14 June 2006

WC: First Matches Complete

As of 8PM in Germany (2PM here in Indiana), everyone's played once. The World Cup is well and truly underway. So how are we doing so far?

In a word, wow. The initial round of matches have, for the most part, been exciting and close contests, with few of the cagey draws we've come to expect in previous World Cups. We began with the six-goal festival in Munich, and finished today with Spain 4-0 Ukraine and Tunisia 2-2 Saudi Arabia. We've had 39 goals in 16 games, averaging over 2.4 per game. (That's a lot.) The only downside is that there haven't been any huge upsets, but most of the underdog teams have represented themselves well even when they haven't won.

Leading Contenders: Germany and Brazil maintain their positions atop this list, though the poor German defense and narrow Brazilian win will raise questions. Spain, Argentina and Italy started very well, while England and Holland did just enough. All seven teams remain leading candidates to progress to the finals. Mexico and the Czech Republic have worked their way onto this list with their 3-goal performances.

Pleasant Surprises: Ecuador is probably the top team on this list. Not only did they look solid in their win over Poland, they played an attractive match as well. Trinidad and Tobago looked good and gutty in their draw with Sweden, so they also are a story to watch. Australia weren't a huge upset to win over Japan, but they'll be brimming with confidence now. I also was impressed with Switzerland, who came very close to winning against France.

Several teams impressed despite losing: Ivory Coast, Iran, Ghana, Croatia, and Togo all had credible performances and will remain threats in their groups. In particular, Croatia looks well-positioned to advance, while Ivory Coast could be a real threat in a challenging group.

Major Disappointments: For me, the United States have to head this list. There's certainly no shame in losing to a very good Czech side, but the ineffectual American performance did no credit to our aspirations. Poland is a close second, as they looked quite poor against unheralded Ecuador. Ukraine were quite poor against Spain. Sweden also should have done much better, though they seemed to have a very unlucky day. France's draw will leave their fans despondent, though at least they took a point and can easily recover. Paraguay were easily the most negative team, with hardly any chances or attack despite being behind for the whole match. And Japan have to be gutted, losing after leading most of the game.

Best Matches:
5. South Korea 2-1 Togo: Togo take the early lead, but have a man sent off and give up a goal to the Koreans.
4. Tunisia 2-2 Saudi Arabia: Only suffers because neither team is expected to succeed. But this match could loom huge if Ukraine continues to falter.
3. Australia 3-1 Japan: Japan took the early lead and did their best to hang on. They made it until 86' but Australia exploded to eviscerate the Japanese hopes.
2. Germany 4-2 Costa Rica: Really kicked the World Cup off in style. A back-and-forth match that Costa Rica refused to relinquish.
1. Trinidad & Tobago 0-0 Sweden: Yes, a 0-0 draw was the most exciting match. But the storyline made up for the scoring, and Sweden had several good chances to take over the match. Down to 10 men for an entire half, Trinidad & Tobago fought tooth and nail, holding off Sweden by the thinnest of margins.

Germany now face Poland to begin the second set of games. Let's hope that things stay as exciting as they've been to this point!

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