Thursday, June 24, 2010

World Cup 2010 Games 43 and 44: Group E

Japan 3, Denmark 1
The Netherlands 2, Cameroon 1

Pretty much this whole tournament announcers have been lamenting the lack of goals from direct free kicks (not penalty kicks). It must be the new ball sailing...or the altitude. Then Japan scores two in the same half. First time it's happened in long time. Granted the first (which was from waaaaaay out) was aided by a goalie misstep--he broke the wrong way and didn't have time to recover. The second was a beauty. Later a long, looping cross from near midfield bounced off the goalie's hand and hit the crossbar. It wasn't the goalie's best day.

But that makes it sound like the goalie had a bad day. Japan dominated this game, with speed, creativity, and solid defense. (The goal allowed was on a bogus penalty kick awarded by...yes...a crazy referee.) As the game progressed, Denmark chipped long ball after long ball forward, hoping that a loose ball would fall in the box for an opportunistic goal. I suppose scouting may have made this a strategy, but if madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result....

I have nothing to say about The Netherlands, a team that had already advanced against Cameroon, a team that had already been eliminated other than to ask why this game needed to be played (except to get another African goal on penalty kicks). Then again, I should ask that of a tournament that makes the semifinals losers play a third place game? (Could you imagine West Virginia playing Michigan State the afternoon before the Duke-Butler game?)

The Dutch have had a very workmanlike stroll through their group and unless Brazil beats Portugal wins tomorrow will be the only team to finish the first round with three victories.

Speaking of Brazil, Portugal and meaningless games: with Kaka out on a bogus booking and both sides safely through (assuming Ivory Coast can't make up a 9 goal differential) I suspect you may actually see a pretty boring game...conservative, safe, with both sides caring more about avoiding cards and injuries moving forward. Add to that the fact that the winner of the group gets put in a subbracket with The Netherlands, and there may not be much urgency.

Then again, the second place team may get Spain in the round of 16. (Assuming the Swiss can beat Honduras, Spain has to win to advance to the next stage, so they are likely either going to win the group or go home.)

Interestingly enough, we could have three of the top four ranked teams in the world in the same quadrant of the bracket, and the teams ranked 6,7, and 8 (Germany, Argentina, England). Due respect to Japan, who shredded the Danes, but if you were Portugal, your reward for winning is a bracket with Spain (probably), Slovakia, and The Netherlands. Your reward for coming in second is a bracket with Switzerland/Chile, Japan, and Paraguay. Hmmmm, we may have a bunch of "own goals" in this one.

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