The World's Blog: Day 15

It's like our sergeant told us before one trip into the jungle. Thirty-two of you are leaving on a mission. Sixteen of you ain't coming back. Group Stage is over and 16 countries remain to vye for the pentultimate trophy.

Ivory Coast 3, Korea DPR 0

The odds to move on to the Round of 16 were never exactly in the favor of the Elephants. Having scored one goal in their first two games, they needed about nine in the third. Which was never going to be easy against North Korea, lined up in their customary 8-1-1 formation.

Ivory Coast couldn’t pull it all back, and it would not have mattered, as Portugal successfully played for and earned a scoreless draw against Brazil. (Brazil? Scoreless draw? Truly this is the bizarro World Cup.)

Putting that aside, Ivory Coast produced one of the most eye-pleasing and entertaining all-around performances of this year’s tournament.

They attacked at will. Drogba marauded all over the park. Yaya Toure and Romaric pulled the strings in midfield, each getting a goal for their troubles. Boka and Eboue charged forward out of defense to create never-ending opportunities. Kalou came off the bench to finish off a goal so pretty, it almost made you forget about his ridiculous haircut.

But the men – and women – of the match were in the stands. The crowd was completely behind the Ivory Coast, with huge pockets of orange-clad dancing, swaying and cheering supporters, one even dressed as a giant Papa Elephant. They were celebrating their team, their performance, their country. And with 15 shots on frame, three wonderful goals, and complete dominance of the match, why not? It was a performance to be celebrated.

It’s a shame that the group was so tough, and that Didier Drogba and Papa Elephant won’t continue on in South Africa. But since the Ivorians had to go out, this was the way to do it. With style. Kalou's hair excluded.

As I left work last night I stopped by the local pub to make sure they would be open this morning and have the game on; “Of course we will have the game on, it’s only the most anticipated match of the opening round”.  Well then, I knew where I would be watching the game.  But something struck me as odd, why was North Korea/Ivory Coast the most anticipated game?  I of course was tired but quickly realized that he was talking about the Brazil/Portugal game.  Since they only had one TV I had to rethink my viewing options; so watching at home it was.

While listing to the pre-game I made breakfast for me and my daughter.  She had very little interested in the game but knew better to ask if I would put on a cartoon.  My wife has become very accommodating of my obsession with football and before the World Cup even started she had laid down the law; “For the next month, the World Cup games will be the only thing we will watch in the mornings.” 

So reluctantly, my daughter said nothing about the game being on while she ate.  That was until the announcer referred to the Ivory Coast as the Elephants.  “The Elephants are playing; I love Elephants and want them to win…. which ones are the Elephants”?  I explained the Ivory Coast team was nicknamed the Elephants and that the North Koreans are the Chollimas, which is as winged horse.  “Well I like Elephants more, so I want them to win”.

The disappointed that my daughter would go against me was quickly brushed aside as she came and snuggled up against me to watch the game.  There is something about watching the World Cup with your child that just makes everything in the world seem right. 

She of course enjoyed the first half as her team dominated play and quickly took a 2 goal lead by the twentieth minute.  In the end, the game was never in questions but neither team was to enjoy the spoils as the Elephants were knocked out of the tournament even with their win.  I however, enjoyed yet another game with the added bonus of watching it with my daughter, so not all was lost.


Portugal 0, Brazil 0

A storied rivalry between the two teams, neither team likes to lose especially to the other. One of the most anticipated matchups in this tournament, second only to the opening round game of England vs. United States. The rivalry in this intense Group of Death fixture promised from the outset to be an emotional rollercoaster bringing more heart tugging excitement then the mind-numbing 1-1 draw brought on by the two English speaking nations. At least for the first half.

Brazil found holes in the Portuguese defense very early with a corner taken in the very first minute followed up by a second corner less than sixty seconds later. Portugal had chance after chance early on but was unable to place anything in the netting. Ronaldo had an opportunity taken away in the 24’ when Brazilian defender Juan reached up and blocked the overhead ball with his forearm denying what would have been a sure goal for the Real Madrid Striker. Juan received a reprieve when he was only shown a yellow card, even though a bright red card had surely been earned. Seven yellow cards were shown in the exciting first half.  Shot after shot was taken and time after time the scoreboard remained nil-nil.

The second half was dull and uneventful. The best chance of the game came late in the 60’ when Ronaldo stormed down the field, only to have Brazil’s Lucio cross the ball, for him, straight to Miereles who couldn’t bury the attempt. The tie cemented Portugal’s place in the Round of 16. Their next match is against the runner-up from Group H at 11:30am PST.  

The scoreline of the highly touted lusophone clash, while disappointing to the droves of casual observers who tuned into hoping to witness fireworks, will not leave too many Brazilians worried. Yes, a victory over their colonizers would have been the preferred result of their last group meeting, but the scoreless encounter still puts Brazil at the top of their group and in prime position to make a run towards their sixth championship.      

Brazil, the most illustrious and revered soccer nation in the world, has such lofty expectations of their national team that they are expected to finish top of their group in every world cup, regardless of their opponents. Group play becomes somewhat of an extension to world cup qualifiers, as the 'real' world cup doesn't begin until half of the nations have been sent packing and every game is win or go home.  With group play now concluded, each upcoming encounter will be a much tenser affair. 

Portugal was courteous enough to bunker it in today, opting to absorb the constant Brazilian pressure, only allowing a few chances to a lackluster attack clearly missing Robinho, Kaka, and Elano. The result sees Brazil and Portugal advancing first and second, respectively, both Portuguese speaking countries doing each other pride. The game could have certainly been played in a more attractive manner, but the history books will not care. For Brazil, business is just about to begin.

