As promised, here’s your guide to the final round of group play. The first thing to know for the last set of games is that all of the games for each group must be played simultaneously. This is done so as to give no advantage to the two teams that play second and who would already know exactly what result they need to go through. So, each day for the next four days there will be two games at 10:00 AM and two games at 2:30 PM. For your viewing pleasure, I’ll give my recommendations for which game to focus on each time, although I’m sure you’ll be channel surfing. I’ll also include the current point and goal differential breakdown in the group, which two teams are most likely to survive, and what has to happen for each team to advance. You’ll see.
1st: Uruguay 4 pts, 3 Goals For (GF), 0 Goals Against (GA)
2nd Mexico 4 pts, 3 GF, 1 GA
3rd France 1 pt, 0 GF, 2 GA
4th South Africa 1 pt, 1 GF, 4 GA
Game to watch:
Mexico vs. Uruguay (Tomorrow: 10 AM ESPN)
What Could/Should Happen: Mexico and Uruguay will basically decide things with their match. If they tie, both of them go through. However, Mexico will have little motivation to play for the tie, since a second place finish would match them up with Argentina in the Knockout Round. Expect Uruguay to play very conservatively and Mexico to be very attacking, which should be fun to watch. As for hapless France, (if you haven’t heard, check out the variety of stories on Fifa.com or ESPN about players being sent home, coaches quitting, and the team refusing to practice this weekend), their only chance is for one team to win while they beat South Africa by at least 4 goals. South Africa would have to hope for the same result while beating France by at least 5 goals.
My pick: Mexico beats Uruguay and finishes first, while Uruguay holds on to second place.
1st Argentina 6 pts, 5 GF, 1 GA
2nd South Korea 3 pts, 3 GF, 4 GA
3rd Greece 1 pt, 2 GF, 3 GA
4th Nigeria 0 pts, 1 GF, 3 GA
Game to watch:
South Korea vs. Nigeria (Tomorrow: 2:30 PM ESPN2)
What could/should happen:
Argentina really have little to play for in their final game, since South Korea would have to win and also overcome a huge GD in order to win first place. There’s probably not much drama here, as things will likely finish as they stand now. Still, all four teams are alive in this group technically.
My pick: Argentina wins and finishes first, while South Korea also wins and finishes second.
1st Slovenia 4 pts, 3 GF, 2 GA
2nd United States 2 pts, 3 GF, 3 GA
3rd England 2 pts, 1 GF, 1 GA
4th Algeria 1 pt, 0 GF, 1 GA
Game to watch: USA-Algeria (Wednesday: 10 AM ESPN)
What could/should happen: I’m saying that you should watch USA-Algeria, because I figure most of you probably care more about the U.S. than England. However, if the opposite is true, then by all means watch England-Slovenia. Despite the struggles of both of the favored teams in this group, the bottom line is that they both still control their own destiny. If the U.S. and England win, which they should, they’ll both go through to the next round. If there are any ties or losses, then at least one of them is going home.
My pick: USA wins and finishes first, England wins and finishes second (This might be a bit optimistic, but I just haven’t seen anything from England to suggest that they can score the goals necessary to overcome the GF difference between them and the U.S.)
1st Ghana 4 pts, 2 GF, 1 GA
2nd Germany 3 pts, 4 GF, 1 GA
3rd Serbia 3 pts, 1 GF, 1 GA
4th Australia 1 pt, 1 GF, 5 GA
Game to watch:
Germany-Ghana (Wednesday: 2:30 PM ESPN)
What could/should happen: Like Group A, all four teams are still alive, and the top two teams will face each other. Germany looked great in their first match, but then lost to Serbia after going down a man. Despite being in first place, Ghana are actually in a tough position. They have to face the best team in the group while Serbia now faces the worst team in the group. I think Ghana will probably be a bit conservative, because a tie will put them through. Germany will also be going all out, because they probably expect Serbia to win against Australia. Should be a fun finish.
My prediction: Germany wins and finishes first, Serbia wins and finishes second.
1st Netherlands 6 pts, 3 GF, 0 GA
2nd Japan, 3 pts, 1 GF, 1 GA
3rd Denmark 3 pts, 2 GF, 3 GA
4th Cameroon 0 pts, 1 GF, 3 GA
Game to watch:
Japan-Denmark (Thursday 2 PM ESPN)
What could/should happen: This group is pretty simple. Netherlands are already through, and Cameroon is already eliminated. Japan and Denmark will just be playing to see who finishes second, since Netherlands will probably finish off poor Cameroon with a win. The good thing is that Denmark can’t play for the tie (because they trail on GD), so they’ll have to come out attacking. Japan has already shown some skill going forward, so that should be a decent game.
My pick: Netherlands win and finish first, Japan wins (or at least ties) and finishes second
1st Paraguay 4 pts, 3 GF, 1 GA
2nd Italy 2 pts, 2 GF, 2 GA
3rd New Zealand 2 pts, 2 GF, 2 GA
4th Slovakia 1 pt, 1 GF, 3 GA
Game to watch: Paraguay-New Zealand (Thursday: 10 AM ESPN2)
What could/should happen:
Another group, another traditional power in trouble. Italy have only managed ties thus far. They can probably get through with a tie, but if they want to avoid the Dutch in the knockout stage, then they’ll have to go for the win. I’m telling you to watch Paraguay-New Zealand, though, because New Zealand has become the underdog story of the tournament. Plus, I’m boycotting the Italians, because they look boring on offense and left one of their best young attacking players at home when Lippi chose not to include Giuseppi Rossi on the roster.
