Netherlands 1-0 Japan
Games like this are why I can never take the Dutch seriously as contenders, but also why I can’t count them out. Like their fellow underachievers Spain against Switzerland, they struggled with Japan’s defensive tactics, which is always going to hurt them. And unlike Spain they kept trying different approaches to their attack, so when Japan failed to clear a ball in the box, Wesley Sneijder didn’t take an extra touch or two to set himself up for the perfect shot, he blasted it into the net to essentially see them through to the second round. A valiant effort, as always, by Japan in defeat, but they’ll need more creativity, or at least some luck, if they’re going to advance.
Prediction against result: For the first time in a while I had the result and margin of victory, but since the games have opened up as teams fight for position, I was expecting more than another 1-0 game.
Ghana 1-1 Australia
Poor Harry Kewell. He’s finally healthy enough to stay on the field for 25 minutes and he gets himself sent off for a handball on the line. All U.S. fans flashed back to our 2002 quarterfinal loss to Germany when Hugh Dallas failed to call the same foul on Torsten Frings (you think yesterday was the first time we were screwed out of a call? Newbie.). But Roberto Rosetti got it right, which is too bad, because Australia were playing fairly well up to that point, and continued to possess in stretches even after the red card and even created a number of quality chances. They’re defense, derided by me at every opportunity here, should also be commended for keeping Ghana in front of them. Ghana are in control of Group D, but they still have to play Germany.
Prediction against result: A deserved result for the Aussies, who are forcing me to shelve all the great lines I have planned for them. At least until Wednesday.
Cameroon 1-2 Denmark
When the draw was announced, ABC’s executives must’ve scratched their heads trying to figure out where the viewers would come from. Thankfully for them, I’m a World Cup completist and spent a gorgeous Chicago afternoon glued to my television at one of the best games of the tournament so far. Two teams fighting for their future and needing to go all out or go home. There’s an old saying in soccer: sometimes you make your own luck, and sometimes a defender has his head firmly up his ass. This was the Cameroon I wanted to see against Japan, relentlessly attacking with skill and speed. It helped that Geremi returned to the starting lineup and that Christian Poulsen had another howler leading to Cameroon’s goal. But Cameroon’s attack left plenty of space for Denmark to execute a couple of textbook Northern European counterattacks, and Dennis Rommedahl, using his combination of experience, speed, and class, sealed Cameroon’s fate.
Prediction against result: Denmark haven’t gotten style points since the Laudrup brothers, but they are effective and tough, which is why I had expected them to pull out this result.
Matchday 10 Previews
Slovakia v. Paraguay 7:30 AM ET, ESPN
In games where I have no rooting interest, you always want to root for lots of action, whether it be goals or some wild tackles. Both teams here lack creativity for the former, and are too disciplined for the latter. Better to sleep in on Sunday morning.
Italy v. New Zealand 10:00 AM ET, ESPN
Italy needs a win. When that’s the case, Italy fights, scratches, dives, and hacks to get its way. Once in a while, they put the ball in the net. New Zealand were tough and played admirably against Slovakia, but they simply lack the class and experience to play with the big boys on this stage.
Prediction: Italy 2, New Zealand 0
Brazil v. Ivory Coast 2:30 PM ET, ABC
If Didier Drogba starts and is even at 75%, he’ll be able to create some magic and threaten Brazil, and maybe even pull off an upset. But betting against Brazil in the group stages is never a good idea.
Prediction: Brazil 2, Ivory Coast 1