World Cup Quarterfinal Preview
Germany has surprised all doubters with a number of stellar offensive performances, led in the round robin by Mirsolav Klose and joined in giving opposing backs fits by Lucas Podolski with an early brace against Sweden. The hosts really have cruised to victory in each of their matches, giving up a goal in their first game alone, and so the real test will be tomorrow morning against Argentina, who were kept scoreless against the Dutch and only squeezed past Mexico with an extra time wonder-goal by Maxi Rodriquez that blooped in behind an aghast Oswaldo Sanchez. For all of their battling, los Albicelestes still show a dynamite possession game and Riquelme is the still the key to opening up the middle for Messi and Crespo. If he has a strong game, they should take it. Otherwise, expect a German blitzkrieg from the flanks to be too much for Argentina’s backs.
Ukraine are the surprise inclusion in the Elite Eight in a year in which tradition has reasserted itself to the detriment of the supposed parity of world soccer. Everyone will expect Italy to win and in this case I think the conventional wisdom is correct. This side got walloped 4-0 by their only real opposition thus far in the opening match against Spain, and couldn’t muster a goal against the impenetrable Swiss. Unless Sheva can open up a can of magic, somehow I don’t think it will go down to penalties against the Azurri, who will want to put on a display to regain some pride after a near disaster against the Aussies. The call was debatable but ultimately legitimate, coming from the kind of last gasp tackle that desperate teams under pressure make, and everyone forgets that Italy was down to ten men. The Italians have yet to play their best football with poor performances from Toni and del Piero, who were yanked but will likely figure again with yet more to prove. Coming out of what ended up being an improbable group of death given Ghana’s success, the Italians have been tested and should emerge free and clear.
Sven Goran Eriksson has to be ruing his selection of Theo Wolcott now that England is without Michael Owen, leaving only Rooney and Crouch as selections up front. Indeed the talk has been that England will match Portugal’s 4-5-1 around Pauleta with a similar formation around Rooney, which is a set-up I fancy in England’s favor. The Three Lions are as deep as anyone at midfield, although their heart – Beckham, Gerrard and Lampard – have shown themselves incapable of role-playing away from the commanding positions they enjoy at their respective clubs. Pushing forward favors Gerrard and Lampard’s scoring threat while Beckham can hang off to the side for deep service. Portugal knocked England out of the last World Cup and Euro tournaments and look just as strong now, defeating Holland in a penalty strewn affair that means Deco and Costinha both are out for Saturday morning. Add this to the news of Chrstiano Ronaldo’s injury set-back (good news for all blokes outside of ManU fandom), and England will face a weakened Portugese side which might just give them that one chance they need to gel.
A rematch of the 1998 World Cup final in which Ronaldo went famously missing, after his performances of the past few days, we can safely conclude that he’s back and that he can damn well eat however much his pudgy goal-drilling self desires. There have been some great goals in this WC but the number he scored to set the all-time WC goal scoring record has to take the cake – windmill fake in the slot before hammering it home. Kaka has also stood out with some beauties. Mysteriously silent has been Ronaldinho – which isn’t so much a worry as it is scary to think what could happen if he decides to show up. France stumbled into the round of 16 but left no doubt that they’ve found their stride with a decisive win over the surging Spaniards, the old guard beating the new with Zidane and Viera dominating against Torres and Villa. I can’t say that we’ve seen Brazil’s defense tested too much as they carry the play so strongly, whereas France’s lapses were all too evident in the early going. Both sides have shown great flow and creativity in the box but you have to take Brazil.
Predicted semi-final matchups: