Following the World Cup

So, what we’re going to do here is have a recurring post on the World Cup matches played and upcoming matches.  Again, don’t expect any big “soccer” analysis, but more of a sports fan’s take on the world’s greatest sporting event, of which I will be trying to watch every minute.  We’ll post in reverse order, so the most recent post will be at the top.  Also, since my goal is to watch every minute of this World Cup, most of it will be on DVR, so the updates won’t be immediate, but they will be as soon as I finish watching.  In this world of “life in a fish bowl,” you will always know where I am on my DVR by seeing what I’ve updated on the blog, but I will try and throw the “previews” out there before the games actually start.

7/11, 5:02 pm, CHAMPIONSHIP:  Spain 1 – Netherlands 0, Extra Time
A red card for Heitinga in the 109th minute forced Netherlands to hold on for 11 minutes down a man.  They did it for 10 minutes, but Iniesta scored in the 119th minute to win his country the World Cup.  Absolutely fascinating game, though everyone seems to hate it.  I loved it.

7/11, 4:42 pm, CHAMPIONSHIP:  Netherlands 0 – Spain 0, End of First Extra Period
Still scoreless–and it’s becoming more and more unbelievable that no one has broken through.  The first period absolutely belonged to the Spanish.  They had two different one-on-ones, they had possible penalty box fouls, they had countless corners, but nothing fell.  The Dutch defense was very good and up to the task.  This has been a phenomenal final.  And, just to make things more interesting, Fernando Torres has entered the game for Spain, replacing David Villa. 

7/11, 4:20 pm, CHAMPIONSHIP:  Netherlands 0 – Spain 0, End of Regular Time
Well, here we go, extra time.  Both teams probably think that they could have scored and broken this tie, but both also probably feel a bit lucky that they didn’t concede the game-winner, particularly Spain, as there were two glorious chances for Arjen Robben to win this thing.  Again, it should be real interesting to see if either team opens it up.  Torres is still on the bench for Spain; Van der Veert still sits for Holland.  A bunch of players are tired and playing with yellows, so who knows how this is going to take its final twist.  Quick editorial note:  of all the sports that I know of in this world, I cannot think of one single sport that is better suited for a sudden death overtime than soccer, so why have they gone away from it?  It baffles me. 

7/11, 4:12 pm, CHAMPIONSHIP:  Netherlands 0 – Spain 0, 85th minute
Unbelievable!  Arjen Robben completely outran the Spanish defense, got fouled, but didn’t go down, and then Casillas made a great save.  He went SCREAMING after the ref to complain, and got a yellow for his compaints.  The announcers both said that if he went down, it would have been a red card, but he stayed on his feet because he wanted to be the hero and score the goal.  I’m not sure completely how I feel about that, but either way, we are still 0-0, and this is GREAT!

7/11, 4:07 pm, CHAMPIONSHIP:  Netherlands 0 – Spain 0, 80th minute
Well, it’s getting interesting now, so we’ll go every 5 minutes.  Here Spain should have had a goal, as Sergio Ramos had a free header off a corner.  It’s looking more and more like the Spain wins in the Round of 16 and the quarters and even the semis, but we’re stil 0-0. 

7/11, 4:02 pm, CHAMPIONSHIP:  Netherlands 0 – Spain 0, 75th minute
Well, mere seconds after I hit “save” on the sentence about Spain playing with fire, Wesley Sneijder made a beautiful pass to a streaking Arjen Robben, who was all alone against Casillas, but the Spanish keeper was up to the task and made a fantastic save keeping the game 0-0.  About ten minutes later, David Villa had another incredible chance, but a phenomenal play by Heitinga (who has had a great game), kept that from being a possible death sentence for the Dutch.  The game is getting more and more tense now, as we’re entering a possible golden goal situation here, as the next goal should win it.  There was a substitution of note, as the Dutch took out Dirk Kuyt, who had a terrific World Cup and brought on a real speedster in Elia.  Watch for him and the Spanish sub on the other end to work against the tired defenders and create some real chances.

7/11, 3:47 pm, CHAMPIONSHIP:  Netherlands 0 – Spain 0, 60th minute
The Spanish started the second half with a flurry, getting a couple nice chances, including one that David Villa probably should have finished.  But, the last 10 minutes have been slow and very chippy between the two teams.  Another couple of yellow cards and some questionable challenges.  This might be right where Spain wants the game (they have won a bunch of games just like this in this tournament), but they are playing with fire, as one goal could end the dream right now. 

7/11, 3:17 pm, CHAMPIONSHIP:  Netherlands 0 – Spain 0, Halftime
Well, the first half comes to a close.  It was, as befits this tournament, a rather cagey, defensive, strategic first half that was relatively devoid of “action.”  I, obviously, loved it.  These final 15 minutes was more of the same from the Dutch, as they have completely held their own in this first half, after not getting any possession for the first 15.  All the good chances in these last 15 were for Holland, as they had a nice chance at a corner, but whiffed on two shots around the 34th minute, and then, in stoppage time, they had a really good shot from Robben that was saved by Casillas.  Right now, you have to say that the Dutch probably have the slight edge as far as quality in that first half.  The Spanish were not able to get into their usual passing midfield routine, while the Dutch got some chances.  It should be interesting to see which team starts to push the action in the second half, as it will open them up to a potentially fatal counter-attack. 

7/11, 3:00 pm, CHAMPIONSHIP:  Netherlands 0 – Spain 0, 30th minute
A pretty good 15 minutes for the Dutch here, as they showed some movement forward and got a lot of the possession back that they didn’t have in the first 15.  However, there were a bunch of yellow cards–4 in these 15 minutes, including Mark Van Bommel, who is one to watch because he’s a goon and could get his second.  Puyol and Sergio Ramos got them for Spain.  And, right at the 28th minute mark, the Dutch actually got really lucky, as De Jong made a ridiculous challenge that easily could have been a straight red, as he kicked Xabi Alonso right in the chest.  Spain thought it was a red, and frankly, the Dutch were pretty lucky that it wasn’t.

7/11, 2:45 pm, CHAMPIONSHIP:  Netherlands 0 – Spain 0, 15th minute
I’m going to try and give 15-minute updates on the final.  The first 15 minutes clearly belonged to the Spanish.  They are considerably better in the midfield, and they are showing it.  They have had a couple good chances, including one phenomenal free kick from Xavi and a GREAT save from Stecklenberg.  Robin Van Persie already has a yellow card, which is something to watch.  David Villa has made a couple of runs, but was called offsides.  If he gets his timing down, expect one in the back of the net for the golden boot for him.

7/11, 2:30 pm, CHAMPIONSHIP:  Netherlands vs. Spain
I hate it when people say things about championship games like “both of these teams are going for history.”  Uh, ya, good point.  When does a team ever win a championship and not “make history?”  But, that phrase actually holds some water here in this one.  These are, by far, the two most storied soccer countries to have never won a World Cup, so one of them will get their first ever.  Plus, there is more.  Spain is trying to defend their Euro title with a World Cup title (I’m not sure how often that has happened, but I’m guessing not that often), while the Netherlands is trying to become only the second team to ever win every match they’ve played in World Cup qualifying and in the World Cup final tournament.  Unbeated, undrawn–that is what Holland is playing for today.  As far as the matchup, it should be a fascinating contest of contrasting styles.  Spain loves to possess the ball and almost never plays the ball in the air.  They look to carve through the defense with smart, calculated passes and strategic runs.  Holland, on the other hand, likes to make things happen with strong strikes from distance.  They have some midfielders with a knack for strong, placed shots from distance.  BSB picked the Netherlands at the beginning of this to beat Spain in the finals.  If given a chance to change our pick with Holland vs. Brazil, we would have declined and stuck with the underdog.  If given the chance to change our pick with Spain vs. Germany, we would have declined and stuck with the less impressive team.  But, now, if you were to give us a chance to pick Spain instead of Holland, I think we would do that.  The Spanish just look too good in the midfield to lose this game.  Iniesta, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, and Bruschets have been utterly dominant with possession (even in the loss to Switzerland), and we see no reason that this will change.  As good as Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben have been, they might be a bit overmatched in this one.  Plus, Paul the Clairvoyant Octupus (the only creature with a better record than BSB) has picked Spain to win this one.  Either way, this should be a phenomenal final to a pretty great overall tournament.

7/10, 5:30 pm, THIRD PLACE GAME:  Germany 3 – Uruguay 2
BSB is now 14-1 in predicting the knockout rounds games, as Germany knocks off Uruguay in the Third Place Game.  This is the second straight third place for ‘ze Germans.  As expected, it was a wide-open game with lots of excitement, lots of goal-poaching, and not a lot of organized defense.  Now, I can’t claim AT ALL to be a soccer-purist because, well, I only watch the World Cup, but I have to say that, as exciting as this was, I kind of prefer the cagey, defensive matchups that are more akin to last night’s Phillies game (1-0 in 11 innings).  But, this did have moments of major excitement, as both teams held leads at some point, and there were many, many chances.  All in all, we got to see one of the favorites for Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup and the brightest surprise of this year’s World Cup battle it out for pride.

7/10, 2:30 pm, THIRD PLACE GAME:  Germany vs. Uruguay
In the game that no one claims to want to play in, but, in reality, is a pretty nice accomplishment, the Germans (probably more disappointed than their opponents in failing to make the finals) will take on the most successful South American team of the tournament, Uruguay.  As far as quality of play goes, the Germans are certainly superior to this tiny country resting between Argentina and Brazil, but as far as heart goes, I don’t think any team has shown more over this past month than Diego Forlan and his countrymen.  Germany, who beat Portugal in the 2006 Third Place Game, should come out with an exciting, attacking style, which could lead to one of the more entertaining matches of the tournament, particularly with the pressure of winning it all having evaporated for these teams in their last defeats.  Expect a high-scoring game that could go either way and might come down to just how healthy Forlan is.   

7/7, 5:00 pm:  Spain 1 – Germany 0
The recipe for Spain is brilliantly simple:  (1) chasing the ball on defense requires a lot more energy, physically and mentally, than possessing the ball on offense, and (2) you can’t score if you don’t have the ball.  Spain has now played this game to perfection in three straight win-or-go-home games at the World Cup.  They won all three of them 1-0.  Today’s performance, though, was the most masterful of all.  I don’t care what the official “possession” stats say, Germany didn’t have the ball for more than 20% of that game–if that.  The Spanish midfield was so dominant, passing the ball around–always with a purpose–that the German defense was utterly exhausted, leading to a mental breakdown on a corner kick and, poof, they’re playing in the third-place game again.  One goal is enough when you always have the ball, and that is what Spain did.  They looked perfectly in sync and incredibly confident.  In the rare occasions that their defense did have to make plays, they always did.  Puyol and Pique were superb in the back line.  David Villa was always on the minds of the German defenders.  But, the guys who won this game (and have been doing it all tournament) were Iniesta, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, and Busquets.  Now, we are set up for an epic final between two divergent styles with two ultra-proud footballing nations who have never won the World Cup. 

7/7, 2:00 pm:  Germany vs. Spain
The Clash of the Titans.  Goliath vs. Goliath.  A rematch of the Euro 2008 final (won by Spain 1-0).  A war for the right to take on the Netherlands in the World Cup final.  While both are immensely talented teams who each survived group stage losses to teams that didn’t even qualify for the knockout stage, their plights are awfully different.  Germany has won three World Cups and has been to the semifinals of every World Cup this century.  Spain, despite its storied history in club football, had never even made the semifinals of a World Cup until this year.  But, coming into this tournament, Spain was the odds-on favorite to win the whole thing, while there were questions about Germany’s ability to go far because a rash of injuries have forced them to rush their young stars to the spotlight earlier than anticipated.  The German questions were, seemingly, answered right off the bat with a 4-1 thrashing of Australia in their first game.  Whereas Spain, the favorite, lost their first match to a mediocre Switzerland team, before beating Honduras and Chile, unconvincingly, to win Group H.  Those same questions came back to the Germans, who followed up their domination of the Aussies with two lackluster performances, including a loss to Serbia, and then an ugly 2-1 win over Ghana to survive group play as the group winner.  But, now the Germans have seemed to regain their form, scoring 8 goals in two games against two of the world’s elite, England and Argentina.  Now, they are running on all cylinders as they go to the semis.  Spain, on the other hand, has not seemed to kick it up a gear in the knockout stage, as they needed one second-half goal in each of their games against Portugal and Paraguay to squeek by into these semis.  So, with all the momentum on the side of ‘ze Germans, we enter this matchup.  When the knockout brackets were finalized, BSB picked Spain to go through to the finals to take on the Netherlands.  Even if we could go back and change that pick right now, we wouldn’t.  I still like Spain to win this game, setting up an epic final between two very proud footballing nations who have never won a World Cup.  While the absence of the German attacking midfielder Thomas Muller is a pretty big deal, I think that this game might come down to experience and goalkeeping.  I trust the Spanish keeper and the experience Spanish players more than I trust the German keeper and the young German squad, who have to be the early favorites to challenge Brazil on their home soil in 2014.  Give me Spain in, what should be, the best match of the tournament.

