Upstart Takes on the World (Cup): Day 19

29 June 2010

Written by: Evan Harding

Shock! Horror! A South American team has been eliminated from the World Cup!

OK, so they were playing another South American team, but nonetheless, it has happened, finally. Of the six quarter-finalists to have made it so far, three are from the Latin continent and it could become four of eight tonight. Of course, there will still be three European teams out to spoil the party, plus Ghana and perhaps Japan, but it is still their best representation at this stage since 1978 and a Paraguay win would make it the best ever.

Brazil and the World Cup are kind of like Ross and Rachel – even though they were sometimes on a break, even despite periods in the arms of another, you always knew they would be back together eventually. This World Cup is starting to have that same feeling of inevitability following the Seleção’s comprehensive dismantling of Chile.

Opposition teams be warned – play your attractive style all you want but Brazil will cut off the route to goal and can counter better than Switzerland or, ahem, Italy.

That was exactly what happened, but Chile will rue their inability to convert their style into goals. Three from four matches isn’t a good enough return, no matter how enjoyable the goalless play had been.

So farewell to Chile, you brought so much flavour to this World Cup, and the world apologises for lines like that. See you in four years, we hope.

Goodbye also to Slovakia, who brought Australasia so much joy, giving New Zealand a draw and then booting the Italians out of the tournament. They were simply undone by a superior team, with this column’s golden boy Arjen Robben starting after all and hitting the back of the net within 18 minutes and Wesley Sneijder adding a late second. The Dutch still haven’t played convincingly despite a 100% record, but their gradual improvement gives them every reason to believe they can compete with the Brazilians.

Maybe Brazil is the World Cup’s lobster, but don’t dismiss the Oranje.

MUST-SEE: In case Argentina and the Netherlands don’t get the chance to lock horns in the final, it may be best to go with this cracker from Dennis Bergkamp during the last World Cup quarter-final the Dutch made – back in 1998.

EYEBROW-RAISER: A twist in the tale of the fan who found his way into the England dressing-room following their draw with Algeria. Sunday Mirror journalist Simon Wright, who published an exclusive with Pavlos Joseph while he was being sought by South African police, is alleged to have helped the fan get through security. A Trinity Mirror spokesman called Wright’s conduct ‘absolutely legitimate.’ Not to rush to judgment, but geez, this doesn’t at all sound like something a British tabloid would do, does it?

REASON TO CHEER ON SPAIN: As beautiful , entertaining and technically correct a team as you will see in this tournament, Spain play the game as it should be played. They haven’t even got a yellow card yet – mind you, they have had 99.97% of possession, or something close to that. Then there’s the Spanish fans. Australia may have ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi’, Italy can sing the bass line to Seven Nation Army all they like but this could be the greatest chant in the history of sport: ‘Alcohol, alcohol, alcohol, hemos venido a emborracharnos, el resultado nos da igual’ which can be loosely translated as ‘We only came here to get drunk, we don’t care about the score.’

REASON TO CHEER AGAINST SPAIN: Maybe you’re a bloody-minded defensive stickler who adores 0-0 results and physical matches where teams kick the opponents around; or one who will cheer the underdog every day of the week. At a stretch, you might really, really love Nando’s.

TONIGHT: The Iberian derby is the highlight of the night; Spain and Portugal’s first meeting since Euro 2004 when the Portuguese got up 1-0 on the way to a second-place finish. With Xabi Alonso expected to be fit, there shouldn’t be any changes from the Spanish team that got past Chile 2-1 in the group stages. Of course, if he’s out then Cesc Fàbregas comes in. What a horrible, horrible blow for the Spanish. The Guardian’s Sid Lowe suggests Fernando Torres is Spain’s Emile Heskey (in a good way). To concede that point would make my pre-World Cup prediction of the Golden Boot look foolish, but, well, meh. In five of the six halves Portugal has played in this World Cup, they have scored a total of one goal. While the other one produced six, 45 minutes of quality play out of 270 isn’t a good sign. On the other hand, they are yet to concede. Look for that to end here: Spain 2-0 Portugal. But first up is Paraguay meeting Japan. Paraguayan coach Gerardo Martino is influenced by his former manager at Newell’s Old Boys, Marcelo Bielsa, and it shows. Paraguay, like Chile, have entertained without ever really providing the goals to go with it. The strikers – Óscar Cardozo, Roque Santa Cruz and Nelson Valdez – need to do more if this is to change against a Japanese team which has surprised many. This was supposed to be a weak Japan, but they were anything but in taming Denmark to qualify for the Round of 16. The pre-tournament hype was around Shunsuke Nakamura but it has been Keisuke Honda who has led the way with goals in both of Japan’s victories. Having written Japan off and been wrong twice now, it seems silly to do the same again. But then the South Americans have been so impressive that it’s hard to pick against them. Let’s go for a thriller: Paraguay 1-1 Japan a.e.t. (Japan wins 5-3 on penalties).

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 Spanish chance to still make back the money lost on an ill-conceived bet. Previous World Cup columns can be found here.