World Cup Daily: Defending champ Italy humbled, Japan sparkles
For the first time ever, the two teams that contested the last World Cup final have been eliminated from the finals tournament at the earliest opportunity. Having seen France go out in slapstick fashion Tuesday, Italy followed today despite a criminally late show of urgency that threatened to put it through at the expense of its opponent, Slovakia. There have been no player tantrums or public showdowns in the Italian camp, but that almost makes such a supine campaign harder to excuse. Certainly in Italy, supporters have branded their team "worse than France."
Though a draw might have been enough, Italy really needed to chase the win over Slovakia. Coach
Even before he had set foot on a South African pitch, questions were asked about the ongoing selection of central defender
Lippi, like France coach
The two goals Italy had previously conceded had come from set pieces, but
There's a relentlessness to Japan's
Having recently been beaten by England, Serbia and South Korea (twice), the performance of the Japanese since arriving in South Africa has caught everyone off-guard, but today's display against Denmark was especially remarkable. Perhaps the sterility of the Danes encouraged a more attacking game plan, but Japan only needed a draw to progress from the group. Furthermore, it had had been Japan's defensive discipline that had protected a 1-0 lead over Cameroon in its first match and held the Dutch to a single goal victory in its second.
Though Denmark had stuttered having arrived at the finals with an exemplary record in qualifying, the stylishness of its comeback against Cameroon seemed to suggest there would be a defensive requirement for Japan again today. Indeed, Danish coach
A feast of great goals today, from
"Maybe I didn't succeed in unifying the team and bringing the team together. I will not point fingers or accuse anyone. I thought I would have got better results with this match" -- Cameroon coach
52 -- the number of international goals
As far as tomorrow's matches are concerned,
The group stage finishes tomorrow with groups G and H tying up the loose ends. Each groups' top two will face each other in a pair of tantalizing ties: Portugal versus Brazil (at 10 a.m. ET), and Chile versus Spain (2:30 p.m. ET).
Brazil is already through, and Portugal could afford to lose the second World Cup meeting between these two thanks to its healthy goal difference. Perhaps naively, I'm hoping that'll produce a somewhat devil-may-care approach and some attractive attacking soccer -- a win for either side would mean top spot and the potential easier match-ups in the rounds ahead.
The game between North Korea and Ivory Coast (10 p.m. ET) means little unless Brazil beats Portugal and
Spain needs a win over Chile to confirm its place in the next round, while Chile needs a draw to do the same. There have been calls for
Incredibly, Switzerland, which has scored one goal so far in this tournament, could qualify for the round of 16 with a (scoring) draw, if Chile beats Spain. I'd like to think we'll see a bit more intent from the Swiss, against a Honduras side which has yet to score and which has registered one shot on target so far. If Switzerland wins and (it may seem unlikely, but) scores plenty of goals, it has an excellent chance to go through.