After 11 days, Tuesday brought the tournament's first real winners and losers, though the four teams eliminated by the close of play took their own individual approaches to the role of "loser."
In Group A, South Africa and France met with each knowing it must triumph by a handful of goals to hope to depose Mexico in second place. In the end, neither did, though the host threatened to in a first-half performance that represents an embarrassing nadir for French soccer. When
By contrast, South Africa scored two goals before halftime, but a more deadly team would have had more. It may have become the first host nation to exit at the group stage in the history of the World Cup, but it went out with an energetic display and gave the home fans an afternoon to enjoy and be proud of. Former French captain
The result means both Uruguay and Mexico survive Group A, going on to play Group B runner-up South Korea and winner Argentina, respectively. Uruguay and Mexico rested any fears that they had come to an arrangement to tie the match with a feisty encounter that swung back-and-forth before Uruguay scored and sat back on its lead to win 1-0. In Group B, Argentina had 67 percent of possession against Greece -- another departing team that didn't exactly cover itself in glory with a tepid, ultra-defensive display -- but had to wait until the 77th minute before defender
For those who had a choice, Argentina's game probably attracted a similarly lopsided share of the television audience, but Nigeria and South Korea's winner-take-all contest was easily the more enthralling. The initiative swung this way and that in a match marked as much by mistakes as by moments of real quality, and Group B's second-place spot repeatedly changed hands. In the end, Nigeria's lack of composure in front of goal cost it dear. On Wednesday, when Ghana and Algeria play, the host continent will hope for better luck.
The best thing about the tournament's progression is that there's plenty of choice in this section (though that does create more space for disagreement). I was impressed with what I saw from South Africa's
Two things surprised me Tuesday. First, there were further depths for France to venture into and make its own, producing the most shambolic performance of its three games. Second, even when it needed a win to reach the knockout stages, Greece opted to defend. That's like protecting a house that's already been burgled. The fact that players started taking long-range pot-shots at goal only once they were two goals down and had only seconds on the clock was bizarre.
It seemed Mexico and Uruguay were destined to reach halftime without a goal, despite both sides being willing. But then
"I am proud of the boys. They made this country proud" -- South Africa coach
Judgement day for Groups C and D, both of which could still see any of their four inhabitants qualify, depending on how the cookie crumbles.
In the earlier kickoffs at 10 a.m. ET, the U.S. takes on Algeria while Slovenia plays England. Simply put, if the U.S. wins, it's through, and it will focus on that rather than attempting to play the statistics. Algeria will make some changes up front, which means the U.S. will have to try and break down the defense that's been breached just once so far.
England faces the slightly tougher task of beating Slovenia to guarantee its survival -- Slovenia will keep things tight, knowing that a draw will do, and will be reasonably confident of keeping the uninspired English at bay. But England hasn't failed to qualify for the knockout phase since 1958, and hasn't lost a third and final group game since 1950. The onus is certainly on
In one of two games at 2:30 p.m. ET, Germany faces a powerful and energetic Ghana team without striker