Thursday brought closure to the first round of the World Cup and set up the eight matches that will bring us the quarter-finalists of Brazil’s tournament. The pairings include a number of teams that were not expected to progress but did so via different avenues, together with a number of pre-tournament favorites, and some familiar dark horse suspects. In a two part series we look at the Group of 16 match-ups.
The Swiss were seeded in this group and they barely progressed. Their win over Ecuador was a last gasp surprise more the Ecuadoreans doing than their opponent’s. The critical game here was the Ecuador-France match which will go down in history as one of the strangest giveaway capitulations in cup history. France had been peaking as the tournament got nearer and they are getting stronger as it progresses, they are the deserved winners of this group. Honduras came in with a reputation for violent play and they exhibited it and little else leaving the cup with one goal to show for their trouble. In the end Switzerland wanted it more than Ecuador and earned it.
This group was nicknamed the cake-walk as, on paper, Argentina could have played their subs the entire time and progressed. As it turned out Iran played the favorites even and were robbed by the refs of a draw. They also played Nigeria well before getting soundly beaten by a Bosnian team bent on a face saving performance. Nigeria played well enough to advance, as expected, and all three teams can be forgiven for falling prey to Lionel Messi’s magic. The South Americans progressed but not without a sweat as they have not yet jelled as a team and only looked like themselves in their last match against a Nigeria that scored on them twice.
If France are for real this is the game they will have to prove it in. Nigeria is no pushover and if the French do not bring their A game they will lose. But if Karim Benzema and company are clicking this will not be their Waterloo.
If the gods had wanted the Argentines to win this cup they would have given them a piece of cake for a group, then provided them with next level of competition, but no more, in two successive elimination games, before asking them to measure up to a worthy opponent. If on top of that they had given Lionel and his troops the time to finally turn their one man show into what it could potentially be…well.
Germany, a big pre-tournament favorite, has performed as expected including their now legendary second game slump. But they are so powerful and playing with stars who know each other so well that it will take a truly good team peaking at the match they meet to beat this powerhouse.
The USA did not play the game of their lives against Ghana, they played hard, got some breaks and capitalized on an early lucky break. Those three golden points, together with the decimated state of the Portuguese team, and in particular of Cristiano Ronaldo, and the largess of the German team led by the close friend of the USA’s coach, combined to give the USA a big break. They will have to earn everything else from here on in. Ghana played well but were just a bit off in this tournament. They could have won all of their games this time around, but for a miscue or a fortunate bounce in favor of their opponents.
Another surprising group saw the seeded favorite progress but a true come from nowhere team join them. Algeria are not a bad team but they are no Belgium or Russia. The two European nations were supposed to clean up, but the best playing team in the latter stages of this group has been Algeria and they will be worthy opponents in the next round. Korea Republic played bravely and had some good performances particularly in their losses to the Europeans, but they simply were outclassed in this group.
As well as Algeria has played they are no match for the Germans so unless the Europeans have a meltdown they will progress easily.
The USA has had its run of luck and will have to actually play beyond their current form to progress, but the Belgians have a once in a lifetime generation brewing and this is their coming out party. The Europeans should win again unless they also have a meltdown.
See part one of this series.