An interesting game between probably the best two teams of their respective continents over the last decade, the South Americans with a team packed with big names and the Africans as usual looking to raise their game a couple of levels when they play in the World Cup.
A lively start, with both teams attacking early on. The pace dropped off though later in the first half, and it was all square at the break. Batistuta had declared before the tournament that he would be retiring from international football once Argentina are knocked out. He didn't seem that keen to go though, and at least earned his side another game or two with a second half headed goal from a corner.
Spanish league players: Cavallero was chosen to play in goal ahead of Burgos and Bonano, not a surprise as he has been Bielsa's first choice recently. Non of the three Valencia players started the game, but Kily González came on at half time for his ex-team mate Piojo López and went close twice, and Aimar had a brief run out in the last quarter of an hour or so. Ayala was expected to be captain, but he injured himself in a pre-match warm up and was replaced by ex-Espanyol defender Pochettino. Celta's Gustavo López was non-playing substitute.
A game of two halves, Brian. Sven Goran Eriksson saved himself from a possible lynching by producing a result which half-satisfied both his adopted and mother countries, a draw which keeps both in with a chance of qualifying for the second round.
The Swede must have had to change his underpants when the draw threw together the two sides in the opening group match, a no-win situation whichever way you look at it. England should have wrapped things up in the first half if it was not for their Wimbledon style tactics of long ball in the area and everyone after it. Campbell opened the scoring for them with a header from a corner by a half-fit Beckham, but Sweden came back after the break with an equaliser by Alexandersson after a mistake by Danny Mills, and were unlucky not to get a winner as they pressured Seaman's goal in the last few minutes.
Spanish league players: Patrick Andersson should have captained Sweden for this game, but his injury problems continued and he had to withdraw.
Two goals from Glasgow Celtic striker Henrik Larsson helped Sweden to come from behind to beat Nigeria. It was a lively game in the so called "group of death", with the African side desperately fighting to survive after losing their opening game. After an early Swedish barrage, the Green Eagles took the lead when Julius Aghahowa acrobatically headed home Yobo's cross, and the young striker celebrated with a series of cartwheels and flips that could have won him a gold medal if this were the Olympic games and not the World Cup.
It didn't take long for Sweden to come back though, as Larsson's striker instinct took him into the right position to steer the ball past Shoronmu after good work by Ljungberg. The game was swinging from end to end, and Nigeria almost took the lead again when a Lucic clearance hit Mjallby and deflected on to the post. However it was Sweden who got the next goal after Udeze brought down Larsson in the area, and he picked himself up to place a penalty kick through the hands of the keeper.
Nigeria went down fighting, fired on by Taribo West who ended up playing with a head bandage after having a cut stitched up on the side of the pitch. But Mjallby cleared off the line from Utaka, and when Yobo's shot beat Hedman but hit the post it was all over. Nigeria are out of the running, and Sweden now only need to draw against Argentina (only?) in the last game to win through to the last sixteen.
Spanish league players: Barcelona's Patrick Andersson was still not fully fit and did not play, although Sweden hope he will be back for the vital game with Argentina. Nigeria's Mutiu was a non-playing substitute.
England beat Argentina for the first time since 1966 to move level with Sweden at the top of their group. This was billed as the grudge match of the tournament after previous encounters had produced many controversial moments, and the two sets of fans were in a frenzy in the covered stadium in Sapporo, the capital of Japan's Northern most island Hokkaido. England lost Hargreaves to an injury early on, but the introduction of Sinclair gave them a more balanced side.
Michael Owen almost gave Eriksson's team the lead when his angled shot hit the foot of the post, although Argentina responded with a couple of close efforts from Kily González. Then a minute before half time ex Espanyol defender Pochettino, standing in for the injured Ayala, felled Owen inside the area and Italian referee Pier Luigi Collini pointed to the spot. England captain David Beckham stepped up to blast the ball low past Cavallero, much to the relief of his fans.
The Europeans should have extended their lead after the break when Owen shot wide and Cavallero saved from Scholes and then substitute Sheringham. But the last fifteen minutes were all Argentina, and England had to defend desperately as Bielsa threw on extra forwards to try and save a result. His side almost certainly have to beat Sweden now to reach the last round, and England need only draw against already eliminated Nigeria.