7/6, 5:00 pm:  Netherlands 3 – Uruguay 2
BSB continues to roll on, as we are now 11-1 in our knockout stage “bracket.”  And, of less significance, the Dutch continue to roll on, as well, making the World Cup finals for the first time since 1978.  They are the subject of the old cliche “best that has never won a championship,” so this is a special time for this small nation.  As much as I love the Dutch (and being right in predictions), I found myself rooting for Uruguay.  Just the way they play is fantastic to watch.  They are the feisty, team-oriented underdog, with a couple good players and one really great player, to whom the rest of the team defers not just because he’s so good, but because he knows when they need him to rise above and he also knows when they need him to pull them up with him.  It has been a joy to watch this team all tournament, but in the end, they just didn’t have the depth of talent to survive the loss of their star scorer, Suarez, and their best defender, Fucile, in this game.  The Dutch, on the other hand, have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to talent, as they can bring a guy like Van der Veert (who plays for Real Madrid) off the bench.  So, Holland moves on, ensuring an all-European final.  I did pick them to win this thing, but they have shown a decent amount of vulnerability in this tournament, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them enter the final as a bit of an underdog against either Spain or Germany.  As for Uruguay, expect them to shock the loser of the Spain-Germany semifinal in the third place game on Saturday.  Third place in the World Cup is not a bad result for a team that qualified fifth in South America. 

7/6, 2:00 pm:  Netherlands vs. Uruguay
Well, he we go.  28 teams have been eliminated and the hopes of just four nations remain.  One of those nations is the Netherlands–BSB’s pick to win the whole thing, and they take on Uruguay today in the first semifinal of the 2010 World Cup.  The Dutch have been very impressive thus far, and they are in a great position here to possibly bring home their first ever World Cup.  Uruguay, the underdog of the final four, has actually won two World Cups–way back in the first half of the 20th century–but may be playing on borrowed time at the moment, as they really should have been eliminated by Ghana in the quarters.  There is a lot of controversy about the handball by Suarez, but personally, I think it was an amazing play.  The problem for Uruguay is that, though it kept them alive and allowed them to miraculously make it to the semis, they are going to have to play without Suarez in this one after his red card.  He is their best goal-scorer and will be missed.  However, Diego Forlan may have been the best player in the tournament up to this point and the Uruguayans have played spectacular defense, so maybe they have enough to take out the high-flying Dutch.  I wouldn’t bet on it, but maybe. 

7/3, 5:30 pm:  Spain 1 – Paraguay 0
After an incredibly boring first half that saw one shot on goal, it got really interesting about 15 minutes into the second half.  Spain was called for a penalty in the box, giving Paraguay a penalty kick to try and go up 1-0.  With the way that Paraguay has defended all tournament (maybe the best of anyone), a 1-0 lead with 30 minutes left would be incredibly daunting, even for the pre-tournament favorites and reigning Euro champions, Spain.  But, their keeper made a great save, preserving the 0-0 score.  But, not 90 seconds later, Paraguay was then called for a penalty in the box, giving Spain a PK to take their own 1-0 lead.  Xabi Alonso scored on the PK, but the ref called Spain for encroachment and made him kick it again.  This time, it was saved, there was a flurry for the rebound (another penalty ABSOLUTELY should have been called), and Spain came away with nothing.  In the span of less than 2 minutes, we saw a PK saved by the Spanish keeper, a PK goal for Spain reversed, a PK saved by the Paraguayan keeper, and another penalty not called.  All of this in the second-half of a 0-0 World Cup quarterfinal.  Wow!  Spain kept attacking, though, and finally broke through in the 83rd minute on yet another goal by Mr. David Villa.  The Spanish defense held up (barely, as Paraguay had a phenomenal chance to equalize in the 93rd minute), and now they move on to face Germany in the semis on Wednesday.  It’s hard to believe, but this is the first time in history that Spain has reached the semifinals of the World Cup.  That’s really incredible.  Paraguay put on a nice defensive show all tournament, but, in the end, they just didn’t have the scoring prowess to go any further.  A sweep on this day for Europe means that, despite all the talk about a South American-dominated World Cup, three of the four semifinalists are European, and the one South American team is the one team that has really long odds to win the whole thing.  It looks very much like it’s going to be another European champion this year. 

7/3, 2:30 pm:  Paraguay vs. Spain
And, the one quarterfinal that gives us a serious underdog.  Spain is a big favorite in this game and should roll into the semis against either Germany or Argentina.  But, the Paraguayans have been real stingy this tournament.  Expect Spain to win the game, but it might not be as easy as it may seem. 

7/3, 1:00 pm:  Germany 4 – Argentina 0
Just when I was starting to get excited for Maradona’s nude prance through Buenos Aires, it all goes astray, as Germany obliterates Argentina in the quarters.  This was one of the most dominating performances of the tournament, as ‘ze Germans ran all over Maradona’s guys, and Miroslav Klose passed some guy named Pele for all-time World Cup goals.  The lone note of concern for Germany from this game is the completely phanton yellow card given to Thomas Muller (who has probably been their best player in the tournament), which means he will have to sit out the semifinal–in what might be a Euro 2008 title game rematch against Spain.  This is a big loss, but the Germans have played–BY FAR–the best “team” soccer of the tournament, so they might be able to overcome this more than most other squads.  Either way, they looked very, very good on today. 

7/3, 10:00 am:  Argentina vs. Germany
After South America took a hit yesterday, their best chance at winning this Cup takes the field today against a tough, gritty German team that has been running on all cylinders.  Both teams have proven that they can score, and both teams have struggled to defend, so this game might be 5-4.  But, no matter what happens, the winner of this game is going to the semis as one of the teams that has a real chance to win the whole thing.  In a tournament that has been devoid of goals, we might get a ton today.  And, who is going to win?  This one is really tough to call. 

7/2, 5:30 pm:  Uruguay 1 (4 PKs) – Ghana 1 (2 PKs)
Absolutely unbelievable!  This sport is cruel, cruel, cruel.  Ghana, bolstered by the continent’s faithful, had this game won, until their best player, Amamoah Gyan, hit the crossbar on a PK that was the final play of the game.  This was the absolute match of the tournament here, beginning to end, regardless of the dramatic fashion by which it ended.  The game was wide-open, up and down, and phenomenally exciting.  Gyan dominated for Ghana, while Forlan (my pick for the best player of this tournament so far) did the same for Uruguay.  Ghana struck first with a goal in the first half, but Forlan struck back in the second half with the equalizer.  Then they played 30 minutes of extra time and in stoppage time of that, Ghana had one last shot to avoid PKs.  They played a perfect ball into the box, and would have scored a goal if not for a phenomenal play by Suarez, making a save with his hand.  This gave Suarez a red card and Ghana a PK on the last play of the game.  The kick was off the crossbar, Suarez (who was crushed by it all) was the hero, and the game went on to the dreaded penalty kick shootout.  Gyan stepped up and drilled the first for Ghana, but a couple of saves for the Uruguay keeper and South America pulled out a split of the two quarterfinal games today.  They will be without Suarez in the semifinal against Holland–a big loss–but if not for Suarez’s AMAZING play, they would have been going home.  In an overall devastating tournament for the host continent, this had to be the most crushing way it could have ended for the Africans.  But, all in all, you have to say that Ghana played like champions all tournament, and they are the youngest team in the field, so expect big things from this team going forward.  It’s just a shame that it couldn’t happen on home soil.

7/2, 2:30 pm:  Uruguay vs. Ghana
In the second game of the day, we have the under-the-radar Uruguayans against the last remaining home team in Ghana.  One of these two teams is going to be an almost shocking semifinalist to most of the world, but it’s not like they won’t have deserved it.  In fact, it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone coming in that these two teams are making such deep runs.  Ghana WON the under-21 world championship–beating Brazil–last year, and brought a lot of those guys up to the national club for this tournament.  They are the youngest team in the tournament and maybe the fastest.  Uruguay has two elite strikers and a very solid defense.  Whichever of these teams does make it to the semis will be a decided underdog against either Brazil or Holland, but don’t count them out.  I think it’s safe to say that, with the probably exception of Paraguay, any team remaining in the tournament has a shot to win the whole thing–even these two relative unknowns in international soccer.  And remember, Uruguay is one of only 5 nations to ever win the Cup.  They won it twice–in 1930 and 1938–so they know what it takes to win.  Well, at least there might be someone still alive that watched those matches…maybe.

7/2, 1:00 pm:  Netherlands 2 – Brazil 1
And, just like that…poof…they’re gone.  The #1 team in the world is out–as predicted RIGHT HERE on BSB.  The Netherlands are moving on and may have just become the favorite to win the whole thing.  In fact, we now are guaranteed three semifinalists that have never won a World Cup, as only the Germany-Argentina winner will be in the semis that has hoisted the Cup.  In the beginning of this game, it looked like the Brazilians were just a LOT better than the Dutch.  They almost scored in the 3rd minute and did score in the 10th.  Then, Kaka had a great shot to make it 2-0, but a fantastic save by the Dutch keeper, Stecklenberg, kept it 1-0.  The Dutch came out in the second half with some inspired soccer.  They equalized on another great play by the great Wesley Sneijder, and took the lead on yet another Sneidjer goal.  Felipe Melo was sent off on a stupid, stupid play for a red card, and Brazil had to play the final 20 minutes a man down.  They actually had three straight corners around the 80th minute, but couldn’t get anything to fall and is now going home empty-handed.  BSB is now an astonishing 9-0 in knockout round predictions!!!

7/2, 10:00 am:  Brazil vs. Netherlands
This might be the best matchup until the finals.  I honestly believe that the team that wins this game is the odds-on favorite to win the Cup.  I am incredibly excited to see what happens.  Both teams are immensely talented, but haven’t really turned it on during the tournament.  Then again, they are a combined 7-0-1, so it’s not like they’ve been struggling.  The Netherlands have a potent attack of Sneider and Van Percy, and they’ve added Arjen Robben back into the mix, who’s a creative playmaker that has been on the biggest of world stages before.  If Robben is in peak shape, this is as good of a team as there is in the world.  The question is will they be able to defend the always spectacular Brazilians.  Brazil has been, much to the dismay of their “flare-craving” fans, much more traditional this tournament.  They have defended strongly and scored on set-pieces, which is not the Brazil that everyone is used to.  In the past, they have been so adept at passing and creating offense, that they didn’t need to score on set-pieces, and they almost didn’t need to defend.  But, now, they are built around size and strength with Maicon and Juan.  But, they do have some flare with Rubinho and Fabiano.  The main strength, in my mind, of the Brazilians is that they might have the best goalkeeper in the world.  Not only does he look like a Brazilian Phil Mickelson, but he is aptly named Julius Caesar (Julio Cesar).  He is dopey-looking and a bit aloof at times, but he has complete control of that back line and is always in position.  This match should be fantastically interesting. 

Quick Note on the Quarterfinals:
The tournament has been dominated by the South Americans, and now they can go for the gusto.  They have four of the eight teams remaining, and none of them face off against each other, so there is at least a possibility that the final four is all South America.  It is incredibly unlikely that that will happen, considering Paraguay is such a large underdog against Spain, but in the other three games, you have to say that none of the South American teams are underdogs, and all three might actually be the favorites going in.  I said at the very beginning that this tournament would be dominated by South America and Africa–I got it half right. 

