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World Cup Countdown - Part 1

The 32 nations that will compete in the World Cup in South Africa are almost ready to begin their challenge on the famous Jules Rimet trophy. This article is the first in a series that will take a brief look at the warm-up games for each of the sides in order to try and give an impression of how each side is looking less than 3 weeks before the tournament begins.

Australia 2 – 1 New Zealand

Australia were expected to put in a strong performance against their close neighbours in their first warm-up for the World Cup. However, they needed a last gasp winner from Brett Holman to spare their blushes. Despite missing six first-choice players, Australia were comprehensively outplayed by their less illustrious neighbours and can consider themselves lucky to have snatched the win.

Chris Killen gave the Kiwis the lead after only 15 minutes, latching onto Shane Smeltz’s flick to place his shot beyond Adam Federici. Australia’s frustration showed, and both Vince Grella and Tim Cahill were grateful to the referee for not showing them red cards, due to the fact that the game was a friendly. Grella’s challenge in particularly was shocking, and deserved a straight red.

Just after the break, Dario Vidosic found himself behind the defence and finished well to bring the Socceroos back level, and after Brad Jones saved well from Rory Fallon, Brett Holman struck in the 94th minute to grab the winner.

Australian manager, Pim Verbeek was very upset with his team’s performance, having been booed off at half time, and blasted the two tackles from Grella and Cahill in the first half.

Japan 0 – 2 South Korea

Japan went down to South Korea for the second time in the space of a few months, after goals from Park Ji-Sung and Park Chu-Young gave the Koreans a 2-0 victory.

South Korea started well with Park Ji-Sung scoring after only six minutes in Saitama. Japan controlled most of the first half, with the Koreans happy to sit back and hit them on the counter. Despite this, Japan never really threatened to create too much before the break. After half time, South Korea took the initiative more, moving the ball around nicely. However, chances were rare, and it wasn’t until stoppage time in the second half when Park Chu-Young was brought down in the area, and he picked himself up to settle the game.

South Korea are now unbeaten in four games, whilst Japan’s preparations have been thrown into turmoil by the news that manager Takeshi Okada has been in discussions with the Japanese Football Federation over whether he should continue in the job.

Portugal 0 – 0 Cape Verde Islands

Portugal’s preparation for the World Cup started poorly with a goalless draw against the African minnows. It was a strong Portugal side featuring the likes of Ronaldo, Nani, Deco and Ricardo Carvalho. They dominated the game but were unable to create many chances, with Ronaldo and Hugo Almeida missing the best chances.

Described as a performance lacking organisation or speed, and having few opportunities, the Portuguese will be looking for a dramatic improvement in their next warm-up game.

South Africa 1 – 1 Bulgaria

South Africa put in a bright performance against European opposition, but despite an impressive performance, they were unable to come away with the victory. Siyabonga Sangweni gave them the lead after 20 minutes, although they had forced a number of chances already by the time they scored. However, it was sloppy defending that led to the Bulgarian equaliser, with Valeri Bojinov finding himself unmarked in the box to score.

After half time, the game slowed and it was Bulgaria that looked the more likely to win, although there were to be no more goals in the game. South Africa have another warm-up game on Thursday and will be looking to build on an improved performance.

England 3 – 1 Mexico

England were without their Chelsea players for this warm-up at Wembley, giving a few of the squad players a chance to shine. Mexico were the better side in the first half, passing the ball around nicely and carving out a few decent chances. However, they found themselves 2 – 0 down after 35 minutes with goals from Ledley King and Peter Crouch, both from set pieces. However, Guillermo Franco pulled one back on the stroke of half time.

England improved in the second half, and finished the match as a contest only 2 minutes in, when Glen Johnson cut inside and curled a beautiful effort beyond Oscar Perez. They could have had more, but both Gerrard and Lennon were cynically fouled when through on goal.

England will be happy with the result, but looking for an improved performance against Japan at the weekend, whilst Mexico will be relatively happy with their performance overall.

Argentina 5 – 0 Canada

A virtually full-strength Argentina cruised past Canada, with goals from Maxi Rodriguez (2), Angel Di Maria, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero. The Argentineans were rarely tested at the back, and they will have been satisfied with good performances from Juan Sebastian Veron’s understudy, Javier Pastore, Angel Di Maria and Carlos Tevez. Furthermore, Veron showed his class after coming on at half-time, not misplacing a single pass in the second half. A good confidence boost in their final warm-up game.

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