Below is the piece I wrote for the fantastic blog The Equaliser my contribution on his excellent Favourite Footballer series, I hope you enjoy!

81 minutes into his first game in English football, websites, mobile phones and vidiprinters around the country were for the first time typing the name of Peter Odemwingie. I’m sure there were plenty of people around the country thinking “Who?” – I too was once in this position. Today, however, I class him as one of my favourite footballers.

You could say it was fate that brought my attention to Odemwingie, while on holiday in France a family friend had the chance to go watch Lyon v Lille at the Stade Gerland and, while at the game and knowing my love of all things football, picked me up a scarf without thinking what team the scarf represented. The team, it turned out, was Lille OSC.

Being the curious fan that I am, I researched this French enigma through the only channel a fan could before the days of Wikipedia – I popped Pro Evolution Soccer into my PS2. Makoun and Bodmer were there but there was one name that stood out, Peter Odemwingie. I can’t think back to how I may have pronounced his name then, but I would put money on it having been wrong.

Peter had only just moved to Lille from La Louviere (in the 2005 January Transfer window) and, playing the majority of his football on the flanks, he scored four goals in his first season; the next year he had a great season scoring 14 goals and leading Lille to an unprecedented third place and Champions League football.

It wasn’t until the 15th of April 2006 that I finally saw the man in action. Through the wonders of the World Wide Web I found a barely visible feed of Lille’s match at home to Bordeaux and, after six minutes, I was hooked. Mathieu Bodmer opening the scoring in the second minute before Odemwingie found the net four minutes later. On the half hour the Nigerian had two and Lille were 3-0 to the good, the game eventually finishing 3-2. Les Dogues had a new fan.

Two weeks later, while playing scrabble with my girlfriend at some ungodly hour of the morning and flicking through the TV channels between turns, I discovered Channel 4’s French Football coverage. The match in progress was Lille v Lyon and I watched agog as Lille destroyed the all conquering Lyon 4-0. Odemwingie scored two goals, the best of which was a delightful chip over the helpless Remy Vercoutre.

Unfortunately the season was drawing to a close and it would be another three months until I could watch the fascinating Odemwingie again. He would not disappoint – the season kicked off with a great 2-1 win over Rennes away from home, the next week bringing the visit of Lille’s arch-rivals Rennes.

This was the game where Odemwingie would truly capture my imagination. After Mathieu Bodmer had given Lille an early lead the game belonged to the number 14, the flying forward turning past Marcos Ramos and racing towards goal before curling his shot beyond Charles Itandje. His second was the easiest of tap-ins, Kader Keita doing the hard work and squaring the ball for Peter to make it 3-0.

He was not going to be denied his hat-trick, Keita again charging down the right teasing a wonderful cross into the box where Odemwingie, unmarked between two defenders, expertly powered the header into the back of the net. The home fans were enchanted just like their newest fan, captivated, watching in awe of his new favourite player.

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My challenge to watch every match in full has failed, just found it impossible to watch matches when I know the score, who scored and what minute, the excitement just isn’t there. I managed the South Africa v France game, Nigeria v South Korea, 2nd half of Argentina v Greece and the extended highlights of Mexico v Uruguay, not a bad effort, so some reports from now on will be more sketchy than others.

For me the knockout stage starts here, for the next 4 days 4 teams will end the day eliminated for the World Cup, such a shame that today saw Bafana Bafana exit the tournament, but they leave with their heads held high.

