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On to the round of 16

June 25, 2010 | 6:55 pm 2
By Shaun Schafer

Will they have anything left?

That’s the question for the U.S. Men. After a nervy tie with England, a rousing comeback and unjust goal decision against Slovenia, and then the 90-plus goal to upend Algeria, what do they have left?

Hopefully, after this rollercoaster ride, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Co. will have enough fuel to push through 90 minutes against Ghana. Ghana has the team speed and quality players to score, but it also has a shaky defense. The one thing I have believed about this U.S. team from the naming of the original pool of 30 players was that this group could score.

Dempsey has been unlucky and the referees have been unkind. I don’t see either of those streaks continuing. The U.S. will score goals, just to keep me from losing my mind. I don’t think I can take another anxious afternoon.

Regardless, Saturday should be a great match. These teams have a lot of the same virtues and vices. I can’t wait.

1930 Redux: By beating Algeria, the U.S. won its group for the first time since the first World Cup in 1930.

Just for a little perspective, that first team went to the semifinals. Argentina crushed the Americans 5-2.

Guessing Game: With all the first round games, it’s time to review my prognasticating skills. My predictions are here.

On the plus side, I got 12 of the 16 teams that advanced to the second round. I regretted picking France for the second round before the first game. The French only made it worse. Kudos to Uruguay for topping the group. I should have known better to discount any team with Diego Forlan.

I’m not sure what to make of Italy’s flameout. As a team, they just waited until too late to play. The final 10 minutes of the Slovakia game was one of the most entertaining portions of any game this tournament. I don’t know, maybe Italy packed its sense of urgency in a different bag.

Still, kudos to Slovakia and farewell to the ’06 finalists, France and Italy.

Also, South America is due for all possible respect. Only one team lost even one game, and Chile’s 2-1 loss to Spain on the final day of first round play was no embarrassment. Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Brazil each came out and took care of business. Very impressive to see five of the final 16 coming from South America.

Asian Surprises: I thought the home continent advantage would push Nigeria through. The Super Eagles never came together. South Korea, which seemed to be regressing at a rapid pace since 2002, played solid defense and found a way to score. In one group, you got a pleasant surprise and a sad disappointment.

I also thought Japan was done. However, the Japanese seem to be getting better as the tournament progresses. The game against Denmark was fantastic. It was a well-deserved 3-1 win, and it’s not unreasonable to picture the Japanese in the quarterfinals.

African Disappointments: Ghana was the only African team to get through the first round. Of the other four, the only one that looked likely to make it was Nigeria. Ivory Coast was a trendy pick, but I never bought into that belief. Cameroon showed little in qualifying and little in the tournament.

This leaves the hosts. Bafana Bafana did everything but qualify for the next round. The team played attractive soccer and showed that they belonged. It would have been a storybook to move on to the second round, but there is no shame in bouncing out. I doubt it will reduce the sound of vuvuzelas, but the hosts are on the sidelines.

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  • Jordan I said:

    The US has a good draw to make it to the semi’s. That means they have to pull it together and play a full 90 mins for two games (not completely out of the question). I hope they’ve actually focused on the up coming games and didn’t get caught up in the hype that has followed to newly found US following. They really have a great chance to develop soccer in the US but that means they have to step up because this “come-from-behind” mentality won’t cut it in the knock-out rounds.

  • Shaun Schafer said:

    Sadly, they didn’t pull it out. Valiant but defeated.

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