however, they were able to pull their marks out of position, creating space within the lines or, in the case of Nagatomo, pull even more defenders back, creating tons of room to use in front of the line.
- In the 25th minute, Japan broke through off a throw in. Yuichi Komano found Shinji Okazawa unmarked behind the left side of Iraq’s defense. Running onto a throw bouncing toward the six-yard box, Okazama put a cross in for Ryoichi Maeda, who headed home the first goal.
- With the lead, Japan exerted even more control of the match. At halftime, the Japanese had held 64 percent of the possession. Near the hour mark, they had forced 10 corner kicks for Iraq’s five.
- In so many matches, possession fails to tell the story, but on Tuesday, it did. Iraq seemed to want to sit deep, stay compact, and pick up players in the final third. Japan’s defenders were able to carry the ball to the center line before meeting any resistance. Iraq was prepared to play without the ball, but once Japan scored an early goal, that plan became their undoing.
- By the 70th minute, Japan was consistently cracking the right side of Iraq’s defense, and while it wasn’t leading to goals (or many clear scoring chances), Nagatomo’s runs left the defense disorganized, needing to regroup before attempting to regain the ball. Throughout the second half, Japan’s possession number threatened 66 percent.
- With the win, Japan move to 10 points through four games in Asia’s Group B. With Australia facing a tough match in Jordan, Japan may have strengthened their stranglehold on a spot in Brazil 2014.
- Moreover, Japan continues to show their play at South Africa 2010 wasn’t a momentary threat. Within these types of performances you see the quality and maturity that makes the Japanese one of the more underrated teams in the world. They’re ranked 23rd by FIFA, but it’s difficult to name more than a handful of nations that are clearly playing better than Japan.
- As for Iraq, they’re still a question mark. Zico’s approach meant they were unlikely to fare well if they fell behind, but until that point, Iraq were generating just as many chances as Japan. While the strategy was always likely to fail, Iraq’s players showed they can threaten Japan, something that could yield results when the teams meet again on June 11.
Man of the match: We’ve become used to seeing Arjen Robben on the right, where he can cut in onto that flamethrower of a left foot. Today, he was on the left, where the Netherlands’ more dangerous weapon was relegated to rolling passes into the area after beating Hamit Altintop to the byline. When the Dutch were able to find him, Robben consistently beat his man, nearly creating goals in the 64th and 82nd minutes. The Bayern star also won a number of corners, including the one that led to the game-wining goal.
Packaged for takeaway:
- If it wasn’t for Robin van Persie’s 17th minute goal, the first half would have been a disaster for the home team. Favored coming into the match, the Netherlands were clearly second best over the first 45 minutes, with Turkey’s lack of execution in the final third depriving them of chances.
- Most of those near-chances were generated by Arda Turan, who was able to transition through the Netherlands’ right side, consistently turning the Dutch defense. But Turan was never able to connect with Umut Bulut, his passes into the penalty area rolling behind Turkey’s lone striker.
- Dutch coach Louis van Gaal showed his frustration in the second half’s opening minutes, making two quick substitutions. By then, tension in an Amsterdam Arena was palpable, the crowd weary of their underperforming side. In the 57th minute, Turkey nearly had their equalizer when Hamit Altintop forced Tim Krul into a lunging save on a shot from 23 yards.
- The chance seemed to serve as a wakeup call for the Dutch. After a couple more minutes’ scuffling, the Netherlands finally started matching Turkey’s intensity. Rather than sitting back and letting the visitors dictate the match, the Netherlands started pressing Turkey, finally using their speed to their advantage in defense.
- A big part of that was midfielder Leroy Fer, brought on for Jordy Clasie on the hour. Whereas Clasie sat at the base of midfield in a purely holding, destroying role, Fer brought more intensity, ranging to pressure Turkey higher up the field.
- Robben also raised his game in the final half hour, spending more time on the ball, seemingly beating Altintop at will. Although he was never able to craft a goal, his threat helped slow Turkey down.
- Late, after Turkey went into desperation mode, Luciano Narsingh scored his second international goal, giving the Dutch their final, deceptive margin of victory.
- For Turkey, it isn’t a terrible result. It’s the first day of qualifying, and they lost by only one on the road to the group’s best team. At home, they can expect more success, particularly given Turkey’s intensity seemed to be what gave the Dutch the most trouble.
- For the Dutch, three points is three points, but the side needs to improve. Nothing much worked today, with van Gaal doing little to assuage concerns the Netherlands’ summer form may transcend Euro 2012.
- Van Gaal’s chances to midfield didn’t work, with Clasie and Kevin Strootman unable to connect with Wesley Sneijder. It’s hard to imagine the Dutch as an elite side without Sneijder playing at his best, especially when the defense is still a mess.
