Netherlands 2-1 Slovakia
After all of yesterday’s drama, this game was bound to be a return to what we expect in the group stage: a perpetual favorite dispatching an overmatched opponent without too much trouble. Arjen Robben’s return to the starting lineup gave the Dutch a menace that Rafael Van der Vaart couldn’t bring. That said, Slovakia had their chances, and I’m sure Robert Vittek’s agent is on the phone right now fielding offers from bigger clubs. But the Netherlands will have to do much better if they’re going to trouble Brazil.
Brazil 3-0 Chile
I can’t tell if Brazil are merely toying with their opponents or if they simply haven’t shown us what they’re capable of for a full 90 minutes. You see it in spurts, mainly when they cause a turnover in the middle third and open up a defense with the deftness of a neurosurgeon. But when Chile had the time to set up their defense, Brazil, especially Kaka, often looked uninspired. In short, they play exactly as their coach, Dunga, did. Still, their speed of thought, anticipating not only theirs but their opponents remains as strong as ever, and the main reason why they cruised to victory today.
Matchday 19 Previews
Paraguay v. Japan 10:00 AM ET, ESPN
In the early days of Saturday Night Live, Bill Murray used to do a segment on “Weekend Update” predicting the Academy Awards, going through the major categories with all the nominees on cards on a small board. When he got to the Best Supporting Actor and Actress awards, he’d say, “Who cares?” and fling the cards off the board. That’s how I feel about this game. But, like those categories, there has to be a winner. This is looking more and more like South America’s tournament, and I see no reason to change that here.
Prediction: Paraguay 1, Japan 0
Spain v. Portugal 2:30 PM ET, ESPN
Anything can happen in the battle for bragging rights to the Iberian Peninsula, with both teams having a history of underachieving. Portgual’s advantage is their defense. They were one of two teams to not concede a goal in the group stage (Uruguay was the other), and we saw against Switzerland that Spain have trouble with excellent defenses. But I also think back to Portugal’s 2006 Round of 16 game against the Netherlands, when their idea of defense was to hack the Dutch, and I think they’ll resort to that again. But unlike the Dutch, Spain won’t lose their composure and retaliate. They’ll work the referees until someone gets sent off. It will be close, but not pretty, and I think Spain will pull it out in extra time or penalties.
Prediction: Spain 2, Portugal 1