MEXICO 0   URUGUAY

1

      Luis SUAREZ (43′)  
         
1.Oscar PEREZ     1.Fernando MUSLERA  
2.Francisco RODRIGUEZ     2.Diego LUGANO  
3.Carlos SALCIDO     4.Jorge FUCILE - Y  
4.Rafael MARQUEZ     6.Mauricio VICTORINO  
5.Ricardo OSORIO     7.Edinson CAVANI  
6.Gerardo TORRADO     9.Luis SUAREZ OUT – 85
9.Guillermo FRANCO     10.Diego FORLAN  
10.Cuauhtemoc BLANCO OUT – 63   11.Alvaro Pereira OUT – 77
15.Hector MORENO OUT – 57   15.Diego PEREZ  
17.Giovani DOS SANTOS     16.Maximiliano PEREIRA  
18.Andres GUARDADO OUT – 46   17.Egidio AREVALO  
         
Subs     Subs  
7.Pablo BARRERA IN – 46   19.Andres SCOTTI IN – 77
8.Israel CASTRO – Y IN – 57   20.Alvaro FERNANDEZ IN – 85
14.Javier HERNANDEZ - Y IN – 63      

MY THOUGHTS

Looked a decent game from the highlights, Uruguay just shading it in performance and goals scored, quite a few good chances, Suarez, Pereira, Victorino all could have opened the scoring but it took a magnificent ball from Cavani from the right and Luis Suarez met it was a perfect header, his first goal, and the goal that put Uruguay in the driving seat.

Mexico did react Andres Guardado had a ambitious try for 35 yards only to see it come off the underside of the crossbar, dos Santos looked very busy again, however 3rd game in a row where there has been no final ball from him, maybe that’s what he lacks, Francisco Rodriguez had a absolute great chance to equalise, but couldn’t steer the header past Muslera.From the highlights it looked like Fucile has a great game saw examples of 3 really good tackles.

It was good to see both teams going for it, battling for 1st place, and both teams deserve to go through.

FRANCE 1   SOUTH AFRICA 2
Florent MALOUDA (70′)     Bongani KHUMALO (20′)  
      Katlego MPHELA (37′)  
         
1.Hugo LLORIS     1.Moneeb JOSEPHS  
2.Bakari SAGNA     3.Tsepo MASILELA  
5.William GALLAS     4.Aaron MOKOENA  
7.Franck RIBERY     5.Anele NGCONGCA OUT – 55
8.Yoann GOURCUFF – R     6.MacBeth SIBAYA  
9.Djibril CISSE OUT – 55   8.Siphiwe TSHABALALA  
11.Andre Pierre GIGNAC OUT – 46   9.Katlego MPHELA  
17.Sebastien SQUILLACI     10.Steven PIENAAR  
18.Alou DIARRA OUT – 82   17.Bernard PARKER OUT – 68
19.Abou DIABY - Y     20.Bongani KHUMALO  
22.Gael CLICHY     23.Thanduyise KHUBONI OUT – 78
         
Subs     Subs  
10.Sidney GOVOU IN – 82   11.Teko MODISE IN – 78
12.Thierry HENRY IN – 55   2.Siboniso GAXA IN – 55
15.Florent MALOUDA IN – 46   18.Siyabonga NOMVETE IN – 68

MY THOUGHTS

This was the game that everyones eyes were on, a goal for either Uruguay or Mexico and a 5 nil victory for South Africa would see the wonderful fairytale story and see Bafana Bafana progress to the Last 16.

They couldn’t have asked for a better start, probably against the run of play they won a corner, Lloris flopped and Khumalo rose highest and headed the ball into the net, Gourcuff was then sent off for an elbow in Sibaya face, harsh decicsion but adding to SA’s cause, 8 minutes before Half Time they were 2-0 up, Modise found space on the left and crossed the ball for Mphela despite a attempted clearance from Clichy, Mphela managed to bundle the ball over the line.

Unfortunately this was the cloest they got to advance, the second half was a tighter affair and they couldn’t add to the tally, and it was France that scored, Ribery charged down the left and he crossed for Florent Malouda he scored France’s only goal of the World Cup.

There is noone I would like to pick out from this French team, it was another poor performance, and Laurent Blanc has lots of work to do.

South Africans should hold their head high today, a great performance showed passion and desire and maybe just lacked the ability to follow through on a great start, Tshabalala was busy and I really like the look of him and would love to see him in Europe Italy/Spain perhaps, Mphela played well, akin to his performance in the first game against Mexico and I was glad he got his goal. Sibaya and Khuboni started in the middle and showed a good account for themselves, good passing and strength, Pienaar didn’t have a great game, and has not had a great World Cup which is a big shame.

