Friday, 25 June 2010

It's a knockout!

The last 16 line up is complete, and what a line up it promises to be. Much of today was a bit of an anti-climax, but at least the Chile - Spain game was exciting for about an hour. Ultimately, the best teams have qualified. Chile would have been unlucky not to go through having played such exciting football, but they have just about made it.

For a while, it looked as if the miracle could have happened in Group G. Ivory Coast came flying out and started to take the North Koreans apart, they probably should have been 4 or 5 up by half time, which would have given Portugal the jitters. Unfortunately, they never really pressed home their domination, and as a result the Portuguese were able to keep it tight and didn't have to come out and attack. That made for rather dull viewing, but you can't blame them for not showing their hand as yet. I was more disappointed with they way both teams played when Portugal met Ivory Coast in the first game, particularly the Africans, as realistically they needed to get something out of that game, but made little effort to do so.

For that reason, Sven's men can have few complaints about their failure to qualify. Their short corner in the last minute of the first game is perhaps the stupidest moment of the tournament so far, and they left things out of their hands somewhat by relying on thrashing North Korea by more goals than Portugal did. Like I said yesterday with Cannavaro and friends, it's a shame this Ivorian side will break up without having ever really done anything to justify their billing. They have been extremely unfortunate with being drawn in the 'Group of Death' twice in a row, but there have been constant poor performances in the African Cup of Nations mixed in as well. Their failure to qualify leaves Ghana as Africa's sole representatives in the last 16.

Group G was far more exciting, at least until it became clear Switzerland were not going to beat Honduras. Chile started the game very well, but I feared for them on the break prior to the game, and those fears were realised by a couple of Spanish goals, thanks in no small part to the defence allowing them far too much space. It was in the build up to the second goal that Fernando Torres, who was woeful again, decided to throw himself to the floor and play dead for a few minutes to get Marco Estrada sent off. He succeeded. Whilst it was a terrible bit of cheating, Estrada was lucky to have lasted that long anyway, and Waldo Ponce should have gone about three times throughout the first half, so perhaps Chile got lucky in the end.

Tomorrow, we really get down to business. South Korea meet Uruguay to kick off the second round, and the USA meet Ghana in the evening. Both games should be intriguing affairs, and interestingly all 4 teams are from different federations (is that interesting?). What that means is we'll be seeing 4 teams who play different styles of football. South Korea live up to the stereotype of being 'hard working', but they are not short of quality either, they have put together some quick, incisive moves. Uruguay should not underestimate them, but they will start as favourites. Diego Forlan has been easily, and unsurprisingly, their best player, and they will be relying on him to create and score them some goals. However, we must not overlook their excellence at the other end, they are yet to concede a goal, and in truth have rarely looked like doing so. All 5 South American sides have looked very impressive so far, and the Uruguayans are no different. It will take something special for the Koreans to break them down, and I'm not sure they'll have enough about them to come through.

As for the other game, both the USA and Ghana have perhaps surprised a few people so far, and neither should be underestimated. The Africans have been solid at the back, only conceding twice (and one of them was a terrible piece of 'keeping), helped in no small part by Anthony Annan holding in front of the back 4. They are also capable of attacking with pace, something that may trouble an American team slightly on the slow side. As for the US themselves, they are also well organised and hard to break down, but have genuine class in places, something the Ghanaians perhaps lack without Michael Essien. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey are excellent players, and are well supported by the impressive Michael Bradley in midfield. I think this one will be very close, but the United States will steal it.

My Predictions:

Uruguay 2-0 South Korea
Ghana 1-2 USA

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