Mexico 0-1 Uruguay
France 1-2 South Africa
I know I picked Mexico to finish atop the group, but that prediction was made with my head, not my heart. So when South Africa took a two-goal lead after Yoann Gourcuff’s red card, the scenario of both France and Mexico not advancing entered my mind. Then, Luis Suarez scored for Uruguay late in the first half, and comparisons to when the United States overcame a similar six-goal deficit in the Confederations Cup. In the same stadium where the Mexico v. Uruguay game was taking place. One year ago. Yesterday. As the second half began, I convinced myself it would happen.
But then Florent Malouda scored for France after 250 scoreless minutes in this World Cup. Typically, it had to be someone from Chelsea to dash my hopes. Then word of that score must have made its way to the Uruguay v. Mexico and it devolved into a “We’re both through, so why try?” mentality. But you have to give South Africa credit for giving their fans a reason to hold their heads high. You can’t fault their effort in the tournament, but the talent level wasn’t there.
Predictions against results: After having seen Argentina twice in qualifying, I should have anticipated that maybe Uruguay wanted to make sure that they didn’t face them in the second round and go for the win. But it was hardly prescience to expects South Africa to beat France.
Nigeria 2-2 South Korea
Greece 0-2 Argentina
Nigeria’s early goal made it the more compelling match, and I found myself drawn to that one more. It didn’t help that every time I turned to Greece v. Argentina, either there was a stoppage for a foul or Juan Sebastian Veron was being useless. But after Korea took the lead, I wanted to see what Greece, now needing a 2-0 win, would do. They responded by sitting back even further and defending, which made no sense whatsoever, and why they’re packing their bags as you’re reading this. I’ve often said that a great team doesn’t only win their must-win games, but prevents their opponents from winning theirs, even if they have nothing to play for. Argentina is a great team.
By the time Argentina scored, Nigeria had tied up the game via a penalty kick, and only bad finishing kept them from getting the winner and going through.
Predictions against results: Argentina v. Greece was the first score I picked right since early in the tournament.
Matchday 13 Previews
Slovenia v. England
Do-or-die games are all about heart, and we haven’t seen any of it from England yet, so why, with stories of John Terry leading a revolt against coach Fabio Capello, should we expect it now? Slovenia, on the other hand, only gets results through heart. They can also smell fear. If they’re smart, they’ll come out and attacking like they did against us and see if England turns into France-lite.
Prediction: Slovenia 1, England 0
United States v. Algeria
The scenario has never been so easy for the U.S.: Win and in. We don’t have to rely on the other results to advance. Yes, a draw would most likely get us through, but a win puts us in a very good position to win the group, an unprecedented scenario for us. Here’s why we’ll do it: Algeria’s draw with England was a fluke, the result of bad and indifferent play by England than by a stymying defensive performance. Watching them, Algeria reminded me a lot of Honduras: fast and tough with some skill, but lacking in size and finishing. We’re used to this, and traditionally do very well against that type of play.
Prediction: United States 2, Algeria 0
Ghana v. Germany
Last Friday, Germany lost its first group game in 24 years, and they’re not guaranteed of advancement, so I can’t imagine they’ll approach this game doing anything but going all-out until the job is complete.
Prediction: Germany 2, Ghana 0
Australia v. Serbia
Essentially, the only thing Australia are playing for is the knowledge that, if they lose, they’ll finish with fewer points than their arch-rivals New Zealand. It’s a good thing they’re used to disappointment right now.
Prediction: Serbia 1, Australia 0