A really exciting group, going down to the last minutes, you have to say the best two teams have gone through, it is always a shame to see the hosts going out, I will miss the pre-match sing-a-long.

NIGERIA

2

 

KOREA REPUBLIC

2

Kalu UCHE (12′)     LEE Jung Soo (38′)  
Yakubu AYEGBENI (69′PEN)     PARK Chu Young (49′)  
         
1.Vincent ENYEAMA – Y     18.JUNG Sung Ryong  
2.Joseph YOBO OUT – 46   4.CHO Yong Hyung  
4.Nwankwo KANU OUT – 57   7.PARK Ji Sung  
5.Rabiu AFOLABI     8.KIM Jung Woo  
6.Danny SHITTU     10.PARK Chu Young  OUT – 93
8.Yakubu AYEGBENI OUT – 70   12.LEE Young Pyo  
12.Kala UCHE     14.LEE Jung Soo  
13.Yussuf AYILA – Y     16.KI Sung Yueng OUT – 86 
17.Chidi ODIAH     17.LEE Chung Yong  
19.Chinedu Ogbuke OBASI – Y     19.YEOM KI Hun  OUT – 63
20.Dickson ETUHU     22.CHA Du Ri  
         
Subs     Subs  
9.Obafemi MARTINS IN – 57   5.KIM Nam Il – Y IN – 64
18.Victor OBINNA IN – 70   13.KIM Jae Sung IN – 87
21.Uwe ECHIEJILE IN – 46   15.KIM Dong Jin IN – 93
         

MY THOUGHTS

Really enjoyed this game, 2 teams battling for a place in the last 16 and it showed, a back and forward game, Nigeria started the better of the two and were in charge, South Korea fell asleep for a second Odiah charged down the right, crossed the ball in, Cha Du-Ri was left sleeping at the back post and Kalu Uche was there to finish it off. I expected Nigeria to charge on with the wind in their sails this wasn’t to be, 7 minutes before half time Korea won a free kick near the byline, Celtic’s Ki played in a lovely ball everyone missed it but Lee Jung-Soo, he stooped to head it, but it bounced off his shin and into the net, Korea back in the qualification place.

Korea came out in the 2nd half looking in charge and their midfield was out playing the Nigerians, and it was Park Cho-Young that grabbed the second, a free kick 25 yards out, Enyeama took a step to his right, behind his ball and Park curled the ball into the bottom corner, great free-kick but you have to point blame at the keeper, that was has area to cover.

We then saw the worst miss of maybe not just the World Cup but of all time, Obasi beat his man down the left crossed the ball, Yakubu was unmarked 4 yards from goal and he managed to put the ball wide that old cliché “easier to miss” doesn’t do it justice, 5 mins later Nigeria won a penalty, substitute Kim Nam-Il got beat  on the right and he blatantly kicked the legs away from Obasi, no doubt a penalty, I was shocked that Yakubu stepped up to take it, but credit to him, he calmly put the ball past Jung and brought the game level, one more goal and Nigeria would be through. It wasn’t to be though, Korea saw the game out and booked a place in the Last 16 for the first time in a tournament outside their own country.

Some good performances Yakubu was lively Uche and Obasi had a lot of success on the wings, Yussuf was a battler in the middle of the park and was surprised he made it to 41 minutes without being booked.

Cho and Lee in defence looked impressive again it was a shame the fullbacks didn’t back them up and that’s where the goals came from.

The midfield trio of Park, Ki and Kim again impressed, they very rarely lost the ball and can all pick a pass, which is then backed up with the pace of Lee Chung-Yong on the right wing and the tireless running of Park Cho-Young he has had a great World Cup so far, always gives the Centre Backs he plays against a game and cause problems.

I wanted South Korea to go through and I’m glad they held on, noone can say they don’t deserve it.

