Netherlands 2-0 Denmark
The Danes did a good job of keeping the Dutch away from goal, and had more than a handful of decent chances. Simon Paulsen’s own goal a minute into the second half should have forced Denmark’s hand, but they didn’t show much urgency in pushing for the equalizer. That’s too bad, because this game could have used a bit more opening up, which didn’t happen until speedy winger Eljero Elia – who looks like the breakout star of the tournament so far – entered the game in the 67th minute. Still, Dirk Kuyt’s late goal, which sealed the game, was a fitting reward for the Dutch’s patience and skill.
Prediction against result: Thank you, Dirk Kuyt, for giving me full points on this one.
Japan 1-0 Cameroon
Japan’s goal, came seconds after Cameroon had their first shot on goal, and towards the end of a half in which neither side looked capable of stringing a handful of passes together. The goal woke up Cameroon, but they lacked the quality to break down Japan’s organized and quick defense. Perhaps they were unlucky when Stéphane M’Bia’s shot in the 85th minute rattled off the crossbar, but at this level, you need more than one great, late chance, especially when your best player is invisible. Very disappointing performance from Cameroon.
Prediction against result: As I said, it was more out of a hope that they would put their problems behind them for the World Cup so that we could see them play well. Shame on me for that.
<b>Italy 1-1 Paraguay</b>
Paraguay’s goal in the 39th minute was unexpected, against the run of play, and completely unsettled Italy. For the next 20 minutes, the defending champions looked vulnerable. Then Paraguayan goalkeeper Justo Villar showed that it’s easy being Green, flapping at a corner kick before Daniele De Rossi, The Flying Elbow, tied it up. After that, neither team was able to find a rhythm, and the game devolved from there. Still, there was always the possibility that somebody on either team might pop up out of nowhere and get the winner, although it never happened.
Prediction against result: Like the USA-England match, this is a result that, given the higher-ranked team’s form, was unexpected but not entirely improbable. I’ve never seen an Italy team lacking this much composure in the midfield and this slow in the back, and it will affect my picks in their games from here on in.
Matchday 5 Previews
New Zealand v. Slovakia 7:30 ET, ESPN
Look at it this way: If New Zealand are Australia-lite, who got crushed by Germany, then what does that say about the Kiwis’ chances against another team that has size and speed?
Slovakia 2, New Zealand 0
Ivory Coast v. Portugal
Even without Didier Drogba, the first game of this tournament’s Group Of Death promises to have plenty of exciting and attacking play. We’ll also probably see a red card or maybe two.
Portugal 3, Ivory Coast 1
Brazil v. North Korea
After Iraq failed to qualify for the 1998 World Cup, Uday Hussein had the players’ feet beaten with canes. That’s still a better fate than what awaits their fellow member of George Bush’s Axis Of Evil in this game.
Brazil 6, North Korea 0