6/29, 5:30 pm:  Spain 1 – Portugal 0
How annoying is Portugal?  Their trip here at the Cup is finished having only allowed one goal the entire tournament.  They scored 7, but all were against North Korea.  They played two 0-0 draws, in which they didn’t even attempt to score a goal.  Then, they came out here against Spain and just tried to defend the entire game, hoping for one counter-attacking goal and a 1-0 win.  I can’t say that I blame them because it seems like a somewhat sound strategy if you think you’re overmatched, but it makes for a pretty listless match.  And, it didn’t work because Spain is just too good.  David Villa scored–yet again–and Spain is moving on.  Their side of the draw is pretty open to the semis now, as they have Paraguay next.  Their semifinal matchup (if they get by Paraguay) against Germany or Argentina should be excellent. 

6/29, 2:30 pm:  H1-Spain vs. G2-Portugal
Both teams got to the knockout stage in quite different fashions.  Portugal played two pencil-in-the-eyes boring 0-0 draws and one 7-0 merciless shellacking of North Korea to get through.  Spain came out in the first match and dominated Switzerland, but couldn’t put a goal in, gave one up and had to scramble to get back into the tournament.  They did that, won two games, and recovered to win Group H.  Now, these two teams get to throw it down for real.  It’s pretty obvious that these two teams have a heated rivalry, considering their geographical locations.  This matchup, pitting FIFA #2 versus FIFA #3 is, by far, the most intriguing matchup of the whole Round of 16 and might show us which one of these teams is going to have something to say about the 2010 World Cup champions.  The winner of this game will be a pretty large favorite to go through to the semis, as they will play the winner of Paraguay-Japan.    

6/29, 1:00 pm:  Paraguay 0 (5 PKs) – Japan 0 (3 PKs)
120 minutes of listless offense?  Maybe.  120 minutes of fantastic defense?  Definitely.  Both teams defended about as well as I’ve seen the game defended all tournament, especially the Japanese (maybe because they actually had to face some attacking, unlike the Paraguayans).  Neither team really went hard on the attack, but there were still chances to be had in 120 minutes of gameplay, and both defenses were up to the task.  Paraguay looked the slightly better side, so I guess it’s fitting that they won the shootout.  The Japs lost because a defender (why he was taking the kick at all, I don’t understand) hit the crossbar, and Paraguay made all five of theirs.  So, Paraguay moves on as the third South American side to reach the quarters.  They will be heavy underdogs against either Spain or Portugal, but at least they’ve made the quarters for the first time ever. 

6/29, 10:00 am:  F1-Paraguay vs. E2-Japan
In the Round of 16 game with the least international appeal, two surprising group stage teams take the pitch with a shot at a quarterfinal berth.  Paraguay played pretty well in winning a rather weak Group F and has to be considered the odds-on favorite to win this game and give South America one-half of the final eight.  Japan, who beat Denmark 3-1 in a de facto playoff game to get here, now plays the role of the underdog for as long as they survive in this tournament.  But, it is not like Paraguay is Goliath.  Regardless of what happens in either game played today, the winner of this game will be a decided underdog in the quarterfinals against one of the Iberian teams. 

6/28, 5:30 pm:  Brazil 3 – Chile 0
Brazil absolutely owns their South American counterparts, as they beat Chile for the 8th consecutive time (outscoring them 29-3 over those 8 games).  Chile looked feisty at the start, but Brazil was just far too good for the upstart Chileans.  It was scoreless through the first half-hour, but Brazil struck on a corner-kick in the 34th minute and then added another one just 5 minutes later.  2-0 at the half and it was pretty much over from there.  As much as we like the Dutch here at BSB (and we do–and we’re non-enthusiastically sticking with them), we must say that Brazil looked awfully good against a very good Chile team.  It’s getting harder and harder to imagine anyone (even the mighty Dutch) beating them in a knockout game.  But, that is the beauty of a single-elimination tournament in such a volatile sport.  Anything can happen. 

6/28, 2:30 pm:  G1-Brazil vs. H2-Chile
Here we go, a big game for the world’s #1, as they take on BSB’s new favorite team, Chile.  Brazil was not incredibly impressive in group play, but it’s hard to quibble with a team that won the “Group of Death,” including a 3-0 win over a very good Cote d’Ivoire team.  Chile was pretty impressive in getting two wins in Group H, but are somewhat lucky to even be here, as they lost to Spain in the final group match and would have been eliminated if Switzerland could have scored twice against Honduras.  But, the Swiss were shut out, and Chile advanced.  Now, they get to show their attacking style to a team that will not be intimidated by anyone, let alone the upstart Chileans.  As much as we love the Chilean attacking style and, specifically Alexis Sanchez, the Brazilians are probably too much for Chile today.  Expect Brazil to advance, setting up an epic matchup with Holland. 

6/28, 1:00 pm:  Netherlands 2 – Slovakia 1
Now we see why BSB has gone out on the limb and picked the Dutch to win this thing.  Not only did they go 3-0 in group play, but they did it without their best player, Arjen Robben.  Robben returned, briefly, at the end of the Cameroon game, but he started his first World Cup game this year today against Slovakia.  And, he showed what he can do, as he rounds out the Dutch attack perfectly, scoring their first goal and pretty much dominating the first half of this game.  Another solid scorer, Wesley Sneider added one, as Holland was never really threatened in this one.  Slovakia added a PK goal in the final minute of play, but they were outclassed in this one.  But, it is only going to get harder for the Dutch now, as they will probably face Brazil in the quarters.  They also need to be careful, as they have a slew of players (including their excellent keeper) with yellow cards. 

6/28, 10:00 am:  E1-Netherlands vs. F2-Slovakia
A lot of the “experts” will say that the Netherlands has been relatively unimpressive in this tournament.  I will say that they were 10-0 in qualifying and now 3-0 in the World Cup, so what do you want from them?  A lot of the “experts” will say that they just don’t have the horses to compete with the world’s elite.  I will say that, in our knockout round predictions, BSB picked Netherlands to beat all of the big boys and win the whole thing.  They start their campaign to make us look smart today against probably the most surprising knockout round qualifier, Slovakia, fresh off of their win over Italy.  Obviously, soccer is a game where anything can happen in one game, but let’s just say that if Slovakia pulls off another upset here today, it will be monumental.  Look for the Dutch to win convincingly and move on to the quarters to face either Brazil or Chile. 

6/27, 5:30 pm:  Argentina 3 – Mexico 1
More refereeing controversy.  Argentina opened the scoring with a goal that should not have counted, as their man was clearly offsides.  Honestly, I’m not going to pile on the officiating here because I find it a little tacky, but I will say this:  what was the guy really looking at?  The assistant referee’s only job at that point is to look for offsides, and the Argentinian player was approximately a mile offsides.  But, again, as I always say, officiating almost NEVER actually costs a team the game.  Argentina scored again a little later, and Mexico was in a big hole heading to the halftime locker room.  They came out with some fire in the second half, but their attacking style opened up the back to a third Argentine goal, pretty much ending all hope.  They tacked on one for good measure, but this was a pretty dominant performance for one of the most impressive teams in this tournament thus far.  Argentina will move on to take on Germany is what should be a fantastic quarterfinal. 

6/27, 2:30 pm:  B1-Argentina vs. A2-Mexico
The Mexicans always seem to get through group play and here they are again, playing the second round of a World Cup.  Their second-place finish in Group A, however, leaves them the unenviable task of dealing with Lionel Messi and, quite possibly, the most impressive team in group play, Argentina.  The Argentines looked cohesive, focused, and just flat-out better than everyone else in Group B.  Now, they get a Mexican team that is flying rather below the radar here this year, but have a really solid squad.  This game has a lot more of potential for an upset than many might believe, however, you have to consider Argentina the favorites to get through here to take on Germany in the quarters.

6/27, 1:00 pm:  Germany 4 – England 1
And, it’s all over for the mighty British.  They fall at the hands of ‘ze Germans, 4-1.  Germany came out firing, like they certainly can do, scoring two pretty quick goals to take a 2-0 lead and seemingly crush the English hopes.  But, the Brits fought back to get one and then another–seemingly.  But, the second goal (the would-be equalizer) was blown by the referee.  More controversy (like the British tabloids need more to write about?) to stir the pot, as the ball was clearly over the goal line, but the linesperson flat-out missed it.  Pretty remarkable.  Now, granted Germany tacked on two more goals, so it’s not like that call definitely changed the match, but it is clear that English were overextended, trying to level the score, on both the German tack-on goals.  Would they have happened otherwise?  Would England have held the Germans and scored again?  No one knows, but the fact of the matter is this:  Germany is in the quarters; England is going home. 

6/27, 10:00 am:  D1-Germany vs. C2-England
This could be a fantastic knockout game.  Both teams are probably a bit disappointed by their performance in group play, but Germany won their group, so how upset can they be?  England struggled, but got through, thanks in part to a relatively weak group.  Now, the slate is wiped clean, and both teams are each just one of 16 teams in the exact same position–win 4 games and fulfill a dream.  England probably could have used that Wayne Rooney goal late against Slovenia to get them to the C1 spot and avoid the might Germans, but they didn’t and now this is their fate.  England is not nearly as bad as you may be led to believe in the press, and the Germans may not be as good as they are perceived.  However, Germany is still probably the better side here and should win the game.

6/26, 5:30 pm:  Ghana 2 – United States 1 (ET)
It happened again.  The USA gave up a goal very early in the match and had to spend all their energy chasing that goal.  But…it happened again.  They got the goal they needed.  They got a penalty kick from Mr. Landon Donovan to even the match midway through the second half.  They also had chance after chance after chance to take the lead, but they couldn’t get one to fall, and then…it happened again.  They went into the extended time, came out, and gave up a goal not even three minutes in to Ghanaian star Gyan.  They then battled and battled, but could not get the equalizer, and Ghana moves on to face Uruguay in the quarterfinals.  Africa lives on, and Ghana makes it farther than they ever have before.

6/26, 2:30 pm:  C1-United States vs. D2-Ghana
U-S-A!  U-S-A!  U-S-A!  How excited were the execs at ABC with that Landon Donovan goal against Algeria.  Now, they get the USA through to the knockout round, and they get it scheduled right smack dab in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.  As great of an accomplishment as it was for the Americans to win Group C (their first group win since the very first World Cup in 1930), the level of intensity and level of competition has ratcheded up a couple notches here.  Yes, they avoided Germany, but they did not avoid Ghana.  And, Ghana is not Algeria.  The Ghanaians might be the next great world soccer power.  They have the youngest team in the World Cup, and they WON the under-20 world championship last year, beating Brazil in the finals.  The Ghanaians are just getting going with their potential in this sport, and this is the next step–reaching the quarterfinals or beyond.  Both teams are pretty happy with their draws because they are in a segment with Uruguay and South Korea, so all four of these teams are looking at a path to the semis without having to face a single top-10 team.  I am very proud to be an American, but Ghana, with basically a home-field advantage is probably the slight favorite to win this game and move on to the quarterfinals.

6/26, 1:00 pm:  Uruguay 2 – South Korea 1
Uruguay jumped on an early goal by Suarez, to take a 1-0 lead.  They kept that lead into halftime and looked very much in control.  But, South Korea came out with a flurry in the second half, including knocking in the equalizer–the first goal scored against Uruguay all tournament.  But, they fought back and took the lead again on another spectacular goal by Suarez.  The South Americans held on to win and now await the winner of USA-Ghana in the quarters. 

6/26, 10:00 am:  A1-Uruguay vs. B2-South Korea
Everyone ready for the one-and-done excitement of the knockout phase?  I know I am.  We kick it off with the Group A champ, Uruguay, taking on one of the two Asian teams to get through group play (a pretty nice World Cup for the Far East, actually).  Uruguay looked rather impressive winning a somewhat weak Group A.  They play fantastic defense and have two excellent strikers to score.  South Korea also looked impressive in finishing second to Argentina in Group B.  But, the only South American team that South Korea faced beat them 4-1.  As good as the Koreans have played this tournament, Uruguay is probably the better side and should get through to the quarterfinals.

Group H, Final Standings
H1-Spain
H2-Chile
x-Switzerland
x-Honduras
The Spaniards lost their first game and still won the group, which is big in avoiding Brazil.  They will now face their co-tenants of the Iberian Penninsula.  Chile played very well throughout group play and got rewarded by taking the H2 spot.  Switzerland and Honduras combined for one goal scored all tournament and are going home.  The Swiss are probably pretty disappointed with this result, considering they beat Spain in the first game of the tournament.  Honduras at least got to have a little impact in this tournament, as their draw with Switzerland eliminated the Swiss and sent Chile to the knockout phase.

