Round One Recap
After game one, round one has concluded, a major theme has emerged — survival (including my own, as I battle sleep deprivation from waking at 6:30 every morning). No team wants to lose their first game, so we’ve seen weaker teams “park the bus” in front of the goal in order to walk away with a point, and the favorites take few chances as they guard against the upset that may change the momentum.
To that effect, only three of the first 16 games have a margin of victory greater than a single goal, and five matches have ended in a tie.
Here are my thoughts about each group after game one:
(Thanks to Scott Stein for the really cool World Cup calendar.)
GROUP A – “The Group of Parity”
As is evidenced by the two ties that have been produced among these teams, promotion to the Round of 16 is possible for any team. Given the huge home country advantage enjoyed by South Africa, this is the only group in which any combination of two teams can advance.
Game One Winners – South Africa, Uruguay
Game One Losers – Mexico, France
What was thought of as a group that was easy to determine has been thrown into indecision by the performance of South Korea. The discovery of South Korean players after World Cup 2002 and their introduction into European club ball has made them real contenders. Their speed will test the defenses of the favorites.
Game One Winner – South Korea
Game One Loser – Nigeria — starting with a loss is a killer
GROUP C – “The Group of Hope”
If you predicted that the U.S. would win or tie you’re either an eternal optimist or know nothing about soccer. England was surprisingly ordinary with very little flair.
The others are also-rans.
Game One Winner – U.S.A
Game One Loser – England (sorry Fabio)
GROUP D – “The Group of Imposters”
Serbia, Ghana, even Australia (a late Italy goal away from quarter-finalist in 2006) offered much hype and little reward. These were sexy pre-tournament picks that withered. Ghana was unimpressive, Serbia was SO Serbian (red card, penalty kick loss of composure) and Australia was just … old. People will flock to Germany because of four goals — it was a mirage.
Game One Winner – Miroslav Klose – another World Cup goal
Game One Loser – Serbia – quality players wasted
GROUP E – “The Group of One”
Let’s face it, this is the Dutch finishing first and everyone else fighting for crumbs. Even without Arjen Robben the Oranje looked good. Cameroon, another pre-tournament darling, was flat. Denmark is better than people think.
Game One Winner – Japan. Three points might as well be six in this group.
Game One Loser – Cameroon. Playing the Dutch last may be a blessing.
GROUP F – “The Group of Life”
As opposed to the “Group of Death,” which combines at least three teams that can advance, the two finalists here are obvious. After their tie, Italy and Paraguay will feast on the minnows to see who can accumulate the best goal differential.
Game One Winner – New Zealand. Goal in 93rd minute is best score of tourney so far.
Game One Loser – Slovakia – other side of the same coin
GROUP G — “The So-Called Group of Death”
Does any team disappoint the neutrals more than Portugal? Because of Cristiano Ronaldo you think that there will be end-to-end spectacular play. In the end: boredom. To me, the advancers of this group are obvious – Brazil and Ivory Coast. Portugal will finish behind North Korea.
Game 1 Winner – North Korea – 2-1 loss versus the giants?!?! Impressive.
Game 1 Loser – Portugal – Ronaldo chooses playing for money over playing for the shirt.
Group F — “ The Group of the Unknown”
Spain has all the names; Switzerland and Chile have all the points. The Spain/Swiss game is the reason why we watch the Cup and why a 1-0 game can be exhilarating. Best game of the tournament so far. Turns everything on its head.
Game 1 Winner – Switzerland. Italy tied Swiss, Swiss beat Spain, ergo Italy beat Spain.
Game 1 Loser – Spain. There’s a reason they’ve never advanced beyond the quarters.