And down the stretch we come on the second set of group games. For the final set, FIFA changes the schedule so that matches in the same group are played simultaneously. The idea is that it’s harder for teams to tacitly agree on a mutually beneficial result if they don’t know exactly what they need coming in. So enjoy the last day of wall-to-wall soccer.
Portugal v. North Korea (Group G, 7:30 AM ET)
The only bet we’d advise making on this game is taking the over on Cristiano Ronaldo hissyfits at any line up to +/- 4.5 (Even). Once again, North Korea will be looking to pack the back and hoping to somehow steal a goal through Jong Tae-Se. North Korea did a really nice job against Brazil, allowing to generate only one good chance down the center of the field (of course, Brazil scored on that chance through Robinho and Elano).
They’ll do the same here against a Portugal team that looked a little bit creaky through the center of midfield against Cote d’Ivoire. Specifically, Deco couldn’t break free of the pressing, physical CdI midfielders. It will be interesting to see whether North Korea take the same approach, or don’t want to risk coming out to press Deco. We think he still has enough in the tank to be useful if he’s given time and space, so if we were North Korea (an admittedly difficult thought experiment) we’d come out and challenge him in the center, while keeping wide players a little further back to guard against Ronaldo. Portugal are going to have to find a goal scoring threat somewhere, or they’re going to go down as the best team not to have scored at a WC.
Prediction: Portugal 1-0 North Korea. Ronaldo scores from a free kick, which seems like the only way Portugal could score against anyone right now.
Chile v. Switzerland (Group H, 10 AM)
Somehow, this is a battle for first place in the group. Chile were, as expected, much the better team against Honduras, and could easily have won by more than one goal. They stayed committed to getting forward in numbers as well—it’s a shame that the Chile-Spain game might not mean anything, because that would be a fantastic game to watch, with both teams attacking ad enough skill on display to translate those attacks into goals. Chile will no doubt attack in this game as well, both because that’s how they generally play and because they’ll want to go into that Spain game with 6 points already in the bank.
Switzerland pulled off the shock of the first round, beating Spain 1-0 despite being outshot 8,000,0000-3 (roughly). This was the Swiss team that breezed through qualifying, not the guys who sleepwalked through this spring’s warm-up games. The Swiss have to feel pretty good about this game as well, because Chile aren’t as talented as Spain, and should leave more openings for counterattacks. But we’re not as sanguine—the Swiss have issues now that Philippe Senderos has joined their lengthy injury list. Plus, they spent an awful lot of energy chasing Spain around, and the Euro teams have all looked a little winded in this second round.
Prediction: Chile 2-0 Switzerland
Spain v. Honduras (Group G 2:30 PM)
Look, we know we did this before and it bit us, but Spain really are too good to lose to Honduras. Anything but a Spain win would be the shock of the year.
Prediction: Spain 2-0 Honduras