6/25, 4:30 pm:  Spain 2 – Chile 1
6/25, 4:30 pm:  Switzerland 0 – Honduras 0
Chile put in an inspired performance after going down 2-0 and having a man sent off, as they scored and held off the Spaniards to only lose by a goal–which may have proved very important.  However, it didn’t matter because the Swiss just simply can’t score.  Going into a game against an overmatched, already eliminated Honduras team, Switzerland knew that a 2-goal victory would clinch them a spot in the knockout round.  But, they were listless and bland on offense, ending their World Cup with a 0-0 draw.   Honduras actually had some decent shots to take three points from this game, but settled for their only point of the Cup.

6/25, 2:00 pm:  Chile (6) vs. Spain (3)
6/25, 2:00 pm:  Switzerland (3) vs. Honduras (0)
The Switzerland upset of Spain, which is now almost two weeks old, has added some intrigue to this final day.  What should have happened is for Spain and Chile to be playing to avoid Brazil, and Switzerland and Honduras to be playing for pride.  But, no, we’ve got much more serious implications on the line here today in the final group.  Chile, who has been rather dominant through the first two games of this group is probably wishing that they banged in a couple more goals during that dominance.  They might be on the outside looking in here if they can’t come through with a result against the world’s #2-ranked team.  That is because they’ve only scored two goals in two 1-0 wins (albeit dominant 1-0 wins).  And, now, Switzerland gets to play an overmatched Honduras team knowing that they have to put up goals.  Chile played them in their first match, where they were just trying to preserve a victory.  Expect the Swiss to open up and try and score, so that, if it ends up with three teams with 6 points, they are able to move through.  Also, Switzerland will try and win in case of a draw or a Chile win in the other game, so that they assure themselves of that second spot.  The Spain-Chile match should be fantastic!  This might be the one I am most looking forward to in this set of matches.  Anyone who has read anything I’ve said about Chile in this blog knows that I have become a huge fan of their play, and how can you not root for yet another European power to go down today?  It’s gonna be tough, and it will be a real shame if the Chileans lose out of the knockout phase after their performance so far, but we shall see.

Group G, Final Standings
G1-Brazil
G2-Portugal
x-Cote d’Ivoire
x-North Korea
The #1 team in the world is the #1 team in Group G.  Brazil made the “Group of Death” look fairly easy, doing just enough to get that G1 spot.  Portugal, who basically played 180 minutes of boring defense against the two big teams and 45 minutes of offense against the one bad team, has walked right through to the knockout round.  North Korea is clearly the worst team in the tournament, being outscored 12-1 in three games.  And, Cote d’Ivoire is leaving this tournament in disappointing fashion.

6/25, 12:30 pm:  Brazil 0 – Portugal 0
6/25, 12:30 pm:  Cote d’Ivoire 3 – North Korea 0
Another snooze-fest given to us by the Portugese.  They have outscored their opponents 7-0 in this World Cup and have only won one game.  That is because they played two incredibly dull 0-0 draws and have advanced.  Brazil, not surprisingly, just rolled over, took the point, and won the group.  Portugal took the draw and the qualification status.  Cote d’Ivoire, who knew that they had to pile on goals, was on the attack all game, and got a nice World Cup win on African soil–it just wasn’t enough.  The North Koreans finished off a World Cup where they were clearly the worst team in the draw. 

6/25, 10:00 am:  Brazil (6) vs. Portugal (4)
6/25, 10:00 am:  Cote d’Ivoire (1) vs. North Korea (0)
And, it is the proverbial “group of death” that is the one with just about no drama left for the coincidental matches on the final day of group play.  Portugal’s 7-0 win over North Korea pretty much took all the intrigue out of what could have been a pretty exciting day.  Now, for Cote d’Ivoire to qualify, they will have to make up NINE goals on the Portugese between the two games–pretty unlikely.  I guess there is a little drama left in who will win this group.  A win or draw for Brazil wins the group for the world’s #1, while a Portugal win will give the Portugese the group win.  This doesn’t even have that much drama because of what is going on in Group H.  Spain is the one team that everyone would want to avoid, but it is still very much up in the air as to where Spain is going to finish over there, so the G2 spot might actually be better than the G1 spot.  So, there is very little interest to even generate here, despite a former colony playing its colonial masters, and the best African team probably playing its last World Cup game on African soil for many years. 

Group E, Final Standings
E1-Netherlands
E2-Japan
x-Denmark
x-Cameroon
Well, the Dutch were the class of the group coming in, and they are certainly the class of the group going out.  I’m not saying that they are the favorites to win this thing, but what I am saying is that is going to take a hell of a performance to knock them out.  They won this group going away and are just revving up.  Japan might be one of the more surprising knockout round qualifiers at this year’s Cup, but they definitely did earn it.  It’s hard to believe that they really have what it takes to make noise in the knockout phase, but they did get through group play for the first time outside of their home country.  Denmark was just sort of okay here this year.  They had a shot to get through, but in the end, they just weren’t good enough.  And, Cameroon had one of the most disappointing World Cups of anyone.  On their home continent, with a team capable of making a deep run, they went out with three straight losses in group play.  Really disappointing for the “previously” Indomitable Lions.

6/24, 4:30 pm:  Netherlands 2 – Cameroon 1
6/24, 4:30 pm:  Japan 3 – Denmark 1
Okay, I’ll be honest, since the games were simultaneous and the Japan-Denmark match was basically a one-game playoff, I didn’t watch one minute live of the Netherlands-Cameroon match.  But, let me tell you, this Dutch team is good.  What I did do is watch Japan score on two fantastic free kicks in the first half and ride a 2-0 lead to a 3-1 win and qualification in the knockout phase.  Denmark was rather lack-luster in a pretty disappointing performance, while Japan, who had only scored 1 goal all tournament, looked very solid.

6/24, 2:00 pm:  Netherlands (6) vs. Cameroon (0)
6/24, 2:00 pm:  Denmark (3) vs. Japan (3)
In maybe the simplest situation of all the groups, we have a de facto playoff game for the E2 spot.  Cameroon is eliminated, and the Netherlands, barring a multiple-goal defeat to the Cameroonians and a multiple-goal win in the other match, will wrap up the E1 spot.  Then, it’s simple for the E2 spot.  Denmark needs to beat Japan.  Japan just needs a draw.  That’s it.  Clean, simple, exciting!

Group F, Final Standings
F1-Paraguay
F2-Slovakia
x-New Zealand
x-Italy
The Italians are out.  That is the big story of this group.  Period.  And, interestingly enough, the second biggest story of this group probably surrounds the other team that did not make the knockout stage–New Zealand.  But, this isn’t a story of disappointment.  What an accomplishment for the Kiwis, who are made up mostly of semi-pro and some amateur players, to make it through the entire World Cup completely undefeated.  Anyway, Paraguay did win this group and their prize will probably be a date with someone other than the Netherlands.  They should be the opponent of the winner of today’s game between Japan and Denmark.  Slovakia, who pulled off the mighty upset of the mighty Italians, finishes second in the group, and will probably just be Round of 16 cannon fodder for Holland. 

6/24, 12:30 pm:  Paraguay 0 – New Zealand 0
6/24, 12:30 pm:  Slovakia 3 – Italy 2
Wow!  If you had told me that Paraguay, not Italy, would win this group, I would have told you, “hmm, that’s a little surprising, but I can see that.”  But, if you had told me that Italy would finish dead last in the group, I would have told you you were crazy.  The one thing that the Italians always do is defend.  And, they just didn’t do it today.  They gave up three poor goals to the Slovaks today.  Yes, their #1 goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, was hurt, and yes, he is the best keeper in the world, but still.  Slovakia beats Italy and moves on.  The other game was a bit of a snooze-fest (and, yes, I watched the whole thing), but Paraguay got what they needed from it to win the group and avoid the Netherlands.  New Zealand played hard and will leave this tournament undefeated, but they are still leaving the tournament.  Paraguay played it very close to the vest.

6/24, 10:00 am:  Paraguay (4) vs. New Zealand (2)
6/24, 10:00 am:  Italy (2) vs. Slovakia (1)
There are some pretty crazy permutations for qualification here today in Group F.  All four teams are still alive for either of the two qualifying positions–and all four teams actually control their own destiny.  The most likely scenario is probably for Paraguay to win the group with Italy finishing second.  But, what is for certain is that these teams all need results today.  Paraguay is the only one that actually can survive a defeat, as they would get the F2 spot if they lose and Italy-Slovakia ends in a draw.  For the other three teams, any loss will them.  All four teams will be in with a win, so these coincidental matches are going to be thrilling!  The easiest scenario to wrap your head around is if Paraguay beats New Zealand, they will win the group, and then Italy will need a win or draw with Slovakia to finish second.  The Slovaks will take second if they beat Italy.  If both games draw, Paraguay will win, Slovakia will be out, and the second spot will go to whoever’s draw was more high-scoring between New Zealand and Italy.  How crazy is it that we’re even talking about a tiebreaker situation between New Zealand and Italy?!?  

Quick Note:
The USA is now in a section of the knockout stage with Uruguay, South Korea, and Ghana–one of which will make the semifinals.  To put that in perspective, the USA will be the highest ranked FIFA team of that foursome.  To put that in perspective, it looks like there might be another section made up of #1-Brazil, #2-Spain, #4-Netherlands, and #5-Italy.  WOW!    

Group D, Final Standings
D1-Germany
D2-Ghana
x-Australia
x-Serbia
Not exactly how they drew it up, but the Germans do what they set out to do–win Group D.  Ghana survives and becomes the only African team to make it through so far (with the other African teams not in very good shape).  Serbia had the most unlikely result–beating Germany, but losing to both other teams.  And, Australia is going home wondering what could have been if they didn’t have to play 2/3 of their first two games with 10 men.  The Aussies definitely could have made it through this group if they had played full strength all round.  So, now, Germany is set to grapple with England in a fantastic Round of 16 matchup, while Ghana will play the United States in a quadrant that is rather light (the winner of that faces the winner of Uruguay-South Korea). 

6/23, 4:30 pm:  Germany 1 – Ghana 0
6/23, 4:30 pm:  Australia 2 – Serbia 1
More drama in this “coincidental” third group matches.  All four teams were alive when play started, and all four teams were still alive deep into the games’ second halves.  Germany, Ghana, and Serbia were all in win-and-you’re-in situations.  Australia needed help.  Serbia needed help if they were to draw.  Both first halves were tension-filled, scoreless ties.  So, we went into the halftime break with two 0-0 ties, which would have sent Ghana and Germany, in that order, to the knockout round.  But, it wasn’t to stay that way.  Germany drew first blood, as they knocked one through (on a fantastic strike–yes, I’m watching all of these two games–going back and forth on my DVR) to go up 1-0.  This was actually an okay situation for Serbia because Ghana would be easier to unseat in a tiebreaker situation.  They would have been happier if Ghana went up 1-0, but a win over there either way is better for them than a draw.  Then again, they should just beat Australia and take care of business.  A couple minutes after the German goal, things got worse for Serbia, as Australia pounded one in on a Tim Cahill incredible header.  (They say he’s one of the best in the world with his head, and I see why–that was fantastic).  And, then things got desperate for the Serbians and actually started getting hopeful for the Soccerroos, as the Aussies struck again.  Now, with a 2-0 lead and Ghana trailing Germany 1-0, the Aussies were now two goals away (either by them or Germany) from a miraculous comeback to get out of group play.  But, just like that, the tides shifted yet AGAIN, as Serbia pounded one in to make it 2-1 Australia.  This was just about it for the Aussies, and it gave brand new life to the Serbians, as a 2-2 draw would be enough goals for them to beat out Ghana on goals scored and move on.  So, now, Ghana started to pick up the pace against Germany, trying to get that equalizer that would win them the group and not leave it up to Australia to defend for them.  But, Germany held on, winning 1-0, and, despite a flurry of activity, the Serbian goal never came, and they lost, losing the group, and going home.  Wow!  

