I got to watch most of the round of 16 games this week, and this is my impressions coming from them. The Quarterfinals are set, and here are the 8 teams.
Germany: Look very strong. All the negative press they got before the tournament was deserved, as they had played pretty bad coming into the Cup Finals, however it seems to have spurred them on to greater form. Sometimes that’s the prideful response you get to negative press. Klinsmann is helping too with his obviously strong leadership skills.
Argentina: What was that? It was a great game with Mexico showing up for the first time in recent memory. They played great soccer, passing beautifully in the midfield and throwing the Argentines off their game. Coach Volpe deserves lots of credit for this, but one wonders where all this skill and tactical brilliance was earlier in the tournament.
As for Argentina, they are still the biggest threat to Germany before the final, but will the team that smacked Serbia show up or the team that lost form when pressured by Mexico show?
England: Still not playing great soccer, but defending well (the Sweden game was an aberration) and finding ways to get it done. Contrary to many journalists I’ve read since then, I thought they looked better in this game than they did in the group games. They have the potential to bring it all together against Portugal, who are missing their best player and playmaker Deco. The 4-5-1 seemed to work for them once they got comfortable with it in the second half of the Ecuador game. Will Sven stay with it?
Portugal: In a game that will be talked about for years, most likely one of the most memorable of this cup, the Dutch for all their effort and nifty passing, could not score. It’s a shame that it had to be tarnished by the officiating and that the next game will be tarnished by the loss of Deco due to that officiating.
The game will also be debated for some time because of Van Basten’s decisions regarding who was brought (notable veterans were left at home) and who was played and substituted for this game.
Portugal is playing well and has many great players who love to attack, and Figo is playing well, so I think they can still do damage. If England doesn’t continue to improve their play, Portugal can win that battle.
Italy: One of the games I didn’t see. Word is that the Italians are playing well and were in control for most of the game over the Australians. If that’s true why didn’t they score? The Soceroos have played a massively good cup and deserve to fly home with their heads held high (no pun intended). Italy’s lack of scoring prowess on the boys from down under is going to haunt them down the line in this tournament. As for this game, I have one question: Where was Harry Kewell?
Italy is in a lucky draw, though, and is playing strong enough to beat a still one dimensional Ukraine.
Ukraine: I saw this game, and was mesmerized by the defensive battle that ensued. Really, it was like watching a tennis match with the possession changing hands every few seconds. Ukraine, Switzerland, Ukraine, Swiss, Ukraine, Swiss… ad nausium. That it went to penalty kicks is no surprise. That the Ukraine’s attack is still one dimensional is going to hurt them against Italy. This is the last Cinderella team still alive, and it’s easy to see why people argue that international soccer will be in the hands of the traditional powers for a long time to come. 6 of the 8 teams left have won the World Cup in the previous 40 years (In fact they are the only ones who have won it in the last 40 years).
Brazil: what can you say. Even not playing at full form they were too much for Ghana. The African teams at this cup were athletic and talented, but experience and passion mean something at this level, and it’s all about finishing power. Ronaldo is back, and once everyone on this team starts clicking it’s going to be scary. There’s no one in this side of the bracket who can touch them, so unless they have a really off day, they’re in the final.
France: Viva la France! Wow. My vote for best game of the World Cup 2006 so far. Scoring, great defense, low yellow card count, actual inventive play up front, great passing from the Spanish (and did I mention scoring?). France finally decided to show up for this tournament by playing the game of their lives, capped off by a goal from the venerable Zidane. Do they stand a chance against Brazil? Heck no. But who cares. They just made up for the pathetic showing in Korea/Japan in 2002, and they are enjoying the role of underdog for a change.
Quarterfinal games on Friday and Saturday. Two whole days with no games! How will I survive until then?!?