Spain 2, Chile 1 // Honduras 0, Switzerland 0: How did the Swiss do it? Beating the number one-ranked team in the world is apparently not good enough to get out of group…in their seven games played in the last two World Cups, they've conceded one goal, officially lost only once, but have almost nothing to show for it. Getting outplayed by Honduras, a team which pretty much knew from the outset today that they had nothing to play for, is really a testament to Swiss ingenuity…oh, and Spain and Chile managed to conspire to obtain a result that got both teams through, setting up nice showdowns next week, with Spain playing its Iberian neighbor Portugal, and Chile, first South American loser in fifteen games, getting a date with Brazil.
June 25, 2010
Portugal 0, Brazil 0 // Ivory Coast 3, North Korea 0: Not a whole lot to be said about Brazil v. Portugal; a dull, poorly-played game between two defensive-oriented teams who will have to elevate their game some to go much further in the tourney. Not surprisingly, the result was enough to send both through to the next round, with Brazil "winning" the group. Being the best African team in soccer in this tournament isn't all that impressive, but the Baby Elephants always come to play, and they easily coasted past the hapless minions (or as Matt Welch might describe with consummate subtlety, eleven Evil Men) of the world's favorite South Park Villain. Timing is everything; if IC had drawn the NoKoreans second, rather than Brazil, it is likely that they would have been the second African country to qualify for the second round. But it was Portugal who drew North Korea second, and with their 7-0 blow-out effectively made today's games moot. BTW, aside from that game, Portugal has scored a total of two goals since getting out of group in 2006, a true testament to the dull, bland nature of success in soccer.
June 24, 2010
Because of the mediocre calibre of teams coming out of Group F, winning Group E doesn't really do a whole lot for the Dutch, at least in the second round, where they will play Slovakia on Monday. Equally mediocre Paraguay has a date with surprising Japan on Tuesday. I am unaware of any prior match-ups between these four non-rivals, so expect to see at least ninety minutes of soccer, with varying amounts of inspiration.
Nice set of second round match-ups coming at the end of the week. The US team got screwed last time against Ghana, who will be rolling into the match having backed into this stage with a draw and a loss. And of course, England and Germany are the Red Sox and Yankees of the sport.
June 23, 2010
England 1, Slovenia 0 // U.S.A 0, Algeria 0: Can someone tell me if anything happened in these games? I'm on a coach and rail tour today into the Yukon…no, seriously. Hugely important games, and I'm in Skagway, a tiny Alaskan community that doesn't have WiFi. I suspect the Americans had a close one again.
June 22, 2010
In the other game, the Bafana Bafana salvage some national glory, winning only their second game in nine previous attempts in the World Cup, but fell three goals short of the Mexicans in spite of getting to play with a man-advantage for most of the game.
Stay classy, Les Bleus....
Spain 2, Honduras 0: Another one-sided affair, although the world's number one-ranked team failed to convert their dominance into something as gaudy as goalscoring. David Villa scored once in each half, then missed a penalty kick that would have given him a hat trick. All in all, a bad day on the pitch for dictatorships….
Half the games of have been played, and we're now at the stage where every game means something. The third set of games commences tomorrow, and here's what's in store:
Group A: Uruguay and Mexico play for the group title, with the winner avoiding Argentina in thesecond round (Uruguay would get the nod in the event of a draw, due to goal differential). The loser is also likely to advance, but it might sweat a little hoping the other game is close. France and South Africa will be eliminated if they draw, or if the winner fails to overcome the 4-6 goal differential with the loser in the other game. If the hosts are eliminated, it would be the first time the home country has not advance out of its group. If the French fail to advance, it would not be the first time a collection of assholes similarly fails.
Group B: Argentina has got this one in the bag, even if it loses to Greece. South Korea and Nigeria play for what will likely be the second spot, unless Greece shocks the world and avoids defeat against Argentina. It's hard to believe Nigeria can stink up the field in its first two games and still finagle a spot by winning tomorrow.
