World Cup reaches ‘Elite Eight’

July 01, 2010 | Paul Hoke

I feel the need to apologize for not having done an actual World Cup blog up to this point, as we are already several weeks into the tournament, and just 10 days away from the final.  I plan on blogging all season in reference to the upcoming English Premier League season, mostly on behalf of my team, Manchester City, but not being a “die hard” soccer fan, I kind of held off any comments about the World Cup.  But, I’m not going to let my lack of knowledge in some areas keep me from commenting on what truly is sports only REAL World Championship tournament.

So we’re down to FIFA’s version of the ‘Elite Eight’.  I will admit, in the interest of full disclosure, that my interest in the tourney has waned since last Saturday when the United States squandered a golden opportunity, and were eliminated by Ghana by the final of 2-1.  Then, the very next day, my mother in law’s home country, England, was taken behind the woodshed by Germany, 4-1.  Side note here, the first member of my family came to this country in 1699 from Germany, and I am proud of my German ancestry, so I’ve kind of become a closet German fan during the last few World Cups.

Germany’s draw is tough in their quarterfinal matchup as they are seeded against an Argentina team, along with their drug dealing, rat fink manager, Diego Maradona, that has rolled through the first couple rounds of the Cup.  It’s interesting how it’s played out, because throughout the competition, Argentina, with a little help from their friends (the Refs), have been a dominating force.  Not sure if many people remember, but in the Cup qualifiers, Argentina struggled, and barely made it to South Africa.  However, behind sparkplug Carlos Tevez (Man City) and Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest player in soccer right now, Argentina was undefeated in the Group Stage, and posted a 3-1 victory over Mexico in the Round of 16.  They play with alot of energy and passion for their country, and the Germans are going to have to match that, if they want to keep up.  Germany plays a good fundamental, defensive-minded game, but this game could become a track meet, and if Germany can’t at least keep up with the Argentinians, the game could be over by the 70th minute.  I fully expect the Germans to play a defensive game, possibly using only one forward, and looking for the counter as their best chance to score.  If they can execute that gameplan, they can slow down and frustrate Argentina into mental mistakes.  I like Germany in a low scoring 90 minute affair.

The winner of the Germany-Argentina game draws the winner of the Paraguay-Spain contest.  Spain is an interesting team because, as you all remember, they got off to a slow start in the Group Stage with a loss to Switzerland.  It was an upset, no doubt, but in the end, the Swiss went home, and Spain has made it to the Quarters.  They draw a Paraguay team that won a tightly contested Group F, but were far from dominant in doing so.  Assisted by the collapse of defending champion Italy, Paraguay moved on to defeat Japan on penalty kicks in the Round of 16, after a 0-0 tie.  Does anyone else hate it when a World Cup game ends on PK’s or is it just me?  You play your rear end off for 120 minutes, only to have the match decided by a penalty shot.  Can’t stand it.  Just like I hate shootouts deciding regular season NHL games.  At least they get rid of them in the playoffs.  Just like instant replay, something else FIFA should look into before 2014.  But I digress.  I really see Spain winning this, although this game has ‘extra time’ written all over it.  Spain doesn’t score.  They scored 4 goals in 3 games in the Group Stage, only tallied a David Villa (who has 4 of their 5 tourney goals) goal in their 1-0 win over a disinterested Portugal squad.  Way to show up Ronnie, by the way.  The Spaniard to watch, in my opinion, in this game is Fernando Torres.  He hasn’t scored yet in the tournament, but this guy, as I’ve seen in the EPL with Liverpool, is very capable of “lighting the lamp” a couple times a game.  Paraguay plays great team defense, as evidenced by the 1 goal they’ve conceded in South Africa, but Spain may just have too many weapons who haven’t stepped up as of yet.  Still, I see this one going to the second extra 15 minutes, with Spain tallying late to advance to the semis.

Uruguay vs. Ghana, in my opinion, is a match of the two “happiest teams to just be here.”  Take nothing away from them, they’ve advanced to the quarterfinals, but these are not your powerhouse teams.  Uruguay won Group A because it seemed like no one else wanted to win it.  To my delight, France imploded, South Africa, the host nation, isn’t very good, and Mexico advanced on goal differential.  Uruguay bested South Korea in the knockout stage, 2-1, but had to hold off a late charge by the Koreans after they basically slept walked through the entire first half.  Ghana advanced from Group D, finishing behind Germany, with their only 2 goals of the Group Stage coming on penalty kicks.  Australia struggled, and Serbia, while spirited, lost to Ghana 1-0 in the group’s final game.  We all know what happened in the Round of 16, with Ghana using a colossal mistake by Ricardo Clark, and a monumental performance from goalkeeper Richard Kingson, to beat the U.S., 2-1 in extra time.  Ghana, however, has one thing that the rest of the teams in the competition don’t have….home-continent advantage.  As Africa’s last country left, Ghana will be the fan favorite until they are eliminated, and I’m sure that fact isn’t lost on their players.  Playing for your country is one thing, but playing for your continent is something that not many can relate to.  Ghana takes that, uses it, and advances to the semifinals.

Perhaps the most lopsided match in the quarters will be between Brazil and the Netherlands.  With no disrespect meant to the Clockwork Orange, Brazil has to be the odds on favorite to win this thing.  Soccer is a religion in Brazil.  They play the fast South American style game that has by passed the older soccer institutions such as England and Europe.  Brazil will beat you up and down the field, they will beat you with offense, they will beat you with defense, and in the end, they will just plain beat you.  The winners of Group G, Brazil sports the likes of some of the World’s best in Kaka, Robinho, Elano, and Luis Fabiano.  Their draw with Portugal in the Group Stage is the only match the Brazilians haven’t won, but I think that speaks more to Brazil “going through the motions” that is the Group Stage.  They reached the quarters with a dominating 3-0 win over Chile in the Round of 16, and of all the teams remaining, they are the most complete.  The Netherlands went 3-0 in a weak Group E, with all due respect to Japan, Denmark, and Cameroon.  Clockwork Orange (God I love that nickname) advanced from the Group Stage to take on Slovakia in the knockout round, and summarily dismissed them, 2-1.  The Dutch completely outplayed and “out-quicked” the Slavs, and Arjen Robben’s goal in the first half was a thing of soccer beauty.  But now they move on to face Brazil.  This one will be over by halftime.  No disrespect meant, but Brazil is playing on another level right now.  The only team playing even close to the kind of soccer Brazil is putting out there is Argentina.  It was a nice run for the Dutch, but they’re World Cup ends tomorrow.

So to set it up, I see the semi-finals shaping up this way:

Germany vs. Spain

Ghana vs. Brazil

With my ability, or lack there of, to prognosticate, the actual semis will probably be completely different from what I’m predicting.  Either way, it’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out.  There are 8 very different teams that make up the ‘Elite’, so I look forward to watching when the cup kicks off once again tomorrow at 10am (EST) with the Netherlands going against Brazil.

Go Germany!!!!!!