The World's Blog: Day 14

One day of group play left. The Samurai Blue joins the lucky 16, and so do the Slovaks, but Italy is out?! What a world, what a world, what a World Cup!

Paraguay 0, New Zealand 0

Paraguay have won Group F. You wouldn’t have guessed it if you had watched their awful match this morning though. Every criticism leveled against this World Cup was justified for ninety minutes. Very little quality in the play of either team, so the result is fair, although if it was possible, both teams deserved a loss.

To be fair, Paraguay had already essentially sealed qualification and only needed a draw to advance. The real disappointment was New Zealand. They have had an outstanding World Cup (who had them finishing above Italy?) and were very careful at the back not to concede, but it was almost as if they forgot that they had to score also. It took way too long for them to decide to apply pressure.

Paraguay was not awful, just uninspired, listless, and without the passion that has been so obvious until this point. One change that will certainly occur is Lucas Barrios playing over Oscar Cardozo, who looked determined to reclaim his place on the bench. The good news is that they face Japan in the round of 16, a very beatable team. If they can rekindle their fiery will to win, they should continue to advance.

Damn! With our game finishing 0-all and Slovakia’s surprising, brilliant win over Italy we didn’t do enough to progress through to the next round.

It’s awfully hard not to be disappointed, especially when we saved our worst performance until last. There’s really precious little to say about a 0-0 game where New Zealand didn’t even manage a single shot on goal.

Going into the game knowing we needed a win at minimum, or a draw and a draw in the other Group F game to have a chance of going through to the Round of 16, New Zealand needed goals. As I’ve already said, we didn’t even come close. The game never reached any great heights, and there’s really little to say.

Unexpectedly and incredibly, we finished group play undefeated. We didn’t win a game, sure, but for the team ranked 78th in the world going into the tournament, it’s a great achievement. To finish above the Italians is even better. Funnily enough we didn’t lose a game – something the second placed team in the group couldn’t even claim. Football’s a funny game, isn’t it?

Hopefully we can put the money from making the World Cup, and the experience gained into better use to ensure we qualify for Brazil in 2014 and can make an even stronger impact on the tournament next time around – I certainly don’t want to wait another 28 years before another World Cup!

The team has done New Zealand proud. Congratulations to them. Furthermore, congratulations to Paraguay and Slovakia for making it out of the group. Best of luck to them!

Slovakia 3, Italy 2

That's two "Holy Crap!" days in a row for me and the World Cup. Yesterday, it was the United States' shocking, thrilling win. And today, well, double holy crap! When I signed on for this, I figured I'd be writing three entries and be done. There's no way a rookie entry like Slovakia would move out of group play, even a group that wasn't all that good. I mean, Italy was in the group, so that's one spot right there, right?

Ummm, no.

Today I sat in utter disbelief as my team knocked the defending champions out of the World Cup with a 3-2 win. Say what? Slovakia? Do any of you know where Slovakia even is? You do now!

I don't really have anything against Italy, but I loved seeing Marcello Lippi practically sprint to the locker room at the final whistle. But not as much as I loved watching my team laugh, cry and celebrate an incredibly unlikely story. This is a true Cinderella story, make no mistake. Robert Vittek's two goals were beauties and Kamil Kopunek is a new national hero. One Slovak newspaper called the win, "A Fantasy," but it's not. It's real, and it's great.

Italy is out!  You don’t often hear these words in the World Cup.  Not since 1974 has Italy bowed out this early.  Through these opening games, I’ve felt the need to defend Italian football.  There has been an alarming amount of criticism and negativity from journalists and TV commentators (yes, you, John Harkes).  In most cases, I just don’t understand it.  Pat yourselves on the back Harksey because in some weird round about way, you were right.  But I’m sorry, we are no France.  Don’t ever lump us in that dubious category. 

Maybe Italy was too old.  Maybe they were unlucky.  Maybe not having Buffon really did result in having 4 out of 5 shots on target go in.  For whatever reason, it wasn’t their year.  I feel like they played their game and that is usually more than good enough.  I fully expected them to win today, but they got down early again.  Not even the mighty defending champions could come from behind three straight games. 

Oh, how agonizing and painful.  Blocking out the hurt for a moment though, I realize how awesome a 3-2 game can be.  Both teams had to win, and they left it on the field.  There was blood; tears, near goals and jeers.  There were flops, elbows, cannon shots and cheers.  Believe me; I’m not looking forward to these next four long years. 

Italy, you are the reason I love international football.  I’m sure there will be other glorious days ahead.  To my old coaches:  Leonardo Pizzini and Vincent Colasante, thank you for teaching me the Italian way.  There is a reason other countries employ your coaches and use your tactics.  The changing of the guard is coming.  And we will be back!  Until then; enjoy drinking our wine, eating our food, and admiring our beautiful people (insert picture of Fabio Cannavaro (for you sis) and Monica Bellucci). 

Netherlands 2, Cameroon 1

Playing a side with nothing to lose is a telling and dangerous experience. Cameroon had nothing to play for earlier today, but honor. And on the African continent, that’s all that’s left. Holland, too, had little more to play for but honor, as they had all but qualified. Their honor, like that of Cameroon’s, was beyond mere nationalism. The Dutch effectively bear Europe’s torch as the only side who hasn’t suffered from mediocre ambiguity, or worse, in this campaign. This is South America’s World Cup thus far, but they will need to go through the Oranje legion first.

