Since I'm living at work for the duration of the G20 summit, I wasn't around to blog last night. Therefore, before the knockout stage starts tomorrow, let's knock off the remaining 16 teams while I eat my Swiss Chalet dinner.
Netherlands: I'm not surprised with the Dutch sweeping their way through the group. But now the pressure is on for L'Oranje not to screw it all up again in the knockouts. They've got Arjen Robben back which is a bad sign for every other team. He made an impact immediately upon subbing in, smashing a shot off the post leading to the winner against Cameroon.
Japan: The Blue Samurai's progression is something I didn't expect at all. I was fully expecting a last-place finish for the boys from the far east, but they have certainly impressed, culminating in their 3-1 win over Denmark in a match they just had to draw. With samurai-like precision, two great free-kick goals buried the Danes in the final group match and sent Japan through with two wins. Their one loss came to the Netherlands, but it was a tight 1-0 affair that the Japanese were happy with considering the stature of their opponent.
Denmark: Not without talent, the Danish mix of youth and veterans bounced back well from their 2-0 loss to the Dutch with an impressive comeback victory over Cameroon. That set them up for a do-or-die encounter with Japan they were expected to win, but they got crushed by the set piece and couldn't overcome that. The red and white football aces certainly aren't the worst team to be eliminated, but that's the luck of the draw in the cruel World Cup group stages.
Cameroon: The poor Indomitable Lions and my boy Rigobert Song disappointed in South Africa to be sure with three losses. A 1-0 loss to Japan highlighted the team's inexperience, and that led to a bit of a revolt within the ranks. Senior players demanded Paul le Guen play the more experienced campaigners over the youngsters, and they responded by taking a 1-0 lead over Denmark. But that lead was lost, and was their final match after they'd been eliminated. Without surprise, le Guen is gone now.
Paraguay: As a South American team playing alongside the world class talents from Brazil, Argentina, etc, the Paraguayans are often overlooked. They've never made a serious run at the World Cup, but these guys are still pretty good. That being said, this group was a complete mess, and they were held to a draw by New Zealand. They play Japan next in a knockout tie that could go any which way, but I can't see them making it much further than the quarters.
Slovakia: For a team that played so poorly over their first two matches, the Slovaks must be in seventh-heaven over their insane 3-2 win over Italy to make it out of the group. They're in unprecented territory and play the Dutch next, so good luck Slovakia, you're gonna need it!
New Zealand: Three matches, three draws, two goals for, two goals against. For a team with semi-professional players and no big names, the Kiwis played a great tournament and should leave South Africa with nothing but absolute pride in themselves.
Italy: Ouch. Time to blow it up, Azzurri.
Brazil: Never a doubt to top the group, Dunga's side wasn't showing 100% Brazil in the group stage. Sure, there's the fact that Dunga has implemented a more defensive style, but conceding goals to North Korea and Ivory Coast isn't a great sign. The 0-0 draw to Portugal was absolutely boring albeit heated, though both the Portuguese-speaking teams knew they were going to go through with a draw, so I'm sure that had something to do with it. Look for them to start turning it on now that they're in the Round of 16.
Portugal: We just wouldn't shut up about Portugal's qualifying troubles in Europe, but let's not forget that these guys are ranked third in the world. As dumb as the FIFA rankings are, I think they've got the top 10 pretty accurate. They just love 0-0 against African teams (they drew Cape Verde Islands 0-0 in a friendly before drawing Ivory Coast 0-0), but a 7-0 destruction of North Korea sealed their ticket to the next stage where they'll be in tough.
Ivory Coast: There was a glimmer of hope for the Ivorians, and following Drogba's journey through his broken arm was captivating for African fans (and Chelsea fans alike). But in the end, it was the nasty 3-1 loss to Brazil that did the Elephants in and killed their hopes. The Group of Death has struck, and it's the Africans that are done.
North Korea: A great first half against Brazil had everyone buying into the hype of a shutdown defence, and then they allowed 12 goals over the rest of the tournament. Of course, in North Korea they all believe they've just won the World Cup, Stanley Cup and FedEx Cup combined.
Spain: Great reslience from the Spaniards to bounce back from that shocking 1-0 loss to Switzerland to win two straight and take the group outright. They've got Portugal next, which hardly seems like a reward for winning your group, but it will be a stern test for the European Champs that might harden them enough to go on a deep run.
Chile: Chi-chi, eh-eh-eh, Viva Chile! They faced the prospect of winning their first two matches and still not making it out of the group, but a gutsy performance in the 2nd half when down a man and 2-0 to Spain helped seal their passage when they scored to improve their goal differential over Switzerland (even if that never ended up coming into play). Next up is Brazil, who beat them both times in qualifying, so the run might end early.
Switzerland: Hopp Schwiiz no more. It's a cruel exit for the Swiss after a memorable opening win over Spain, but it was their lack of depth up front that knocked them out. The one goal against the Spaniards was the only one they managed in three matches. They really should have done better against Honduras in their finale, but they couldn't rise up to the occasion, and are now home to get ready to lose to England in Euro 2012 qualifying.
Honduras: These guys were brutal, though now I'm intrigued to see all the guys who play for Honduran side Motagua absolutely rip apart Toronto FC in the CONCACAF Champions League.
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