32 teams in, 24 teams down. Whereas the First Round proved a fitting, if up-and-down beginning, the Round of 16 have basically held the course with interesting and intense games, but with the favorites winning in nearly every situation. However, this would not be a World Cup without controversy, and we have it in spades. Plus the US going out, Ghana moving forward, and South America still representing. So join me, won’t you?
Uruguay v. South Korea: The South Americans came out looking to score quickly and Luis Suarez was up to the task early on. Chasing down balls and beating South Korea to the punch, he scored in the 8th after awful defense by South Korea, which would become the M.O. for this match. After this, Uruguay had no interest in anything other than possession and playing for the 1-0 win. The game turned dull for large parts before breakdowns in possession led to South Korean chances or counterattacks.
The second half opened the matter up more with Uruguay’s midfield unable to establish strength in possession. They wanted to hold out but simply do not have the control to do it for large periods of time. The Koreans had a few point blank chances before a failed clearance led to Lee Chung-Yong’s equalizer. From then on, the game was wide open with both sides looking dangerous. Finally, Suaurez was able to not waste possession for long enough to move from the edge of the box and put in an absolute beauty to the far post, effectively ending this party. Uruguay 2, South Korea 1
MOTM: Luis Suarez; if only because this match waned for a long time.
Ghana v. United States: It hurts so bad. This game was the epitome of every complaint I (and many others in America and otherwise) ever made about Bob Bradley as a coach and the US Men’s approach as a whole. The Americans came out quickly and looked to try and keep control, but then they realized that almost every ballhandling midfielder they have was sitting on the bench (Edu, Torres, Feilhaber) and they were relying solely on Michael Bradley to fend off all defensive midfield pressure, distribute, pivot, control, and do everything that most teams reserve for 3 players. Ricardo Clark broke down (unsurprisingly), Jay Demerit was late to the ball, and Tim Howard, after being the best keeper through the first 3 games, left the near post wide open. Boteng puts it in during the run of play and the US is on the bad foot after 5 minutes.
Of course every American commentator makes hay about the changes Bradley makes, but what about this: WHY NOT MAKE THE FUCKING CHANGE BEFOREHAND! Ugh. Anyway, the US gets a soft-ish penalty and Donovan puts it home. After that, well, wasted American chances take this one into Extra Time and then shockingly, again, the Americans are undone by poor defending and Gyan effectively ends this one 3 minutes minutes in. A couple of chances follow, but it’s not much. Ghana played better, deserved to win, and are only the 3rd African team to move into the Quarterfinals. America is back to the drawing board and almost certainly out with Bradley and in with a foreign manager who understands how the game works now (Klinnsman perhaps?). We can only hope the new manager puts the talent to use because it is there for the taking. Ghana 2, United States 1 (a.e.t.)
MOTM: Kingson; not a ton of chances, but saved everything that he could. Donovan’s penalty was perfectly placed.
Netherlands v. Slovakia: I try to come up with something better but the Oranje just won’t allow it, so, you guessed it, Holland did not play up to their best, but they got the win. They have to be happy to progress, but they should have beaten this Slovakia team much worse if they wanted to prove something. The Dutch had the lion’s share of the chances early on and capitalized through Robben in the 18th with the Slovaks longing for possession and attack, having nothing to feed to perennial goal scorer Robert Vittek. It looked to be another slow death that the Dutch were inflicting as Slovakia had nothing for an hour.
However, some tactical chances started to open up the game and Slovakia began to scare the Oranje. And chances started to pile up with Vittek being given more open looks and Weiss pressing down the left, keeping van der Weil pinned back. However, the Dutch keeper was up to the task, stoning the former Czechoslovakians on numerous occasions before Kuyt set up Sneijder for an easy tap in to make it a two-goal advantage. This was important as Vittek was taken down in the box in added time and he slotted home his penalty well. The referee blew as soon as the ball was in the net and the Dutch escaped, if only barely. Netherlands 2, Slovakia 1
MOTM: Stekelenburg; you know it’s a crazy World Cup when a Dutch keeper is stealing the show, but without his stellar play in net, the Dutch would be at home right now. Kudos.
