David Villa continued his fabulous run of form, scoring Spain’s only goal to lead them over neighboring Portugal, 1-0. Paraguay outlasted Japan in the tournament’s first penalty kick shootout. Paraguay showed plenty of composure, not missing a single penalty in defeating Japan 5-3. The same could not be said for Japan who might be criticized for their decision to have a defender take one of their spot-kicks. Yuichi Komano proved the doubters right, missed his shot by banging the ball off the crossbar.
Penalty kicks always provide a new layer of suspense to a game, but a lot of purists actually don’t like them. There are plenty of people who hate to decide a game this way and, indeed, it is disappointing to see a team go out like that. Personally, though, I’m a big fan of the shootout, especially having lived in a country where we insist on making our overtime rules so complicated. The NFL just implemented a new overtime rule, which states that the team that loses the coin toss must get an offensive possession if the other team scores on a field goal. Previously, teams that won the coin toss could win the game with a field goal, because the other team would never get a chance at it. Meanwhile, basketball games and baseball games can continue for days. We just saw a tennis match at Wimbledon earlier this week that lasted over 11 hours throughout a three-day period, because there’s no tiebreaker in the fifth set.
Contrary to those that want the penalty shootout out of soccer, I want to see it expanded into other sports. Picture this. It’s the NBA playoffs. Let’s say it’s Lakers-Celtics. The game goes to overtime, then double overtime, but it’s still tied. Instead of trotting these exhausted players out for a third overtime, why not decide the game in the kind of pressure-packed microcosm that we see in the World Cup. I’m talking about Kobe v. Pierce (or Rondo possibly) one-on-one. Each player gets the ball once, and the shot clock’s still active. Then two more players come out. It’s best out of five, with each basket equaling a point. Give this a chance for a second. Think about all of the strategy that would go into planning the matchups. You can only use each player once, and each one has to defend their defender in turn. Do you go with positional matchups? Try a wild-card by throwing out a big vs. a guard? I’m excited already. Imagine the tension with Lebron, Kobe, or Dwayne Wade dribbling the ball at the top of the key, sizing up their defender, with the game all riding on that one play. It’d be just like the last play of a tied game, except everybody gets their chance to hit the buzzer-beater!
We could figure out a way to do this in football, too. I’m thinking some kind of back yard game with a team’s quarterback passing to their best receiver, who’s facing off against the other teams’ best corner or safety. Maybe you start on the 10 yard line and get one chance to put it in the endzone with each matchup?
I’m not sure about baseball, but they’d never do it anyway.
If you think about it for a second, it’s not nearly as crazy as it seems. It’s just about deciding the game via a mini-game. Some would complain that this wouldn’t mean that the best team always wins, but games come down to single moments all the time anyway. Plus, if you’ve already gone through a couple of overtimes, it’s fair to say that the teams are pretty evenly matched. You’re still deciding the game with the same kind of skills the players have been using all game. In fact, there’s a skill in itself to being able to handle this sort of pressure-packed moment.
Back to soccer. The quarterfinals are now set. I went 6 for 8 with my Round of 16 picks, incorrectly selecting the U.S. to advance over Ghana and Japan to defeat Paraguay. In my defense, the U.S. was mostly a home team pick (and if you’ll read my preview I suggested Edu should be in the game, which he wasn’t at first), and both of my missed picks went into overtime.
As for the quarters:
My pick: Brazil
Hey, it may seem like a cop out to keep picking the always-favored Brazil, but I haven’t seen anything this tournament to change my mind about them. Dunga has managed to take a team known for its flowing passes and creativity and turn it into a solid, counter-attacking monster. Brazil can play any style that a game demands, because they have a couple of defensive mids that secure the center of the pitch and lock down any attack, but they also have some of the best offensive players in the world in Robinho, Kaka, and Luis Fabiano. Brazil look at times as if they’re playing a defensive game, but that’s certainly not the case when one of the brilliant attackers gets the ball on his foot. Netherlands are a dangerous team, especially with Robben healthy again, but I just don’t think Brazil is losing here.
My pick: Uruguay
I think this is the toughest pick of the round. Ghana looked extremely impressive during stretches of the first half against the U.S. On the other hand, Uruguay has put together a very nice string of matches throughout group play and against South Korea in the Round of 16. I just think Uruguay has looked like the more composed sie overall, while Ghana have shown some lack of maturity at times. Ghana’s speed may be an issue, but I think Uruguay’s experience built in South American qualifying will see them through.
My pick: Argentina
I think this is the most exciting match of the quarters. Germany is a young team that has looked awesome at times, while Argentina is, well, Argentina, complete with the all the skill of Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez. I like Germany a lot, but I think Argentina is just a little better overall. Messi, despite remaining scoreless, has looked good so far, and Tevez is gaining confidence as the tournament continues. I haven’t even mentioned their leading goal scorer, Gonzalo Higuain. I think it also bears mentioning that nearly every Argentine field player has played at some point in this tournament. That could be a good or a bad thing, but I’m going to say it’s good. If Argentina takes a lead, I think Germany will get a bit nervous.
My pick: Spain
Spain is an absolute offensive juggernaut. They beat what was probably the best defense in the tournament today in Portugal, and I think they’ll also crack Paraguay’s tough back line. Spain possesses the ball so well, and displays such patience and touch, that teams play a bit hectically when they do actually get the ball against Spain. Really, the only worry Spain should have until they face Argentina or Germany is what to do with Fernando Torres. He still doesn’t look right, and they’ll be facing some tough questions about whether to play Villa up top by himself and bring Fabregas or someone else off the bench.