The Group Stage games are over and although the first set of games for each team seemed to be largely boring as teams got more comfortable, realized they had to get points in specific games as well as goals because of the emphasis on the top two tie-breakers – goal differential and goals for – we actually saw more free-flowing games.
You saw finally some big scoring games – think Portugal 7-0 over North Korea and Argentina 4-1 over South Korea. You saw a couple of big upsets – think Serbia 1-0 over Germany, South Africa 2-1 over France, and Slovakia 3-2 over Italy. And you saw dramatic late goals to save teams World Cup campaigns, obviously none bigger than Landon Donovan’s 90-plus-one goal over Algeria.
I think the knockout round should give us sensational matchups because most of the heavyweights are still around.
As I stated in the last edition Argentina was ready to explode, looking sensational in their first game despite just scoring one goal. That’s exactly what happened – 4-1 over South Korea, 2-0 over Greece – and this was definitely the best team in the opening round. I think Messi will get on the board and probably put a few in the knockout round, and they should breeze by Mexico in the round of 16. Could be a delicious quarterfinal with Germany in the quarterfinals as it was in 2006.
The Dutch were my dark-horse to win it all and they responded with a perfect Group E effort, 3-0-0 with five goals scored and only one conceded. And now they have Arjen Robben back, as he came on as a sub in the last game and immediately made an impact firing a shot off the post, which was finished by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Robben will be the key to a deep run working with Wesley Sneijder – the best passing central midfielder in the world. They will beat Slovakia comfortably and then maybe the best game of the tournament awaits in the quarterfinals with Brazil.
Good enough, but not sensational in Group G – 2-1 over North Korea, 3-1 over Ivory Coast, and 0-0 with Portugal after they had already moved on and only needed a draw to win the group. Brazil sat several players in the final game including Robinho and Elano – two guys that have been great thus far – and Kaka was out with a double-yellow red card suspension. Should be interesting to see what kind of gear they can shift into when they really want to get after it.
Knocked off the top spot due to the Black Eagles loss to Serbia, 1-0, and a dominant yet not biting effort against Ghana in a 1-0 win where Mesut Ozil hit one of the goals of the tournament on a sick volley. The Germans are only one of five teams along with Spain and the other top-4 teams that can win the World Cup in my opinion, but they face a very difficult draw. First a dangerous English team, then likely Argentina and should they make it through that mine field Spain would likely await in the semis – the team that beat them in the Euro 2008 final.
Let make this declaration: David Villa (three goals) is the best forward in the world right now. He has scored two of the best goals of the tournament and helped Spain rebound from its first loss to win Group H, a difficult task despite definitely being the best team in the group. Thankfully now my pick to win the tournament will not play Brazil in the round of 16 and instead will play Portugal, still another dangerous opponent. Spain will run into trouble in the semis if they make it that far against Germany or Argentina, but I still think they take this tournament by the scruff of the neck with the talent they possess.
Going on to win Group A, Diego Forlan has been one of the best players in the tournament with one of the best goals off a slight deflection against South Africa. But their real story has been the shutdown defense – literally – they haven’t conceded a goal, and that’s very impressive. They should have an interesting game with South Korea and Park-Ji Sung, but I like them to move on and face the United States in the quarters, which will be another great game.
7. United States
Moving on up in the world. No one in the history of the World Cup – and that’s not an exaggeration – deserved to score like our boys in the red, white, and blue. To have two potential game-winning goals (Slovenia with Maurice Edu, and Algeria with Clint Dempsey) called back on atrocious calls was disheartening at the time, but it made Landon Donovan’s strike that much more dramatic and enjoyable. They deserved to win Group C as the better team in two of three matches with an English team in turmoil. Here’s your bold prediction and not a homer pick, I like them to get to the semifinals vs. the Netherlands, and then anything can happen.
As my boy Rich Slate– the other primary writer on www.redwhiteandbluearmy.com – stated, Keisuke Honda (2 goals, 1 assist) is the best player you’ve never heard of and likely earned a big payday once the World Cup is over. He has been one of the few standout figures of World Cup ball, scoring a sensational free kick and setting up another a brilliant pull-back move to bounce Denmark and move on. I like them to beat an unimpressive Paraguay team thus far and then who knows vs. Spain.
