Welcome to Match Day 6, Tapas for everyone!
Well, we have come to the end of the first circuit of group stage games and the beginning of the second. Spain take on Switzerland and Honduras take on Chile. Then we get right back on the horse with South Africa against Uruguay. It has been an interesting first week so far despite the lack of goal scoring overall. Most people expect that to change as the math starts to solidify and teams begin to take the leash off in order to nab those necessary points.
React, don't do it, when you want to go to it! React!
Who would have thunk that New Zealand and Slovakia would have provided the best drama of the night? New Zealand and Slovakia sure didn't have the prettiest game, but they both teams were solid. Vladimir Weiss impressed me with his absurd work rate and coring runs through the Kiwi defense. New Zealand never gave up and their tenacity paid off in their last minute goal to secure a point. Ivory Coast and Portugal absolutely disappointed with neither team looking terribly sharp. Cristiano Ronaldo had the shot of the night in between what was apparently his audition for Cirque De Soleil. The man has a history of going to the ground easy, but the man needed frequent flyer miles last night.
Brazil was also a touch underwhelming despite full control over both halves and two goals. A lot of that had to do with North Korea putting up their own iron curtain with five players on their back line making it very hard for even Brazil to break through to get a touch on goal. North Korea gets points for a great work ethic and never giving up and nabbing one goal at least to show their campaign is not hopeless. It will be interesting to see how they fair against the other two teams, especially if they maintain this five man back line.
Glaring oddness of the night. The perfectly uniform look of about 40 "North Korea" fans all dressed in the exact same hat and jacket combo. Stories are coming out about them being Chinese who were paid to cheer for Korea, the "fans" themselves say they are North Korean, but were selected to represent the country. Whatever the truth, it just adds to the bizarre legacy of North Korea peeking their head out into the larger world.
Onto the shenanigans and monkey shines!
Game 1: Honduras v. Chile
This game could look like the New Zealand v. Slovakia game. Honduras comes in as a potentially dangerous offensive team but lacks the defense to survive opportunistic counter attacks. Chile looks to be a far more complete team with a higher level of player per position on the field.
Players to watch:
Honduras- WIlson Palacios (Midfielder). Palacios is the axel on which the Honduran game turns. He probably won't be scoring any goals himself, but his distribution and ball winning at the center of the field will be the key to securing points in an incredibly difficult group.
Chile- Alexis Sanchez (Forward). While Humberto Suazo gathers most of the headlines for Chile, it's future lies in the skills of Alexis Sanchez. The 21 year old forward has already proven himself a scoring threat in Italy, and with experience will grow into an intimidating presence . If he gets some open space in counter attacks tonight, he could wreak havoc. I think he could be one of the bright young stars to come out of this tournament, and at least something to look forward to in 2014.
Best guess: Chile 2-1 Honduras.
Game 2: Spain v. Switzerland (Hide your chocolate and bearer bonds!)
I look at Spain and I weep. They are one of the most dangerous teams in the tournament and the odds on favorite to win the whole kit and kaboodle. This, even more so than the 2006 side, is a once-in-a-generation team. They are loaded at just about every single position with superstar players. They are 48-1 since 2006. Their lone defeat coming to the US in last year's FIFA Confederations Cup. Spain have acknowledged that defeat as the spark that keeps them focused. Famous for failing under the brightest light, Spain will be set and determined to silence their critics and take home the prize that has alluded them for the last two World Cups.
Switzerland suffered the ignominy of being the only team eliminated from the 2006 Cup that never surrendered a goal. The Swiss feature a masterful defense that will have their work cut out for them. While not generally an attacking side, Switzerland is still quite good in the air from corner-kicks and set pieces.
Players to watch:
Spain- Xavi (midfielder). People talk about a player as the heart of his team. In this case, Xavi is the nervous system, relaying and pinging messages in the form of passes and commands throughout this Spanish side. He plays for Barcelona, often regarded as the greatest soccer team on the planet. He has an amazing sense of timing and his skill on the ball is almost unrivaled. Spain moves on his impulse. Spain's lineup truly is an embarrassment of riches. I only mention one as reviewing the whole team would take me right up until game time to finish.
Switzerland- Tranquillo Barnetta (Midfielder). Quillo. as he is affectionately known to his teammates will serve as the offensive engine to whatever attack the Swiss will muster. Barnetta will look to penetrate the right wing of Spain's defense to open up holes for forwards Alexander Frei and Blaise N'Kufo. An extremely talented player who has not quite lived up to his own ability.
Best guess: Spain 2-0 Switzerland
I have been extremely optimistic in my goal predictions for most games. The run of play hasn't quite lived up to previous Cups. Most are looking at Spain to put their stamp on the tournament and score an obscene amount of goals, but it doesn't really fit as the type of game in which they will obliterate their opponent. I would imagine that their statement game would be against the weaker defense of the Honduran team.
Game 3: South Africa v. Uruguay
South Africa surprised and impressed everyone with their solid play and crisp counter attacking. Uruguay fought through a clumsy performance against a lackluster France. Top of the group is up for grabs for either of these teams. The loser, if there is one, stares possible elimination in the face.
Player to watch: Siphiwe Tshabalala (South African forward). His amazing goal against Mexico is thus far the shining moment of the tournament. Uruguay gets no player to watch until they do something worth watching...
Best Guess: Uruguay 1-0 South Africa. Why......?
CAN South Africa repeat their gripping performance against Mexico? CAN Uruguay summon the strength to shake off the poor form against France? CAN I possibly make it to 2:30 in the morning to answer these questions? Tune in tomorrow true believers, for the answer to these and other pressing questions...