This fixture was ideal. The Dutch have looked the part of an elite squad all through qualifying (winning every match), and through their first two group matches. We didn’t need a bunch of goals, nor more clean sheets – that has been done before. Holland’s attack is timeless, and their defense has looked quite good recently, but my greatest concern is their ability to overcome adversity. Well, Van der Vaart’s stupid handball gave us the opportunity we needed.

As soon as I witnessed Arjen Robben warming up on the sidelines, flashbacks of his absolute brilliance came back, as they did for all fans of Fiorentina or Manchester United. They’ll never forget the devastation his left-foot caused. His single handed creation of Holland’s winning goal indicates his ability to dictate the right plank. One thing is for certain: the Dutch maestro is back.

This final match was exactly what Holland needed. The football gods smiled upon Holland by giving them Slovakia instead of Italy in the knock out round. Europe’s best team, Holland, is in full flight. That’s right Spain, Holland could make Torres look (more) like a schoolgirl. Hup Holland Hup. 

First off, I am not a traitor by rooting for the Indomitable Lions over the Dutch.  My last name is Flemish (Belgian), not Dutch, so I naturally would have loved to see Le Oranje lose – but it was not to be today.

Since this is my last blog and anyone reading this already knows the results, I feel I can rant and rave a bit…

I am proud to cheer for a team with such a colorful kit.  I think more teams should attempt to emulate their nation’s flag.  I just wished they had played as vibrantly as the colors of their kit. 

And how can you not love a team with a name like “Indomitable Lions.”  Certainly more creative and intimidating than teams named after colors.  It seems like half the teams in the World Cup are named for a color.  Let’s see some more creativity next time.  But if a particular country relegates itself to choosing a color, I have one suggestion – don’t go with blue (see France and Italy).

I hope to see Cameroon in Brazil in four years and I’d like them to find the magic that they had when they upended Argentina in 1990 and took gold at the Summer Olympics in 2000 (yes, I know – in the soccer world, the Olympics don’t mean much, but they did beat Spain in the Gold Medal Game).  May they find that magic and be a force in 2014.

Until then, Up Cameroon!  Up the Indomitable Lions!  (And Up the USA!!!)

Japan 3, Denmark 1

It's not just a world soccer game, it's also a battle of family & friends.  My last name is both Japanese and Danish but the good thing is the Danish side of family is not interested in World Cup.  But what about my co-worker who is from Denmark?  I left work after two hours in the morning to avoid a battle at work and concentrate on the match.  Arguing or not with my co-worker, this would be an elimination game for either Japan or Denmark for 2010 World Cup.  

As a result, it was a most exciting victory a team from a little island country that is known for its low ambitions and lack of technique.  The game started with the Danes setting the pace but Japan's defense, which has been absolutely reliable since the World Cup began, didn't let the Danes play freely even though they had more chances to shoot than Japan.  On the other hand of their reliable defense was the way they used chances; it was nothing short of brilliant.  First and Second goals from free kicks were just beautiful and I was pretty satisfied by getting two goals in a first half since team Japan needed to either win or tie to get into the second round.  After Denmark got one goal from PK, the Japanese squad, people, fans, and myself wanted one more to show the world what we have and what we can do.  They did it.  In the 87th minute, Keisuke Honda passed the ball with sensational foot work to Shinji Okazaki who was waiting very calmly to make a goal.  The third goal made them step into the realm of serious World Cup contenders, not to mention into the second level of world teams.  Personally I would like to give today's MVP to GK Kawashima.  He saved so many shots, he even read the PK right and cleared once.

Until today, I was not sure about the nickname "Samurai Blue" because of the cheesy samurai image from the other side of the world.  However I really felt the samurai spirit ofthe Japanese squad from today's match. 

The sun finally started shining in Seattle...everywhere but above me, it seems. As I sit here at work, staring at the blue skies encompassing the downtown skyline and listening to the sea planes flying above Lake Union, I can't help but feel a little bit gloomy on what otherwise would be a perfect summer day.

Things started off well enough: I woke up with what seemed like endless amounts of energy carried over from yesterday's huge U.S. victory (and possibly aided by a couple cups of coffee). I knew Denmark's World Cup future was riding on this match and was hopeful that a strong performance would have us advancing to the next round.

When the clock struck 11:30 (not literally), it was time for "Operation: Stealth Mode" as I began streaming the game on my computer; earbuds running through my sleeve and tucked away behind my hair, safely out of sight. It doesn't really compare to the atmosphere at George and Dragon or The Atlantic Crossing, but it would have to do.

After the first few touches, I knew that we might be in trouble. We controlled the ball well enough, but didn't have the intensity and confidence up front that was necessary to keep Japan on the defense. We seemed to be stuck in midfield, not really going anywhere. Fast forward to a pair of incredible free kicks by Honda and Endo that flew past Sorensen like bullets, and we were down 2-0 after the first 45. Just like that. Head buried deep in my hands and earbuds now carelessly dangling near the floor, sadness came over me as I could feel the dream slowly slipping away.

In the end, we lost the match 3-1, and while we were given plenty of opportunities (and even know I'm talking about that PK), it just wasn't enough to beat a very tough and determined Japanese squad. Bendtner, who towered over everyone was completely shut down, and despite his goal, Tomasson didn't fare much better. They really had our number today and I have to give credit where credit is due. Congrats, Japan.

It's been a fun and exciting ride, and while this early exit is disappointing, I hope to see Denmark back and stronger than ever in four years time. For now though, I may as well try to take advantage of this sunshine and head over to Gasworks Park, stretch out on the grass, and dream about what might have been.