Listen to this stat for South American teams: 10 wins, one loss, and four draws. All five South American teams advanced, and Chile took second place in Group H with a wonderful display in each match, beating Honduras and Switzerland, 1-0 apiece in games that could have been a lot worse, before falling in the final match to Spain, 2-1. They will face a familiar team in Brazil in the round of 16, so likely they are done, but let’s congratulate them on playing the right way – the attacking way.
Maybe I was a little unfair when I listed Portugal as Ronaldo, they did score seven goals against the worst team in the tournament North Korea and held on for two important tactical draws, first against Ivory Coast and then against Brazil. What was impressive was that the Portuguese did not allow a goal and showed when they wanted to attack they could be dangerous and score. I haven’t been able to figure out why Simao is hardly getting any playing time for them, but maybe the coach was saving his 30-year-old legs for another deep run in the knockout round.
Will this team ever again play like they are supposed to in a World Cup, without bickering and fracturing the chemistry of the team through the tabloids? It’s tough because the British media are the most brutal in the world -- 100 times worse than New York. The insertion of Jermain Defoe, who I’ve been saying for months is the best striking partner for Wayne Rooney, proved vital as his goal beat Slovenia to knock them out and at the same time help his country advance. But I think it will be one and done against Germany, so glad the U.S. won their group, have fun with that Great Britain.
12. Ivory Coast
Another great insight from Rich Slate, whatever Sven Goran Eriksson touches seems to turn to garbage. The Elephants finally showed how good they could in the final Group G match, thrashing North Korea 3-0 in a game that could have been six or seven to nil. I can’t fault them for the loss to Brazil, but Eriksson did not unleash the hounds vs. Portugal, who dared Ivory Coast to try to win, but really they never went for it. In most other groups they would have because I still believe they are the best African team, unfortunately the biggest scalp from the “Group of Death” was the Ivory Coast as many anticipated.
13. South Korea
A very dangerous team with one of the most clutch and hardest-working players in the world in Park-Ji Sung. Look at how Manchester United coach Alex Ferguson used him, always in the biggest matches – Champions League games and the big boys of the English Premier League. They scored a crucial win over Greece and held on vs. Nigeria to move on. I think their match with Uruguay will be interesting, but I like the South Americans, however, another good run.
The only remaining African team and the U.S.’s opponent in the round of 16, the Ghanaians are dangerous – Asamoah Gyan is superb. But without Michael Essien they are lacking class as proof by the fact their only two goals have come off penalty kicks. They lacked the fortitude to go after a win vs. a 10-man Australian team, which was a disappointing 1-1 tie, and challenged Germany early but backed off late before losing 1-0. Anything could happen, but I like the U.S. to get revenge from the 2006 World Cup on the Africans.
Don’t know what to make to make of this South American side – good draw with Italy, better 2-0 win over second-place Group F side Slovakia, and a terribly boring draw vs. New Zealand in the last game. I think the more positive Japanese team will knock the Group F winners out in the next game.
“The best Mexican team ever assembled,” according to the players and a few Mexican media members, I’m not so sure that is true. They have very good young talent in Giovani Dos Santos and Javier Hernandez, but I think they have better days to come in the years down the road as the CONCACAF Region continues to improve. Argentina knocks them out in the next game, end of story.
I have to say I truly admired the fighting spirit of Socceroos – who despite a 4-0 drubbing by Germany in their first match, a poor decision to red card their best player Tim Cahill in the same game, and then an unlucky play in which Harry Kewell had to be red carded against Ghana for stopping a goal on the goal-line with his hand – still managed to get four points from their final two matches. In fact their two terrific goals off the head of Cahill and the wonderful strike of Brett Holman sent Serbia home with a loss.
My biggest thanks goes out to Slovakia for knocking out the ugliest footballing nation in the world – Italy. Brilliant final 25 minutes vs. Italy as both teams were desperate to get a result, but the Slovaks held on 3-2 to move through in their first World Cup as independent nation. Their just rewards however, will be to get bounced by the Netherlands in the round of 16. By the way those of you that had Robert Vittek (three goals) as your Golden Boot (top scorer) leader through the groups stages, you probably earned yourself a handsome pay day.
