by Michael Cree
France bowed out in disgrace, but the U.S. pulled off an astonishing victory that sends them to the next round. Guest blogger Michael Cree wraps up the electrifying second week of the World Cup. – KW
Our resident Argentinian Gustavo trades in his blue stripes for Yankee red, white, and blue.
Well Ladies and Gentlemen, another week of the World Cup has passed. Still don’t like the vuvuzelas? Nobody cares. You sound like a broken record (pun intended).
It was my intention to give you an informed breakdown of those likely to qualify for the latter stages of the tournament. And this week, well, suffice to say, I’ve been made to look slightly foolish. Not, however, as foolish as the French national team.
In my opening post, one might recall my contention that if the French had a weakness, it was their manager Raymond Domenech. And how it proved to be so. Put simply, in World Cup history, no team has ever so spectacularly imploded like France has this time around. First the star striker tells the coach to “Go f**k yourself,” then the players refuse to train in protest at his resulting expulsion, and, to cap it all off, they finished bottom of their group, winless and embarrassed. Currently, President Nicolas Sarkozy is holding emergency talks with members of the team in a bid to understand what happened. That’s not a joke, by the way. Could you have predicted this scenario pre-tournament?
As much as the French enjoy a good strike (and if you follow European politics, you’ll know what I mean), the United States of America love a good comeback. And by George did their soccer team provide one. In its second match against Slovenia, Bob Bradley‘s side fell asleep in the first half and found themselves 2-0 down. In the second half of the match, Landon Donovan brought them within one with a spectacular and admirably pure strike. Once Michael Bradley had equalized, the game had become the best of the World Cup so far.
It was then to be marred by the worst decision of the World Cup so far. What the Malian referee was thinking about when he disallowed a perfectly good U.S. third that would have given them the win, only he will know. But it must be noted that the free kick, from which this non-goal was scored, was actually not a free kick. It was in fact, a blatant dive/flop from Jozy Altidore. Sorry to point that out, but someone had to.
But if you believe in karma, you might subscribe to the view that the U.S. got its just rewards in its final game against Algeria. One minute away from going out of the tournament, the perennial savior Donovan gave U.S. fans and non-fans alike just a taste of why soccer is so euphoric, poking home an injury-time winner to send bars, restaurants and, ahem, offices, into delirium. Unless that is, of course, if you work in the Algerian embassy. With Ghana up next and a favorable draw after that, the U.S. has never had a better chance of progressing far in the World Cup.
We all know the results, but just to re-cap for those in the back. England managed to scrape through to the knock-out stages with workmanlike win, where they will face old adversaries, the Germans. Argentina won its final game to finish top of the group unbeaten, and they will meet Mexico in the next stage. Holland made it through, and Spain should join them there. Portugal and Brazil both qualified from their group, the former giving the hapless North Koreans a 7-0 spanking.
Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay make up the South American contingent that have also qualified, mostly at the expense of the African sides, with Ghana the only nation having made it through from its continent. And a special shout-out must go to the Japanese, who will contest in the latter stages for only the second time in its history, and the Slovakians, who did so, if I’m not mistaken, for the first time in theirs.
The goals are flying in, the rhythm is back and World Cup 2010 is about to enter the knock-out stages. Buckle up, people. Things are about to get very interesting.