For many people the real world cup starts here. There can be no more teams trying to avoid losing by too many goals to guarantee a qualifying slot or teams playing meaningless matches. Now it is win or go home.
Friday – The last group matches
Friday saw the last of the group matches and today the knock out games start. Brazil and Portugal qualified from group G as expected. The match between these two teams was expected to be one of the best matches of the group stages and one that all fans were looking forward to as soon as the draw was made. Unfortunately it turned out to be a bad tempered match with very little entertaining football played by either team. The match that promised so much ended up as a dull goalless draw.
The other match in the group seems to have been a lot more entertaining with Ivory Coast beating North Korea 3-0. Despite that victory Ivory Coast still finished a point behind Portugal and yet another African team left the tournament. It is a real shame that despite teams like France and Italy being knocked out so many of the African teams have failed to progress in the African world cup. Of the African nations only Ghana has progressed to the last 16.
In Friday’s evening games Spain beat Chile with David Villa scoring an incredible goal after the Chilean goalkeeper felt the need to sprint 30 yards from his goal to make a tackle. Despite making the original tackle the ball broke to Villa and he scored. The match finished 2-1 which meant Spain won the group and Chile went through in second place.
Somehow Switzerland failed to beat Honduras in the second match despite Honduras having lost their previous two matches and a win being enough to put Switzerland in contention for second place in the group. The match finished goalless.
Knock out matches
After having had three or four games a day since the competition started we now only have two each match day for the next 4 days before we have the first free day. Teams are no longer playing for points. Now it is winner takes all and as we are in the knock out stages any drawn game goes to 30 minutes extra time split into two 15 minutes periods. If the match is still drawn at that stage it goes to penalties. Each team takes 5 penalty kicks and if the match is still even we go to sudden death. In that situation the teams take one penalty each and if they both score or both fail to score the sudden death is repeated until we have a winner. This means we cannot have a match ending 70-68 on penalties but we could have 70-69.
The first match is between Uruguay who won group A and South Korea who were second in group B. Most people expected France to be involved in this match but because they imploded and finished dead last Uruguay made it through. It will be interesting to see how far these teams go but even in a world cup with as many shocks as this one it is hard to see either of them going a lot further. I guess I have to predict a result so I am hopeful of a decent game so I will say 2-1 to Uruguay.
The second match is USA who won Group C which England were expected to win against Ghana who finished second to Germany in Group D. Ghana are the only African team left in the tournament and despite them only beating Australia to the qualifying slot on goal difference I will predict a victory for them. USA clearly impressed former president Bill Clinton who has extended his stay in South Africa to watch them. Despite his presence I expect Ghana to win 3-2.
There will no doubt be the odd team who decide they can’t compete with their opponent so they will defend for the whole match in the hope of scoring with a breakaway or winning on penalties. But in most cases teams will try to go out and win the game because while it is possible to sit and defend for one game it would be impossible to do it for the four games necessary to win the championship and there are teams now who will look at France and Italy being knocked out and other major countries like England not playing well and will now fancy their chances of causing a shock a lot more than they did at the start of the tournament.
Eventual tournament winner
Based on the matches so far I think the eventual winner of the tournament can only be one of four countries. Spain and Brazil were the pre-tournament favourites and have done enough to justify that position. The other two potential winners are Argentina and Germany. If I was going to pick only on what I have seen so far I would probably go for Argentina however history suggests another winner. Only one country in history has won the world cup in a continent other than its own and they have done it twice. Brazil won in Sweden in 1958 and in 2002 won the tournament jointly hosted by Japan and South Korea. So if history is to hold sway the winners have to either be Brazil or Ghana.
I grew up watching Brazil playing football the way we all wish it was played all the time. They invented the concept of the beautiful game. I always find it hard to go against Brazil and even though this is the least Brazilian Brazil team I think I have to stick with them to win the tournament.
As ever if you want to disagree with any of this please let us know in the comments. Or you can just say I am wonderful if you like.