Only one game today with real drama in it, but it ended up being a pretty good one. Mexico booked their ticket for the knockout rounds with a stirring performance. And as much as I like this Croatia team and hoped they would advance, I’m happy to see our neighbors to the south moving on. And I will certainly be rooting for them to wipe that smirk off of Robben’s face.
Australia 0 – 3 Spain
Netherlands 2 – 0 Chile
I half-watched both of these games which, as always, means that I didn’t get a good sense of what happened in either. The Spanish game mostly reiterated what I’ve been saying. They had a terrible 40 minutes against Holland, a mediocre game against Chile, and are on the down side of their cycle. But this is still an incredibly talented squad, and they dispatched Australia with quite a bit more ease than either of the other teams in the group. Obviously you can’t draw too many conclusions from a dead-rubber game, but I think the new generation of Spanish players is going to do just fine in the years to come.
The other game seemed quite dull, though again that might only be because I wasn’t devoting my full attention to it. Still: no shots on goal at all in the first half and only a handful in the second. Chile seemed to really miss Vidal, but if they’re worried about his fitness (and his yellow card situation) I think resting him here was a good call. No one WANTS to face Brazil in the first round, but having your best lineup is probably more important than going all out to win this game once you’ve already qualified. The Dutch looked fine, though not particularly exciting. Obviously, no one is going to want to play them while Robben and Van Persie are clicking this well (and they’ve got a reasonably easy route in the first couple knockout rounds), so you’d have to make them a strong bet to make the semifinals. I mean, apart from that one half against Spain this team hasn’t impressed me THAT much, but they’ve beaten everyone put in front of them and done so with some decent style. And every team in this tournament has some serious flaws.
Cameroon 1 – 4 Brazil
Croatia 1 – 3 Mexico
I mostly watched Croatia-Mexico and gave a few looks to Brazil. From what I could tell, they once again failed to impress and were flattered by the 4-1 scoreline. The defense looked quite weak, with a number of serious chances for a not particularly great Cameroon. But, again, whoever wins this tournament will necessarily be a team with flaws. So there’s absolutely no reason that could be Brazil.
Mexico deserved their win. For the first 60 minutes, it was pretty even. Croatia generally had a lot more of the ball, and produced the more organized and developed chances. But Mexico was repeatedly threatening on the break, and the Croatian backline looked a bit ragged. For the final 30 minutes it was all Mexico. They had a number of decent chances, a couple questionable refereeing decisions go against them that could have opened things up (including a penalty shout that lots of people seem to think was stone cold but I’m actually not at all sure about), and eventually got the goal that really put Croatia under pressure (a draw was enough to get Mexico through). As they pressed forward more, their already-stressed defense cracked and let in some more.
I feel bad for Croatia who played excellently in five of their six halves but got screwed by the ref against Brazil and got knocked out needing to chase the game today. Still, what really killed them more than anything is Mexico playing up to their potential. If the Mexico of the qualifying campaign had shown up, Croatia would have easily advanced.
Predictions for tomorrow:
- Italy 1 – 2 Uruguay
- Costa Rica 1 – 2 England
- Japan 1 – 2 Colombia
- Greece 1 – 1 Ivory Coast
I think Italy is the better team, but this Uruguay team just refuses to die. I can’t really justify it, but I’m predicting another questionable victory that puts them through to the knockout round. Speaking of things I can’t justify, I’m once again predicting a good result for England. But I think they’ve played well and will do even better now that the pressure is off.
For the other group, I think Colombia beats Japan because I am quite a bit less enthusiastic about this Japan team than I was a few weeks ago. And I think Greece scrapes a draw that doesn’t really do them any good, but allows them to exit the tournament with their heads held high.