- Right now, there’s nothing brilliant about the Oranje.
Man of the Match: His first professional goal was a memorable one. Twenty-one-year-old center back German Pezzella, making his first appearance of the season, scored in the 88th minute for River Plate, pulling back Colón’s second half opener to give the Millonarios are slightly fortuitous point in Santa Fe.
Packaged for takeaway:
- It’s not the River didn’t deserve a point. It’s just that the game seemed over. Colón players where coming off to congratulatory ovations. The pace of the game had slowed. Colón’s spells of possession were starting being met with an complacency hinting River had accepted their fate. Colón was all set to jump back to the top of the Primera.
- Then came the most dangerous play in soccer: the second ball in from a corner kick. Colón cleared a ball from the right out to River midfielder Leonardo Ponzio. His chip to the left of goal looked premature, four of his teammates still offside, but as they ran ahead of the Colón defense, Pezzella pushed forward. After settling Ponzio’s pass, Pezzella shot past a helpless Diego Pozo for the point-winning goal.
- After the match, Colón players rushed to referee Nestor Pitana, complaining about the lack of a whistle on the match-winning goal. With a cluster of white kits on the wrong side of Colón’s blue line, you can’t blame them for assuming there should have been a call. Amid the confusion, it was remarkable the assistant ‘s flag stayed down, your subconscious giving that familiar hint that something’s not right. Ultimately, the officiating crew got the call right.
- For much of the match, River had looked the slightly more dangerous side. Perhaps that means the point is just, but with Colón have played the last 17 minutes like a team running out the clock, you still feel for a home side that thought they have the match sewn up.
- When Colón midfielder Adrian Bastía came off in the 85th minute, he did the slow, clapping walk that’s usually one of the victors’ final acts. It’s embarrassing to take off one of your veterans – to solicit the crowd’s applause – only to drop points.
- Colón had taken the lead in the 71th minute on their first good chance of the night, Ruben Ramirez heading home a Bruno Urribarri cross seconds after coming on for Facundo Caruchet. The veteran forward had come on so recently, you wonder if River forgot to account for him on the cross.
- On the replay, it looked like two Colón attackers were in front of left-center half Jonathan Maidana, with 27-year-old choosing the wrong man to mark.
- To that point of the match, it had been a somewhat dull affair. The constant singing from the Santa Fe crowd was the only highlight. River seemed the better side, but they were never able to generate good chances for forwards David Trezeguet or Rogelio Fuenes Mori. Every time Colón gained possession, long passes toward Maidana and Rodrigo Fuenes Mori’s side of defense quickly became turnovers.
- With the point, River runs their unbeaten streak to four, their only loss coming to Belgrano in their return to first division soccer. With two games pending on Monday, River sits ninth in the Primera, earning eight points through five rounds.
- Ironically, River’s goal helps Boca move to the top of the table, their 12 points one better than Colón, who are part of the three-way tie for second (Newell’s Old Boys, Arsenal).
Man of the Match: Make that Zlatan Ibrahimovic 2, Lille 1. Ibra opened his account in the first minute, redirecting home a Maxwell cross after a clever flick from Jeremy Ménez. In the 21st minute, Zlatan did the work himself, picking a ball up at midfield, running after a pass to Javier Pastore, and splitting Lille’s defense before chipping over Mickael Landreau for the eventual game-winner.
Packaged for takeaway:
- PSG hands Lille their first loss in the new Grand Stade, earning their first win of the season in the process.
- They’re three huge points, too. PSG needed a win after a slow start that saw Carlo Ancelott’s team draw opening three matches. Favored to win Ligue 1, PSG was expected to receive their biggest challenge from Lille. Getting three road points on the road should prove extremely valuable later in the season.
- That’s what made PSG’s early opener so shocking. There was a mild showdown feeling to this one, a aura that dissipated when the Parisians cut through Lille’s defense in the first minute. A bouncing ball to Jeremy Ménez saw the France international use the bottom of his boot to flick a ball toward the sideline. Maxwell sprinted past Marvin Martin and Franck Beria to get behind the Lille defense, his perfect cross giving Mikael Landreau no chance to stop Ibrahimovic’s opener.
- Eleven minutes later, Lille dispelled any notion it would be an easy night for PSG. After a nice defensive play by Mamadou Sahko gave Lille a corner kick, the PSG defender lost track of Aurelien Chedjou on the ensuing restart. A perfect near-post corner from Dimitri Payet was header through the hands of Salvatore Sirigu, equalizing for the hosts.
- Lille wasn’t even for long, with Ibrahimovic getting his second nine minutes later. His chip over Landreau gives him four goals in his first three Ligue 1 matches.
- So why did the match settle from there? Part of the reason was Lille’s inability to craft a final ball, building at will down their left without taking advantage of Payet’s service.
