World Cup Progress

By Paul O'Donnell

Ecuador proves they can play the game at sea level with another smashing clean sheet win; this one 3-0 over another weak sister from CONCACAF, Costa Rica. With the victory, Ecuador advances to the round of 16 for the 1st time ever. Augustine Del Gado puts his name in the hat for the most impressive individual efforts in this one.

England plays an afternoon workout at half speed and ends up putting themselves in jeopardy before late goals by Crouch and Gerrard notch the win over yet another weak team from CONCACAF, Trinidad & Tobago. The Three Lions will eventually have to play at full speed or go home, but that wasn't really required in this game as they booked their passage to the knockout round. The scheduling gurus and the weak group draw work in England's favor here as now their match with Sweden to end group play is meaningless since both have already qualified for the round of 16. Look for another lackluster performance from England and a draw with Sweden to close group play for both. Sven's management of his team's resources and saving their best for when its really needed was apparent in this one.  He was confident enough they'd get their goal that Downing, Lennon and Rooney all got a good run too. The question is, can they just turn it on when they need to?  I think so. Since they haven't put forth much of an effort so far, they should be in good shape in the knockout round.

Sweden leaves it late but get the win over Paraguay thanks to Freddie Ljungberg. The Swedes have been solid but the most impressive part of the World Cup for them so far have been their gorgeous female fans.

Argentina conducts a clinic against Serbia & Montenegro and I can only hope that Arena had the U.S. team assembled to watch it. It would rank as the best training film they could watch in advance of their match tomorrow with Italy. How the game is meant to be played, the precise passes, running off the ball and with the ball directly at the defense instead of the standing around static posture we saw last time out from the USA. The four and five one-touch passes, the elegant back heel from Crespo to set up the second. It was simply outrageous what Argentina did to S&M. This is what puts the "beautiful" in the game and Argentina had it going on in this one as they demolished S&M 6-0.

 

Ivory Coast played well and threatened the Netherlands but without a substantive contribution from Drogba, fell 2-1. The Chelsea man's yellow card will see him on the sidelines for their final match before heading home.

Mexico, who looked out of sorts without Borgetti, were pressed to the wall by Angola and had to settle for a scoreless draw. Mexico could have booked passage to the next round with a win but couldn't find the key to unlock Angola's defense despite having the man advantage for the final 11 minutes. El Tri are likely to go through even if they should lose their final 1st round match to Portugal. The only way Mexico can fail to advance is IF Angola should win their final match against Iran by a margin sufficient to overcome Mexico's advantage on goal difference (not likely) coupled with a loss by El Tri.

Portugal takes control of their group in an ugly game and prevails over a punchless Iran 2-0.

Ghana pulls the upset of the tournament with a deserved 2-0 win over Czech Republic. Ghana took the lead in the 2nd minute and never looked back. This after losing the opener 2-0 to Italy puts the group up for grabs.

In a terrific contest ruined by the whistle and flurry of red cards (3), the USA playing 40 plus minutes of the 2nd half 9 against Italy's 10 hung on for a 1-1 draw. The match was competitive from the off and the US were pressing the Italians hard until an exquisite free kick and diving header by Gilardino put the Azzuri up 1-0. Then came an own goal to tie it at 1. The ref's whistle then made him the focal point of the game instead of the contest on the pitch ruining it for everyone. In the 70th DaMarcus Beasley slotted home what looked to be the go ahead goal but McBride was in an offside position and screening the keeper on the play; no goal.

What I really can't fathom is why Arena never used his final sub with both Wolff and Johnson that could have made an impact at the end. At any rate, a solid effort and a game they might have won.  A win over Ghana in their final group match and a win by Italy over the Czech Republic would boost the USA into the round of 16, so they're still in it.

A terrific recovery from the first match debacle.

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