Tuesday, June 22, 2010

World Cup 2010 - Day 12

We have our first pairing of Round-of-16 games courtesy of today's group A and B deciders: Argentina - Mexico and Uruguay - South Korea. And although the progression was equitable (based on overall team performance in the group stage) it was not without a fair share of drama that these teams went through.

Mexico needed a win against Uruguay to assure a first place in the group and avoid Argentina in the next round. 'La Celeste' defense, however, was impenetrable again (still with a clean sheet after 3 games) and even though Mexico came close on a couple of occasions, it was Luis Suarez's header that made the difference on the scoreboard.

France ended their miserable campaign with another loss, and my initial prediction of another "down" year for Les Bleus came true. Not only were they not able to get out of a relatively easy group, but they looked deplorable throughout [on and off the field]. Domenech's departure is not timely enough and I'm wondering how much 'permanent' damage was done... Too bad for a team that lost the final on penalties 4 years ago [yet, the writing was on the wall with an equally poor performance at Euro 2008]. Out with the old, in with the new, time to rebuild under Laurent Blanc.

With all this, Mexico sweated a bit during half time, when they were down by one and South Africa was up by two; another goal from the Africans or Uruguay and they would have dropped to the 3rd spot. Luckily for them, Malouda found the only French goal of the tournament and duly ended Bafana Bafana's hopes of securing the second spot. In another 'first' for the World Cup, the host nation failed to make it past the group stage...

In the other group, Maradona [as expected] rested some of his players, but even so, the Greeks failed to capture any points; the stats were overwhelmingly in favor of the South Americans yet - paradoxically - Messi has not found the net yet [with 7 goals scored by Argentina to date]. He still is the driving force behind the Albiceleste attacking prowess.

South Korea and Nigeria, displaying two entirely different approaches to the game, shared the spoils in a hard-fought encounter. As the scores evolved, each of the 3 other teams had a shot at securing the second spot (given another goal here and there) but in the end [and deservingly so] the Asians edged Greece by one point. Truth be told, with their negative, ultra-defensive tactics, the Greeks did not gain any fans at this edition of the World Cup. Their only victory in the tournament [2-1 against Nigeria] came after the Africans were reduced to 10 men (the Super Eagles really played themselves out of that game).

Bottom line, no real surprises in the third round of group games today [aside from France imploding and Nigeria disappointing again, but that was already established after the first two games].

Tomorrow, England is hoping not to share the fate of the French, but I'm sure Slovenia will not make it easy for them [they do have a history of falling to Eastern European opposition in the last game of the group (Euro 2000: 3-2 loss to Romania, for example)]. Still, I think they'll step it up and take the 3 points. US is hoping for 3 point as well - against Algeria - hoping for a first place position (!) in the group, and implicitly an "easier" opponent in the next round. But when that means Germany, Ghana or Serbia, it really doesn't make any difference. Of course, any ties would change the final distribution in the group, and even Algeria has a chance to progress [albeit, on paper only, but we've seen plenty already in this World Cup].

So, in group D, it's anybody's guess as to who will top the group. Serbia seems to have an easier shot at it (against a depleted Aussie side) while in the other match, Ghana (the only African side with real chances to progress to the next round) has a one point edge over Germany [thus would be happy with a tie] but the latter are still a force to be reckoned with [and would have probably been in a more comfortable position if Klose was not sent off in the game against the Serbs]. Experience may prove too much for the young Black Stars and I "see" Germany and Serbia as the ones going through.

But until then,
GO U.S.A.!!!

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