Apologies to our six or so regular readers, who were deprived of our wisdom on today’s games. Real-life intervened. Although we know it’s a little easy to say now, we had NZ-Paraguay pegged for the correct 0-0 score, and also had Italy going out (as Angelo notes below), though we saw it as 1-0 instead of the 3-2 barnburner that actually took place.
Anywho, tomorrow marks the end of the group stage, and the start of the “real” tournament. Will we lose any other big name teams? And is there any way to top the Germany-England and Argentina-Mexico we already have lined up for thee Sweet 16?
Group G (10 AM ET)
North Korea v. Ivory Coast
Wow, so, North Korea. That had to hurt. For those who complain about the defensive tactics adopted by so many teams in group play, look no further than North Korea’s 0-7 beating to see why those tactics are necessary. For some reason, North Korea played a much higher defensive line against Portugal than the did against Brazil, and it led to a series of Globetrotter-style fastbreak goals against (we’re not sure, but we think we saw Simao Sabrosa throw down a windmill dunk at some point). Their families have undoubtedly been jailed as a result, which will probably dampen morale a bit.
Ivory Coast were disappointing against Brazil. They lost control of the midfield early on, and followed up by losing control of their damn minds at the end. Didier Drogba’s consolation goal was nice, but they didn’t look like a team capable of making a run. They also find themselves staring up at a ridiculous GD deficit that they’ll need to make up in order to advance. But their direct style could work well against North Korea, especially if they play with that ridiculous high line again and give Drogba room in behind.
Prediction: Ivory Coast 4-1 North Korea. Not enough.
Brazil v. Portugal
Math dictates that this should be a boring game. Brazil need only a draw to capture the group; Portugal probably need only to avoid a blowout to capture second. So the numbers say that 0-0 would suit both teams just fine. The problem is that there’s more than a little animosity between the teams. Brazil coach Dunga has referred to the “huge rivalry” with the former mother country, and has derisively (if accurately and humorously) referred to Portugal’s team as “Brazil B”.
Plus, at a more basic level, it’s tough to envision two more opposite cultures. Brazil is the home of samba, thongs (both kinds), and a sort of sunny optimism. Portugal is the home of fado, widow’s wear, and a sort of fatalistic pessimism. We’re talking borderline thesis-antithesis stuff here. So these teams have plenty of non-math reasons for going at it.
What’s that? You wanted to hear about the game? Fine. Philistine.
Prediction: 1-0 Brazil. Though note that Portugal would top the group with a win, giving the first of two roads to a potential Brazil-Spain round of 16 game that might rip a hole in the space-time continuum.
Group H (2:30 PM ET)
Chile v. Spain
Sneaky potential for a classic here. Spain—by which we really mean David Villa—caught fire against Honduras, showing flashes of the form we all expected to see coming in. We think there’s more to come against Chile. The only difference is that Honduras were unable to stop Spain, whereas Chile might just be disinterested in doing so. The Chileans have swashbuckled their way to the top of the standings, using a 3-man front line to chip through two opponents who were determined to batten down the hatches. Spain will come out and play, though, and we think the results will be fun.
Note that this game gives us route B to the Brazil-Spain apocalypse, because Chile would top the group with a draw. That result could leave Spain in 2nd, where they would draw Brazil if Brazil hangs on to win its group. Also note that if Brazil lose to Portugal, this match could bog down in some weirdness as both teams try to avoid winning the group, and instead target 2d in order to duck the Brazilians.
Prediction: Chile 2-2 Spain. Great game.
Switzerland v. Honduras
Prediction: Switzerland 0-0 Honduras. (Honestly, we suspect it might be 1-0 Switzerland, but don’t want to say that out loud, because on those results, Spain would be out altogether).
So we’re predicting Chile-Portugal and, yes, Brazil-Spain in the 16.