6/23, 2:00 pm:  Ghana (4) vs. Germany (3)
6/23, 2:00 pm:  Serbia (3) vs. Australia (1)
The disappointing draw for the Ghanaians last round against Australia has put them in a pretty precarious position today.  They have to, somehow, get a point against Germany to assure themselves of qualifying.  And, to make matters worse, the Germans are in a must-win situation because if they draw and Serbia wins, the Germans are going home, so expect Germany to come out swinging against Ghana.  Serbia knows that they just need a win and they’re in, and since they’re playing probably the weakest team in the group, Australia, they should be able to get it done.  Trouble continues to brew for the African nations, as Ghana might be on their way out today.  If you’re a fan of the US, you’re rooting for Ghana to avoid the loss here because otherwise the Americans would probably be up against Germany or Serbia in the Round of 16–a tough matchup either way. 

Group C, Final Standings
C1-United States
C2-England
x-Slovenia
x-Algeria 

U-S-A!!!  U-S-A!!!  U-S-A!!!  The Americans get it done.  It wasn’t pretty, but it was certainly memorable.  And, most importantly, it was effective.  Everything starts over now–the slate has been wiped clean, and the Americans are in the same position they would be if they had won all three group games 4-0.  They won the group, that is the ultimate goal.  Despite some uninspired play, the English also got through and are now in position to make some noise.  As great as the Landon Donovan goal in stoppage time was for the 300 million Americans, that’s how incredibly devastating it was for the 2 million Slovenians.  In a matter of second, their game ended with a loss to England, and the US scored the winning goal against Algeria, and just like that the dream of the Slovenians was up in smoke.  Algeria proved to be one of the best defensive teams in the tournament–only surrendering two goals–but are leaving South Africa without putting one goal in the opposition’s net.  Shut out for the tournament were the North Africans.  The US, based on goals scored, wins the group and sends England to the quadrant with Argentina and, maybe, Germany.  That could be big.  Then again, Germany might finish second in Group D, who knows?

6/23, 12:30 pm:  England 1 – Slovenia 0
6/23, 12:30 pm:  United States 1 – Algeria 0
You know what is awesome?  That the world’s reputation of the United States soccer team include the following characteristics:  (1) toughness, (2) clutchness, (3) the never-say-die attitude, (4) never flopping, (5) overachieving, (6) dealing well with adversity, and (7) stepping up most when the chips are down.  And it’s not like we’re talking about our “local” sports team that is made up of people from all over the world.  This reputation is formed by Americans–like you and me.  That’s awesome.  In qualifying, the USA scored 9 goals in the 86th minute or later.  No other team even scored 4 goals that late in games.  And, they did it again today with, what might be, one of the most memorable plays in Team USA history.  It looked all be assured that the US was going to be the victim of some absolutely rotten luck (by all objective accounts) and not make it past group play.  But, their resilience and belief in themselves came through with a 92nd minute golden goal by the best soccer player ever produced by this country.  So, instead of going home with complaints and what-ifs, the US wins the group and gets put in, what will might be, the easiest quadrant of the knockout-stage bracket.  In the other game, The Three Lions of England avoided a terrible ending to their World Cup by scoring early and holding on for dear life against Slovenia, for a 1-0 win.  Wayne Rooney had a chance to put England up 2-0, but his the post.  This miss might prove very important, in the end, because that was the difference between winning the group for England and finishing second.  This could mean facing Germany and Argentina instead of Serbia/Ghana and Uruguay.  One quick note:  why the hell wasn’t Algeria trying to score?  They seemed content with a 0-0 draw.  I would understand playing defense and looking to counter-attack if all they needed was a win, but they needed to win BY TWO GOALS!  What were they doing?  I liked Algeria all tournament, too, but that was pretty ridiculous.  They even made DEFENSIVE substitutions.  I don’t get it.  Why come to the World Cup if you’re not looking to win it?

6/23, 10:00 am:  Slovenia (4) vs. England (2)
6/23, 10:00 am:  United States (2) vs. Algeria (1)
Here’s the big one for all of us here in the States.  Unfortunately, I have to be at work, so PLEASE don’t tell me what’s going on.  Three teams–Slovenia, England, and the US all just need to win and they’re in.  Slovenia (with the only win of the group) and the US (with the goal differential) are in the drivers’ seats right now, but England has a decent shot, considering their talent level and opponent (Slovenia).  Slovenia is the one team that can assure itself a qualifying position with a mere draw, so they might be playing close to the vest until they fall behind.  Algeria is not eliminated and have played rather well, so they should come out with some vigor against the US.

Group B, Final Standings
B1-Argentina
B2-South Korea
x-Greece
x-Nigeria
Not by rankings, but by play in this tournament, the best two teams (in order) made it through Group B.  Greece and Nigeria were incredibly disappoining, considering Greece had world’s of expectations, and Nigeria was on their home continent.  Argentina looks really good and will now get Mexico in the Round of 16.  South Korea will have some trouble with the Uruguayans, so getting through group play is probably their ceiling–a good result.

6/22, 4:30 pm:  Argentina 2 – Greece 0
6/22, 4:30 pm:  South Korea 2 – Nigeria 2
There was some more drama in the late games of the day today, although this drama was a little more expected, as we knew that this group was Argentina’s to win, but the B2 spot was up in the air.  Nigeria had the longest shot, as they needed an Argentina win and they needed to beat South Korea and then win either the goal differential or the goals scored.  Well, the manager of Argentina, Diego Maradona, sat like 6 starters, knowing that he had it just about wrapped up, so it looked good for Greece early, who just needed a win and either a draw or a win from Nigeria.  The Greeks had a couple chances in the first, but went into halftime 0-0.  Nigeria, on the other hand, jumped out on top of South Korea with a quick goal, but the Koreans fought back to tie it 1-1 at the half.  Then, Argentina started to take control of their game, scoring a couple minutes into the second half, which was very good for South Korea.  The Koreans added a goal of their own and led 2-1.  At this point, it looked really good for the Koreans.  Things got even better as Argentina scored a second goal and Nigeria missed the easiest goal you will ever see.  With Argentina up 2-0 and South Korea up 2-1, it looked pretty obvious that it would be those two moving on.  But, just a couple minutes after the missed chippy, the same Nigerian striker was given a penalty kick, and he calmly drilled it, tying the game.  At this point, it came down to 20 intense minutes between South Korea and Nigeria.  If Nigeria scored and won 3-2, they would take the most unlikely B2 spot.  If South Korea held on for a draw, they would take the B2.  Well, the Koreans held on–barely–and now get to move on to face Uruguay. 

6/22, 2:00 pm:  Argentina (6) vs. Greece (3)
6/22, 2:00 pm:  South Korea (3) vs. Nigeria (0)
In the final Group B matches, everyone is still alive for the B2 spot, but Argentina has pretty much clinched the top spot.  The Argentines do have a say, though in who is going to join them in moving along.  If they beat Greece, then all South Korea needs is a draw to take care of Nigeria.  Nigeria’s only hope is to get a win against South Korea and root for an Argentine win over Greece.  Greece can get in with a win and a South Korea loss or draw.  If both Greece and South Korea both draw or win, it will come down to goal differential and maybe even goals scored.  The teams are even in goal differential, but South Korea has the edge in goals scored. 

Group A, Final Standings:
A1-Uruguay
A2-Mexico
x-South Africa
x-France
The old-school World Cup power, Uruguay wins Group A (as predicted by BSB), and Mexico takes the second qualifying spot, via goal differential, over the host nation, South Africa.  Bafana Bafana becomes the first host nation not to make it out of group play, but they did put on a nice show, drawing with a very good Mexico team and then beating world power France.  I really like this Uruguay squad and could see them making some noise.  Mexico did a nice job getting out of the group, and I like how they went to win it in the final game, but they will have a tall task with Argentina (most likely) in the Round of 16.

6/22, 12:30 pm:  Uruguay 1 – Mexico 0
6/22, 12:30 pm:  South Africa 2 – France 1
In the preview and in the thoughts leading up to this simultaneaous double-header, we didn’t think there would be much drama because in order for it not to finish Uruguay-1 and Mexico-2, there needed to be a winner in the Uruguay-Mexico game and then a big winner in the France-South Africa game.  Well, there was drama–some great drama, actually.  The first half of Uruguay-Mexico didn’t look like it was two teams settling for a draw, and Uruguay finally scored late in the half to take a 1-0 lead to halftime.  And, in the other game, the devastating World Cup for the French continued as they got a red card early in the first half and gave up two goals to the South Africans.  So, at the halftime of both games, the host nation looked like they really had a shot to make it through.  They needed the Uruguay-Mexico game to stay the way it was (which it did), and they needed to add 2 more goals against a short-handed, defeated French team.  Bafana Bafana had chance after chance, but they never got one to fall, and France actually added a goal of their own (their ONLY goal of the tournament).  Either way, France was embarrassed; South Africa got a nice consolation prize; and, Uruguay and Mexico got to move on.

6/22, 10:00 am:  Uruguay (4) vs. Mexico (4)
6/22, 10:00 am:  France (1) vs. South Africa (1)
Well, the final round of games in the round-robin of each group are played simultaneously, so as to avoid collusion.  However, even simultaneous starts does not change the fact that Uruguay and Mexico can only be eliminated if they lose.  If they both draw, then they both move on.  Yes, Mexico would finish in second place in the group, so there is a little incentive for them to try and win, but not anywhere near enough to risk taking a loss.  So, expect a 0-0 draw.  In the other game, which then won’t matter, is just a way for the home team to grasp some pride and beat an absolutely reeling French squad.

Looking Forward to the Knockout Matchups After Two Rounds of Games
With just the final round of games left, we can start thinking about the 16-team second half of the tournament that starts on Saturday.

Group A/B.  Well, it’s looking pretty good for a Uruguay and Mexico 1-2 finish in Group A.  France and South Africa are probably done.  In Group B, Argentina has a choke-hold on the B1 spot, but the second spot is still up for grabs.  South Korea has the inside track on it, but they have to come through against Nigeria.  Greece still has a decent shot at it, if they can come out and play an inspired game against Argentina.  So, right now, it looks very likely that we’ll get a Round of 16 matchup between Argentina and Mexico.  The other matchup will most likely feature Uruguay, with the most likely opponent being South Korea, though don’t rule out Greece or, even, Nigeria.

Group C/D.  Group C is still way up for grabs here.  The USA is probably the slight favorite, at this point, to actually win this group, believe it or not.  England is still a major player and only really needs a win over Slovenia to move on.  Slovenia is still in position to grab either position, but they probably need a result against the Brits.  Algeria is, technically, still alive for the C2 spot (they can’t win it), but they need to beat the USA and hope that Slovenia grabs at least a draw with England.  Over in Group D, it’s pretty wild.  I think we can stick a fork in Australia because they need to beat Serbia and hope for a Ghana win over Germany–both results are very unlikely.  If the Ghana-Germany game produces a winner, that team will win the group.  Serbia clinches a spot with a win over Australia–it will likely be D2 if there is a winner in the other game and D1 if they draw.  Right now, let’s say that the most likely scenario is for USA, England, Germany, and Serbia to all win their final games.  If that happens, we are looking at USA-Serbia and England-Germany in the Round of 16.  Other permutations could include Ghana or Slovenia in any of those spots.

Group E/F.  Group E is the Netherlands group, and they will almost assuredly be the E1 team.  Cameroon has been eliminated.  The E2 spot is up for an, American-style, one-game playoff between Japan and Denmark.  Group F is quite a bit more hairy.  Paraguay has the inside track on the F1 spot, as all they have to do is beat New Zealand (a task that was obviously too tough for even the mighty Azzurri, so it’s not a given).  If Paraguay does beat the Kiwis, the F2 spot is pretty simple:  Slovakia if they beat Italy; Italy if they win or tie.  If Paraguay loses or draws against New Zealand, it gets incredibly complex.  But, Paraguay is really good, so they should get the win, and we have to say that Italy will step up and get it done.  So, that means that we might be staring at an AMAZING Netherlands-Italy matchup in the Round of 16.  Wow!  The other game would be Paraguay taking on the Japan/Denmark winner.

