World Cup 2006: The Round Of 16 Is Set
With the round robin finishing today, the field is set for the elimination portion of the World Cup finals. The round of 16 begins tomorrow with matchups featuring two of the favored teams - Germany, who is pitted against Sweden, and Argentina, who play the Mexicans. Assuming both of the favorites advance, they would match up in what will surely be the most anticipated match of the quarterfinal round. (Incidentally, if that does happen, thank god for the live satellite TV on WestJet, as I'll be flying to Ottawa during the game).
Here are some other thoughts, looking back on the round robin, and looking forward to in the elimination round:
Bust Of The Tournament
My vote goes to the Czech Republic, edging out their group of death-mates from the United States. While the US played well after an embarrassing opening game effort, the Czechs fell apart against Ghana, and couldn't muster a good effort against Italy. After dominating the Americans, they went out with a whimper in back-to-back games.
Surprise Of The Tournament
Ghana, who we'll talk about in a second, is the popular choice, but for me, the biggest surprise is Switzerland, who not only won its group, but did so in convincing fashion. Their only blemish was a draw against the French, and they looked great today beating (and eliminating) a good South Korean squad. If they get by the Ukraine, they're looming as a potential giant-killer against Italy in the quarters.
Everyone On The Ghanaian Bandwagon
Nathan covered yesterday's win, but it's worth mentioning 2006's cinderella team once again. Even without Michael Essien, their best player, they should put up a fight agains the Brazilians, who finally seemed to find their groove against Japan yesterday in their sixth half of football this tournament.
Who Could Pull Off An Upset?
Any of the second place finishers, I suppose, but next to the surprise teams listed above, I'd have to say Ecuador, who squares off against a maddeningly inconsistent English squad on Sunday, has the best chance. Despite getting dominated by the Germans, the Ecuadorians have enough skill to take the English out if they don't bring their A-game. Judging from their round robin performance, there's about a 50% chance that the English will do so.
Will The Dutch Be Eliminated On Penalty Kicks?
Yes. The only question is whether it's the Portugese in the opening round, or the English/Ecuadorians in the quarters, who does it.
The chronic underachievers in World Cup play, Spain, won all three round robin games, with only Tunisia giving them a minor scare. France, the disappointment of 2002, looked headed for another early exit this year until turning it on in the second half to beat Togo. Now, the two European powerhouses face off in the round of 16. It remains to be seen if both teams can keep up the level of play they've showed for, respectively, most of three games, and bits and pieces of the tournament. They both have enough talent to go far, but have had trouble putting it all together at times. I like the Spanish in this one. I'll give credit to the French when they put it all together against an opponent with a little more talent than Togo.
The Greatest Possible Upset
I can't see it happening, but if Australia somehow knocked off the Azzurri, it might set off a national crisis in Italy. Losing to the South Koreans in their home country was one thing, losing to the Socceroos would be a stomach punch on a whole different level. Given that I hate the way the Italian team plays (dive, whine to the ref, lather, rinse, repeat), I can't help but root for it to happen.
Sure, why not. Let's go with Germany (in overtime), Argentina, Italy, Switzerland, England, Portugal (on penalties), Brazil, and Spain.