GREECE 0   ARGENTINA 2
      Martin DEMICHELLIS (77′)  
      Martin PALERMO (89′)  
         
12.Alexandros TZORVAS     22.Sergio ROMERO  
5.Vangelis MORAS     2.Martin DEMICHELIS  
6.Alexandros TZIOLIS     3.Clemente RODRIGUEZ  
7.Georgios SAMARAS     4.Nicolas BURDISSO  
8.Avraam PAPADOPOULOS     5.Marco BOLATTI – Y  
10.Georgios KARAGOUNIS – C OUT – 46   8.Juan VERON  
11.Loukas VYNTRA     10.Lionel MESSI  
15.Vasileios TOROSIDIS OUT – 55   15.Nicolas OTAMENDI  
16.Sotirios KYRGIAKOS     16.Sergio AGUERO OUT – 77
17.Theofanis GEKAS     19.Diego MILITO OUT – 80
21.Konstantinos KATSOURANIS – Y OUT – 54   20.Maxi RODRIGUEZ OUT – 63
         
Subs     Subs  
3.Christos PATSATZOGLU IN – 55   7.Angel DI MARIA IN – 63
4.Nikos SPIROPOULOS IN – 46   18.Martin PALERMO IN – 80
18.Sotiris NINIS IN – 64   23.Javier PASTORE IN – 77

MY THOUGHTS

From the Greeks tactics and performance on show you would have thought a draw would have been enough for them to go through, not the case, they had to win, I would guess the tactics were keep it level for 70 minutes and then have a go, not the greatest spectacle but for 77 mins it worked.

Messi was manmarked by Papadopoulos who did a great job in keeping the Wonderkid under wraps and frustrated him. Veron had a good game with Messi tied up he took charge on the ball trying to control the game, still has classs on the ball but couldn’t find a better pass, Clemente Rodriguez played very well on the left, always looking to get forward and attack but without compromising his position most attacks that led to a shot came through Clemente.

Argentina broke the deadlock with 13 minutes to go, the corner came in Demichelis got his head to it, it was blocked but he managed to get the second attempt and this time it was a goal, a much deserved Argentina goal. Then just before the end a bit of a World Cup moment 36 year old Martin Palermo had come on, and with nearly his first touch scored his first World Cup goal, Messi had made a great run, his shot blocked it fell to Palermo and he sidefooted the ball past Tzorvas, you could see the delight on his face and the rest of his teammates too, a nice touch.

So Argentina win the group and South Korea in second, undoubtably the best two teams in the group, that sets up the last 16 matches of ARGENTINA  v MEXICO and URUGUAY SOUTH KOREA should be two good game, Argentina v mexico could be a classic, two attacking teams hopefully going at it, and it also means either Uruguay or South Korea will be in the last eight, what an incentive that is, I would predict victories for Argentina and Uruguay but the way this World Cup is going don’t rule out the upsets.

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Two of the big guns played today and with mixed results, the big winner today was the Korea’s a great result against Greece, followed by Argentina’s slim 1 -0 victory over Nigeria, in a game that could have been 4-0 or 1-1, then England stepped up and failed to deliver the result their thousands of fans beleived was due to them, drawing 1-1 with the United States

SOUTH KOREA 2 GREECE 0

SOUTH KOREA: 18 Jung Sung-Ryong - 12 Lee Young-Pyo, 4 Cho Yong-Hyung, 14 Lee Jung-Soo, 22 Cha Du-Ri - 19 Yeom Ki-Hun, 17 Lee Chung-Yong, 8 Kim Jung-Woo, 16 Ki Sung-Yong, 7 Park Ji-Sung – 10 Park Cho Young
Subs - 5 Kim Nam-Il on for Ki Sung-Yueng (74mins), 11 Lee Seung-Yeoul on for Park Chu-Young (87mins), 13 Kim Jae-Sung on for Lee Chung-Yong (90+mins)

