As we conclude Group Play and almost conclude the knock out round, a bit of reflection is in order before we get to the recaps. I personally don't like FIFA's blanket stance on trying to cut down on aggressive play with the abundance of yellow/red cards. There have been two refs that I've noted that area really good -- the first transgression they take the player aside and issue a warning, and then only after repeated offenses or really dangerous tackles do you issue a yellow. The problem is as soon as you issue a yellow for a questionable tackle, you've set a precedent for the rest of the game. To their credit (for good or for ill) the refs have been consistent (either really bad or good). When you set that yellow card standard low early on, I think it has the opposite effect they want it to have (and the Portugal v. Netherlands game was a prime example).
I'm trying to work out if the goalkeeping is actually down from previous years, or if that is just my perception. On the other hand, this WC has had a lot less offensive production (effectiveness really) than previous Cups, so that may be also contributing to the perception. As a former keeper, I'm extremely appreciative of a good performance from a keeper. Always nice to see and very fun to watch. Most highlights are of goals, rather than saves, so I'm always eager to see good goalkeeping.
Germany 2 - Sweden 0
The Germans continue on a power run, and their offense clicked in this game. Strikers actually playing off each other... it was spectacular to see. In a Cup relatively devoid of power offenses, this bodes well for the host nation. Their defense still ranks around a B- in my book. It hasn't really needed it thanks to its mid field and power play up front, but when they go up against another good offensive team... well... needless to say it will be fun to watch.
Argentina 2 - Mexico 1
Argentina came down to earth a bit in this one. I still like them going forward, however. We'll see if they can continue their great cohesive play against Germany (mark that one for Friday...)
England 1 - Ecuador 0
Owen suffering an ACL tear in the first five minutes of their final group play mach must have sent shivers down the spine of everyone in the UK. From front line that has looked almost inept, taking away Owen does not bode well for England's chances. And they were almost knocked out in this one, only to be saved by "Bend it Like" Beckham. His shot was simply incredible. Trust me... that is incredibly hard to do!! Unless England pulls it together, I think they will be leaving Germany fairly soon.
Portugal 1 - Netherlands 0
What a DOG FIGHT! Wow. I felt completely drained after that one (I can't imagine what it must have been like for the players... I believe it ended 9v9, but seriously man! I hope that ref was hustled in a car, sped off to the airport and shipped back to Russia. The only saving grace, was that it was basically equally horrific for both sides. And now Portugal has two players suspended for their match against England and nearly ALL of their team with riding yellow cards! Portugal is basically screwed! FIFA needs to get real with this. It is rediculious!
And it also looks like England is going to get a break because of it. Given the card situation that Portugal is in, they will have to play cautiously because if they win the match they don't want to loose half their team for having two yellows... but at the same time, they need to win first! Wow... I don't know what is going to happen here. England has been fortunate in every round it seems like.
Italy 1 - Australia 0
Wow. What an unsatisfying way to end it. It was probably the right call, but you never like seeing it decided on a PK in the 90+' minute. And I was really pulling for the Socceroos (or is it Soccerhoos?) I don't know enough about Italy to make a well informed prediction on how they will continue on. We'll just have to wait and see.
Switzerland 0 - Ukraine 0 PK
Our first penalty kick decision of the Cup. To be perfectly honest, I had this on in the background while I was doing other work, so I didn't end up following it very closely. So Italy v. Ukraine huh? I'll take Italy.
Brazil 3 - Ghana 0
Leave it to the Brazilians to get out hustled, out manned, and simply out played for the majority of the match and still win by 3. They are that good. If anyone ends up beating Brazil, they can't afford to give any chances to this team. They are simply too talented. I think their supposed chemistry issues are a bit overrated. I would not want to face this team.
Spain 1 - France 3
I was actually really rooting for Spain in this one. I liked their style during group play. I wanted to see them move on... definitely more than the French =) And now this win sets up Brazil v. France, the victors of the previous two Cups. With Henry and Zidane, France has just enough talent to give Brazil trouble. This should actually be a pretty interesting game. If Brazil wins this game, I think they are a shoe in for the final match because I don't believe Italy nor Ukraine has the capability to beat them.