World Cup second round preview (part one)

June 26, 2010

Uruguay v South Korea: Diego Forlan's new role behind Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani means he is more involved in build-up play

The eight World Cup second round matches are spread over the course of four days. Here’s previews for the first half…

Uruguay v South Korea

Uruguay have been one of the most impressive teams so far – playing for and achieving a draw against France, destroying South Africa and recording a solid 1-0 victory over Mexico.

They started the competition with a 3-5-2 shape, which became more like a 5-3-2 when the wing-backs had to contain France’s wingers. They’ve since switched to a 4-3-1-2 with Diego Forlan playing behind the main two forwards, and they’ll surely play the same formation after their two wins.

South Korea’s first XI is fairly predictable. The only changes they’ve made so far have been at right-back, bringing in Oh Bum-Suk against Argentina – but he was the worst player on the pitch, so Cha Du-Ri has regained his place.

The formation will probably be 4-2-3-1. Playing Park Ji-Sung on the left-hand side might be useful to track the forward runs of Maxi Pereira, although he was fielded in the centre of the three against Argentina.

Picking up Forlan is the obvious task – with two holding midfielders, Korea will have a man tracking him, but must worry this will concede the midfield ground to Uruguay. Korea should look to play down their left-hand-side, because Uruguay’s shape tends to be slightly lopsided. Alvaro Pereira, generally a left wing-back, is playing a more central role but tends to drift back out wide, sometimes meaning Uruguay look like two banks of four minus a right-sided midfielder.

USA v Ghana

USA v Ghana: Clint Dempsey will look to drift inside from his left-sided position

The US start as favourites, but this one might suit Ghana tactically; they will be content to sit back and soak up pressure, before hitting the US on the counter-attack. The American full-backs have appeared a little slow in recovering their position after forays forward so far in the tournament, which will be perfect for the pacey Ghana wingers.

The best course of action for the US is to put the Ghana centre-backs under as much pressure as possible early on. Ghana will probably have a 3 v 2 advantage in the centre of midfield, so more direct balls towards the strikers (with Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan supporting very close by, something they did particularly well against England) might be a better approach than playing through midfield. In particular, 20-year-old Jonathan Mensah has looked slightly nervy so far, and Jozy Altidore should be able to get at him.

The midfield battle will probably be quite reserved. Both central midfields generally sit deep rather than look to make penetrative runs, so they may play in front of each other, and create a slightly static contest.

The US will dominate possession and territory – but finding a way past Ghana’s good defence won’t be easy. This one calls for all of Bob Bradley’s tactical ability – so far he’s generally got his team playing better after half-time, but below-par first halves won’t be acceptable in the knockout stages.

Germany v England

If the two sides perform to the standard as they have so far in the competition, then England are in for a thrashing. First and foremost, their ball retention must be far better.

Germany v England: Gareth Barry will be charged with stopping Mesut Ozil

As with all 4-2-3-1 v 4-4-2 battles, the main task for Fabio Capello is to work out how to deal with Mesut Ozil – the match-winner for Germany against Australia and Ghana. Those two teams both allowed him far too much space between the lines, and it’s likely that Gareth Barry will have the task of tracking him, something he did well against Algeria.

This would mean a numerical disadvantage further forward in midfield, where Frank Lampard would be forced to pick up the runs of both Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger, so it’s likely one of England’s two strikers will be given more defensive responsibility when out of possession.

The natural man to do this is Wayne Rooney, who has consistently shown his defensive awareness throughout his career, particularly when playing on the wing for Manchester United. However, Jermain Defoe has done well in recent months in this respect. Capello won’t want Rooney to become overburdened defensively, nor will he want Defoe playing a permanently withdrawn role and negating the threat of his pace in behind the German defence – so it’s likely they’ll take it in turns to pick up the Germans’ deepest holding midfielder – most likely Schweinsteiger, if fit.

Germany’s most important player in a defensive sense could be Thomas Muller, on the right-hand side. He’s impressed at Bayern Munich for his discipline, and he’ll be up against Ashley Cole, possibly England’s best performer so far. With Steven Gerrard always likely to drift in from the left, stopping Cole is vital because it gives England no natural left-sided option, and with them struggling to keep the ball in the centre of the pitch, makes their attacking threat rather basic.

German pressing will also be key – the distribution from England’s centre-backs so far has been appalling, and putting them under pressure early on will expose this even further.

This all assumes that Fabio Capello will stick with 4-4-2 – but he shows no sign of ditching the system.

Argentina v Mexico

Argentina v Mexico: The Marquez v Messi contest will be crucial

A fascinating contest, that Mexico might be reasonably well set up for with their fluid defensive system. 2 v 1 at the back against Gonzalo Higuain, Rafael Marquez marking Lionel Messi, the two Mexican full-backs picking up the Argentina wingers – Mexico might be able to blunt Argentina’s attack.

That’s easier said than done, of course, and the all-Barcelona Marquez v Messi contest might decide things.

Pace is the key in getting past the Argentina defence, who have maintained a surprisingly high line so far. Getting the ball towards Giovani dos Santos as early as possible will surely be Mexico’s main route of attack. The probable return of Efrain Juarez (after suspension) in the centre of midfield will offer the other driving threat from midfield, and he could get the better of Javier Mascherano, who often becomes isolated in front of his defence.

In the one game Mexico have won so far, their biggest outlet has been Carlos Salcido, in the left wing-back position. Against France he constantly stormed forward, stretched the play and swung crosses in – but against Uruguay, he was muted because of the presence of either Edinson Cavani or Luis Suarez. Diego Maradona and Carlos Bilardo will look to occupy him, which means Carlos Tevez could revert to the right-sided role he played against Nigeria, rather than the left-sided one he played against South Korea.

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