Group G/H.  Group G, “The Group of Death,” is the simplest group to project at this point.  Barring two ridiculous results on Friday, Brazil and Portugal will be the two qualifiers.  Brazil will probably take G1, with their former empirial masters as G2.  As simple as Group G is, Group H is just as complex.  Right now, Chile leads the group, after two wins, but honestly, they might be the team (other than Honduras) most likely to miss the knockout stage.  Chances are that Spain will recover, beat Chile, and win the group (although, I think Chile is awesome, and I’m rooting for them to win this group).  The Swiss are in good shape to qualify if they can beat Honduras by 2 or more, but they have to score.  Group H is very hard to predict, but it looks like Spain could really win the group and, therefore, get their Iberian rival, Portugal in the Round of 16.  Brazil might be matched up with Switzerland, but Chile has a lot to say about all of this.

Group H, After Day Two:  Chile 6 (2-0), Spain 3 (2-1), Switzerland 3 (1-1), Honduras 0 (0-3)
Chile has been clearly the best of the bunch here and they lead the group heading into the final round of games.  However, they may be the most likely of the teams with points so far to not make the knockout stage.  They finish with Spain, who may have righted the ship, while the Swiss get the weakest squad of the group, Honduras, and only needing to make up 2 in goal differential to pass Chile.  Chile is probably now forced to get at least a draw from a desperate Spain team to even make it through.  The Swiss might get rewarded from their fantastic 10-man defense against the Chileans this round.

6/21, 4:30 pm:  Spain 2 – Honduras 0
The Spanish just completely overmatched the Hondurans.  David Villa had two amazing goals, and the Spanish are still very much alive going into their final match with Chile.  They may only be one point away from qualification, but their goal should still be set on winning this group, which is very possible, at this point.  Honduras has not been officially eliminated, but they are pretty much done.  Despite the early loss, the Spanish are still in a position to basically win themselves the group in their final game.  Honduras isn’t officially eliminated, but they need to beat Switzerland bad and get some help from Chile.

6/21, 2:00 pm:  Spain (0) vs. Honduras (0)
And, Spain gets to round out the second round of games, just as they did the first.  Hopefully for the Spanish, they won’t finish it off quite the same way they did last time, though.  Honduras got dominated in a 1-0 loss to Chile, so there is no reason to think that the Spanish cannot get the three points that they so desperately need here from the Hondurans.  A draw would be disastrous for the world’s #2 team.  Honduras will be eliminated if they lose this game.

6/21, 1:00 pm:  Chile 1 – Switzerland 0
The Swiss can flat-out defend–and it doesn’t matter how many players they are forced to play with.  They broke the all-time record for consecutive shutout minutes at the World Cup, but shortly after they finally allowed one to Chile.  And, they did all of this by playing most of the game a man down because of an early red card.  Chile, who looked terrific in their opener against Honduras, came away with another 1-0 win.  Chile is now 2-0 with 6 points, but there is still a lot of danger.  They are left with Spain in the group and their +2 goal differential is not exactly scaring anyone right now.  With Switzerland’s remaining game against an overmatched Honduras and Spain still being Spain, we may be heading for three teams with 6 points, so one team will have a very disappointing exit.

6/21, 10:30 am:  Chile (3) vs. Switzerland (3)
In a surprising matchup between the Group H co-leaders, both teams will try and continue the momentum they generated from their opening match victories.  The Swiss pulled off the huge upset of Spain and if they can get any point from this match, they should be in really good shape.  Chile was the most impressive team, in my opinion, of the first round of games, so we will see if it was just the weakness of Honduras or if this Chilean team is as good as they seemed.

Group G, After Day Two:  Brazil 6 (5-2), Portugal 4 (7-0), Cote d’Ivoire 1 (1-3), North Korea 0 (1-9)
Barring a Portugal loss and a Cote d’Ivoire win that would equate to the Elephants making up 9 goals on the Portugese, it looks like we have our two Group G qualifiers:  #1 Brazil and #3 Portugal.  The order will be decided on the field on Friday, with Brazil only needing a draw to take the top spot.  But, remember, Spain is lurking in Group H and may not win the group, so the top spot here may actually have to face Spain in the first round of the knockout stage.  Hmmm…

6/21, 10:00 am:  Portugal 7 – North Korea 0
Uh, wow.  The Portugese were held scoreless for the entire game against Cote d’Ivoire and almost the first 30 minutes here by North Korea.  They were NOT held scoreless after that.  The first 30 minutes of this game looked like the two sides were relatively evenly-matched (which we all knew wasn’t the case), but the next 60 minutes–especially the second half–demonstrated (a) just how good Portugal is and (b) how importantly they valued the goal differential.  They just poured it on and with a 7-0 win, the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire are in a world of trouble.   

6/21, 7:30 am:  Portugal (1) vs. North Korea (0)
Portugal may have to rely on goal differential to qualify for the knockout stage, so they will be looking to turn it on against North Korea.  They played it very tight in a 0-0 draw with Cote d’Ivoire in their opener, but they will be looking to open it up here.  North Korea played pretty admirably against the world’s #1, so we will see what they can do against the Portugese.

6/10, 4:30 pm:  Brazil 3 – Cote d’Ivoire 1
The Brazilians, who were underwhelming in their opener against North Korea, were much more impressive today against a very good Ivoirian squad.  The world’s #1 has now clinched advancement into the knockout stage and has the inside track for the G1 position.  Cote d’Ivoire did pick up a late goal to make it 3-1.  It seemed meaningless at the time, other than being the first ever African team to score against Brazil, but if you think about the tiebreaking scenarios, it could really come into play because goal differential might be the deciding factor on who joins Brazil as qualifying from this group.

6/20, 2:00 pm:  Brazil (3) vs. Cote d’Ivoire (1)
Brazil did what they needed to do and got three points from North Korea.  Cote d’Ivoire played it close to the vest in a 0-0 draw with Portugal.  Now, if you assume (as I do) that Brazil will win this group and North Korea will lose it, the second spot is going to come down to goal differential between Cote d’Ivoire and Portugal in their matches with Brazil and North Korea.  So, Cote d’Ivoire is looking to keep this close, while Portugal will be looking to blow out North Korea.  A draw here would be fantastic for the Ivoirians.  And if–dare I say–they were to beat the Brazilians, they would be in fantastic shape.

Group F, After Day Two:  Paraguay 4 (3-1), Italy 2 (2-2), New Zealand 2 (2-2), Slovakia 1 (1-3)
After the shocking–absolutely shocking–draw between Italy and New Zealand (a matchup that some were calling the biggest mismatch in World Cup history), Paraguay has taken control of Group F.  The Italians are still in good shape, but they will have to take care of business against Slovakia.  And, who knows–maybe New Zealand can do it again against Paraguay. 

6/20, 1:00 pm:  Italy 1 – New Zealand 1
Absolutely unbelievable!  This is, by all accounts, as ever bigger upset than Switzerland beating Spain.  This draw is pretty amazing.  The big boys just continue to reel and reel.  Spain has lost; Germany has lost; France and England have yet to win and need help to qualify; Brazil struggled against North Korea; and, now, New f’ing Zealand draws with Italy?????  What?!?!?  New Zealand had one shot on goal in the first 60 minutes of play–and it went in.  They also defended against about 87,627 corner kicks without allowing a goal.  Incredible.  All that being said, Italy is not anywhere near out of this.  In fact, I would say that they are still pretty large favorites to qualify.  The biggest loser of this result, in the end, might be the Dutch.  Because, this draw might force Italy to the F2 spot, which means they would get the Netherlands in the first round of knockout games.  And, let’s face it, New Zealand is now a win away from qualifying (and maybe even winning) this group.  There is not even a professional league in New Zealand.  Amazing! 

6/20, 10:30 am:  Italy (1) vs. New Zealand (1)
The matchup that everyone was looking to as probably the most lopsided matchup of the whole tournament is this one.  But, after a disappointing draw for Italy and a very encouraging draw for the All-Whites, it doesn’t seem quite as lopsided any more.  Then again, it is Italy versus New Zealand.  A draw here would be borderline embarrassing for the Azzurri, especially after the Paraguay win 2-0 win over Slovakia.  There is no question that Italy is out for three points to take control of a group through which they should have cruised, but might struggle to take the top spot.  They may try and rack up some goals here to try and keep pace with Paraguay.

6/20, 10:00 am:  Paraguay 2 – Slovakia 0
The Paraguayans, who some have claimed are the third-best South American side, looked awfully good again in their second game of this tournament.  And, now, with their only match remaining against a much weaker New Zealand squad, the Paraguayans are in outstanding shape to make it through Group F.  And, their second goal in this game–in the 85th minute–might go a long way towards potentially winning this group–which is VERY important because it probably means avoiding the Netherlands.  The Slovaks are now in a lot of trouble, considering they only have 1 point and still have the defending champs, Italy, left on the schedule.  We can probably stick a fork in Slovakia. 

6/20, 7:30 am:  Slovakia (1) vs. Paraguay (1)
The Slovaks need to recover from a last-second equalizer by New Zealand that cost them their first ever World Cup win and the outright lead in Group F.  They now get a very good defensive team in Paraguay, who played the Italians to a draw in the first round.  Obviously, since this whole group is all-square, a win for either team would put them in great position to not only advance, but to win this group.  A draw for Paraguay would be better, for their chances, then for Slovakia because the Slovaks still have to face Italy in the final pairing.  However, Paraguay is probably the better side, so they are looking for 3.

Group E, After Day Two:  Netherlands 6 (3-0), Japan 3 (1-1), Denmark 3 (2-3), Cameroon 0 (1-3)
Well, the Dutch are the first team to officially qualify for the next round, and have just about locked up that E1 spot, even without a win over the eliminated Cameroonians.  The African squad was eliminated by their loss and the Dutch win in this round of games, as they are the first team to be officially eliminated from the knockout stage.  Japan and Denmark will play a playoff for the second spot from this group, with Japan going through if there is a draw. 

6/19, 4:30 pm:  Denmark 2 – Cameroon 1
In, by far, the most entertaining match of the entire tournament, the continent of Africa took yet another big blow on their home soil.  The Golden Lions are now eliminated from this World Cup, and there is a real shot that no African teams could make it through.  Denmark has now played themselves into, basically, a playoff game against Japan in the final game of this group.  This result gives the Netherlands the first official knockout round stage clinch. 

6/19, 2:00 pm:  Cameroon (0) vs. Denmark (0)
In what is probably an elimination match here, the two first-round losers of Group E face off in the final game of the day.  Both teams had real ambitions to get out of this group, and I guess Denmark’s chances are still there, but Cameroon is on the ropes after a loss to Japan and a date with the Netherlands on the horizon.  If this game doesn’t end in a draw, the loser will officially be eliminated from advancing. 

Group D, After Day Two:  Ghana 4 (2-1), Germany 3 (4-1), Serbia 3 (1-1), Australia 1 (1-5)
Well, it comes down to an interesting final day in Group D.  If the Germany-Ghana game produces a winner, that winner will win the group, and Serbia will be second with any point against Australia.  If the Germany-Ghana game is drawn, then Serbia will win the group with a win over Australia and will be out with any other result.  Australia can get in if they beat Serbia and Ghana beats Germany.  But, with the power of the European teams, it looks like they probably have the inside tracks to finish 1-2 in this group. 

6/19, 1:00 pm:  Ghana 1 – Australia 1
In a very disappointing draw for the Ghanaians, the plight of the African teams is getting tougher and tougher.  Australia jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the 11th minute, but over the next 50 minutes, Ghana outshot the Soccerroos 17-2, including the equalizer on a penalty kick by rising star, Gyan.  But, more importantly, the Aussies suffered a tough red card, which meant that they had to play the final 65 minutes or so with 10 men.  This is why it was a very disappointing draw for the Black Stars.  Ghana’s defense was terrible, and Australia actually had a lot of chances in the second half.  And, the offense for Ghana also fell asleep for the final 30 minutes, even though they were playing a man up.  Australia does stay mathematically alive with an inspired draw, but would need some fortunate results in the next round of games to make it through this group.  Ghana is in the lead in this group, but with a date with Germany on the horizon, and the Serbs nipping on their heels, this could be trouble for the Black Stars.

