Toulalan, Messi and Ozil sparkle in World Cup’s first days


It’s not a low-scoring tournament.

It’s just series of cautious first games.You always get tense first games.

Serbia v Ghana was the eighth game of a 64-game World Cup and Gyan\’s penalty was only the ninth goal.

Then we saw the Germans thrash Australia 4-0.

FRANCE are the most disappointing team I\’ve seen so far.

My French team would be Malouda, Toulalan, Evra, Gallas and seven others. But Malouda had a big row with Domenech the day before the game, so he didn’t play against Uruguay. He is a fine playmaker who can score goals and make goals.

On what I’ve seen recently, France’s unbalanced and experimental version of 4-3-3 is self-defeating stupidity. Anelka doesn’t want to play up front where he has to take kicks and knocks. So he floats, drops deep, drifts wide and fannies about. He is embarrassingly bad. The fact that Anelka is playing his first World Cup at the age of 31 shows you how far the French national team has declined.

By playing where he does, Anelka occupies the positions that would be used by Gourcuff, who then finds himself having shots from 30 yards.

About 10 million French fans might disagree, but I see Gourcuff has a goalscoring half-striker, not a midfielder. When Blanc manages France, you’ll see the best of Gourcuff.

One of my journalist buddies told me two weeks ago that Ribery was really furious after  missing the Bayern-Inter Milan final, and even more fired up by negative publicity about that prostitute, and was therefore desperate to do great things in South Africa.

However, in the 0-0 draw against Uruguay, Ribery looked like the most over-rated player in Europe.

France’s best player was Toulalan, who could play tomorrow for Barcelona, Manchester United or Chelsea. Playing with Gourcuff and Diaby in a three means Toulalan has to roam across a vast prairie, making tackles, passes, plugging gaps here, there and everywhere. Which he does well and willingly. But one player cannot control such a huge area on his own. He needs professional help in there. Only Domenech would decide to change his system seven weeks ago and with two players has do not suit 4-3-3.

Unfortunately, France carry a lot of what you might call heritage and what I might call baggage. In Euro 2008, Ribery and keeper Coupet were complaining that France missed Zidane. Fair enough, any team would miss Zidane. But he came out of retirement to play for Les Bleus in 2006.

An ANR reader has asked what I thought of Diaby in this game.

I thought he was a powerhouse midfield dribbler with no end product. Most of his passes were 50-50 balls, except those that went straight to a pale blue shirt. Football is a game of opinion, that’s what makes it fun. And that’s my opinion right now. If Diaby improves, my opinion could change. But if he improves by 200%, Diaby would still not be fit to lace the boots of the majestic Vieira, who was the finest all-round midfield player in the world for five years.

MESSI lit up the game for Argentina, who should have beaten Nigeria by more than 1-0.

He had a good game and Higuain had a bad game. Trouble was, all their play goes through Messi now, even more so after Veron went off.

Messi wants to play a team game, not put on a one-man show. But the format is wrong for him. Carlos Tevez has to play and Diego thinks if you take six strikers, you have to play three. If Argentina win their next four matches, fine. But I reckon South Korea will give them a really close game on Thursday and maybe even draw with them.

However, my tips have failed so far. I backed South Africa to edge out Mexico but they drew and then I backed England and they  got a 1-1 draw as well.

SERBIA\’S defence is stronger than their attack.

They were fairly solid against Ghana when they had eleven men. But, as an attacking force, Serbia were feeble. After Serbia went down to 10 men, there was a crazy handball in  the box  by Kusmanovic in 84 minutes and Rennes striker Asamoah Gyan buried a fine penalty to provide Africa\’s first victory in this World Cup.

Ghana, the youngest team here, may become a very good side for the next World Cup. So far they are  better   than Nigeria, who are a shambles, despite the bold efforts of the bustling Yakubu.

Ghana has no oil (CORRECTION : oil found 2 years ago!) and less corruption than Nigeria. By most accounts, Ghana is  a more harmonious and happier nation than others in West Africa and it looks as if their football team reflects that. So I look forward to seeing them again. They will feel a lot better after scoring that vital late goal. It’s almost impossible to exaggerate the beneficial effects of winning your first game.

GERMANY were cruising at 2-0 last night when notoriously card-happy Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez  sent Tim Cahill off.

Cahill clattered into the back of Schweinsteiger. A clumsy challenge but not malicious and never a straight red card. When Cahill saw he wasn’t going to get the ball, he pulled out. Uruguay, Algeria and Serbia have also had players sent off so far.

Podolski had scored with an early thunderbolt and Klose, after missing a sitter, jumped for a brave header as veteran Mark Schwarzer came unconvincingly for a punch. Thomas Muller made it 3-0 and left-footed playmaker Ozil set up sub Cacau to tap in for 4-0. Mesut Ozil (Werder Bremen) is 21 with 11 caps. He runs, thinks, links, creates openings, and gets better every time you see him. He does  many of the things Malouda would do if France had a good coach.

Germany’s average age is 26. Their keeper Manuel Neuer of Schalke is 24 and this was his fourth cap. He had nothing to do.

SLOVENIA beat 10 Algerians 1-0.

Robert Koren’s speculative shot bounced in off the keeper’s forearm in 79 minutes.

Players behave stupidly at every World Cup and Algeria’s sub Ghezzal, the Siena striker, won my Idiot of the Week award when he came on and tugged a shirt within seconds and got a yellow card. When a diagonal cross from the left was beating him,  Ghezzal then threw his right arm at the ball. Why? Second yellow. He won’t play against England on Friday.

England need to win Group C to avoid likely Group D winners Germany in the last 16.