South Korea 2-0 Greece
Greece’s once impenetrable defense looked even slower than usual against the fast Koreans, who scored seven minutes into each half. But I didn’t expect them to look this disorganized. The problem with overly defensive tactics is that giving up an early goal forces you to change your game plan and come out of your shell. But what happens when your offense is more predictable than a Katherine Heigl rom-com, and even more leaden? Although a piece of me nearly died every time Greece crossed midfield, it was soon restored watching the Koreans force turnovers and launch counters. A better offense than Good Korea’s could have turned this into a bigger blowout on the scoreboard, and they’ll need more than their workrate to advance, but this game was more fun to watch than I had expected.
Prediction against result: I had the tactics right, but didn’t think Good Korea was capable of forcing as many turnovers in midfield.
Argentina 1-0 Nigeria
OK, admittedly I missed much of the first half because I was busy heckling US National Team washout Taylor Twellman via Twitter (there’s a tongue-twister for you), but every time I looked up from my laptop, Lionel Messi was doing something brilliant with the ball. Once Twellman eventually admitted defeat (it was essentially as one-sided as this game), I was able to enjoy the sheer brilliance of Argentina. It’s not Nigeria played badly, they were simply overmatched at every position, except at goalkeeper, where the Argentine was barely tested. If anything, they showed enough quality in defeat to suggest that, with similar performances in their next two games, they could advance. And yes, I enjoyed seeing Maradona, looking trim (for him) in a stylish suit, on the sidelines.
Prediction against result: I figured Argentina would dominate in a shutout, but I expected better finishing. Maybe they saw the earlier game and decided to save themselves for Greece.
England 1-1 United States
When Ricardo Clark was named in the starting lineup, I knew he would screw up, either with a boneheaded play or a red card. It only took four minutes for me to be proven right when he lost Steven Gerrard on the opening goal. Thankfully, there was Robert Green, whose error was far worse. But Fabio Capello erred tactically after the goal by allowing the U.S back into the game. They didn’t bunker, but they weren’t pressing too hard for a knockout blow after that. Yes, “get through, survive and advance” is usually the way to go, but as a result of it, Donovan and Dempsey became more confident on the ball, showing that they weren’t afraid to shoot from distance, while Jozy Altidore and Robbie Findley ran the defenders ragged.
The second half was even, with both sides challenging until the last ten minutes, when they were clearly gassed and playing for the draw. We can say that Altidore should have gotten the winner, but there’s nothing wrong with a draw here. Besides, if Frank Lampard hadn’t stunk so badly (his only meaningful play was his shot in the 63rd minute), then England also could have won. But any questions about Oguchi Onyewu’s fitness should have been answered. He was dominant, barely allowing Rooney a decent look at goal all game, and got better as the game went on.
The toughest game has been played, and we got a result. We can’t ask for anything more than that. And the U.S. is still up 2-1 on aggregate against England in the World Cup. Suck it, England.
Prediction against result: I’m very glad to have been proven wrong about England’s performance.
Matchday 3 Previews
Algeria v. Slovenia 7:30 AM ET, ESPN
My tendency in games between two unheralded countries is to favor the side that is more likely to play defensively than the one that will come out and attack. Granted, that didn’t work too well for me during South Korea v. Greece, but it’s simply a question of tactical acuity over skill. And in the World Cup, where so much is riding on everything, the former is simply more important. But knowing very little about both teams, this is the first prediction I’ve pulled completely out of my ass.
Slovenia 1, Algeria 0
Serbia v. Ghana 10:00 AM Eastern, ESPN
Neither team played well in their pre-tournament friendlies, which made this a difficult decision. So I’m going to evoke the same principle as in the earlier match, which is, coincidentally, also between a country formed out of the ashes of Yugoslavia and an African side Granted, there’s more experience at this level on both teams, but the Serbs should prevail. That said, if Michael Essien were healthy, the result and score would be the opposite.
Serbia 2, Ghana 1
Germany v. Australia 2:30 PM Eastern, ABC
If Australia’s match against the United States last week was any indication, this could get ugly very quickly. Australia’s penchant for committing professional fouls will lose out to the legendary Germans’ skill on set pieces. Germany should win this without breaking a sweat and, if Australia gets a player sent off, then it won’t even be that close. If Harry Kewell starts for Australia, I’ll be taking bets on when during the first half he’ll limp off due to injury.
Germany 3, Australia 0