Monday, June 21, 2010

World Cup 2010 - Day 11

Today concluded the last set of games in the second round of group matches. Starting tomorrow, we’ll have to choose which games to follow ‘live’ as the group deciders are played concomitantly. For those of us who work for a living, that’s unfortunately an easy decision: can’t follow any of it on the telly (or even on one of the many online broadcasts).

Oh, well… Still able to catch the action thanks to the many replays available through ESPN or the Spanish-language networks…

In today’s action, Spain has quickly rebounded from the Swiss shock and regained their confidence with a smashing display of footballing artistry [granted, against lowly Honduras]; the only regret is that they did not score more [Villa had several chances – including the penalty – to get a hat-trick, but it was not to happen]. The Swiss’ luck ran out and duly lost to a very well organized Chilean team [in apparently one of the worst refereed games of the tournament – by Saudi Al Ghamdi. When will FIFA learn not to destroy games in this manner?]. Portugal scored freely against the North Koreans to set up a near-impossible-to-break goal-difference race against Ivory Coast for the second spot in the group.

Back to Chile – Switzerland for a second. If you look at the stats, the possession was 70-30 in favor of Chile (quite similar for the Swiss in what they ‘played’ against Spain, but this time they didn’t manage a single shot on goal!)… just wondering if they would have played better if Behrami was not sent off. Somehow, I doubt it. So based on today’s results, looks like we could have 3 teams in this group all equal on 6 points (if Spain beats Chile and Switzerland beats Honduras in the next round) with only goal difference deciding the order [and who will go home]. The Swiss would have the better odds (given the easier opponent) but I really hope they don’t make it; with their negative, defensive style of play they don’t deserve to go through…

Quick summary of the action so far shows a different approach from the first round of group games: more goals scored [2.43 per-game average against 1.56 in the first round], a less defensive approach (as teams got over the fears of not losing the first game, or in some cases lost and are now going for the win) but still plenty of surprises, on and off the field. Bottom line, it looks like there are no longer small teams out there… and if they don’t have the depth to progress far into the competition, they can still pull upsets and inspire with the type of attitude that has so far eluded the likes of France, England, or Italy.

All the teams from this side of the Atlantic (North, Central and South America) have performed admirably so far and have serious chances to progress to the last 16 [only Honduras are out of the competition, but nobody expected them to do well]. The African teams, however, have disappointed so far, and while Nigeria and Cameroon are already out [really poor showing on both counts] Ivory Coast, South Africa, and Angola [all with one point each after 2 games] are hanging by a thread. Only Ghana is positioned better, but instead of having 6 points already and assured of an elimination-round spot [disappointed to drop two points against 10-men Australia] now have to fight off Germany for a place in the next round.

The Europeans have been hit and miss [mostly miss so far, rather]. The ‘big powers’ have disappointed and are in some cases in danger of not progressing. It’s still early though, and as long as there are mathematical chances, we really shouldn’t write off anyone. By Friday the dust will settle on the group games action and then the real competition will begin. Looking forward to an exciting week ahead!

Tomorrow, France will have to score as many as they can against South Africa then hope that Uruguay and Mexico don’t tie. And the only reason these two teams don’t go for a tie (which would be the easy way out and eliminate France in the same time) is that the second placed team in group A will meet Argentina in the next round. Yeah…enough said!

In group B, Argentina may rest some of the players, but I doubt Greece has the means to take anything out of that game. South Korea has destiny in their own hands against an already eliminated Nigeria, and should progress to the next round, where they’ll meet the winner of group A.

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