Switzerland 0, Honduras 0

The third game in the group stage for Switzerland was like all the rest, no offense. The 2010 World Cup for the Swiss was frustrating to say the least. Besides one lucky bounce goal against the all mighty Spain they got nothing into the goal. The Swiss were as advertised on the defensive end, last world cup they gave up zero goals and this World Cup they gave up one and that was playing a man down against Chile.

The qualifying process for this tournament takes 2 years and in 2 weeks it is all over. Switzerland needed a win to have a chance to move on to the next round.  The problem with the World Cup is its only every 4 years. In 4 years they will have another shot. This was a disappointing result for the Swiss after making it to the final 16 in 2006, expectations were high. The country and team at least expected a final 16 appearance.

Honduras held strong on the defensive end and received there first point on the tournament.  Switzerland ends with 4 points. Spain and Chile get 6 points each and end in first and second place. Switzerland lacked a serious offensive threat. Swiss striker star Alexander Frei was hurt and did not make an impact. Soon to be Sounder FC striker Blaise N’Kufo failed to impress and no offense was ever found.

Honduras' performance in the world cup can be described by one word, surprising. They came into the World Cup knowing it would be a challenge. They were dominated the first two games and had a frustrating lack of finishing in their last one.

However, they only conceived three goals the entire tournament which to me is pretty impressive if you look at the opponents they had. Honduras played Switzerland with very little hopes of advancing. It would have taken quite the miracle to go on to the knockout stage. The Swiss still had a chance though, and they came out to win. Honduras played an impressive game with several very clear chances, unfortunately none of the Honduran strikers were able to capitalize.

Near the end of the game even more chances to score were created, but chance after chance goals were missed. It would have been nice to see Honduras leave the tournament with a win but it did not happen. They got a tie and leave the South Africa n World Cup with a lot to be proud of. Hopefully this is a turning point for "Los Catracho" and I am confident in four years we will see them again.

Spain 2, Chile 1

You know you’re in the right place to watch La Furia Roja when the waiter doesn’t offer you water or a drink first, but rather offers you rayas espanolas (Spanish stripes, coordinated with the flag) for your face.  Freshly face-painted and surrounded by family and friends who were able to join me for sangria and cervezas at 11 am, we hunkered down in hopes of a Spanish win and advance into the round of 16!

What an exciting first half filled with small plates of food (tapas) and large goals scored (DAVID VILLA); it couldn’t have gone better.  The exclusively Spanish crowd rose to a frenzy with cheers for Espana and bar tenders banging on metal countertops as the 2nd goal sailed into the net from the edge of the area courtesy of the always determined Iniesta. 

With Chile’s Estrada sent off for a few too many “palabras” headed the ref’s direction we all thought we were bound for an epic 2nd half of Spanish soccer.

Much to our dismay the second half started with an early goal from Chile and none of the much-expected Spanish outbursts of goals when playing a man-up. While the rest of the game played out with threats of more goals from the Chileans, given their monstrous speed up the wings and swift ball-handling skills, and many balls sent skyward past the goal by the Spanish, it was all settled at the final whistle with a 2-1 win for mi equipo and a trip to the round of 16. 
Onward to Tuesday and our match against our neighbors to the west!

JUEGO BUENO ESPANA! (and thank goodness for coming back after an embarrassing first game to win the group as expected)

11:45am.  I text my friend “Cards will be Chile’s downfall” shortly after Gary Medel receives his second of the group stage. 

12:10pm.  Chile finds themselves 2-0 down,  lucky to not have a penalty called, a man short and with two key defenders missing their next match if they can make it through.  A single goal from Switzerland would see them out.  To say things were not looking good would be an understatement.

I’ve witness some pretty astonishing meltdowns by Chile (2007 U-20 WC semifinal against Argentina being the worst I’ve seen) and this had all the makings of being one of the greatest meltdowns in their history.  Qualifying for the next round was by no means guaranteed, but Chile was in a good position.  They started strong and Beasejour’s dummy at the top of the box and continued run into the area was a thing of beauty.  Had Mark Gonalez been able to get off a better shot, that would have been one of the best goals of the tournament for me.  It all started with Chile losing possession deep in Spanish territory and then Alexis Sanchez and Mauricio Isla double teaming Joan Capdevila until they regained the ball.  It looked like Chile’s game plan of pressuring high up the pitch was going to work at this point.  Unfortunately, once again Chile failed to put away their chances, and unfortunately with all of that pressure came yellow cards and lots of them. 

Thankfully Chile was able to pull themselves together a bit after the second goal and Estrada’s sending off and make it to the half time break.  Once again Bielsa makes some great changes.  I was surprised to see Gonzalez and Valdivia leave because I thought Chile would need Gonzalez’s speed and Valdivia’s creativity if they were to hope to score.  Bielsa brought on Millar and Paredes, neither of whom impressed me much during the first two games.  Millar began the half completely whiffing a great opportunity and I had my head in my hands wondering why a man as smart as Bielsa would put him on.  A minute later I was singing his praises as his shot ricocheted off of Pique’s chunky thigh and into the net.  The goal not only served to give Chile some breathing room as Switzerland would need to win by two to finish second, it also helped the team regain confidence.  Ponce and Jara had a disastrous first half but were able to regroup in the second and sure things up in the back.  The rest of the match turned into a snoozefest as both teams knew they were going through.

Chile now face the tough task of figuring out how to beat Brazil - something they haven’t managed to do in quite some time.  Not only does Brazil beat Chile, they like to embarrass them while they are at it.  They last met in a major tournament in the first knockout round of the 2007 Copa America.  Chile had already lost to Brazil in the group stage 3-0 and in the knockout stage Brazil kicked it up a notch and disposed of them 6-1.  But that was before Bielsa.  I have no doubt that once again Bielsa will work his magic on Monday.  Vamos Chile!