Brazil v. Chile: If anyone had doubts about Brazil before now, perhaps they would like to reconsider. Go ahead, I’ll give you a moment. After Chile came out trying to score and playing their back line so high we all knew this one was going to be a whitewash. In Bielsa’s defense, it’s what he had to do if he ever wanted to win, but it also allowed Fabiano to run rampant behind the line. However, this game was more about Brazil’s defense setting up the offense than anything. This was Dunga’s game, period. Ramires, Maicon, Lucio, Juan, Bastos, Silva, and Dani Alves all controlled the ball, provided outlets, and made runs on the counter-attack.
Juan scored off a corner in the 34th with Fabiano abusing the Chileans to add another in the 38th and this one was over by the half. Robinho got one in the second half and honestly, they could have gotten 2 or 3 more. Outside of the defense, this game was more telling for how poorly Kaka played. Lazy passing, whining about not being passed to, histrionics, and all the worst parts of his game showed up. If they have anything to worry about, it was this. Chile played well enough, but they just don’t have the height or the control to win this one. Brazil 3, Chile 0
MOTM: Brazil defense and defensive midfield; see above.
Argentina v. Mexico: What else do you want in a World Cup game? Maradona, Messi, controversy, Aguirre playing dos Santos so deep he was sitting in the stands, you name it. El Tri came out scorching and Rafa Marquez was all over Messi like a rabid dog, attempting the shutdown as best he could. Alas, what Mexico created in terms of Messianic suffocation they caused in open spaces for Tevez and Higuain. And then the ball broke to Lionel who hit an excellent pass that was parried and then played back in to a ridiculously offside Tevez. It must be said that offsides calls will always be missed (just like such calls are missed in other sports) and that is a fact of life with subjective human referees. That being said, this was a total lack of concentration or something, because this call was way off. Suggestions for changing the rules are copious and Deadspin had a good list here. However, you have to deal with the mistakes and Mexico did not.
Mexico were deflated and they allowed the Albiceleste to flourish with solid creation through Tevez and Messi setting up Higuain to run it around the goalkeeper and put one in (ok so Osorio just passed it to him, I thought I’d spare some people here). Tevez put in another on an absolute golazo in the 52nd that nailed the coffin shut. Javi Hernandez, who is proving to be worth Manchester United’s investment, pulled one back in the waning minutes and El Tri put on some pressure toward the end, but this game was never in doubt. Without fail, the talk after the game was all about the offside goal, but Argentina dominated after the first 10 minutes anyway and got a deserved win. Zonal Marking has some excellent analysis on the match and how Mexico failed. Don’t kill the messenger here, because I’m just being honest about it. Argentina 3, Mexico 1
MOTM: Carlos Tevez; not considering his first goal, his work rate was out of this world and his second goal is up there for goal of the Cup.
Germany v. England: Germany are rightly called a machine, because whether Frank Lampard was robbed or not, the English had nothing. In the end, many of us were fooled by England, thinking the defense could hold and Lampard and Gerrard could co-exist, because they cannot and this English team is simply not that talented. The English press went suicidal, but the bigger issue was not expectations, but just how bad these guys were. I can categorically say that John Terry’s performance today was the worst I have seen by a single player all tournament (ok, tied with Onyewu against Slovenia). The Germans owned this one from the get-go, running rampant with Muller eventually finding Klose for the opener before defensive lapses open it up for Podolski to make it 2-0.
Then the Three Lions get one back via Matthew Upson on the header and Lampard plays in a perfect ball that should have been a goal, tying it up before the half. The referees missed it, but this is why we should have technology to show the ball crossed the line and the referee should rule as such. But, like Mexico, you have to move on and England had the advantage at this time. However, they went into a shell. I cannot stress this enough: a bad call does not change who wins or loses the game unless it happens in the last second. That was not the case here and Germany took advantage, holding possession through Ozil for the rest of the half and then watching Muller get a deserved brace in the second. Germany were a mack truck and England were nothing, they deserved to crash out and they only have themselves, their press, and sky-rocketing expectation to blame. Germany 4, England 1
MOTM: Thomas Muller; he was the best player on the pitch, picking up an assist and a brace and looking like the future that German fans are hoping for.
