Friday, June 25, 2010

How Did I Do with Groups E and F?

Four years ago I was working an English Summer Camp in Portsmouth during the tail end of the World Cup. We had a large group of Italian students with us and we all watched the France-Italy final together. Look how happy they were as Italy won. Yesterday I couldn't help thinking about how those kids felt to see their precious Champions fizzle out of the first round of the World Cup.

These national teams keep screwing up my predictions.

For Group F I had Italy in first and Paraguay in second. Thankfully Paraguay came through and advanced, albeit in first place. But Italy? I really thought they would pull it together against Slovakia for the win to at least advance, even if in second place. Their loss to Slovakia was simply pathetic. Like France, they disgraced their football history by showing no drive, no flair, no panache, no desire on the field.

It wasn't until Andrea Pirlo was subbed on in yesterday's match that Italy began to look anything like World Champions. By the time he came on in the 56th minute they were already down 1-0. It wasn't long before it was 2-0. As the 80th minute ticked past I suspected Italy were finished. But then Di Natale brought it up to 2-1 and it looked like Italy might salvage their sinking ship. But oh Slovakia came back to make it 3-1 in the 89th minute. Wait, then there would be 4 minutes of added time, just enough for Italy to scrounge one more back to make it 3-2, but not enough for the equalizer that would have seen them through.

Most incredible in the group, however, was the undefeated record of New Zealand who have to be going home happy with their performance. They didn't advance, but they also weren't humiliated and they took a point off the World Champions. My fear was that with Australia's seemingly dismal performance (before their defeat of Serbia) and a potential New Zealand multiple goal flame-out, that FIFA would move Australia back to the Oceania Confederation and leave them with 1/2 place in the next World Cup. I think given the final results of both teams they should leave it as is so New Zealand has a chance to qualify again in 4 years.

Group E also did me no favors. I had a lot of faith in Denmark to finish first in the group ahead of The Netherlands. I thought they would draw in their opener and finish equal on points. But Denmark couldn't even defeat Japan yesterday to get through in second place. Japan just hammered away. As far as my memory serves, the only two goals scored off direct free kicks in this tournament so far are the first two goals from Japan yesterday. They were both very well struck. So Netherlands and Japan advance to face Slovakia and Paraguay, respectively.

Impressively, all four South American teams so far have finished top of their groups. We have to wait to see what Chile does tonight against Spain, but I wouldn't be surprised if Chile gets a result off them to top the group.


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