GREECE: 12 Tzorvas – 2 Seitaridis, 8 Papadopoulos, 6 Tziolis, 15 Torosidis – 11 Vyntra, 21 Katsouranis, 10 Karagounis – 7 Samaras, 9 Charisteas, 17 Gekas
Subs – 4 Patsatzoglou on for Karagounis (46mins), 14 Salpingidis on for Samaras (59mins), 20 Kapetanos on for Charisteas (61mins)

Goals - Lee Jung-Soo 7′ (1-0), Park Ji-Sung 52′ (2-0)

MY THOUGHTS:

An entertaining game to start the day, the impressive Koreans started very brightly, Ki whipped in a good free-kick after 7 minutes that missed everyone apart from the centre back Lee he appeared unmarked at the back post to make it 1-0, then the very busy Park Ji-Sung stole the ball in midfield and ran through to place the ball past Tzorvas and the Koreans held on after a bit of Greek pressure near the end, a great start to their tournament.

The centre backs for Korea Cho and Lee did very well against all the high balls the Greeks threw at them, Right Back Cha was tireless in running down the right flank troubled Torosidis all game until he was replaced, the Koreans controlled the midfield the trio of Park, Ki and Kim ran the show, Ki never lost the ball once, and Park was the spark of class the team needed, Bolton’s Lee was quiet on the wing, one player that was fantastic was Park Cho-Young he worked the Greek centre backs all game was superb in the air, the myth that Koreans are small is gone Ki, Yeom, Kim and Park are all 6 feet tall, and Park played even taller winning nearly every ball in the air.

Really enjoyed the Koreans style of football, nice one touch passing, pace and really just doing the simple things well, ineresting to see how they match up against the Nigerians.

The Greek team will need to step up increidbly fast if they want to progress in this tournament 16 years ago they left USA ’94 without scoring a goal, and you could see it happening again, tough games against Argentina and Nigeria could prove extremly tough, the tactics just didn’t work, 2 big men on the wings and not a lot of pace in midfield, Samaras and Charisteas were awful the game plan seemed to be long balls up to the front men, but I can’t remember them winning one ball, Gekas was a non entity, and Karagounis didn’t show the creativity he is known for.

The only life they showed is when Salpingidis and Patsatzoglou came on and they showed more creatvity down the left and maybe left a little bit of hope for Rehaggel for the next match, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was 3 or 4 changes for their next match, god knows they need it.

ARGENTINA 1 NIGERIA 0

ARGENTINA: 22 Romero – 17 Gutierrez, 2 Demichelis, 13 Samuel, 6 Heinze – 14 Mascherano, 8 Veron, 7 Di Maria – 11 Tevez, 10 Messi, 9 Higuain
Subs – 20 M.Rodriguez on for Veron (74mins), 19 D.Milito on for Higuain (79mins), 4 Burdisso on for Di Maria (85mins)

NIGERIA: 1 Enyeama – 17 Odiah, 2 Yobo, 6 Shittu, 3 Taiwo – 20 Etuhu, 15 Haruna, 14 Kaita, 19 Obasi – 19 Obinna, 8 Yakubu
Subs – 9 Martins on for Obinna (52mins), 11 Odemwingie on for Obasi (60mins), 12 Uche on for Taiwo (75mins)

Goals - Heinze 6′ (1-0)

MY THOUGHTS:

Not the scoreline the Argentines would have hoped for but 3 points is 3 points, this game could easily have been 3 or 4 nil, but as long as the game went on the Nigerians looked just as likely to pull out a equaliser, for Argentina there was some good performances but also signs they are not as strong as the fans would hope, Messi looked in the mood, picking up the ball in space and attacking the Nigerian defence, only 2 great saves from Enyeama stopped him opening his World Cup account, in this form though his time will come.

Mascherano and Veron were superb, controlling the game, breaking up everything that Nigeria tried to create, Veron showing his passing abilities are still at their peak, Di Maria did well when he got the ball but wasn’t used enough, just didn’t seem to get involved enough, Tevez and Messi linked up really well, and created quite a few chances for Higuain who surely on another day he would have put them away.

