Slovenian Surprise, African Triumph, and a German Blowout

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Sunday saw the first day of the tournament in which all three games had a winner (and a loser). Well, I mean a loser besides everybody in these stadiums who will lose their hearing after listening to those vuvuzelas blowing in their ears for several hours.

Brief aside: The number one question I’ve heard over the last few days from non-soccer people (well besides how the tournament is set up and how anybody eventually wins when they allow ties) is what the hell that buzzing sound is during the whole game. I’ve contemplated telling people that the bee is the national mascot of South Africa and they house hundreds of thousands of bees all around the stadium in order to make a menacing buzzing sound that intimidates opponents while also producing honey combs that are then handed out in the stadium.
However, the truth is that the buzzing sound is produced by long horns called vuvuzuelas that are native to, and very popular in, South Africa. They must just be handing them out all over the place, because it looks like just about everyone in the stadium has one. I find it hard to believe that American fans would embrace these things, but what if we turned this around and used it to our advantage? The Africans love these things, and they seem to be driving everyone else (or at least other fans) crazy, right? So, what is it that we Americans can tolerate that nobody else in the world can handle?

That’s right, I’m talking about country music. You’re trying to tell me the English national team isn’t a little more rattled yesterday if Garth Brooks or Tim McGraw is blasting throughout the whole stadium? Obviously, this couldn’t be something done by the people in charge, so it would have to be a grassroots movement, like the vuvuzelas. Let’s say we all bring McGraw’s latest hits, and all start track 1 at the opening whistle? Fortunately, we didn’t need it yesterday, because the apartheid curse (mentioned in Friday's post) was already working against the English, but this is definitely something to be implemented the next time America hosts the Olympics or World Cup or something.

As for the actual games, Sunday saw the Slovenians take down Algeria in the second Group C (that’s the United States’ group by the way) match, then Ghana pull out a late win over Serbia to give the African continent its first
native winner, and finally the Germans lambasted the Aussies in a lovely performance. To the casual fan, a match between Algeria and Slovenia might not seem like a great reason to wake up at 7 AM on a Sunday. After all, not only would many Americans struggle to find both of these countries on a match, but both of these nations also sort of sound like 2 other, better known, countries: Nigeria and Slovakia.

However, this is actually a pretty crucial game for the Americans and England, following their 1-1 ties yesterday. The Americans always knew that getting the point against England would probably be just a bonus, while beating both of these teams would be crucial. Just for the uninitiated, in the group stage a tie gives each team 1 point, a win results in 3 points, and a loss gives no points. The U.S. has to assume that neither Algeria nor Slovenia will get any points in their matches versus England, so the most important game will be U.S. against. Slovenia If the Americans beat them, they’re probably going through to the knockout stage.

Neither the Algerians or Slovenians looked particularly strong, but I have to say that if I’d had to make a prediction for a winner early on in the game, I’d have gone with Algeria. Indeed, the Dessert Foxes (that’s the Algerians) looked to have the better of the chances for most of the game until forward Ghezzal, who had just been subbed in to try to get on the end of some of the dangerous crosses the Algerians had been sending into the box, received two yellow cards in a matter of about 10 minutes and was sent off. I thought the refereeing decision was somewhat harsh considering that Ghezzal was given his second yellow for what was labeled a deliberate handball. I’m not even sure that it was really deliberate (I think Ghezzal might have actually been trying to get his shoulder around the ball to bring it down), and even if it was, it’s not like he did it on defense to prevent a Slovenian goal. I mean, maybe you could give a guy his first yellow for that, but surely not his second and a sending off.

Anyway, Algeria was down a man, and a few minutes later, Slovenia managed to take advantage, scoring on another goalkeeping mistake, although this one wasn’t nearly as bad as Green’s yesterday against the U.S. In any case, Slovenia escaped with the victory and will face the Americans next Friday.

Although, the American squad was wishing for a tie, preferably a 0-0 one, you have to think they’d rather have Slovenia win this match. Algeria looked much the stronger team, I think, and the Americans would much rather be faced with the prospect of having to defeat Slovenia than Algeria. A win, though, is exactly what the Americans must have against Slovenia, if they really want to put themselves in position to move out of the group.
Sunday’s second game saw a second game-changing refereeing decision on a handball. After Slovenia saw themselves reduced to ten men following Ghezzal’s red card for handball, Ghana was then awarded a penalty in the final minutes of their match for a Serbian handball in the box. Asamoah Gyan put it away and Ghana escaped with a 1-0 win in a crucial Group D match. Interestingly, this match also saw a red card handed out at almost the same point in the game as in the Slovenia-Algeria match. Serbian defender Aleksandar Lukovic received his second yellow for hauling down a Ghanaian forward and was sent off in the 74th? Minute. However, this actually seemed to act as a spur for the Serbians who appeared much more likely to score following the sending off. Although down to ten men, they attacked with an enthusiasm they had been lacking before, narrowly missing on two good chances moments after Lukovic was sent off.

Ultimately, Ghana deserved the win as I think they looked to be the better team overall today. Both teams had their moments, but Ghana had the better of the real scoring chances and nearly made it 2-0 when Gyan hit the post on a breakaway in stoppage time.

Germany finished off the Sunday games by blowing away the Socceroos of Australia (see, we’re not the only ones who call it soccer, despite what British people would have you believe). Germany looked very good, and I’m feeling better and better about picking them to win their group. Unfortunately, I’m not feeling so good about the likelihood that they’ll match up with the Americans if they do. The 2nd place finisher from Group C will face the winner of the Group D (the Germans group) in the Round of 16. It’s only one game, though, and there’s still a long way to go before then. The win for Ghana was huge today, but a lot can still happen in this group. Despite the Germans manhandling them, Australia isn’t a poor team, and they’re very capable of getting a result against Serbia or Ghana. Unfortunately for the Aussies, their disastrous performance was compounded by the ejection of their best player Tim Cahill, who will now miss the next game against Ghana. The Ghanaians have to be feeling pretty good about their chances, and the Serbs must feel they absolutely have to get at least a draw against the Germans (something that’s looking pretty difficult right now after the Aussies got absolutely blitzkreiged (is that a verb? Am I even allowed to do parentheses within parentheses?)).

Some other quick notes on the day: It appears as though Tim Howard (American keeper) may have broken a rib in yesterday’s match. Those who watched will remember his injury in the first half when he appeared to be in real pain for several minutes but managed to continue and didn’t appear hindered later in the match. However, adrenaline is a powerful force, and I can assume Howard’s probably feeling a lot worse today.

Tomorrow' action sees some hot Dutch on Dane action at 7:30 in the first Group E match, one of my favorite teams (it's how they'd say my name when I score a World Cup goal in my imagination) Cameroon taking on the Japanese, and the Italians trying to prove they're not nearly as old as everyone says they are (and boy would they be mad if any of them knew how to use the Internet and could read about people making fun of them) when they face Paraguay.

As a reward for reading all the way, check this out. Apologies if you've already seen it.

Also, FIFA officials are actually considering outlawing the vuvuzelas that I mentioned above. Despite what I said about them being annoying, I’ll be really sad if they’re removed. I’m in favor of anything that gives a stadium some atmosphere, and I think those crazy things probably give South Africa a legitimate edge in its matches. I’m just impressed the fans make noise the whole game without even having a jumbotron to lead cheers or show a “kiss cam” to keep everyone excited.

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