6. Croatia - Japan
One of the ESPN commentators opined that the weather won this game. True, to a degree, the pace was much slower than the other weekend games, but still entertaining. The Croat fans were again fantastic, though they tired. Much like Japan, who appear to have exactly 77:37 of soccer in them before they collapse. The Croatia's biggest problem is the lack of a finisher - both forwards, Klasnic and especially Prso look quite lively, but they are perhaps a little peripatetic, always dropping into midfield or shifting to the wings to get the ball, and there's no one in the box to score. This works if you have a certain type of midfielder (see, for example England when they aren't playing like crap - Lampard and Gerrard are exactly this type of player), but as good as Krajncar is, (quite - he's not playingjust because his dad is the coach. It helps, but he's also good.) he's more of a schemer than a scorer. Japan really didn't offer much for the second time. The players are individually fine, they just don't seem to combine to produce much. Nakata is close to entering his second decade as Most Overrated Player in the World. Great penalty save by the keeper, though.
MoM: Krajncar - always dangerous and inventive, almost scored the goal of the tourney with the 30-yarder off the bar.
5. Portugal - Iran
Good atmosphere. The Iranians demonstrate the difference between the good teams and the not so good ones. Individually, they have some quality (Mahdivikia in particular,) but there seem to be 3 common characteristics of the crap teams at this WC. A) Lack of a coherent system. The Iranians (much like the Saudis, Tunisians and Togolese, it must be said) seem to confuse "selfish" with "swashbuckling" always trying to beat one man too many, and not really working hard for each other. B) Relatedly, a lack of team-wide ambition in attack. When they get in good spots, they always seems a dearth of extra players getting into the box, so to score they need either one player to beat 3 or 4, or to hope that a perfect cross is perfectly converted by one striker vs. 3 defenders. C) Absolute crap goalkeeping. Mirzapaur might be the worst player in the tournament fatbastard Ronaldo included.
Portugal, with Deco back in the starting lineup, looked very dangerous. Even not quite clicking, Cristiano Ronaldo has every defender terrified. With better luck and/or finishing, he could have 4 or 5 goals by now.
MoM: Deco. Night and day with him playing again.
4. Brazil - Australia
To hackney my own (borrowed) cliche, when Robinho comes on for Ronaldo, the ball is round once again. He was better in this game but still not good. And this time, quite clearly, he dragged Adriano down with him - aside from the goal, Adriano had a certain ungainly, Ogre-like quality. As if by magic, he became a dancer as soon as Ronaldo left. And everything just moved faster with Robinho out there. Ronaldinho is certainly making the claim that he plays better for Barcelona look accurate. On balance 2-0 is criminal and Australia probably deserved a draw - they got no love from the ref being a little nit-picky with Viduka's physicality. Kewell and Bresciano brought a lot more out of the Aussie attack.
MoM: Ze Roberto. Okay, so he is more than just a holding midfielder. Genuine class in all areas of the game.
3. France - South Korea
Who wins in a fan-off, South Korea or Croatia. Those guys are amazing. While France should have had 2 in the first half, (led me add my voice to those saying "obvious goal, why not a chip in the ball?") the Koreans dominated the second half. They clearly had more energy, and it was largely the fans who inspired them, I'd say. France looked better. Wiltord playing alongside Henry seemed to give the latter more freedom and he responded with a very energetic game. Scored one, probably could have had two more, but for good goalkeeping. Ribery is probably better suited to being used as a sub.
The Koreans, when they are playing well, are fantastic to watch. So much off the ball running and pressing to get it back. Every ball into the box looks dangerous as well. Park was disappoiting - aside from scoring the goal.
As it stands, France is almost certainly through with a win over Togo, who I can't seem them doing anything other than hammering, based on all the BS surrounding Togo, though the absence of Zidane won't help - big game upcoming for Viera and Henry, I say. And hopefully, Trezeguet on from the start? (Seriously, what does he have to do?)
MoM: Woonjae Lee - kept them in the game with some good saves, notably from Henry, allowing for Park's equlaiser.
2. Ghana - Czech Republic
Fabulous game. An early goal from the underdog will do that. Both sides attack with verve, though Essien and Appiah did a lot more to occupy and shut down Rosicky and, to a lesser extent, Nedved then did the US. I have to say that Lokvenc is a terrible fit for the Czech style. Koller is both enormous and mobile - something of a soccer version of Dirk Nowitski. Lokvenc is just enormous - kind of a soccer version of Erick Dampier. Clearly, they miss Milan Barros. On the other hand, the Ghanians have me terrified for Thursday. Muscular, skillful, quick. Whatever, they have it. Interestingly, Essien was anonymous for the first 30 minutes. From that point he was dominant. I'm happy that Muntari is suspended as well. I also hope Kingston plays in goal like he did against Italy rather than against C.R. I can't believe it's the same guy, actually (he fully qualified in the above despcrition as 'crap' against Italy. This time, he caught everything in the box.)
Even down to 10 men, the Czechs still had that buzz about them. (Again, I think a yellow is sufficient in that situation, especially since it was by no means a violent foul by Ujfalusi.) But they tired, and in the last 10 minutes, Ghana could have named the score.
MoM: Sulley Muntari. Started off strong in defense, and became more and more attacking as the game progressed. A rocket of a finish to seal the game.
I though this was the best game of the tourney until...
1. USA - Italy
Watching this game, I became Howard Dean - We're going to Italy and Ghana and Brazil...YEARGHHHHH! Not sure what I can rationally say, other than that all those who are claiming that Mastroeni's red was justified are anti-American wackjobs. That's a yellow card in any game, anywhere on the planet. For us, Keller was good. Dempsey was a revelation, confidence bordering on cockiness, just what we need. Onyewu was far superior to his performance against the Czechs.
As for my thoughts on the Italians...I adopt this statement as if it were my own.:
I love the country of Italy, love it--the people, the food, the aesthetics, the San Siro, Serie A. But it suffers from an undeniable pathology. This pathology has lead its civil society to tolerate ungodly levels of corruption among its politicians. And the same pathology leads the Italian national team to dive, flop, and relentlessly test the limits of the off-sides rule. The Italian will to victory, in soocer at least, is ferocious--and provides the context for the recent Serie A scandals. Di Rossi's elbow to McBride's head will go down as the dirtiest play of this tournament. I could keep venting about this, but I won't. Instead, I'll vent over the referee. How can we account for his Mickey Mouse performance? What hint of corruption will be turned up? Was this a display of anti-Americanism? Or just sheer incompetence? Clearly, his miscues affected both sides--and clearly they affected one side more than the other.And now I have to root for them...wankers.
Come on you wankers!