Liam Hoden’s World Cup Watch: Here comes Cristiano

Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo
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Write Lionel Messi off at your peril is the lesson learned on day four of the World Cup.

There seemed a major desire to be quick to slate Messi for a rather lacklustre performance last night in the Maracana, as if he must produce a sensational show every time he steps onto the field.

He was quiet for the first hour as his Argentina met Bosnia.

A very unfortunate own goal for Sead Kolasinac after just three minutes gave Argentina a cushion and they allowed Bosnia to play possession football which rarely delivered any threat in the final third.

It all seemed very sensible given this was the opening game of a tournament in which they are tipped to go all the way.

But because Messi did not destroy Bosnia single-handedly, there was a problem. Is he again going to disappoint on the international stage.

And then on 65 minutes he produced a moment of genuine magic to double his side’s lead, silencing the doubters. Messi grew in confidence from then on and looked more like.

Vedad Ibisevic’s late consolation ensured a scoreline more reflective of the closeness of the actual game but it was a steady start for many people’s favourites.

It was a game with little excitement – highlighted superbly by Mark Lawrenson’s commentary. He moaned almost constantly about what he was seeing to the extent I believe a charity line has been set up to get him out of the horrendous situation he has been condemned to.

You’re in the Maracana for Pete’s sake! And look, it’s the best player in the world on the pitch and he’s surrounded by other top class players! Ok, it’s not the best game you’re ever likely to see but come on Mark, you’re in Brazil! And you’re getting paid to be there – by all the people that are currently having your drab tone inflicted upon them! Cheer up man, you’re making Phil Neville sound like Graham Norton.

One man rarely short of excitement is shouty commentator Jonathan Pearce. He was also not short of confused rage during the France-Honduras clash.

Goal line technology was used to award a goal to France but involved two separate replays, showing Karim Benzema’s initial shot did not cross the line but the ball was over when it ricochetted back off Honduras keeper Noel Valladares.

Well after seeing a ‘no goal’ replay followed by one which showed ‘goal,’ Pearce thought the computer had changed its mind.

Yes, the Terminator saga is now reality and the machines are taking over. First they’re interfering in football matches, next they’ll be taking over the world.

Those years commentating on Robot Wars clearly had an effect on poor Jonathan.

As Pearce launched into a sensational rant, all the while co-commentator Martin Keown was attempting to put him right, digging deep to bring back the patience he must have shown when Tony Adams was in his drinking phase.

Note down Valladares’ own goal because it will be coming up in a pub quiz very soon as the first World Cup goal decided by goalline technology, whatever Pearce may think.

France showed why they should not be written off in a dominant performance against a Honduras side that are physical to say the least.

They combated tackles which at times verged on assault to come out 3-0 winners with Benzema scoring twice.

Wilson Palacios’ red card before the break was of little consequence as France were in full control regardless. Group E should prove a stroll.

It took a late, late strike from Haris Seferovic to give dark horse tip Switzerland a 2-1 win over Ecuador, who led in the game through a free header from Walter Ayovi.

Switzerland were poor in the first half but boss Ottmar Hitzfeld changed things around to inspire the about turn.

Admir Mehmedi equalised three minutes into the second half and the Swiss emerged from there.

Highlights

- The standard of the haircuts in the French side. Incredible

- Messi drawing a ridiculous amount of criticism and then coming up with a quite brilliant goal. You were saying...

- Honduras’, er, physical approach to the game. If you can’t beat them, beat them to death seems to be the philosophy

- The rant Jonathan Pearce will never live down. Ever.

TONIGHT’S GAMES

Group G: Germany v Portugal, Salvador, 5pm kick off, ITV

Messi was written off last night so is it now the turn of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo?

Preparations for the Portugal forward have hardly been ideal with a bout of tendonitis bringing into doubt whether he would feature in this game.

Knee issues are certainly an issue for a player as explosive as Ronaldo and therefore Portugal, who do have a certain degree of overreliance on the brilliant forward.

Portugal remain a talented outfit who have the potential to do well.

Their defence is solid, and there is plenty of talent in midfield. What they continue to lack is something that has blighted their prospects for so long – the lack of a ruthless striker.

Helda Postiga plows a lone furrow up front. His role is arguably more about getting the best from Ronaldo rather than firing in the goals himself.

Four semi final appearances – at least – for Germany in the past four international tournaments is not an accident.

And the talent within the pool looks incredible. The problem is Joachim Low has struggled to bring it all together in any cohesive manner.

