Saturday's play saw Cameroon become the first team to be eliminated from the competition with a 2-1 loss to Denmark, marooned at the bottom of Group E with no points. This despite a performance against Denmark that was so vastly different to the flat, ambling soccer we saw against Japan earlier in the week that it felt devilishly cruel -- even as you acknowledged the Danes worthy winners. The hopes of African nations now hang primarily on Ghana, atop the beguilingly inconclusive Group D table, and Ivory Coast, who face Brazil tomorrow.
Ghana's meeting with Australia earlier in the day was every bit as open, despite the imbalance in numbers after the Socceroos'
In 1954, West Germany lifted the trophy but began the tournament with an 8-3 hiding by Hungary; Italy's 1982 group matches (0-3-0, goal difference 0) hardly seemed to foretell its 3-1 triumph over the Germans in the final. The idea that champions rarely dazzle from the off is now as engrained in World Cup folklore as the notion that league champions are those teams that get a result without playing brilliant football. So perhaps everyone outside of the Netherlands should be concerned that the Oranje now has six points on the board but has barely got out of third gear in doing so.
It always seems a cop-out to go for scorers in this section, but
Things were tight between the Netherlands and Japan, the Dutch coming out on top and arguably claiming the game's MVP in
You'd think we'd have learned, since someone first suggested it 2500 years ago but especially in the past few days, to expect the unexpected. But still, Group D threw us another curveball today when Ghana -- commanding against Serbia last week -- began its match against Australia feebly and failed to make the one-man advantage it enjoyed for 75 percent of it play. For its part, 10-man Australia -- anaemic while being led a merry dance by Germany -- battled gallantly.
"It's shocking, because if anyone has protected Anelka, it's Domenech. Domenech has played Anelka throughout the past two years" -- vice president of the French Football Federation,
"Go f--k yourself, you dirty son of a b---h" -- what Anelka said to
After Cameroon's exit, African sides have played 11 matches, and won just one (Ghana's 1-0 victory over Serbia).
The first two games of the day will go a long way toward shaping Group F, where things are currently all square. Slovakia and Paraguay will have rather different takes on their 1-1 results earlier in the week -- the former was 30 seconds away from a win, while the latter clung on to the result late on. Paraguay had started positively, however, and has promised to go for the win. Slovakia, meanwhile, should be more potent in attack with the return of Stoch, who'll slot in behind Robert Vittek and Stanislav Sestak.
Italy and New Zealand both confounded expectations in their first games, and this looks a slightly less one-sided match-up because of that. In all likelihood, New Zealand won't have enough to overpower Italy, but its aerial threat up front could still cause problems. In contrast, Marcello Lippi has been openly critical of his strikers in training this week -- Alberto Gilardino and Vicenzo Iaquinta notched up 0 shots on target between them against Paraguay.
In the day's last kick-off, Brazil meets Ivory Coast for the first time on a soccer pitch. Brazil will be unchanged from the side that defeated North Korea, while Ivory Coast appears likely to start Didier Drogba. His presence gives Sven Goran Eriksson's side the bite it lacked against Portugal, but Didier Zokora knows Ivory Coast must stay compact if it's to cope with the running of Robinho and Kaka.