To the extent that the choppy first World Cup weekend had a theme, it's "Short Europe." The Euro teams are 1-2-2 as of this writing, and even that maybe overstates their performance--all the Euro teams have played about 20% worse than expected, and the lone win came against a totally discombobulated 10-man Algeria team. Although we expect Germany to right the ship this afternoon, it's a trend worth keeping an eye on.
Netherlands v. Denmark (Group E, 7:30 AM ET)
One-sentence preview: Mismatch.
Of course, the Europe-sucks trend doesn't have much to say about a matchup between two Euro teams. The Netherlands come in hot, having gone undefeated in qualifying and won its three warm-up friendlies by a combined 12-3. They'll be missing influential winger Arjen Robben, though that not might be such a bad thing given that the Dutch have a real problem getting all of their attacking players enough touches when they're all in there at once. The Dutch traditionally manage to choke out early in the knockout stages, but tend to play some really fun football in the group stage.
Denmark are more a Serbia/Slovakia style Euro team, built around a solid defense and one or two good attackers (Arsenal F Nicklas Bendter and the well-traveled Jon Dahl Tomassen fill that role for the Danes). It's tough to see how the Danes will see much of the ball here.
Prediction: Netherlands 3-1 Denmark. Somebody'e got to score some goals here, right?
Japan v. Cameroon (10AM, Group E)
One-sentence preview: Throw the records out the window when these two get together!
This is one of those quintessential World Cup games between teams that have no history together and play wildly dissimilar styles. Japan sort of limp in on the back of 4 spring friendly losses to teams in this year's World Cup (Serbia, South Korea, England, Ivory Coast). The Ivory Coast matchup is probably the best barometer for this matchup, which isn't good for Japan, given that they saw very little of the ball and scored into their own net--all despite knocking Ivory Coast's best player out 18 minutes into the game. Their best scoring threat comes from free kicks off the boot of Shunsuke Nakamura (aka "Beckhamura"), both because he is good and because Cameroon can sometimes give away dumb fouls.
Cameroon were getting a lot less pub than Ivory Coast coming in, but they have almost as interesting a lineup, anchored by the best currently uninjured African player, Inter Milan F Samuel Eto'o. They too scuffled during recent friendly losses to Serbia and Portugal, though those losses came on the road. They should have more than enough to handle Japan in ehat is essentially a home game.
Prediction: Cameroon 1-0 Japan. Africa stays undefeated.
Italy v. Paraguay (2:30 PM, Group F)
In 2006, Italy were experienced. Now, they are old. That, combined with the poor Euro showings to date, make us think they're vulnerable here to a Paraguay team that allowed very few goals during qualifying, and come in on the back of a 2-2 road draw with Ivory Coast and a comfortable 2-0 win over Greece. The crumbling of this great Italian squad starts here.
Prediction: Paraguay 1-0 Italy.