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Piqué and mix performances from United rejects

June 17, 2010

Gerard Pique did not enjoy himself against the Swiss -

When Alex Ferguson let centre-half Gerard Piqué move to Barcelona two years ago, many questioned the wisdom of getting rid of a promising young defender who had been given few opportunities for Manchester United. When Piqué completed the treble with Barcelona by beating United comfortably in May 2009 it certainly looked like a rash decision.

Yet Piqué’s performance for Spain – a side so often compared to the Spanish champions not simply because of the number of players they share – against Switzerland yesterday was more reminiscent of his calamitous 2007 appearance as part of a youthful United side that allowed Coventry City’s Michael Mifsud to propel his team into the next round of the league cup than his numerous solid shifts for Barca. Though he was not to blame for Gelson Fernandes’ goal (in stumbling towards his own goal he was making up for a positional error from left back Capdevila), he looked rusty and, when involved, lacked the sharpness demonstrated by the Swiss defenders who were called upon far more regularly. Auxerre’s Stephane Grichting at centre back was particularly good, though all three centre backs – Philippe Senderos went off injured early on – did a sterling job.

Switzerland’s supremely organised resilience against Spain’s short, intricate passing in midfield provided the tournament’s best game so far. Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side called to mind Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan against Barcelona earlier this season by ensuring two banks of players were never far enough apart to allow Spain’s midfield to create many chances. Then, when the chance arose, Fernandes stormed forward to tap home after a break caused confusion in the Spanish defence. They then rarely looked troubled, save for a Xabi Alonso blast which cannoned off the bar. If Switzerland can restrict every team to shots from that distance, they should go far. Few have managed to make the ball dip and swerve from distance as required.

Diego the destroyer -

This match provided the filling in a tasty World Cup sandwich which also involved Chile entertaining us at lunchtime and Uruguay – and, in particular, Diego Forlan – destroying South Africa in the evening. Chile’s Alexis Sanchez was excellent and, though his team missed a number of chances, they consistently looked dangerous going forward – albeit against a poor Honduras side. Forlan later adopted an unusual position, roaming anywhere and everywhere in the South African half. He was always in five yards of space and time and again provided killer balls that were squandered by those in front of him. Their movement, though, was excellent and with Forlan putting in the best crosses, and best individual performance, of the tournament so far, Uruguay should be a dangerous knockout opponent.

Forlan, like Piqué, failed to excel at Old Trafford and both have found life in Spain much more pleasing. Piqué’s Spain will most likely have to win their final two group games – the one against Chile is an appetising prospect – but Forlan’s side will progress with a draw against Mexico, and may not even need that depending on the Mexico France game today. After a dour start, the World Cup is shaping up nicely.

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