Wednesday, June 14, 2006

ESP v. UKR, KSA v. TUN, GER v. POL

Have barely seen five minutes of the games so far, but I think Spain's victory will rank as the most impressive win of the tournament's first round of games. In beating Ukraine 4-0, their strikers looked sharp and luck appeared on their side. Also, I personally got a big fantasy boost with the shutout and Puyol's assist. Ukraine could easily rebound with two wins in their next two, but they'll have to be better than they were today.

Tunisia 2 - Saudi Arabia 2
According to my friend Casey, a "fantastic game". Bolton's Jaidi gets a 93rd minute equalizer after the North Africans blew the lead. I'll hopefully get to watch a little of this one on tape later this evening.

Germany 1 - Poland 0
A late, late winner from Neuville -- courtesy of a cross from young sub Odonkor who looked very good -- gives the host a much needed win. An Ecuador victory tomorrow ensures qualification, but a tie for the South Americans against Costa Rica would still ensure Germany qualified and actually mean that they'd only need a draw in their final game to get first place in the group. Poland went down to ten men in the 75th minute, and Germany had a boat load of chances to put it away. In the 89th minute, Klose's header hit the bar and Ballack somehow smashed the rebound also against the bar -- screwing my fantasy team -- before another blocked rebound and an offsides call saved the Poles for a moment. Then a quick break down the right, and extremely fast sub Odonkor lobbed in a cross. The dimunitive Neuville snuck in between two Polish defenders and slid low to knock in the game's only goal. A fine match and a good atmosphere as well.

Weekend Forecast
I'm getting out of the District for a long weekend and will most likely -- if my girlfriend has any say about it -- not be contributing to this blog until Sunday night at the earliest. I realize that the Cup without c/s updates sounds almost painfully dull, but I'll provide some predictions now, then you can check back later and see how I did. Feel free to post comments in the meantime so I can have some fodder to cover when I get back. In the meantime, here are some comments and predictions for the weekend to come:

- In the Americans group, Ghana-Czech Republic should be an interesting game. The Czechs go into it without either of their first choice strikers. Another dominating performance makes them a favorite to advance all the way to the semifinals, especially if/when they get Koller and Baros back up top. Likewise, Ghana have the steel and speed in midfield to compete with the Czechs where the US could not.
- The tightest matchup will probably be Sweden and Paraguay tomorrow. Neither team can afford a loss, but a draw would make for a very interesting final round of group games in Group B. I expect Paraguay to play conservatively and hit on the break, where a few moments against Trinidad indicated the Swedes might be vulnerable. I think we'll see a 1-1 draw, handing first place over to England with a game to spare.
- In the Group of Death, don't be too surprised if we know the qualifiers by the time the Netherlands and Ivory Coast finish up. I don't see Argentina -- who looked sharp but have a deep bench that coach Pekerman barely used -- dropping points against the Serbs. However, the other game will be closer and I could even see the Ivory Coast stealing a tie to make the last round of games somewhat interesting. But I'm betting the Elephants impress but fall short again by a score of 2-1.
- The popular notion that Group D's second round qualifiers were set before play even started looked up in the air for a while on Sunday. But Mexico poured it on late and Portugal hung on, and now advancing appears beyond both Angola and Iran. These might not be terribly compelling games and, if things to go plan, Mexico and Portugal will close out group play in a match that will decide who gets the Netherlands and who gets Argentina. Six of one...
- Brazil's group originally appeared pretty straightforward for the favorites to navigate, but Croatia's performance in a 1-0 loss revealed some weaknesses. Australia will no doubt come out physical on Sunday, believing they could get a vital tie that could, conceivably, clinch a spot in the second round. Japan were less than impressive against the Aussies though, so a Croatia win vs. the Japanese would send the Aussies and the Croats into their final game with everything to play for. Predictions: Brazil 3 - Australia 1, Croatia 2 - Japan 0.
- The French were decidedly poor on Tuesday against Switzerland. Korea proved it hasn't lost any energy or stamina from the last tournament, and if they're able to hold France goalless through the first 60 minutes, will like their chances to get a draw or sneak a win. France have far too much quality to fail to score again, but it won't be easy. In the other game, Switzerland will be orderly and composed, and threaten Togo in the air. Predictions: France 1 - Korea 0. Switzerland 2 - Togo 1.
- Finally, Spain to continue their run with a 1-0 win against the Tunisians. They'll dominate possession -- as per usual -- but a physical approach from the North Africans could unsettle them a little. Don't expect Saudi Arabia to trouble the Ukraine too much, with Shevchenko scoring his first goal at a major international tournament. 2-0 to the Eastern Europeans.

Enjoy the games...

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