6/19, 10:30 am:  Ghana (3) vs. Australia (0)
Both teams are well aware that Germany lost to Serbia yesterday, so this game becomes even more important.  Ghana can just about wrap up advancement with a win, while Australia can get right back in the conversation with a win here, despite their -4 goal differential.  Ghana is banged up on the defensive side of the ball, but Australia’s best player, Tim Cahill, was given a red card against Germany, so he is out for this one.  Both teams probably feel like they can get 3 out of this matchup, and, honestly, both teams probably need three out of this one.  A loss for Australia would put them on life support; a loss for Ghana would put a lot of pressure on them to then beat Germany–always a brutally tough feat.  The Serbs and Germans are definitely rooting against a Ghana victory because with any other result, they will both control their own fate.

6/19, 10:00 am:   Netherlands 1 – Japan 0
Japan was just a bit overmatched by a very good Dutch team.  They didn’t look incredibly good, for what they can do, but Holland wins and pretty much clinches advancement to the knockout stage, with their only round-robin remaining against Cameroon.  The Japanese played some solid defense, but they just didn’t get enough chances.  Japan’s fate should all come down to their final match against Denmark.

6/19, 7:30 am:  Netherlands (3) vs. Japan (3)
The second Saturday of the World Cup starts with the two co-leaders of Group E.  The Netherlands beat Denmark 2-0 last week, while Japan surprised Cameroon 1-0.  The Dutch are huge favorites in this one, so a draw would be a great result for Japan.  In fact, a draw here would put the Japanese in really good shape to advance.  If the Dutch can get three here, they should be able to finish off a Group E win.

Group C, After Day Two:  Slovenia 4 (3-2), United States 2 (3-3), England 2 (1-1), Algeria 1 (0-1)
Who would have thought that Slovenia would be leading this group after two rounds of games?  They obviously control their own destiny now, where a win or draw with the English will push them through.  The US also controls their own fate to get through.  England can still be in decent shape to get through if they beat Slovenia convincingly.  Algeria needs help, but is still alive.

6/18, 4:30 pm:  England 0 – Algeria 0
An incredibly poor result for England.  A very good result for Algeria.  A great result for the USA.  For all the stars that the Brits have, they should have rolled over Algeria, but the Africans were led by a couple great players on the left and a great performance by a goalkeeper making his first ever international start.  I can’t wait to hear the British press on this one. 

6/18, 2:00 pm:  England (1) vs. Algeria (0)
If Algeria gets a point here, the Americans control their own destiny.  If England wins, then Algeria is eliminated and might roll over, allowing the Americans to maybe get a big win, getting them the A2 spot on goal differential.  England needs to bounce back from the tough draw with the US.  They have to recover and continue to realize that nothing is lost.  They are the most talented team in the group and they drew with the second most talented team, so they should still consider themselves the favorites to win it.  However, their margin for error slipped past Rob Green on Saturday.  Now, they have to beat Algeria, and they probably have to beat them by more than one to feel good about themselves.  Though a draw probably doesn’t do them any good, Algeria would probably still be happy with that result, just to put them in play on the final day of group play. 

6/18, 1:00 pm:  Slovenia 2 – United States 2
A whole mixed bag of emotions resulting from this absolutely crazily entertaining, roller-coaster game.  No wonder the world loves this sport!  We will get to the refereeing in a minute because that is what you are going to hear over and over, but honestly, real sportsmen, of any flavor, know that almost never do decisions by referees actually win or lose a game.  So, let’s start talk about the play, itself.  First of all, the American defense was pretty terrible.  Slovenia scored early (again–it seems the USA has a real problem with conceding early goals) and then again late in the first half.  All the credit deserved to the Slovenian offense, but let’s be honest, they were the results of some pretty poor defense on the American side.  So, our boys went into halftime trailing 2-0 and staring at an absolutely crippling defeat.  Then, they came right out and did what great sports teams do–they went right to their best player and let him do his thing.  Landon Donovan scored a GIGANTIC goal right out of the locker room in the second half to make it 2-1.  The Americans kept pressing and kept pressing and finally got the equalizer on an amazing goal by Michael Bradley (the coach’s son) with about 9 minutes left to play.  Then, only about a minute or two later, the Americans scored AGAIN.  But…for some completely unknown, crazy reason, it was disallowed.  I have no idea what the guy saw, but it was pathetic.  Again, let’s get this straight–it did NOT cost the USA the game.  But, it was a terrible, TERRIBLE call.  What cost them the three points here was shoddy defense all game.  So, both teams get a point, and both teams can look at this in a bitter-sweet way.  The Slovenians got a nice point as an underdog and are now in decent position to advance from this group.  And, if not for a bad refereeing decision, they would be going home with nothing after leading 2-0.  But, they blew a 2-0 lead in a game that would have clinched advancement.  The Americans have to be happy with the draw, considering they trailed 2-0 with 45 minutes to play, but they “should” have had the win, and they now still have a good bit of work to do against Algeria if they want to avoid elimination.  Wow.

6/18, 10:30 am:  Slovenia (3) vs. United States (1)
Just when you thought it couldn’t get bigger for the US soccer team, it kind of just has–though you won’t know it from the “leadup.”  The Slovenians beat Algeria last week, which means that they, alone, sit atop Group A as it stands now.  However, they have a ton of work left to do as they have the US today and England next week.  A draw would be fantastic for the Slovenians, while the USA is sitting in the unfamiliar position of being the clear favorites and needing three points.  A draw is NOT a “good result” here for the Stars and Stripes.  A win is paramount. 

6/18, 10:00 am:  Serbia 1 – Germany 0
And yet another “wow!”  In three consecutive days, we’ve seen losses from Spain, France, and now Germany.  But, unlike the Spanish and, especially, the French, it wasn’t that the Germans just played really poorly or flat or anything.  In fact, they played an inspired match in a loss.  First of all, Serbia is a pretty solid team.  Secondly, the refs completely screwed the Germans.  Now, I was avidly rooting for the Serbs because I think it’s good for both Ghana and, possibly, the United States, but I have to say, objectively, that Germany got a really raw deal here.  The ref was handing out yellow cards like Snickers on Halloween, and it just so happened that Germany’s best scorer, Miroslav Klose, picked up two of them and had to leave with almost an hour left to play (and is now out for the final group match against Ghana).  Serbia scored late in the first half to take a 1-0 lead into halftime, and only needed to hold on with an extra man.  And, they did–barely.  If you only knew that one team had an extra guy in the second half, but you didn’t know which one, you would absolutely think that it was Germany with the man-advantage.  They were all over the Serbian net all second half, trying for the short-handed equalizer, but they just couldn’t get one in–including a penalty kick.  So, now Group D is, all of a sudden, WIDE open.  Ghana has to be really happy with this result, but they still have to get it done tomorrow against Australia, and they still have to play the Germans.  Big teams like England, the Netherlands and Brazil better watch out because it looks like these upsets are spreading. 

6/18, 7:30 am:  Germany (3) vs. Serbia (0)
The loss to Ghana last week for the Serbs means that their World Cup hopes have probably come down to a win-or-go-home game against ‘ze mighty Germans.  Not good news if you’re Novak Djokovic or one of his countrymen.  A draw here would probably be a good result for Serbia, but it also might not be enough to put them back in play here for a qualifying spot.  ‘Ze Germans looked awfully good in dismantling the Soccerroos from Australia last week and if they don’t have a hiccup, should use that +4 to cruise to a Group D win.

Group A, After Day Two:  Uruguay 4 (3-0), Mexico 4 (3-1), France 1 (0-2), South Africa 1 (1-4)
Other than the Mexicans, the biggest winner from the French disaster is Uruguay, as they are looking really good to take the A1 spot.  There is no reason why either Mexico or Uruguay will risk a loss next week when they play, so expect a 0-0 draw, so that they both qualify.  If, by chance, Uruguay wins, France will be able to qualify with a BIG win over South Africa.  If Mexico beats Uruguay, South Africa can qualify with a BIG win over France.  But, there is really no reason to think that Uruguay won’t finish A1 and Mexico A2.

6/17, 4:30 pm:  Mexico 2 – France 0
Well, one of the world’s elite teams is pretty much DONE.  And, honestly, no one is crying for France.  Mexico knocks off an uninspired French squad, and the Mexicans are looking really good to get through to the knockout stage.  The French looked flat-out bad today, as the Mexicans took it to them from the very beginning.  It was a nice recovery from an opening-round draw with South Africa, and I think we need to really watch out for the Mexicans.  They are talented and playing well, they could be a real tough out in this tournament. 

6/17, 2:00 pm:  France (1) vs. Mexico (1)
As all four Group A teams had draws on Day 1, the two teams whose draws felt like losses were France and Mexico.  France is supposed to be the class of this group, and they played to an uninspired 0-0 draw against Uruguay.  Mexico, on the other hand, was dealt a tough blow by merely drawing South Africa, a team against whom you really need to pick up three points, host country or not.  Mexico can pick up the pieces with a good result here, but they may be too far behind already unless they can actually beat the French.  Considering the Uruguayan 3-0 win, France has to get a win here or it will be a monumental disappointment.  Without some goals, they are in some trouble for the top spot out of this group, but they are still in decent shape to qualify. 

Group B, After Day Two:  Argentina 6 (5-1), South Korea 3 (3-4), Greece 3 (2-3), Nigeria 0 (1-3)
Well, as expected, the Argentines have complete control of this group.  They have not officially clinched, but they are looking good for the B1 spot.  They finish with Greece, who, thanks to their comeback win over Nigeria, is still alive and thinking of the knockout round.  South Korea got beat bad by the Argentines, but they are still in the driver’s seat for the second spot.  If they win, they’re in.  If they draw and Greece does not beat Argentina, they move on.  Unfortunately for them, the Argentines will probably be playing for the draw, so they will probably need to avoid a loss to Nigeria.  The Super Eagles are actually still pretty alive, believe it or not.  If they beat South Korea, and Argentina beats Greece, Nigeria will move on. 

6/17, 11:00 pm:  Greece 2 – Nigeria 1
Nigeria looked real good in this game, dominating the game and leading 1-0, when their goalkeeper was called for a red card with about an hour left to play, and the Super Eagles had to play a man down for the rest of the way.  And, that was just too much.  The Greeks got the equalizer right before the half (their first ever World Cup goal), and the winner about halfway into the second half (to clinch their first ever World Cup win).  Greece is now in position to possibly move on, but they are staring at Argentina, probably needing a win.

6/17, 10:30 am:  Greece (0) vs. Nigeria (0)
Well, it’s desperation now time for one of these two immensely talented teams, as dropping to 0-2 is a near death sentence.  Nigeria is in a better spot than Greece because they’ve already played Argentina (the best team in the group), so a loss wasn’t devastating.  Greece, on the other hand, has its backs against the wall after a surprising loss to South Korea, considering they still have Argentina left to play.  A draw here probably hurts both teams, but would almost be curtains for the Greeks because they can’t realistically hope to beat Argentina, while Nigeria could certainly come out and get three points from their match with South Korea.  Fortunately for these two teams, the Argentines beat the Koreans, so if either of these teams wins here, they will draw even with South Korea in for the second spot in the group.  A win or draw for Nigeria here will clinch a knockout qualification for Argentina.  A win or draw for Greece would be a great result for South Korea.

6/17, 10:00 am:  Argentina 4 – South Korea 1
Wow, the Argentines look really good, folks.  Now, although South Korea did shock Greece earlier, they are not exactly the toughest competition, but Argentina looked very good.  Lionel Messi–the best player in the world–was sensational.  Argentina is now 2-0 with a large goal differential, so they are well on their way to a B1 qualification for the knockout round–which may draw them France in the Round of 16, but that’s for another day.  South Korea needs to recover, root for a draw between Greece and Nigeria, and then come out and play against Nigeria, and they could still get into the knockout round.  So, while the 4-1 loss is not promising for the Koreans, they are still in decent position to get through the group.

6/17, 7:30 am:  Argentina (3) vs. South Korea (3)
The surprising South Koreans are tied atop Group B with the Argentinians, after their impressive win over Greece in the first match.  Now, they get a shot to slay the Group B dragons with a match with the Argentines.  The winner here will take control of the group and be just a draw away from the B1 position in the knockout round.  Expect Argentina to come out firing here, but remember, they are a bit of a tricky team to handicap, as they are volatile and inconsistent.  Plus, the Far Eastern teams have been excellent so far.  But, there is no doubt that the talent advantage favors the South Americans, so a draw here would be a very good result for the Koreans. 

