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Sat. 13th June:
Spain v. Nigeria
South Korea v. Mexico
Hollad v. Belgium
Who was the wise monkey who called Group D the Group of Death? Whether it was a rapid piece of tabloid alliteration or not, the name has stuck. Unfortunately, a minute's silence was held for the passing away of President Fernand Sastre who was the inspiration behind France's bid to hold the 16th World Cup finals, and later the President of the French Organizing Committee.
Raul tried to break Bryan Robson's record for the fastest World Cup goal, and forced the Nigerian keeper to make a diving save before the cheer for the whistle had even died down. Within four minutes, Raul was back with a header against the crossbar. Alfonso also tried to look threatening, but couldn't connect when his chance to rise to the ball was floated in.
The Spaniard's looked a little too relaxed, allowing the Nigerians to rob them of possession around the centre circle on a number of occasions, and release Ikpeba of Monaco, and Okocha of Fenerbahce. Both felt comfortable approaching the area but the shots were wasted.
When Spain tried one-twos in the Nigerian area, they faced a wall of Green blocking their path.
Only twenty something minutes gone and Hierro fired in a direct free-kick. Rufai might have thought that the ball was going wide, but in all honesty, he was badly positioned and too lazy to move. Gooooooooaaaaaaaallllll.
Three minutes later, a high corner dipped into the box for Nigeria, and Adepoju rose between two defenders to power in the header. A kiss of life.
Nigeria continued to build and push forward, but their shots at goal were wasted. Where was the Spanish defence, Zubizaretta had to slide right out of his area and get up fast to do the job of a sweeper -- five minutes before half-time.
Another long ball, and again Zubizaretta was forced to hoof the ball away from the outside corner of his area and fast approaching danger. (Half-time: 1-1).
Three minutes into the second half, Hierro released a long ball over the Nigerian defenders, and Raul was running at full stretch to volley it home.
Raul was always a danger on his runs....... Nigeria tried to slow their passing down, only to slice the finishing touch. Rasheed Yekeni was brought on to rectify the situation.
With Nadal on the floor the Spanish lost their concentration; allowing Lawal to take the ball to the line and pull it across to the near post, where the keeper helped in in.
Spain tried to reply again, but Raul must have wasted a golden opportunity to join Salas as the leading goalscorer.
Oliseh ricocheted a rocket of a shot in off the upright -- sensational turn of events.
Yekeni added a spectacular scissor kick to the spectacle;
narrowly over. The Spanish still weren't finished and Sergi almost equalized with a super
curler that had the keeper beat -- just too high. Maximum
Mexico looked composed initially, but South Korea were quick to close down Garcia Aspe and attack them just as fast. Garcia Aspe fired an early cross-goal shot, and although the goalkeeper dived he was never troubled by it.
Fifteen minutes into the game, and South Korea were causing most of the problems. Mexico tried to retaliate and had the ball cleared twice with Korea's keeper running in circles. South Korea replied quickly to force a flying save from Campos at the other end.
The co-hosts of the next World Cup were out to impress in this one. Their speed and directness frustrated the Mexicans, who would have rather rolled the ball around, and forced them into conceding a free-kick outside the area.
In the wall, Davino rose to block the free-kick from Seok Ju Ha, and diverted into the net instead. Own Goal could win the golden boot at this rate.
S J Ha must have had Gazza proportion adrenaline after that; minutes later he slid into the back of Ramirez, and received the second red card of the tournament for his over ambitious challenge.
Down to ten men, and still the Koreans were going at Mexico to try and prevent them from playing the ball around. How long would their energy last with this display of total commitment? A Mexican penalty appeal was turned down, and again Korea played like they had the extra man.
A shot by Mexican number 19, Braulio Luna was straight at the keeper's chest. Jong Soo Ko replied with a thunder from the edge of the other box that had Campos at full stretch.
Just before half-time, Hernandez used an overhead-kick to cross into Jaime Ordiales who tried to score in similar style. (Half-time: 1-0).
Five minutes into the second half, a corner taken by Ramirez was poorly headed by Pelaez. The loose ball bounced of Sang Chul Yoo's foot and gave Pelaez a second chance to pounce, and make no mistake.
Still the South Koreans showed tremendous courage and stamina; filling their area in defence and trying to reach Campos in the other. Even when Mexico tried to use their extra man to taunt the Koreans, with cries of Olé from the fans, a Korean would get a foot in to break it up like a toro snicking the matador.
The sword to the neck of the bull came in the 74th minute when Hernandez was on the end of a deep cross from near the corner flag, to flick it in between the goalkeeper and the far post.
Less than ten minutes later, Hernandez again. He received a close pass
by the penalty circle, turned and struck the low shot close to the bottom of the post. No
chance for the gallant Ji Kim.
The Dutch, playing in all blue and orange socks, almost scored from the first corner. As the ball came out Ronald de Boer curled in a chip -- pushed around the post for another corner.
Belgium had their backs to the goal continually: Overmars ran the length of the left touchline and crossed....... no-one there. Seedorf sent through another ball; yet another move saw Kluivert work with Overmars; Seedorf on a run this time; Overmars on the wing again..... That was just the first ten minutes.
Overmars was causing too many problems on the left wing; a tactical change was needed from Belgium. Still in the first quarter of the game, for our American friends, Crasson was replaced by Deflandre.
The Brugge player soon let Overmars know that he was there, although the free-kick from Seedorf came to nothing. Not much chance for Fiorentina's Oliveira to show what he could do at the other end, he hardly touched the ball in the first half an hour; and when he did, Stam was like an octopus around him.
Red card for the ref -- Deflandre clearly used pulling as his way of slowing players down. Then it came; Deflandre's yellow card for a another foul on Overmars.
For Belgium, Oliveira had to come deeper if he wanted to get into the game. The match was fast, and De Wilde, the Belgian keeper, hardly had a chance to take his eye off the ball. To try and encourage the Belgians to attack, he almost brought the ball up the pitch himself. Van der Sar, at the other end, looked extremely bored.
The first Belgian corner didn't come until just before the half-time whistle. (Half-time: 0-0).
The Dutch started the second half in the same fashion. This time it was Seedorf on the right wing, and a more lively Kluivert trying just about everything. What did the Dutch need to do to get a goal?
Belgium's Nilis momentarily broke up the Dutch domination with a chip floating narrowly over Van der Sar's bar.
Seedorf and Hasselbaink were taken off, with Bergkamp and Zenden sent on to try their luck.
Frustration time with ten minutes to go, Kluivert had a serious attitude problem and continued his confrontation with an elbow nudge. The linesman called over the referee to point it out -- get out that card -- and walk you prat.
Last tactical signals from the Belgian coach, and the
whistle must have been the greatest relief for the Belgian keeper.
To the Stadium
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