Spanish league players: England fans thought of the absent McManaman when Hargreaves was injured, but Sinclair more than ably covered the position. With Ayala still injured only Cavallero and Kily González started the game for Argentina, and Kily looked his country's best player despite a nose bleed after clashing with Beckham's arm near half time. He was replaced by ex Valencia striker Piojo López late in the second half. Aimar came on at the break for Verón, and Burgos, Bonano and Gustavo López all had to watch the game from the substitutes' bench.
When they named group F the "group of death" after the initial draw, nobody was thinking too much of Sweden. It was all Argentina, England, Nigeria .... oh, and who are the fourth side? Can't remember, but pick two out of the other three to go through. The Swedes should never be ruled out though, and they proved that they are a force to be reckoned with by eliminating Argentina after drawing 1-1 with them in Miyagi.
England's defeat of the South Americans left them needing a victory to go through, something which should have been well within their grasp. And it certainly looked as if Bielsa's side were going to win the game in the first half, with Sweden not even approaching Cavallero's goal. Sorin saw a first header saved by Hedman and then sent another over the bar, and Piojo López wasted three good chances after his colleagues had put him through. Finally though the Emirates referee Mr. Bujsaim blew the whistle for half time, but as the players were coming off Argentina's veteran substitute Cannigia was overhead by the fourth official insulting his mother. It earned him a red card, even though he had yet to play a minute in the competition.
As they did against England, Sweden came out for the second half a changed side, and after Anders Svensson had given an early warning with a long free kick, the next effort from the Southhampton man bent wickedly over the defensive wall and into the top corner. Bielsa had left some of his big stars on the bench but he finally realised that without them they were going to lose. On came Crespo, Kily and Verón one by one, and the blue wave started again. Aimar and Zanetti went close, but they left themselves open at the back and Andreas Andersson hit the post on a quick counterattack.
But then with two minutes to go Ortega won a penalty when Jonson brought him down, and although Hedman saved his kick, Crespo tucked it home on the follow up. England's draw against Nigeria meant they still had to win though, and there was a frantic last few minutes with Sweden defending furiously. They held on though to set up a second round tie with Senegal at the weekend. Argentina are out at the first stage for the first time in 40 years, the third ex World champion to be eliminated after France and Uruguay. Definitely a year for upsets.
Spanish league players: Cavallero started for the third match in a row in goal, which meant that Burgos and Bonano didn't get a game at all. The injured Ayala and Celta's Gustavo López also failed to appear in any of the three matches. Valencia's Pablo Aimar got his first (and last) start in the competition, and his team mate Kily González came on for the last half an hour or so after they had fallen behind.
A tactical match this one (euphemistic for crap), played in stifling heat and humidity in Osaka which made it difficult to walk let alone run around for ninety minutes playing football. Nigeria had nothing to play for other than pride and bonuses, and England only needed a draw to see them through the group stage. With one eye on the other group game between Sweden and Argentina, England decided to try and control the game and not take any unnecessary risks. Marshalled by the maturing Rio Ferdinand the England defence set about their task of containing the ever dangerous Nigerian forwards, although there were a couple of nervous moments when Aghahowa got through and later on when Seaman had to save from Okocha. England had their opportunities too though, with the best chance in the first half falling to Scholes who saw his long shot turned onto the post by young keeper Enyeama.
Soon after the restart news came through that Sweden were leading Argentina, a good result for England who did not fancy winning the group as that would mean a tricky tie against Senegal in the midday sun. The game slowed to a walking pace, and only the introduction of Teddy Sheringham added any spice to proceedings. Ashley Cole did see a centre-come-shot roll along the crossbar, but it was a brief oasis in an otherwise desert of a match, and even Argentina's late equaliser did little to wake both sides up from their reveries. England got what they wanted anyway, an evening match with Denmark, their preference even though it could mean a quarter final fixture with Brazil. Nigeria go home with a point at least, a small consolation for a disappointing World cup.
Spanish league players: Mutiu's long trip to Japan was wasted, and he leaves without making an appearance for Nigeria.