Who can tell why, but the pattern of one great game a day, and one disappointing one, held throughout the first knockout round. Italy and Brazil went through as expected, but in contrasting styles, and the best game of the tournament so far was saved for last.
squeaked by Australia, 1-0, on a disputed penalty on literally the last touch of the ball, four minutes into extra time. Leave it to the Italians to pile on the drama. (Oh, did I mention they were playing a man down almost the entire second half?)
So, speaking of dramatics, was the controversial penalty call a dive? Probably. But it was also a foul. Perhaps unintentional, but clear, inside the box, on a player going toward goal with the ball. That's a call the referee has to make. Still, the Sockeroos can justifiably feel betrayed by fortune, if not by the ref; they played almost well enough to win, controlled possession, but couldn't quite get the final pass through, or shot on target. Speaking of which …
outlasted Switzerland in penalty kicks in the afternoon game; and if Australia lacked the final touch, here were two teams who looked like they didn't have any clue how to go about creating an attack. For once, it was a relief when the game went to a penalty kick shootout, because you got the feeling these guys could've played for hours longer without creating any scoring chances. Hell, Switzerland couldn't even score in the shootout, losing 3-0, and exiting the tournament without allowing a single goal. Surely that's some sort of record for offensive futility?
dispatched Ghana by a methodical 3-0, and as a contest it was about that one-sided. But the scoreline doesn't reflect a couple of realities: Ghana had the best of the possession, and actually won most of the midfield battles, only to be undone (like Australia) by poor finishing, time and time again. But for a few flashes of counterattacking brilliance, the Samba hardly looked like the big pre-tournament favorite they were hyped to be. Still, the coaches all stress that for Brazil, it's a seven-game tournament; no point peaking early. And I suppose if I'm grousing about the quality
of their 11th straight WC win, – and a 3-0 win at that – they must be doing something right. In the same vein, how about that Ronaldo
? Old, fat, slow … seems like nowadays all he can do is score game-winning goals. What a bum!
ousted Spain, 3-1, in the last game of the round – clearly the best-played, most competitive game of the tournament so far, pitting two teams with very high expectations, as well as big chips on their shoulders. For France, this WC is the last stand of a generation – Zidane, Thuram, Barthez, et al. – who won it all in 1998 and 2000, then got swept out of the 2002 WC with three losses and no goals. For the Spaniards – who have famously never advanced past the quarterfinals despite almost always being among the favorites – it was another bitter disappointment; they'll be little cheered by the promise shown by this very young team, or by the fact that they played such fine, smart, inventive, attacking football … and still fell just barely short. No moral victory here.
So, now it's on to the quarterfinals, Friday and Saturday. More on that soon. Read More | Comment »