Thursday, June 24, 2010

World Cup Thoughts: Thursday, June 24th

Slovakia 3, Italy 2

Goodbye, Azzuri. In a remarkable turn of events, the Italians not only failed to qualify to the round of 16, they actually finished last in their group. The road to success didn't seem that difficult coming in for Italy, as their group was, on paper, the weakest group in the entire World Cup. And yet, there they are, on the bottom of it doing nothing more in the Cup than drawing twice and getting beat by Slovakia.

Credit the Slovakians for their efforts though. Expected by just about nobody to get out of the group, Slovakia comes up with one of the biggest wins in the tournament. They got on the board in the 25th minute via the foot of Robert Vittek, and it was the third time already in this tournament where Italy allowed an early goal not to recover. Vittek scored again in the 73rd, and that's when things got wild. Italy would manage to score eight minutes later, and then both teams traded goals yet again for the final line to read 3-2 in favor of Slovakia. The result marks the first time in World Cup history where both finalists from the previous Cup (Italy, France) failed to get past the group stage.

Paraguay 0, New Zealand 0

New Zealand did something that the United States were three minutes away from doing before they secured a victory, and that is be eliminated from the World Cup without losing. Three games, three ties for the Kiwis. It's disappointing because you never like to leave when you weren't beaten, but they should be very proud as well because each of these games they were expected to lose, and lose handedly. This is definitely something they can build on, and maybe next time we see them they can put some wins together. As for Paraguay, a tie works just fine for them. It gives them five points in the group, and in this bracket that was good enough to take the cake.

Japan 3, Denmark 1

The stakes for this game was pretty simple - win, and you're in. Because of the tiebreakers, a tie would have earned Japan through, but the Japanese decided that they were just going to make sure they got through the right away. Keisuke Honda, their most recognizable player, got Japan on the board in the 17th minute, and then Japan would tack on two more goals from there. Prior to this Cup, Japan has never won a World Cup game away from Asian soil, now they've already won two. For their efforts, they will now take on Paraguay, a game which wouldn't be out of their reach to win.

As for Denmark, this is a very disappointing result. Prior to this, every time that the Danish have made a World Cup they've advanced past the group stage. But they just couldn't get any real good chances against the Japanese defense, and their only goal came via a penalty kick (which was initially missed, but Jon Dahl Tomasson followed his own blocked shot). Even though I thought Cameroon would make it out of the group with the Dutch, the Danish side would have been the next expected choice and it's unfortunate for them that they couldn't get the job done.

Netherlands 2, Cameroon 1

The Netherlands were already through, and Cameroon was already eliminated, so this one was basically just a formality. No matter the result, it was almost all but certain that the Dutch would win their group. They looked good again though, nothing too flashy but still getting the job done. They won all three games in their group stage and now will take on Slovakia. Assuming they win that matchup, it would be followed by a major contest between them and either Brazil or Portugal. The way it stands now, you have to think that either this team or Brazil (or the USA of course!) will be one of the teams in the finals. As for Cameroon, just another disappointing effort by an African side.

And hey, the win also allows the Netherlands to keep their Unofficial Football World Championship!

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