6/16, 4:30:  Uruguay 3 – South Africa 0
The Uruguayans pick up a big three points and, maybe more importantly, a nice +3 in goal differential in a group that was deadlocked before this game.  The hosts are in a LOT of trouble now.  Uruguay is probably now the odds-on favorites to WIN Group A–which is a bit of a surprise (and a great pick by BSB!!!).  The game was pretty much dominated by the South Americans, but it was only 1-0 until a late red card on the goalkeeper that gave Uruguay a penalty kick and made the South Africans play a man down.  They added another goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time.  Big win for Uruguay here, who will try and finish off their Group A against Mexico next week.  South Africa will now need several goals and a victory over France to avoid the ignominity of being the first ever host nation not to make it through group play.

6/16, 2:00 pm:  Uruguay (1) vs. South Africa (1)
Now that every team has debuted, it’s time for teams to take the pitch for a second time.  Bafana Bafana, the South African squad, got a nice draw with Mexico to open the festivities.  Uruguay, later on the first day, got a nice draw with France.  Now, Group A is all-square and this second round of games becomes uber-important.  It should be interesting to see if the South Africans were just amped up for their first game or if they can continue the momentum here.  Also, it will be interesting to see if Uruguay’s defense was really that good or if France is just playing as poorly as they seem to be playing.  This group is very much up for grabs, so a win here for either team would go a very long way towards getting out of the group.  

Looking Forward After One Round of Games
If we take what we know now and start to look ahead to the knockout stage, we can get the very beginnings of an outline for what is to come when the games get really intense. 

Group A/B.  Group A is deadlocked at a point apiece, while Group B has two leaders and two teams chasing.  Although they didn’t look all that good, France did draw with the second-best team in the group, so you have to think they’re still the favorites to win the group.  Uruguay is probably the second-most talented team in the group and they drew with France, so they look good to get out, as well.  France is a little more high-powered, so they’re probably will have the edge in goal-differential and have to still be the picks for A1.  Uruguay looks good for A2, which would take on the B1 team.  After an impressive win over Nigeria, the Argentines are looking solid for that spot, so we might be staring at an Argentina-Uruguay matchup.  On the other side, France would await the B2 team, which may just be the darkhorse, South Korea, on the heels of their surprising win over Greece.  But, Nigeria still has a lot to say about that.

Group C/D.  The English-American draw and Slovenia win means that the two big boys of the group have work left to do.  Algeria is in a lot of trouble.  It’s probably a three-team race right now, but it’s hard to imagine Slovenia winning this group, but don’t count them out for a surprise second place.  As for Group D, Germany flexed their muscles, and their 4-0 win should be goal-differential enough to pretty much wrap up this group, barring a shocking loss somewhere.  So, the C2 team (still up in the air) would probably get a hot German squad.  Ghana got a great win over Serbia and is in prime position to grab that second qualifying position, especially considering the Aussies are already -4 in goal-differential.  Ghana would match up with the winner of Group C (a potential 2006 rematch with the Americans)

Group E/F.  The Oranje looked really good in their opener and might cruise to the E1 spot.  Japan got a big upset win over Cameroon and is looking good for a potential E2 qualification.  But, Denmark is still out there, and don’t completely count out the Cameroonians.  But, right now, it looks good for Japan in E2.  Netherlands’ probably E1 spot would reward them with a date with F2.  But, the question is:  who will that be?  The Dutch may have become the biggest fans of the Azzurri outside the boot, as they do not want Italy to slip to F2, which is possible, with this whole group deadlocked at a point apiece.  It is still a good bet to pick the Italians to win the group, though, and with their draw of Italy, Paraguay is in a good spot to grab the F2 spot and a date with the Netherlands.  Italy might get a nice matchup with Japan in the Round of 16.

Group G/H.  And, here is the intrigue.  Brazil, the #1 team in the world, is probably the clear choice to finish at G1.  But, now, with the crazy upset of Switzerland over Spain, the Spanish (#2 in the world) may have trouble winning their group.  So, if they qualify, they might be the H2 qualifier, which would pit the world’s top two teams against one another in the Round of 16.  Wow!  The winner of the (probably) goal-differential decided G2 spot between Cote d’Ivoire and Portugal would then get the H1 winner, which could be Spain, but it might more likely be Switzerland or Chile.  These two groups are way up in the air right now.  The one thing we do know is that North Korea probably won’t be scouting Honduras as a potential opponent in South Africa this year.

Group F, After Day One:  Chile 3 (+1), Switzerland 3 (+1), Honduras 0 (-1), Spain 0 (-1)
Well, well, well.  What do we have here?  Total chaos in the last group, as Spain, one of the odds-on favorites to win the whole thing, is sitting at the bottom of its group.  Chile (my pick as most impressive team through one round) is tied with the shocking Swiss at the top.  This group may come down to whether or not the Swiss can get three points from Honduras.  If they can, then a draw with Chile wins them the group.  If they beat Honduras and lose to Chile, then we might be staring at a 3-way tie atop the group, where goal-differential might come into play, which is not good for the Chileans, who only beat Honduras by 1.  Interesting stuff…

6/16, 1:00 pm:  Switzerland 1 – Spain 0
We went the whole first round of games without a monumental upset…until the final matchup.  The European champions and one of the two consensus favorites to win the whole thing loses their opener.  Spain actually dominated possession in this game, but the Swiss made one of their very few shots count and their defense around the net was spectacular.  This is a shocker, not only for this group, but for the knockout round’s matchups.  If Spain can recover and finish second in this group–still a good possibility–they would match up with the top team from Group G–presumably, Brazil–in the Round of 16.  Imagine that:  the two teams that are supposedly high above the rest of the field, playing each other in the Round of 16.  But, there is a lot of time until then, and Chile might have something to say about Spain finishing second.  This result here might send this group to a three-way tie at 2-1, in which case goal-differential could be the difference between winning the group and going home.  Then again, maybe Switzerland is just that good.  We will see with their, all of a sudden, GIGANTIC matchup with Chile next week.  Wow!

6/16, 10:30 am:  Spain vs. Switzerland
The last two teams to debut at the Cup this year are these two, and I wonder if Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will be watching together.  While the world rankings have Brazil as the #1 team, many people actually think that Spain, the defending Olympic champion, is the world’s best team and the favorite to win the whole thing.  They open against a polished Swiss squad that can give some teams trouble along the way and certainly could contend for a qualifying spot out of Group H.  However, they are outmatched today, so a draw would be a fantastic result for the Swiss.  Spain should expect to get three here. 

6/16, 10:00 am:  Chile 1 – Honduras 0
Okay, I know that Germany won 4-0 and dominated from the very start.  I also know that I really don’t know anywhere near enough about soccer to actually “analyze” anything, so take this all with a grain of salt.  And, I have watched every single game of the first round of games (just about every minute), so I, as a sports fan (not a soccer fan), have kind of a feel for these teams.  So, here’s the provocative statement:  Chile was the most dominant team in their 2010 World Cup opener.  Yes, Germany won 4-0, but Chile dominated Honduras every bit as much as Germany did to the Soccerroos.  They outshot the Hondurans 22-5 (7-1 on goal) and played pretty much the entire game on the attack.  They could have had 4 or 5 goals when it was all said and done.  And, I feel even more confident in my statement that they were easily the most entertaining team to watch.  I have a new “favorite player” (not that I had one before), and his name is Alexis Sanchez.  That guy is awesome!  Anyway, this may have been just an example of a subpar Honduras team that got beat by a decent Chile team, but either way, it’s three big points for the South Americans, who are trying to qualify behind Spain in this group.  Honduras is now in some trouble, as they have Spain next, so they could fall to an unrecoverable 0-2.

6/16, 7:30 am:  Chile vs. Honduras
And, the final group gets underway today as Chile takes on Honduras.  The Hondurans were not incredible in qualification, but they did do just enough to get in to the tournament.  The Chileans, on the other hand, have been playing some of the best soccer that no one has noticed.  In a group with the mighty Spanish, the other three teams might be playing for second place, but the Chileans probably are the favorites to grab that second qualifying spot in the only group without a team from Asia or Africa.  This is a big game, though, as there are no pushovers in this group, so every point is big.  If either of these teams can get three points today, they have a real inside track for a qualifying spot, especially considering Switzerland is likely to come away with none today against Spain.

Group G, After Day One:  Brazil 3 (+1), Cote d’Ivoire 1 (0), Portugal 1 (0), North Korea 0 (-1)
Not real surprises with the first results of the Group of Death, as Brazil got the three points they needed from North Korea, and the other two drew.  The key to this group might just be how badly each of the big three beats North Korea.  Brazil did not beat them badly, so they might be behind the eight-ball to start here, but then again, they are the #1 team in the world.  Portugal looked like they went into the game looking for a 0-0 draw, and they got it.  A bit risky, I must say, but we’ll see how they do in the next two. 

6/15, 4:30 pm:  Brazil 2 – North Korea 1
This was a pretty blase performance by the Brazilians.  They went the whole first half scoreless, before getting a quick goal in the second half.  They added another one later, which turned out to be a very important one, as the North Koreans scored and then had chances to tie late.  This has been a great first round of games for the Far Eastern teams.  Now, there really is no reason to think that Brazil is in trouble, but this is the “Group of Death.”  Everyone just assumes (myself included, at times) that the real fight is for the #2 spot between Cote d’Ivoire and Portugal, but let’s not forget that those two teams are two of the world’s best, so it’s not crazy to think that Brazil might have a couple fights on their hands.  Goal differential might go a long way in this group, and only beating North Korea by one could come back to bite them.  Then again, they could just roll through the group, but we’ll see. 

6/15, 2:00 pm:  Brazil vs. North Korea
This classic match of the world’s #1-ranked team against the lowest ranked team to make the field (North Korea is ranked 104th).  The oddsmakers have Brazil as a 10-to-1 favorite to win this game.  That means to win $100, you have to wager $1,000, and you lose on a draw or a North Korea win.  Honestly, I think it’s a pretty good bet.  Brazil should roll this team without any problem.  Not only is North Korea the lowest-ranked team to qualify, but they were put in a group with three of the world elite teams.  Yeah, it’s a pretty good bet that they’re leaving South Africa with 3 L’s.  That being said, though, if any of the three takes them lightly and only draws, it could be the difference between making it out of the group or not. 

6/15, 1:00 pm:  Portugal 0 – Cote d’Ivoire 0
The first half was just as predicted–neither team wanted to lose, so they didn’t do anything.  It was a lot of square and back passes, especially from the Portugese side.  Christiano Ronaldo (who is a total bitch) nearly put the Portugese up with a blast, but it hit the post.  The Ivoirians were a little more aggressive and had more chances, but it was 0-0 at the half.  The second half opened up a little bit, as the Elephants continued to have chances.  They brought Drogba in with his broken arm, and he had a shot in stoppage time.  In fact, the Elephants dominated the final 4 minutes and nearly stole a huge victory.  Anyway, the way it looks, the second qualifying spot will probably be determined by who beats North Korea worse and who plays closer to Brazil.

6/15, 10:30 am:  Portugal vs. Cote d’Ivoire
If you told me that there was only one round-robin match that I could watch, it wouldn’t be Germany-Serbia or Argentina-Greece or even–gasp–USA-England.  It would be this one.  I thin

6 Replies to “Following the World Cup”

  1. Guess that rout by Portugal means Ivory Coast is pretty much out. Could The Federer go down in the first round of Wimbledon???

  2. Totally agree about the Suarez hand ball. Given the rules of the game, he absolutely made the right play. I heard a commentator say maybe referees should have the ability to just award the goal in that situation. That might be a good idea. I came over to read your write-up about this game and missed that goal by the Netherlands just now!

  3. Ya, about the Suarez thing. I think I might write a whole post on it (ya know, because this site needs more soccer stuff that no one will read), but I just don’t understand that outrage. You set up consequences for things in the rules, then you play the game. If the play is worth facing the consequences (which, in this case, are appropriately STEEP), then it is a good play. And, in this case, just about any on-field consequence would be worth it because the alternative is losing the game and being eliminated from the World Cup. I am mystified by those arguing that it is “cheating.” What?!? Granted, I don’t watch soccer save for one month every four years, but really? That is cheating? That just sounds like an arrogant argument to me, but what do I know?

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