19. South Africa
It’s unfortunate that after their dramatic opening match, the host nation forgot to show up in a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Uruguay in their second Group A match otherwise they might have gone through. A great final win over a disgraceful France team, 2-0, was a wonderful way to end their duties, and I will always remember Siphiwe Tshabalala’s opening goal of the tournament against Mexico – one of the truly wonderful strikes to date in 2010.
The smallest nation population wise (just over 2,000,000) showed well. An important opening win over Algeria, 1-0, and nearly upsetting the U.S. in a 2-2 draw, but the Slovenians could not hold off England when a draw or win would have sent them through.
These power rankings are partial to teams that want to attack and try to go for wins, which the Swiss do not. Even the biggest upset win of the group stages over Spain will not put you high in my book when you were extremely lucky to get the one goal, and held on for dear life afterward.
22. New Zealand
The darlings of the tournament. The Kiwis are largely made up of players in the second division of English football as well as the very poor Australian professional league, so to come out of the tournament undefeated, granted with no wins either, was truly amazing. They got the biggest upset RESULT, tying Italy 1-1, and could have moved on had they beaten Paraguay in the final match, but big props for only their second showing (1982) at the world’s biggest tournament.
A largely disappointing team in one of the most disappointing groups. Denmark had won its qualification group knocking out Sweden and sending Portugal into a playoff to have to qualify, so big things were expected in South Africa. However, the Danes level of play justified their ousting as only a single nonchalant win over Cameroon and two poor efforts against rivals the Netherlands and then Japan sent them packing.
Most figured Serbia would advance out of what figured to be the second most challenging group, Group D. A shocking loss to Ghana seemed to be overcome by a more shocking win over the flourishing Germans, but Australia’s deserving win knocked the Serbs out. Not much more to be said.
I can’t say it enough, they represent everything that Americans hate about soccer – the poor sportsmanship with the embellishment on every bit of contact and the defensive-minded tactics – so I am quite happy to see them out. Marcello Lippi picked a bad, aging squad, and it proved fatal as Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo – the Azzurri’s two best players – missed significant time with injuries suffered during and before the World Cup, respectively.
A good tournament really. The Desert Foxes’ first starting keeper, Faouzi Chaouchi, cost his team with a critical mistake in the first game. They got a big draw vs. England and held the U.S. at bay for over 90 minutes to prove their fourth-place performance at the African Cup of Nations in January was not a fluke.
Good riddance to another defensive-minded team departing. Thankfully the Greeks win over Nigeria did not help them advance or you may have seen a bad replica of Italy and Switzerland in the knock-out round.
They missed a few key players like John Obi Mikel, and a few other big players did not have good tournaments like Yakubu and Martins. Really didn’t deserve to go any farther even though they played well in the final match vs. South Korea.
About where they should be, and got a nice draw to play spoiler to Switzerland. Only allowing three goals against two brilliant attacking teams in Spain and Chile, it could have been worse.
Too bad there’s only one African World Cup team advancing past the group stage in the first World Cup on African soil. Poor showing all around from the African teams and Cameroon was the worse in a rock-bottom effort with only two goals scored (both by Samuel Eto’o) and five conceded. Love that dark green jersey, but the Indomitable Lions were meowing more than roaring.
31. North Korea
A goal vs. Brazil will have to be good enough for a team that allowed 12 and did not get any points. Let’s hope the reports of the players being sent to mines because of the results are not true, otherwise can we get these guys an asylum along with their families somehow?
You get what you pay for. Raymond Domenech showed what a classless jerk he is by refusing to shake Carlos Perreira’s hand and instead scolding him after the last match of both team’s tournament, holding a grudge because Perreira had said months back France did not deserve to be at the tournament after Thierry Henry’s handball setup a game-winner vs. Ireland in the World Cup qualifying playoff match. Domenech should have been dismissed after France’s terrible play in Euro 2008, but they kept him on hoping he could reinvent the magic he created when the team went to the 2006 World Cup final. Didn’t happen and as you have read in the headlines, the team self-imploded only getting one draw vs. Uruguay.