A funny thing happened on the way to the second round…
For the first time in a long time, a team took the game to Spain and didn’t end up with its pants around its ankles. Chile played its own style of game and didn’t get horribly embarrassed by the Untouchables. Sure, they lost, but this seemed a mere consequence of key moments going one way or another, rather than an inability to match it with the European champions.
There are two conclusions to be drawn from this: Either a) Spain aren’t as good as we thought; or b) Chile are better than we thought. And given the quality of the two Spanish goals, the only conclusion at which a right-thinking individual could arrive is that it is a lot more b) than a).
The first came from a goalkeeping error, Claudio Bravo rushing out of the box to clear but only getting as far as David Villa, whose left-footed curler into an open net looked ridiculously easy compared to its actual degree of difficulty. The second was a one-two between Villa and Andrés Iniesta crafted with absolute precision, which also saw Marco Estrada receive a second yellow for tripping Fernando Torres in the build-up. The clearly accidental trip was harsh but given the leniency dealt to the Chileans before and after, it would be hard to respond to any complaints with anything other than ‘suck it up, princess’.
Even then, Marcelo Bielsa’s troops didn’t lie down, pulling one back after half-time. It soon dawned on both players that the Switzerland-Honduras match was 0-0, and even if the Swiss scored it wouldn’t be enough to snatch second. So they stopped playing. All of a sudden, the two most entertaining teams in the competition were sending the audience to sleep, while boring old Switzerland were desperately pushing for victory. In the end, it wasn’t good enough.
Earlier, Brazil and Portugal had similarly played out a snooze-fest, or as much of a snooze-fest as can be when seven yellows are dished out in the first half. With Don’t Call Us Ivory Coast trying to win 9-0 over Don’t Call Us Bookhan (they eventually only finished three goals to the good), a scoreless draw suited both Portugal and Brazil and that was exactly what they got.
Here is the moral, wrong or right: Beautiful football tomorrow, results tonight.
MUST-SEE: With the USA about to play their second-round fixture against Ghana, this song was uploaded onto Youtube: Weezer’s ‘unofficial anthem’ for the national team. It’s not exactly Lennon and McCartney but it’s still far, far superior to Shakira’s ear-bleedingly painful ‘Waka Waka’, which I won’t dignify with a link. Apparently there are some actual Americans who are interested in the World Cup. Who knew?
EYEBROW-RAISER: Despite the above, it’s hard to give much credibility to this remark from Ghana’s coach, Serbian Milovan Rajevac: ‘America has grown into a football superpower,’ he says. Er… not quite.
REASON TO CHEER ON URUGUAY: The feeling you get cheering for a returning champion. Despite being the smallest of the South American nations, they once used to punch above their weight. The first World Cup winners had, until their triumph over South Africa, won precisely one World Cup match in forty years. They even missed out on qualifying for the 2006 tournament after losing to some small island nation. But this year, led by the once-ridiculed Diego Forlán, they are a force once more.
REASON TO CHEER AGAINST URUGUAY: That small island nation has a long memory. And should the Koreans win, it would guarantee one semi-finalist from a continent other than Europe and South America.
TONIGHT: The clash between Uruguay and South Korea, the first of the Ro0und of 16, is on at midnight. South Korea’s advancement to the knockout stages for the second time in their history has drawn inevitable comparisons with their 2002 team but that team only gave up two goals all tournament, this one has already let six past. Uruguay meanwhile took on all comers, only failing to win against a not-yet-fully-imploded France. They are yet to concede and look for that run to continue: Uruguay 2-0 Korea Republic. The 4:30 game sees the USA meet Ghana – two teams who met in the first round in 2006 and are probably glad to have drawn each other now given the alternatives (England and Germany). The Americans only snuck out of their group thanks to an injury-time winner from Landon Donovan, who IS American soccer no matter the quality of Clint Dempsey or Tim Howard. Ghana was also lucky to scrape through – their only two goals in Group D being penalties for handball. Of course, only conceding two left them ahead of Australia and they will rely on that defence again. They also had Dame Fortune on their side last time these sides met, ANOTHER contentious penalty the difference in a 2-1 victory. Can the Americans see to it that their luck runs out? You know the answer: USA 1-0 Ghana.
Evan Harding is co-producer of The Contenders Daily Bite, a daily World Cup short which can be seen on Tribal Football. A Master of Global Communication student at La Trobe University, he is an upstart editor armed with a month’s supply of coffee and a chance to still make back the money certain to be lost on an ill-conceived bet on France. Previous World Cup columns can be found here.