Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United: Mata’s ball to Ba bypasses the zone United kept secure

April 2, 2013
Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United: Mata’s ball to Ba bypasses the zone United kept secure

Juan Mata and Demba Ba combined for a brilliant goal in an otherwise quiet match.

Rafael Benitez made various changes from the side that lost at Southampton on Saturday – he fielded his three exciting creators together behind Demba Ba.

Sir Alex Ferguson left out Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa, while Wayne Rooney was injured, so Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck were upfront.

A terrible first half was followed by a much more open second. Read more »

France 0-1 Spain: both sides use one wide player for ball retention and the other for direct attacks

March 28, 2013
France 0-1 Spain: both sides use one wide player for ball retention and the other for direct attacks

Spain recorded a narrow victory, and go one point clear of France at the top of Group I.

Didier Deschamps used Patrice Evra rather than Gael Clichy at left-back, and the late withdrawal of Mamadou Sakho saw Laurent Koscielny start at centre-back. But the key change was higher up – from the side that defeated Georgia 3-1, Olivier Giroud was dropped, with Yohan Cabaye coming into the centre of midfield, turning a 4-4-2 into a 4-5-1 / 4-3-3.

Vicente del Bosque was without left-back Jordi Alba, so Nacho Monreal played instead, while Victor Valdes continued as Iker Casillas is out injured. In midfield, Del Bosque was able to bring back Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso, who both missed the surprise 1-1 draw with Finland. Pedro Rodriguez also returned. Santi Cazorla, David Silva and Cesc Fabregas missed out.

This was a tight match with little to choose between the sides – France had plenty of opportunities. Read more »

Venezuela 1-0 Colombia: Venezuela keep two upfront & offer a consistent threat on the break

March 27, 2013
Venezuela 1-0 Colombia: Venezuela keep two upfront & offer a consistent threat on the break

Venezuela recorded an important victory to strengthen their chances of qualifying for their first-ever World Cup.

Cesar Farias made two changes from the side which lost 3-0 to Argentina. Cesar Gonzalez replaced Luis Seijas on the right, while Fernando Aristeguieta played upfront rather than Frank Feltscher.

Mario Yepes was out, so Luis Perea came in at the back. Jose Pekerman pushed Juan Cuadrado forward to the right wing, with Juan Zuniga at right-back.

Venezuela deserved this victory – they were forced to withstand pressure as Colombia dominated possession throughout, but the home side produced more goalscoring opportunities. Read more »

Montenegro 1-1 England: Montenegro start timidly but introduce attackers effectively

March 27, 2013
Montenegro 1-1 England: Montenegro start timidly but introduce attackers effectively

Branko Brnovic surprisingly started with a lone forward, but ended up with four outright attackers as Montenegro deservedly claimed a point.

Brnovic’s selection was hampered by injuries and suspensions – Miodrag Dzudovic, Mitar Novakovic and Simon Vukcevic all came into the side.

Roy Hodgson made significant changes from the side that comfortably defeated San Marino on Friday evening, with Danny Welbeck, Steven Gerrard, Michael Carrick, James Milner, Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson returning.

A game of two halves – England dominated against an oddly passive Montenegro, but were unable to deal with the increased attacking threat after half-time. Read more »

Uruguay 1-1 Paraguay: Tabarez ditches his double pivot, then makes more attacking moves

March 25, 2013
Uruguay 1-1 Paraguay: Tabarez ditches his double pivot, then makes more attacking moves

Reigning South American champions Uruguay recorded their third consecutive 1-1 home draw – their participation in Brazil remains in the balance.

Oscar Tabarez fielded a familiar core to this side – Edinson Cavani was only on the bench, with Diego Forlan behind Luis Suarez upfront, the combination that won Uruguay the Copa America final against Paraguay in 2011. The major news was in the centre of midfield, where Tabarez played Nicolas Lodeiro rather than a second defensive midfielder.

Uruguyan-born Gerard Pelusso selected a cautious 4-4-2 formation for bottom-placed Paraguay, having experimented with 4-3-3 earlier in the qualification process. Oscar Cardozo and Nelson Valdez were together upfront, while Ricard Ortiz pushed forward to the left of midfield.

This game started slowly before gradually developing into something quite interesting – mainly because of Tabarez’s constant chances. Read more »

Croatia 2-0 Serbia: brave decision to use Kovacic in midfield helps Croatia dominate the game

March 24, 2013
Croatia 2-0 Serbia: brave decision to use Kovacic in midfield helps Croatia dominate the game

Croatia’s two strikers – Ivica Olic and Mario Mandzukic – scored a goal apiece before half-time, to win an incredibly hotly-anticipated derby.

Igor Stimac’s major decision was the surprise selection of 18-year-old Mateo┬áKovacic for his international debut in the centre of midfield.

Sinisa Mihajlovic used Ivan Radovanovic as a holder, and Alen Stevanovic rather than Dusan Tadic on the left. Marko Scepovic played upfront, although he lasted less than ten minutes.

Why Croatia v Serbia? Well, for both political and football reasons, this was an absolutely huge fixture – especially the meeting between fierce rivals Stimac and Mihajlovic. For the incredible background to the story, read this excellent summary – with that in mind, the main feature of the match was its surprisingly sporting nature. Read more »