27 June 2006

WC: Second Round Update

Sorry for the gap in posts; I was out of town for a good friend's wedding. (A side note: I now have a lot of sympathy for all you west-coasters. The time zones don't help, do they?) What did I miss?

The second round has been fairly interesting so far. From six games so far, only one was decided by more than one goal. Germany is looking quite solid still, and is very arguably the current favorite to achieve glory.

Meanwhile, everything else has been very close and interesting. Portugal 1-0 Holland was a bit of a fiasco, thanks to Russian referee Valentin Ivanov. England lasted until 60' before they solved Ecuador; Italy fought into stoppage time with 10 men before beating Australia; Argentina needed a flukey goal in extra time to overcome Mexico, and Ukraine needed penalties to outlast Switzerland. The Argentina-Mexico game was clearly the best of the bunch, but all the others have had their share of interest.

I was saddened to see Switzerland go out last night. I've grown to enjoy watching them play; they don't have the most innovative attack, but they get forward and go after the game, while their defense is well-organized and doesn't panic. (And my friend who got married over the weekend grew up in Basel.) The first half of the match was exciting if unproductive, with Switzerland's building pressure matched by Ukraine's quick counterattack. But they all lost their way in the second half, with most of the pressure coming from Ukraine. By the end of regulation time, both teams looked drained, and penalties were inevitable. And it was perhaps the worst performance I've seen on penalties, with Ukraine winning by default at Switzerland's unwillingness to score. But a great deal of credit goes to Mexican referee Benito Archundia Tellez, who stood out by calling the game well and with restraint. It made for a much more entertaining contest than if, say, sixteen yellows were shown.

Today sees perhaps the best match of the octofinals. I'm not referring to Brazil vs. Ghana, though that might be interesting too. Brazil haven't looked on form, and Ghana will at the least work tirelessly and fight to the end. But without Michael Essien, they'll have a difficult task, and I expect that Brazil will progress with ease in the end.

No, of course I'm talking about Spain vs. France. These two teams have the potential to play a very exciting and competitive game. They match up well, with similar strengths and an ability to create breathtaking play. Of course, with so much at stake, it's likely to become a very cautious match; an early goal would do a lot to open up the game. I don't have a favorite: Arsenal connections are there for both teams, while either one is stylish and entertaining enough to be worthy of the quarterfinals. So here's hoping for a good game, with a few goals, and a result decided before penalties.

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