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:
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
The sight of Mexican referee
It may have come from a mistake, but Villa was still 40 yards out of goal somewhere near the touchline when he
It's easy to ask questions of a couple of coaches today -- why didn't Portugal get in amongst Brazil 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" --
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.
If any of tomorrow's playing teams has injuries, the managers are keeping quiet about it.
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
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.