GROUP C: All four teams pretty much have their fate in their feet. Only Algeria needs some help; it must beat the USA, and hope either that Slovenia doesn't lose, or that it wins by two or more goals. Everyone else just needs a win; Slovenia will also advance with a tie. Something for Americans to dwell on: Team USA has played at least three games in six previous World Cups, and has lost all six times in its third game.
GROUP D: Amazingly, Germany could be going home early, should it lose to Ghana and Serbia beats or ties the Socceroos. Serbia needs a win, or a high-scoring draw combined with a loss by the Black Stars. The Aussies could actually advance, but it would require them to rout Serbia and the Germans to beat Ghana.
GROUP E: Holland has already advanced, and will win the group barring a collapse in its final group match against Cameroon, one of two teams already assured of elimination. Denmark needs to beat the Japanese to advance, otherwise they can watch Japan play in the second round next week.
GROUP F: There are multiple scenarios here, but the most interesting one by far is that New Zealand will advance if they beat Paraguay. WTF ?!? Like Group C, all four teams control their own destiny, with Slovakia in the role of Algeria in clinching a spot with a 2+ margin of victory.
GROUP G: Brazil has qualified for the second round, and will win the group title if it wins or ties its former colonial master, Portugal. Ivory Coast can qualify for the second round, if Portugal loses and it can edge already-bounced North Korea by a score of 8-0.
GROUP H: Chile will probably be the first team since the Algerians in 1982 to win two group games and not advance, since it plays Spain next, while the team they beat today, plays hapless Honduras. 1-0 results in favor of the Swiss and the Spanish will give the Spanish the group, while Chile and Switzerland draw lots to determine the runner-up (actually, it's more likely an NBA draft lottery, but you get the picture). And again, Honduras, with two losses, can advance with a two-goal win and a loss by Spain.
June 21, 2010
June 20, 2010
After the game, there was a discussion as to where the game ranked on the list of the greatest upsets in history: was it bigger than the US over England (1950), or North Korea over Italy (1966), or Cameroon over Argentina in the 1990 opener? Here's a tip: today's game was not one of the biggest upsets ever, because it wasn't an upset. New Zealand didn't beat Italy. They tied. Soccer is a sport where ties frequently happen, and in the World Cup, which has a higher degree of parity than league play, it scarcely raises an eyebrow even in this case. Italy tying against a noticeably weaker opponent in first round World Cup play is a dog-bites-man story. If New Zealand makes it to the second round, then wake me up.
An even more entertaining spectacle than Las Albirrojas defeating the poor man's Czech Republic is the utter collapse of the French National team in the run-up to their final group game. By all accounts, the French head coach, Raymond Domenech, is nuts: there is no other way to describe a coach who admits to using astrology to determine line-ups and who is the subject of a hit song, "Je Kiffe Raymond" performed by a 51-year old former porn star, Catherine Ringer. After France's previous soccer debacle, after their quick elimination from Euro 2008, he used the post-match press conference to ask his lover to marry him, a troubling sign even for a nation that reveres Jerry Lewis as a comedic genius and the late Serge Gainsbourgh as a "poet."
So Domenech was on his way out after the tournament, no matter how well the team played, and perhaps the bitterness targetted from his team was inevitable. But the way these events have played out over the last four days is remarkable. Last Thursday morning, France entered the day in what was arguably the strongest position in its group, having shut down an impressive Uruguayan team in its opener. It then proceeded to shut down Mexico for most of its second game, only to have the Tricolores score on a bad call by the linesmen. Moments later, having to throw everyone forward in an effort to draw even, they draw a penalty, which the Mexicans converted into an insurance goal.
Even now, their chances of advancing are not out of the question; they only need to win, have either Uruguay or Mexico beat each other, and for both games to have combined margins equalling five goals (in comparison, at last years Confed Cup, the US advanced in the same situation in spite of having a six-goal margin to overcome, and with the team they had to surpass being Italy). The meltdown of the team is more connected to the lack of character among the players than the fact that their coach is a moron, especially when you remember that Nicolas Anelka's initial outburst occurred at halftime of the Mexico game, before the second half collapse. If I was the director of a major club, I would have a very difficult time allowing Anelka, another opportunity to poison the clubhouse; in fact, anyone on this team should be presumed guilty.