For as well as Argentinas attacking players played the defence seemed suspect, Gutierrez looks vulnerable his positioning needs to improve, Samuel and Demichelis could be troubled by attackers with pace and purpose, and Romero is yet to be tested.

Nigeria’s best player by far was Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, pulled out about 4 fantastic saves, 2 top notch saves from Lionel Messi, in the first half Nigeria struggled to get going the inexperience of Haruna and Kaita got overrun with Argentinas 4-3-3 and the front 2 of Yakubu and Obinna were isolated, Lagerback made a great decision in the second half bringing on Peter Odemwingie and it changed Nigeria’s play completely adding pace and composure to the attack, after his performance I’m sure he will start the next game, sub Uche had a great chance to equalise but just went over the bar.

Nigeria need to start their next game better if they are going to make the second round, they have the tools to win, it’s just whether they put it together or not.

ENGLAND 1 UNITED STATES 1

ENGLAND: 12 Green – 2 Johnson, 6 Terry, 20 King, 3 A.Cole – 7 Lennon, 8 Lampard, 4 Gerrard – 21 Heskey, 10 Rooney
Subs - 17 Wright-Phillips on for Milner (31mins), 18 Carragher on for King (46mins),  9 Crouch on for Heskey (79mins)

UNITED STATES: 1 Howard – 6 Cherundolo, 5 Onyewu, 15 DeMerit, 3 Bocanegra – 8 Dempsey, 4 Bradley, 13 Clark, 10 Donovan – 20 Findley, 17 Altidore
Subs – 14 Edso Buddle on for Findley (77mins), 11 Holden on for Altidore (86mins)

GoalsGerrard 3′ (1-0 ENG), Dempsey 41′ (1-1 USA)

MY THOUGHTS:

The big game of the day, the two top teams in Group C battling out for the advantage in the group, England of course the favourites couldn’t have started out any better a great move between Rooney, Heskey into the captain Gerrard and he finished calmly past Howard, everyone including myself expected England to charge on after a great start, wasn’t the case though England stood back and let the US come onto them, Milner got caught out on the right a few times by Cherundolo and after receiveng an early yellow, Capello had no choice but to remove him, then the massive moment that changed the game Dempsey hit a speculative shot looked easy for Green to collect but somehow the ball spilled off Green’s arm and into the net.

Gerrard really steppd up for England, playing with the captain’s armband, charging forward at all times Gerrard’s good play seemed to keep Lampard quiet not his best game, surprisingly Emile Heskey was one of the other best players in the game, holding up the ball very well, had a couple of chances that he could have scored but over all he was pretty good, Lennon and Johnson were good down the right, both troubling the American team with their pace, and provided quite a few crosses that could have easily have counted.

Overall I am against all the negativity headed towards the England team, they created quite a few chances if I was an England fan, you’ve got to think on other day it could have been 3 or 4 and if they create the same against Algeria or Slovenia they will have no problems, Green’s place is looking shakey now, and King’s injury will see Upson come in, and maybe also the inclusion of Gareth Barry this might change the side too much, will be interesting come Friday.

The USA played very well at times, started off looking very nervous and the goal would not have helped their nerves, Clark fell asleep for the goal, however he and Bradley managed to play better throughout the game in the middle, Donovan was their best player playing some great balls in the box and creating some chances too, I was surprised that Robbie Findley started up front with Altidore, Buddle was the striker in form but Findley picked for his incredible pace, and at times he troubled the back line and nearly got inbehind a few times.

Cherundolo had a great first half, terrorising Milner till he got booked and had to come off, Wright-Phillips kept him busier in the 2nd half and pinned him back, Jozy Altidore had 2 great chances to score, one from a Donovan cross where he should have done better, only managing to glance a header past the post, then he beat Carragher for pace and only a great save from Rob Green which tipped the ball off the post kept the scores level.

A great point for the US they will fancy themselves to go on and win at least 1 of the other 2 games, and show more attacking prowess, however they will remeber the night they took a point of one of the favourites in Rustenberg.

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