Five Points: Germany and Ghana entertain, Iran sets out its stall brilliantly
JUN 21, 2014 10:59p ET
Germany and Ghana lulled each other to sleep in the first half. The two teams established their equilibrium and flailed around in their attempts to tip the balance in their favor. It felt like one of the more intriguing encounters in this World Cup might ultimately disappoint.
It most certainly did not. The second half reinforced the wonderful volatility of even the most tense of matches at this compelling World Cup. The latest edition of Five Points starts with the thrilling draw between the sides in Fortaleza.
Ghana alters shape and slows tempo to dictate first half
The dynamic of the defeat to the U.S. did not suit Ghana particularly well. There were too many times when the Black Stars were asked to break down the American opposition in possession. There were only a handful of instances to move quickly and sharply against a defense recovering or scrambling into position. And the frustrations of that night and the result at the end of it reflected those travails.
James Kwesi Appiah employed a different tactical approach to good effect in the 2-2 draw with Germany. He returned to the 4-2-3-1 setup and told his players to protect the middle of the park to disrupt the incessant movement of the Germans. He told his side to play directly out of the back to take best advantage of its strengths on the break. It constituted a sensible change in tack against a German side engineered to operate in possession and throw numbers into attack.
The revamped structure – and particularly the excellent Sulley Muntari and Mohammed Rabiu in front of the back four – prompted a more complete performance. The central midfield three interrupted the German work in possession and stamped its impact on the game. The deeper line slowed the game down in the first half to a pace where the Ghanaians could then exploit their superiority on the break.
Everything essentially played out in Ghana’s favor. Germany carried much of the burden of the game, yet it struggled to hit its usual tempo in possession or grasp firm control of the proceedings due to the Ghanaian shape. The counter always loomed as a possibility with diagonals out of midfield and wingers darting into intelligent areas to receive them. Asamoah Gyan ran the channels to perfection and registered a deserved second half goal, while Andre Ayew justified his retention with a difficult header to equalize at 1-1.
Credit Appiah – one of the more heavily criticized managers heading into this tournament – for getting the hard part right against an opponent more willing to allow Ghana to do what it does best. It almost paid off with an unexpected three points.
Germany responds in second half by increasing its cadence and leaning on its alternatives
Jogi Löw responded to the tepid first half by changing the composition of his side as the second stanza unfolded. He instructed his midfielders to increase the tempo in possession (critical to get something out of the game) and turned to his bench in the wake of Gyan’s goal to sharpen the work in the final third.
The introduction of Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinsteiger ensured the Germans left with a point. Schweinsteiger represented a considerable improvement over the overwhelmed Sami Khedira, while Klose prowled around as expected to provide a more reliable center forward presence when required.
Both players featured prominently in producing the goal. Schweinsteiger won the corner to create it. Klose reacted intelligently at the back post to poke home at the far post to draw his side level and tie Ronaldo’s record with 15 World Cup goals.
Klose and Schweinsteiger constituted the exact change of pace required in this affair. Schweinsteiger performed well enough to suggest he could replace Khedira moving forward, while Klose underscored the utility of having a genuine center forward on the bench to provide a different look if required. This new German side may rely on its movement most of the time, but its ability to turn to other options in a time of need presents the sort of adaptability required to move further in this tournament.
Iran highlights Argentina’s weakness out wide with organized defensive display
Carlos Queiroz does not possess a similar breadth of options in his Iran squad. His team is limited in most respects, but it does possess a defiant streak. Queiroz entered this difficult game with one implausible route toward a result against Argentina: defend with every player behind the ball, retain solidity in the center of the field at all costs and try to nick a goal on the break.
It almost worked due to Iran’s impeccable organization and Argentina’s inability to create anything of use in the wide areas to stretch out the shape. Argentina’s narrow 4-3-1-2 shape complemented Iran’s tactical plan to congest the center of the park and placed the responsibility largely on the fullbacks once again to mitigate those concerns. Marcus Rojo and Pablo Zabaleta pushed up early and often, but they exerted little influence on the game. The inevitable crosses caused few problems for the packed Iranian defense because they either missed their mark (nine out of 41 were successful, according to Opta statistics) or swung into comfortable areas for the center backs.
Alejandro Sabella bears much of the blame for waiting far too long to shift course and throw his substitutes into the fray. His first two changes arrived with a quarter of an hour to play at a point when Iran had already seen a reasonable penalty shout waved away and a good counter or two end with a save from Sergio Romero. Ezequiel Lavezzi should have entered at halftime to roam the right flank with Angel Di Maria on the left. The duo would have posed problems for Iranian fullbacks Pejman Montazeri and Mehdrad Pooladi, but Lavezzi instead entered the game at the same time Di Maria departed.
One moment of brilliance from Lionel Messi absolved Argentina at the death and punished Iran harshly for tiring in the late stages. Queiroz and Iran deserved a point for the excellent overall display instead of this 1-0 defeat, but Messi ensured a cruel ending to an otherwise wonderful afternoon for Team Melli.
Solid core and strong work in the channels leads Nigeria to victory
The wildly entertaining nightcap provided yet another refereeing talking point to digest and supplied yet another example of the benefits of cohesive defensive work. Nigeria ultimately procured its deserved 1-0 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina by restricting the central areas and shifting quickly into the attack once obtaining possession.
Nigeria boss Stephen Keshi correctly identified the primary paths to victory in this game and tailored his team selection accordingly. He included Peter Odemwingie from the start and permitted Emmanuel Emenike to drift out toward the right to run at the out of position Emir Spahic. He relied on the rapid transition to exploit Bosnia’s dearth of pace in defense and then relied on his resolute defensive core – Kenneth Omeruo (excellent on the day) and Joseph Yobo in central defense with John Obi Mikel and Ogenyi Onazi stationed in front of them – to thwart any attempts to combine neatly or provide Edin Dzeko with meancing supply through the middle.
Most of those efforts – with the notable exception of a wonderfully constructed and wrongly disallowed goal by Dzeko before the half hour – paid off as expected. Nigeria rampaged forward on the counter and snatched the only goal when Emenike turned around Spahic and pulled back for Odemwingie to finish. Other opportunities failed to yield a second, but the defense held firm enough to warrant the final result.
It is a triumph that changes the outlook in this group considerably. Nigeria faces a difficult final day test against Argentina, but it knows Iran can only go through with a victory over eliminated Bosnia-Herzegovina. Based on this display and the landscape ahead, Nigeria probably holds the inside track in the race for second place.
Russia must ponder the consequences of opening up against Belgium
It took an opening goal from Korea Republic for Russia to really start to pursue the game in its opening match. Russia looked lively and presented issues for the Koreans once Aleksandr Kerzhakov leapt off the bench and his teammates started to push forward. The evidence leaves Fabio Capello with a difficult choice to make ahead of the date with Belgium (12:00p.m. ET): will he indulge his pragmatic side in a bid to grind out a result or will he trust his team to pursue the game a bit more from the outset? Capello’s track record indicates he will likely stick with the first option and try to replicate Algeria’s display against the Belgians to snatch a result.
Algeria faces a more manageable task against Korea Republic in the middle game (3:00p.m. ET). Expect a similar approach from Algeria in their second match: they will soak up pressure by keeping that tight defensive shape and then surge forward at the right moments to catch the Koreans while they are stretched. It could prove profitable against a Korean side unlikely to punish Algeria as ruthlessly as Belgium did in the opener.
The final game of the day involves the U.S. and Portugal (6:00p.m. ET). Read our full preview for that match here.