- Another factor was PSG’s formation. Thiago Motta and Blaise Matuidi played in the middle of a 4-3-1-2 that forced Lille wide, making it hard for the former champs to come back in.
- In the second, Lille was the slightly better side, with the halftime insertion of Salomon Kalou from Benoit Pedretti providing the threat they needed to become the aggressors. After an initial adjustment period, Lille continuously threatened a second equalizer.
- Ultimately, it was PSG that came closer to the fourth goal, with Landreau having to push an 83rd minute Ibrahimovic header over the bar to prevent Zlatan’s first Ligue 1 hat trick. Before that, two strong Lille walls kept Ibrahimovic from converting free kicks from 21-24 yards, though Ibrahimovic did win corners.
- At 90 minutes, both clubs had showed their quality, though PSG left the Grand Stade with three important points. They move into eighth, six points behind league-leading (and still perfect) Marseille. Lille sits 11th with six points through their first four rounds.
Man of the Match: Defender Oleksandr Kucher came into today’s game with two Premier League goals in his five-year Donetsk career. He doubled that on Sunday.
In the first half, a corner from the right was allowed to drop near the spot. Kucher caught goalkeeper Maksym Koval between to minds (whether to come for it or stay). His right-footed shot may have been weak, but it was well placed, slotting just inside the left post to give Shakhtar an early lead.
Then, just past the hour mark, Kucher beat marker Taye Taiwo to a hooking Darijo Srna corner, diving at four yards out to head the match-winner past Koval.
Packaged for takeaway:
- Combine rivalry, stakes, and importance to the league’s table (huge, given Ukraine’s duopoly), there may only be two more important matches in European soccer (Spain’s Clasicos). It’s been 20 years since another team claimed the title in Ukraine’s top league, making today’s points crucial to whomever hopes to wear this year’s crown.
- While this duopoly may not have the same deep history as Spain’s, Ukraine’s may be more fierce, right now. Tensions erupting from last year’s final meeting temporarily cast doubt on whether the national team would be a factor at Euro 2012, with divisions within the team threatening to undermine the co-hosts’ tournament. Ultimately, those fears were unfounded. Though Ukraine failed to advance out of Group D, coach Oleg Blohkin did an admirable job of guiding the team to a 1-1-1 record.
- Today was the clubs’ first meeting since April, when an early sending off of Dynamo midfielder Denis Garmash sparked tensions (and resentment) during Shakhtar’s 2-0 win. Thankfully, cooler heads took the field on Sunday.
- The clubs came into today’s match separated by only three points at the top of the table. Defending champions Shakhtar were 7-0-0 through the league’s first seven rounds. Dynamo’s only blemish came two weeks ago, losing 1-0 at Vorskla.
- Early pressure from Shakhtar pushed Dynamo back at the onset, Donetsk using a combination of home field advantage and superior midfield skill to control most of the first half. With the combination of that pressure, Darijo Srna’s service, and Dynamo’s poor defending, a goal like Kucher’s opener was inevitable.
- But despite being second best for much of the half, Dynamo found a vital goal just before half time. Niko Kranjcar was given too much time on the ball 36 yards from goal. The former Spur rolled a pass behind left back Razvan Rat, with Andriy Yarmolenko beating the Romanian to the ball. Yarmolenko cut inside once, sending Rat to ground, then cut back on his left foot again, leaving Yaroslav Rakitskiy behind, before slotting an equalizer to the left of Andriy Pyatov. Shockingly, Shakhtar were sent to locker room even, 1-1.
- Thankfully for the Donbass crowd, the goal was more wakeup call than turning point. Just past the hour, a strong shot from Srna forced a corner, with the Croatian international delivering a perfect ball for Kucher’s second goal.
- Yuri Syomin’s substitutions over the last half hour failed to change the game, and when (in the 81st minute) Luiz Adriano was given time to get his right foot around a shot near the edge of Dynamo’s penalty area, the holders had their insurance goal.
- Though the Yarmolenko goal provided a huge scare (giving Dynamo the prospect of a huge road point), Shakhtar come out of this match looking heavy favorites. While only eight of the league’s 30 rounds have been played, history hints these derbies are huge. Today’s gives Shakhtar a six point lead on Dynamo and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (drawn at Vorskla on Sunday). Perfect through eight rounds with a +25 goal difference, it’s hard to see anybody catching the defending champions.
- As for Dynamo, the pressure is on. While they can probably drop some points before the teams meet again in April, they can’t play with that assumption. Every league match becomes a must-win, now forced to make up more points than they can claim in the rematch. With Dnipro continuing to show improvement, Dynamo must also worry about second place – Ukraine’s Champions League qualifying spot.