Paraguay v. Japan: I will admit, I thought Japan was going to walk away with this one, but both teams were tenuous and very few chances showed up throughout. The Japanese keeper was tested somewhat towards the end of the 90 and during Extra Time. Both teams played hard throughout and looked like they had given everything by the final whistle. However, nothing much happened during the match. A few close chances and obvious misses eventually led to the first penalty situation of this World Cup.
Each penalty was cooly taken with keepers not even coming close on most of them. Komano, a Japanese defender, stepped up and hit a solid strike, but it clanged off the bar by just a hair. After that it was just a question of if Paraguay would falter or could a save be made. Neither happened. Honda slotted one home next but Cardozo stepped up and the Japanese keeper guessed wrong, meaning Paraguay were through to their first Quarterfinal appearance ever, making South America 4 for 5 for the tourney. In the end, the only way this could have been settled was by penalties because another 120 minutes would have produced no goal, and that is why they are used. Paraguay 0, Japan 0 a.e.t. (5-3 pen.)
MOTM: Um, your guess is as good as mine.
Spain v. Portugal: The Battle of Iberia, the game to finally decide who was right about the Line of Demarcation, etc. etc. What was framed as a battle between two flashy sides was actually La Furia Roja attempting to hold possession and slot passes and Portugal wanting nothing to do with playing the game and were looking only for the counter. Spain’s defense held any Portugal attack in check, only to nearly be undone by Casillas twice on silly aerial clearances that led to decent second chances. Fortunately he was bailed out. Iniesta controlled well but the final pass was stymied by consistent efforts of the Portuguese defense, who gave little in the first half. Again del Bosque went with Torres, and again he ruined a lot of build-ups and hurt his own side more than the opponents, he was subbed off for Llorente, which proved the trick.
In the second half, the forwards began to produce and the passes began moving and eventually Xaviniesta strung passes together, found an open Villa moving in from the left flank (again giving us a preview of what we can expect next year) whose first shot was well saved but the follow was a rocket to give the Spaniards the lead, and the game. Portugal resorted to more diving and petulant actions, eventually leading to the send off of Ricardo Costa late in the game for an elbow to the face of Capdevila. The referee was unmoved by Portugal’s diving and was especially wary of Cristiano Ronaldo, who got almost no calls, as it should be. Pique again proved to be the kryptonite for #7. If Spain has one large thing to worry about it is still the issue of Torres, who is not producing. Knowing del Bosque though, he’s going to be starting against Paraguay. Spain 1, Portugal 0
MOTM: Iniesta/Villa; it is too hard to decide between them, so they both get it. Iniesta for possession, Villa for the goal and his beautiful runs
Netherlands v. Brazil: July 2, 10:00 am EST
Uruguay v. Ghana: July 2, 2:30 pm EST
Argentina v. Germany: July 3, 10:00 am EST
Spain v. Paraguay: July 3, 2:30 pm EST
FC Barcelona Players in the Round of 16
Spain: V. Valdes, Busquets, David Villa, Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro, Puyol, Pique
Brazil: Dani Alves
Argentina: Lionel Messi
Uruguay: Martin Caceres
Golden Boot Leaders (still active):
David Villa: 4
Gonzalo Higuain: 4
Thomas Muller: 3
Luis Fabiano: 3
Asamoah Gyan: 3
Luis Suarez: 3
Golden Ball Candidates (my guess):
Lionel Messi – Argentina
David Villa – Spain
M. Oezil – Germany
T. Muller – Germany
L. Fabiano – Brazil
C. Tevez – Argentina
Andres Iniesta: Spain
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