Saturday, June 26, 2010

Glass Half Full

The pruning has begun. The World Cup slims itself down to 16 teams, and, by and large, it's the right 16 teams. The tournament has livened up considerably after an opening few days marked by excessive caution and I would even say the final round of group games provided more drama than I can ever remember. A number of teams, such as Nigeria and Serbia were just a kick of a ball away from a place in the second round and the quality of the football has been high. I can even shrug off the dull scoreless draw between Portugal and Brazil as an irrelevance, about as indicative of things to come as a friendly international in February.

So of the teams left?

Uruguay v South Korea

Uruguay have surfed the wave of Latin American form in this tournament. After a cagey start against France, they have dazzled since. They swept aside South Africa with ease and brought the game to Mexico when a draw would have been enough to win the group. They have a superb defence and one of the tournament's best defenders in Diego Lugano. Monaco's Diego Perez has been inspirational in midfield, and Diego Forlán has brought the same immense character to the Uruguayan effort as he has to Atlético Madrid in recent seasons. Some say they are over-reliant on him. It's possible but it should be enough to get them to the semi-finals and certainly enough to beat South Korea, who have shown verve and industry in their matches so far but who are found lacking against stronger opposition.

United States v Ghana

A possible grudge match given the Black Stars knocked the Americans out of the 2006 World Cup with a 2-1 win in Nuremburg, thanks to a disputed penalty. The US have been impressive so far, showing a lot of steel and guts to come from behind and steal deserved qualification in injury time against Algeria. While they have been unlucky with bad refereeing decisions against them in both the games against Slovenia and Algeria, the idea among some of their new-found fans that there's an anti-American plot afoot could quickly lose them the goodwill the world is showing them. I expect them to beat Ghana, simply because Ghana have a chronic scoring problem. The Africans have scored both their goals from the spot and they missed a hatful of chances that could have sealed the game against Germany before Mehmet Özul's wonder strike. Despite their wonderfully fluid play and a powerful midfield, and Asamoah Gyan, a bundle of energy and character, their inability to find the net will cost them. The US to win 1-0.

More anon. In the meantime here's more Uruguayan rock. Los Iracundos: