Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Persian Gulf

Mexico 3-1 Iran

I should be careful. I'll be using up all of my decent title puns before the end of this week. Mexico are possibly even worse than Spain in terms of their under-achievement in the World Cup. It's a big country, and it's football mad. Thanks to having hosted two World Cups, it's got an excellent infrastructure. But the best they have ever managed is two appearances in the quarter-finals, and these both came when they were hosting it. Their location, I think, does them no favours. CONCACAF simply doesn't provide them with the week-in-week-out competition at the very top level that successful national teams need. Added to that is the problem that all bar three players play at home, which I'm not certain that Mexican domestic football is the best that there is, and we have a problem. Prior to a win against Bulgaria in December, as Jonathan Pearce tells us, Mexico hadn't beaten a European team for three years.

Iran, if you believe the ever-condescending press, are here for shits and giggles. The most press interest in them has come from the story that their rabidly anti-Semitic president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is intending to fly to Germany should his team reach the second round. There is a chance that, should his team get through, they'll have to second round match in Nuremberg. Nice.

On the evidence of this performance, his critics needn't worry. They didn't look as they're going get very far at all. They started well enough. Mexico, like many of the "favourites" thus far, started nervously and Iran had two or three chances to score first, but the differences between the teams started to show through soon enough. The first goal came about through a goal not far removed from the second goal conceded by Costa Rica against Germany on Friday evening. Again, a goalkeeper and defender appealing for offside against a forward in a clearly onside position. Is this going to be one of the running themes of the tournament?

Iran's equalizer came about after a scramble in for the ball in the Mexican six yard box. You'd have thought that, with five players surrounding the ball, one of them would have taken the time to belt it out of the ground, but they didn't, and the confusingly named Golmohammadi prodded the ball in, and wheeled away with the sort of look of disbelief on his face that tidily encapsulated the ambitions of his team.

I'd voiced my criticism of the Iranian goalkeeper Mirzapour in the first half. This was justifed for the second Mexican goal, when his scuffed goal kick, aided along by Rezaei's atrocious defensive header, allowed Bravo to bag the all-important second goal. The Mexicans added a third a couple of minutes later, and that was that. Sadly for Iran, I suspect that the occasional goal (and maybe a point against Angola) is about as much they can expect from this tournament. As for Mexico... well, they looked like a decent enough team, once they'd settled their nerves. However, the ease with which they allowed Iran to swarm forward in the first twenty minutes would indicate to me that they could run into problems against stronger opposition.


Ed said...

I think they'll cause Portugal some problems in the meantime. Portugal seem to go completely rubbish in World Cup finals.

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