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They say opposites attract, which is perhaps why there was a distinct lack of chemistry between Brazil and Portugal as Group G came to a close. The only trouble was that we all had to sit through the date, wondering how early was too early to make our excuses and switch over to the infinitely more eventful, though ultimately meaningless, match between Ivory Coast and North Korea.
Once Brazil had assumed control of possession, its ambitions on the final third evaporated. Not long after, so too did Portugal's desire to do more than protect the goalless draw that would see it through in the absence of a goal-scoring onslaught -- that momentarily seemed credible with the scoreline at 2-0 after 20 minutes -- from Ivory Coast.
Fortunately, Spain was not able to similarly inhibit its encounter with Chile until the final 20 minutes, in which both goalkeepers could have met up in the dugout and shared a game of cribbage without endangering the score. In the first half, Chile's exuberant attacking play threatened to overwhelm the Spanish, and only its rather too robust approach to its defensive duties slowed the game down and allowed Spain dead-ball possession in dangerous areas.
Had Chile kept its head it might have kept the 11 men who started the game, which in turn may have seen it record the tie it deserved. In the end, however, Switzerland's feeble showing against Honduras meant that both Spain and Chile progressed, the European Champion to face neighbor Portugal Tuesday, Chile to meet Brazil the day before. Both encounters hold the same promise we'd seen in today's matches, but will surely deliver more with nothing but a comfortable winning margin worth defending.
There were signs of what we expect to see from some of the tournament's standout players so far: David Villa was full of running for Spain, as was Alexis Sanchez, at least until Chile's crude defending limited his side's possession. But left back Arthur Boka helped to create all three of Ivory Coast's goals today, enjoying the freedom of the left channel with some lung-busting runs. His cross arrowed directly to Yaya Toure for the first, a long cross found Didier Drogba, whose rebounded shot was tucked away by Romaric for the second, and it was another of his measured crosses that provided for Salomon Kalou to volley home the third. He probably sent in enough crosses in the course of the match to set up several more.
Not another goalkeeper! Oh, Claudio Bravo, at what moment did it seem like a good idea to race out of your goal and attempt to tackle Fernando Torres? Torres was chasing down a searching ball from Xabi Alonso which, even if he got on the end of it, would have left him on the left of the penalty area with at least one Chile defender for company. Bravo's tackle simply sent the ball to David Villa, who now had his eyes on an empty goal. If you don't know how it ended, take a look at goal of the day, below.
Portugal keeper Eduardo had very little to do against Brazil, so he deserves credit for being alert to the danger when Grafite's shot caught Ricardo Carvalho's back and took a new trajectory towards his goal in the 91st minute. By that stage Portugal was already through even with defeat, but his athleticism after such long spells of inactivity was impressive: the ball looked bound for the top corner but Eduardo shifted his weight and got back to tip it over.
The sight of Mexican referee Benito Archundia showing players yellow cards for diving and waving imaginary cards was a welcome one, since we've waited for the last two weeks to see it. After feeling a fingertip touch on his back, Portugal's Tiago took an almost identical tumble to that which had won Alberto Gilardino and Italy a dubious penalty against New Zealand, and was immediately booked and told to get up.
It may have come from a mistake, but Villa was still 40 yards out of goal somewhere near the touchline when he curled the ball with laser precision into the far corner -- with his left foot. Nine times out of 10, players who look to show up wandering goalkeepers have to watch their shots bobble anywhere but the goal, but Villa's strike was near-perfect. While we're on the subject of cool-as-a-cucumber shooting, a mention for Ivory Coast's Yaya Toure. Collecting the ball on the edge of the area, he takes one touch to control it, then strokes it into the bottom corner of the net with minimum fuss.
It's easy to ask questions of a couple of coaches today -- why didn't Portugal get in amongst Brazil in the second half, Carlos Queiroz? Why play an unfit Torres when you have David Silva and Jesus Navas at your disposal, Vicente del Bosque? But Ottmar Hitzfeld's decision-making stood out during a match that Switzerland only had to win by two goals in order to progress; opponent Honduras had looked, with the best will in the world, more than beatable before now but ended up with the best chances. Despite saying star striker Alexander Frei was fit, Hitzfeld didn't bring him onto the pitch until Switzerland only had 20 minutes left to make the difference. By contrast, Marcelo Bielsa bravely stuck to a front-two despite being reduced to 10-men against Spain, and was rewarded when Rodrigo Millar scored early in the second half.
"Joachim [Low] and myself often went over to Premier League games and we tried to implement a style that really creates more speed and creativity. As a result, there is now a generation of German players coming through that has become used to that system. It is a process that has taken Germany six years to learn to play but England were playing that way six years ago" -- Jurgen Klinsmann discusses the development of the German team that will face England on Sunday. Who says the Germans don't have a sense of humor?
Despite an early show of intent from Ivory Coast, North Korea avoided breaking South Korea's World Cup record for goals conceded. In 1954, South Korea conceded 16. Kim Jong Hun's team goes home having leaked 12 -- and half of those came in the second half against Portugal.
If any of tomorrow's playing teams has injuries, the managers are keeping quiet about it. Bastian Schweinsteiger is still doubtful for Germany on Sunday, but Ledley King has made an unexpected return to training for England.
The first knockout match of the tournament sees Uruguay and South Korea face off (10 a.m. ET), each representing apparently burgeoning continents. This is the first time South Korea has reached the second round outside of the tournament it co-hosted in 2002, and though Uruguay -- which hasn't yet conceded a goal -- is the common-sense favorite, each is confident of its chances of reaching the semifinals.
That could make for a slightly cagey start -- that and the fact that both of these sides rely on stingy defenses and the pace and readiness of their forwards to pounce on mistakes by the opposition. Whoever sees most of the ball in midfield should be able to dictate the flow of play; if that battle isn't authoritatively won in the first hour, we could be in for an enjoyably frantic finish.
The big match, U.S. v Ghana, is up second. Coach Bob Bradley has concerns about the unpredictability of Ghana's forwards, but these are both teams that play to their strengths and breaking down Ghana's defense will be chief in the U.S. team's thoughts. It took a great strike from distance to earn Germany a 1-0 win over the Africans and it may be the space just in front of the defense that also affords the U.S. the best room to play.
Bradley hasn't been afraid to make changes to his team so far but he may feel he hit upon the winning formula against Algeria, another side that made itself hard to beat and offered an inconsistent threat up front. Jozy Altidore's partner is about the most difficult call he really has to make; Edson Buddle could help pester the Ghanaian defense with a bit more muscle than Hercules Gomez.