Three quick thoughts from Serbia-Germany (World Cup Group D)
Three quick thoughts from Serbia's 1-0 win over Germany in Group D on Friday:
1. Alberto Undiano Mallenco did not have a good debut. When he's not ruining World Cup games with his card-happy behavior, the 36-year-old Spanish ref is a sociologist. How would he assess his own behavior? Newcomer tries to send a message to established hierarchy by asserting his power? Or maybe just a bad day? Either way, he booked five players in the first half, including Miroslav Klose twice, which put the Germans a man down for nearly an hour. (He sent off 11 players in 17 La Liga matches last season.) Neither of the fouls for which Klose was cautioned had any ill intent, but Undiano inexplicably booked him for both. (After Milan Jovanovic's goal, the Serb scorer jumped the advertising boards and threw himself into the crowd like Bono at Live Aid; I thought Undiano might call the cops. He let that slide, though.) That said, Klose should have known better than to go in from behind when he had already been booked once by a ref who clearly had an itchy card finger. It's too bad. The tournament has been really well-officiated until now; sure, we've seen the occasional bad call (Uruguay's penalty against South Africa, for instance), but this is the first time it can be argued that officiating altered the outcome of the game.
2. Finally, some answers about the Germans. They skinned Australia, but it's starting to look like me, you and nine of our friends could give the Aussies a pretty good game. Surprisingly, the biggest question about the Germans hasn't been how they would adjust to losing Michael Ballack or how their numerous kids would play. It's been about their defense -- odd given that three of the four defenders who start now started on the 2006 team that finished third. Against Serbia, everyone's favorite dark horse, they looked shaky. Milos Krasic gave left back Holger Badstuber fits all day, most notably when he got behind him to send in the cross that led to Jovanovic's goal. (Though singling out Badstuber is unfair; the marking on the play was criminal all around.)
3. Serbia is going to be kicking itself for not scoring more than one goal. The Serbs did little to take advantage of the red card in the second half. They basically hung on by a thread for about a half-hour until German coach Kyle McLachlan -- I mean Joachim Low -- changed formations and put another man up top. After he did that, the game predictably opened up, but Serbia couldn't take advantage, hitting the bar twice and wasting a handful of other clear-cut chances. Without having played a good game, Serbia is in prime position to finish the group stage with six points. But if Germany beats Ghana, the group will likely end up in a three-way tie, meaning goal difference is everything. If that happens, the Serbs will really be ruing those misses.