There have been problems all over the pitch. The attack is arguably too fluid, bringing little goal threat. The midfield does not look capable of dominating against the best sides while the defence lacks real balance.

Four centre halves could very easily line up at the back for Germany against Portugal tonight. But they do have Manuel Neuer behind them which is about as good a consolation you could get.

If Germany could find some cohesion there would be few who could match them. The emergence of the young talent from 2010 onwards has been incredible and if it really came together they could have their hands on the World Cup at the end.

Team news

German duo Philipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer are both fit after problems in the build up to the World Cup. Cristiano Ronaldo is likely to play after coming through a tendonitis issue.

Verdict

A real blockbuster fixture but again, it arguably would be better as the last match of the group rather than the first when both sides will be desperate not to lose. However there is an incredible array of talented individuals on show who could produce the magic. Germany will be favoured and if they can get into their flow, victory should be theirs.

Betting

Germany 11/10 Draw 5/2 Portugal 11/4

Closer to home

Germany: Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski, Per Mertesacker (both Arsenal), Andre Schurrle (Chelsea)

Portugal: Nani (Manchester United)

Group F: Iran v Nigeria, Curitiba, 8pm kick off, BBC One

Probably the least is known about Iran than any other team in the competition – and that’s probably the way they would like it.

However, boss Carlos Queiroz is very familiar, as are his tactics.

Quieroz favours defensive solidity above all and will have worked tirelessly on this Iran side to get them organised into a 4-4-1-1 system that will see them frustrate but hardly thrill.

What could hurt the Iranians most is their lack of strong preparation for the competition, bringing their fitness levels into question.

But they will certainly cause the opposition problems, particularly in their opening game with Nigeria.

The Africa Cup of Nations winners have a problem with a regular supply of goals which is certainly an issue when facing a side looking to shut you out.

They do have incredible counter-attacking prowess however through trio Ahmed Musa, central man Emmanuel Emenike and Chelsea’s Victor Moses.

Musa and Moses in particular break at speed but their work when in the final third is often disappointing.

Team news

Hashem Beikzadeh has recovered from an injury in a warm up game but is yet to prove his fitness and could miss out for Iran. First choice Nigeria left back Uwa Echiejile was ruled out before the World Cup and will be replaced by Juwon Oshaniwa. Defender Kenneth Omeruo should be fit after a knock in training but there are doubts over Ruben Gabriel.

Verdict

If it clicks for Nigeria they could win comfortably but it could very easily be a frustrating night if the Iranians dig in strongly.

Betting

Iran 11/4 Draw 9/4 Nigeria 5/4

Closer to home

Iran: Reza Ghoochannejhad (Charlton)

Nigeria: Joseph Yobo (Norwich), Peter Odemwingie (Stoke), Mikel Jon Obi, Victor Moses (both Chelsea), Kenneth Omeruo (Middlesbrough), Shola Ameobi (Newcastle)

Group G: Ghana v USA, Natal, 11pm kick off, BBC One

Ghana almost became the first African side to reach a World Cup semi final four years ago and are in similar shape this time around.

However, their approach will be well known to the opposition, suggesting they could have been ‘found out.’

Counterattacking is the name of the game for Ghana and they are excellent at it. Strong at the back and swift in the break, they can easily catch an opposition out.

But they have regularly come unstuck against sides who sit back and defend themselves. Their ability to break down defences has yet to be proven.

Their counterattacking prowess could bring them success in what is a strong group.

Portugal and Germany will both look to force the issue in their games, allowing Ghana to spring from their solid defensive base.

And the US could be wide open to the counter if they are not careful.

Boss Jurgen Klinsmann has favoured a diamond formation which requires endeavour from the full backs, something that could leave them vulnerable on the break.

However, the diamond midfield could see them dominate the centre of the park and control in this area will be key to any success in this World Cup.

The top man for the US is Michael Bradley who will play at the attacking head of the diamond and look to spring from deep to add threat.

It is somewhat unfortunate they have found themselves in such a tough group where a questionable defence will be put under a lot of pressure.

Team news

Ghana’s Majeed Waris tore a thigh muscle in the warm up against South Africa and is unlikely to play.

Verdict

The US must be on their guard against a Ghana side who will spring quickly and should have the edge in this match. It should be another exciting game regardless.

Betting

Ghana 6/4 Draw 2/1 USA 2/1

Closer to home

Ghana: Albert Adomah (Middlesbrough),

USA: Tim Howard (Everton), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Geoff Cameron (Stoke)