My pick: Paraguay wins and finishes first, Italy wins and finishes second.
1st Brazil 6 pts, 5 GF, 2 GA
2nd Portugal 4 pts, 7 GF, 0 GA
3rd Ivory Coast 1 pt, 1 GF, 3 GA
4th North Korea 0 pts, 1 GF, 9 GA
Game to watch: (Friday: 10 AM ESPN)
What could/should happen:
Brazil, though certainly not looking perfect, definitely showed their strength in a 3-1 win over Ivory Coast, while Portugal romped over North Korea 7-0. This sets up a nice final game between the two Portuguese speaking nations who already make for a good matchup due to their historical connections. Brazil will be missing Kaka, and a tie will see them win the group. Still, I can’t imagine a Brazilian side really setting up shop in front of goal to play defensively. I also don’t think Portugal will be satisfied with a draw, even though it would guarantee them passage to the round of 16, because they’ll be looking to avoid Spain in the next round. Of course, all that’s moot if Spain doesn’t…oh wait I’ll get to that in a second. On a side note, Ivory Coast isn’t technically eliminated. They just have to beat North Korea by a boatload of goals, so it might also be interesting to flip over and see how that one’s coming.
My pick: Brazil wins (or they tie) and finishes first. Portugal loses (or ties) and finishes second.
1st Chile 6 pts, 2 GF, 0 GA
2nd Spain 3 pts, 2 GF 1 GA
3rd Switzerland 3 pts, 1 GF, 1 GA
4th Honduras 0 pts, 0 GF, 3 GA
Game to watch:
Chile-Spain (Friday: 2 PM ESPN)
What could/should happen: Chile has looked strong throughout their first two games, although they got a bit lucky with Switzerland having a man sent off early in their match. Chile and Spain sets up to be a very fun game to watch, since Spain will certainly be coming out to win (and win by a couple of goals) in order to avoid Brazil in the next round. Chile won’t play defensively, because I’m not they’re even capable of doing so. Plus, you have to possess the ball some against Spain or they’ll just batter you all day long. Meanwhile, Switzerland is very much still in this. They could even still win the group.
My pick: Spain beats Chile and wins the group on GF tiebreaker. Chile loses the match but finishes second by also beating Switzerland on GF tiebreaker.
As for today’s games, Portugal delivered an absolute thrashing to the North Koreans, Chile secured a 1-0 win over Switzerland, and Spain got their campaign back on track with a () defeat of Honduras.
Perhaps Portugal was only playing possum in its first match, a lifeless draw with the Ivory Coast. After heaps of criticism was directed at the Portuguese for their tepid attack, they took things personally and proceeded to absolutely crush North Korea 7-0. This marked the seventh-most decisive victory in the World Cup’s 78 year history. Interestingly, Portugal was only up 1-0 at halftime, and, though they had already shown much more initiative than in their first game, they still looked short of ideas and likely to only finish with one or two goals. However, beginning in the 53rd minute and ending in the 87th, the Portuguese put together one of the greatest half hours of attacking soccer you’ll ever see by scoring six goals, averaging about a goal every five minutes. Even Crisitiano Ronaldo finally got one (the sixth of the game) on a breakaway. He was a bit lucky with his goal as the ball deflected off of a charging keeper, rolled up over Ronaldo’s back and then finally fell at his feet for an easy tap in.
In the second match, Chile got their second victory of the World Cup, defeating a Swiss side 1-0 that was forced to play most of the game a man down. Although Chile is known as a solid attacking side, they were not at their sharpest in the early part of this game despite controlling the possession. After their last result (1-0 win against Spain) perhaps some credit should be directed at the Swiss defense, which has been quite the opposite of their holy cheese. Everything changed, though, when Swiss midfielder Valon Behrami was sent off in the 31st minute for elbowing Arturo Vidal in the face. It was, perhaps, a somewhat harsh decision by the ref, since he didn’t looked to have had any purpose or malice in the blow delivered while trying to shield the ball. Chile continued to attack with increasing numbers, but the Swiss defense still showed a great amount of resolve. Chile were unable to ease the pressure with a second goal, and Switzerland will actually be feeling rather regretful since they had a decent chance to tie the game in the final moments.
It was a happy day on the Iberian Peninsula as Spain was also able to bounce back from a poor display in their first match. Spain displayed some slightly better finishing (although still missed plenty of chances), and the Honduran defense proved much less stalwart than the Swiss defense that held off the Spaniards last week. Spain got their first goal of the tournament early on in this game on a lovely solo effort from David Villa. The striker (who has an astonishing strike rate of roughly 40 goals in 60 matches for his country) cut into the box, beating a couple of Honduran defenders and managing to get off a shot that sailed just past the keeper’s outstretched fingers and into the top right corner of the goal. Villa got a second goal just after halftime on a deflected shot from the top of the 18. Despite the two goals, Villa will certainly look back on this game with regret, as he was set up for the hat trick on a penalty kick in the 61st minute. However, Villa not only failed to score, but failed to even put the shot on frame, sidefooting his effort wide right. Spain, unlike Portugal, showed little inclination to add to their tally in the final minutes, letting many opportunities go begging and generally looking somewhat disinterested.