Confederations Cup Diary - Good Games, Shame About The Panel

Last updated : 17 June 2013 By Little Boy Blue
Gimme peace!  Having got right into the Confederations Cup on Saturday night when Brazil turned on the style, I'd spent a few hours of Sunday afternoon in the pub raving about the prospect of seeing some superb stuff again last night so I hurried home to park my arse in front of the box for Mexico v Italy.  And who are the 'experts' in the TV studio?  Pat Feckin Nevin and John Feckin Hartson.  I wish I'd stayed on in the pub for another pint.
Determined to spare myself Nevin's pseudo-intellectual drivel and Hartson's unadulterated crap, I jumped into the shower and re-emerged just as the teams lined up for the national anthems.  Jesus Christ, what has Mario Balotelli done with his hair?  No mohican, no funny colours, just a pretty boring number four or number five cut.  It certainly doesn't appear to have done his game any harm at all, with the big daftie having four shots at goal inside the first 15 minutes.  And in a good open start, Mexico came closest to going in front when a shot from Andres Guardado clipped the Italian crossbar.
It was Andrea Pirlo who opened the scoring with a peach of a free-kick in the 27th minute.  Balotelli had been brought down 25 yards out, both he and Pirlo lined up the shot but the Juventus man clearly outranked his eccentric team-mate and marked his 100th cap by curling a brilliant right foot shot over the wall and high into the net.
But Mexico were level within seven minutes.  Andrea Barzagli fell asleep on the ball, Giovani dos Santos nipped in to rob him of it and the defender blatantly pulled him down.  It was a clear penalty, the Italian was lucky the referee settled for showing no more than a yellow card and Javier Hernandez confidently stepped up to send Gianluigi Buffon the wrong way to equalise.
Pirlo and Balotelli continued to cause problems for Mexico.  Twice in the early stages of the second half, Pirlo free-kicks sparked panic, his first striking the wall but falling to Montelivo whose half-hit shot was comfortably saved, his second flashing just wide of the post.  And there were signs of a Balotelli strop when the referee waved away claims for a penalty after the AC Milan man felt he'd been held back by Moreno.
But it was smiles all round in the 78th minute when the big crackpot became Super Mario.  De Rossi knocked the ball forward, Giaccherini got a touch to it and Balotelli held off a challenge from Rodriguez before smashing in the winner from ten yards.  Not even a yellow card for taking his shirt off could wipe the grin off his coupon, although he did look less than impressed by coach Prandelli when he was subbed near the end.  Well, it wouldn't be Balotelli if he didn't have a wee sulk about something, would it?
Italy held out fairly comfortably and, assuming they can see off Japan on Wednesday, I'm really looking forward to their clash with Brazil next weekend.  And I was delighted that the Beeb had packed Nevin and Hartson off to do what it is they do on a Sunday night, with Alan Shearer and Gus Poyet replacing them around the table for Spain v Uruguay.  To be perfectly honest, TV commentators and studio 'experts' do nothing for me.  I don't need an ex-player or a smug scribbler to explain what I can see for myself on the screen. 
And my beef about pundits was proved during the second game when, with Spain skooshing it, Jonathan Pearce and Mark Lawrenson were talking about possible substitutions and Lawrenson said he wouldn't mind seeing Malaga's Isco get some game time.  All of which would be highly unlikely because Isco is currently in Israel trying to win the European Championship with Spain's Under-21s. 
Spain and Uruguay look good bets to qualify from Group B but, significantly, the team finishing on top of the group will probably avoid Brazil in the semi-final so both surely viewed their opener as a must-win game.  But the South Americans were no more than spectators for long periods as Spain played keep-ball in what often looked like a well-rehearsed training routine. 
Jordi Alba fired the ball across goal but there were no takers, Fabregas rattled a shot off the post and Iniesta forced a save from goalkeeper Muslera before they made the breakthrough in the 20th minute.  A corner kick from Xavi was only half-cleared, the ball fell to Pedro and the Barcelona attacker's shot took a cruel deflection off defender Lugano to leave the keeper stranded as it flew into the net. 
Spain were in total control and went 2-0 up after 31 minutes when Fabregas threaded a great pass through to Soldado who had all the time in the world to size up the situation before firing his shot high into the net.  And Pique really should have netted number three before the interval when another Xavi corner fell to him inside the six yard box but he toe-poked the ball straight at the goalkeeper.
My earlier suspicion that Spain might not be fully motivated for the Confederations Cup was clearly groundless.  They were so superior that it was hard to imagine Uruguay's second half strategy being anything other than a face-saving exercise.  The Spaniards were reluctant to give them a kick of the ball, producing a performance something akin to a football version of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Uruguay's Edinson Cavani and Luiz Suarez were a big disappointment.  Both hope to secure big money moves during the close-season but, apart from one first half instance when Cavani just failed to make contact with a Suarez free-kick, they posed little threat.  They will be glad they don't have to face opponents as accomplished as Spain again, otherwise they would might to attract any interest.
Two minutes from the end Suarez curled in a free-kick to throw his team a lifeline.  Having so little of the ball, a set piece was always going to be Uruguay's best hope and, with four minutes of stoppage time, they suddenly saw a route back into the match but it would have been a travesty if they had taken anything from a game in which they were totally outclassed.
Uruguay v Nigeria on Thursday is now Group B's pivotal game.  The Africans will fancy their chances of a goalfest against Tahiti so should be in the right frame of mind to face a team who will be playing for their Confederations Cup future.  It remains to be seen if Uruguay will be demoralised by being so outclassed by Spain or they will take heart from escaping with a flatteringly narrow 2-1 defeat. 
But already I'm starting to look forward to a Brazil v Spain final.  The way both teams jealously guard possession, maybe they'll have to play with two balls.  No sniggering at the back!