So, the Group Stages are now over. We know who has battled through to the knockout stages and who has bombed at the first hurdle. Here is my impression of all the teams and their performance so far.
Uruguay: I’ll be honest and say I fancied them to get out of the group, but not as winners. Watching them against France, they were uninspiring, but then they came alive against the hosts, and again against the Mexicans. No doubt they’ll be happy with their 2nd Round tie against the South Koreans, and have an eye on the Quarter Finals.
Mexico: Profited from an abject performance by the French this time out. Weren’t particularly impressive in the opener against the hosts, and didn’t exactly give the Uruguayans too much to worry about. But that’s what you get with Mexico – dogged determination and write them off at your own peril. A repeat of their 2nd Round game against Argentina in 2006 awaits.
South Africa: A proud performance by the hosts in spite of their lack of world class talent. Gave the home support something to cheer about by not losing their opening game, but came undone against Uruguay. Also compounded the French misery in the last game, eventually going out on goal difference.
France: What can you say? In-fighting, divisions, sulking and more. A manager who lost all respect and dignity, players not performing to their ability, they only really showed glimpses of what they could do when it was too late. You wonder what incoming manager Laurent Blanc can do with them. I would suggest that quite a few of the squad have played their last international game, and have no one else to blame but themselves.
Argentina: Only good goalkeeping prevented them destroying Nigeria. In great form and with a front line to die for they’re looking good bets to go far, and with Diego Maradona keeping us all entertained from the sidelines, they will strike fear into any team they face. Perhaps a little shaky in defence, but otherwise a force to be reckoned with. Unlikely to be troubled by 2nd Round opponents Mexico.
South Korea: I was impressed by the way they overcame the Greeks in the first game. They were out of their depth against Argentina, but that was to be expected. They were only a Yakubu miss away from going out, but they live to fight another day and take on Uruguay for a place in the Quarter-finals.
Greece: Seemed to think they’d done enough just to be there in the first place. No real intentions until they had the man advantage against Nigeria, otherwise they could quite easily have ended up losing all three games.
Nigeria: The so-called ‘Super Eagles’ flattered to deceive again. Only their goalkeeper prevented Argentina walking all over them. Then a unnecessary sending-off ended any real hope of making it out of the group. Could have beaten South Korea, but they wouldn’t have really deserved it, would they?
USA: Caused England problems, without the help from Rob Green. Looked dead and buried against Slovenia, but dragged themselves back into it. Then a last gasp winner against Algeria to top the group, and avoid the Germans. Will fancy their chances against Ghana.
England: Where to start??!! But for a horrendous error by Green, they would have beaten the USA. Which would have papered over a poor, aimless performance. The debacle that was the Algerian game is possibly the worst ever England performance in a World Cup finals. Were better against Slovenia, but only because they knew they had to be. ‘Rewarded’ with a game against the old enemy Germany, it will be the true test of character and backbone the team need. They must ALL perform if they want to carry on in this tournament.
Slovenia: Ultimately unlucky not to progress, which they would have done but for America’s late late show against the Algerians. Also benefitted from a keeper error in the first game, then looked in control before lettng the USA peg them back. Showed flashes of danger against the English, but it just wasn’t enough in the end.
Algeria: Pretty poor showing. Didn’t score a goal, and their only point was against the shambolic England. Hardly did the African continent proud.
Germany: After dismantling Australia, they had an abherration against Serbia. Podolski’s missed penalty showed that they are human after all! Looked to be ekeing out a draw against Ghana until their best player, Ozil, scored a great goal. England will have to watch him closely.
Ghana: Not a bad showing considering their best player, Michael Essien, is missing. Could have shown a bit more adventure against Germany, but otherwise fairly solid, and the only African team not to fall at the group stage. Will feel they have a chance against the USA.
Australia: After their thrashing at the hands of Germany, they closed up and produced some respectable results. Only missed out on goal difference.
Serbia: After beating the Germans in their second game, they went into the showdown with Australia knowing they only needed to win and they would be through. They couldn’t do it though, and the defeat left them bottom of the group, despite being seen as dark horses by some, me included.
Holland: Solid without being spectacular. The brand of ‘Total Football’ seems to be a thing of the past in my opinion. Admittedly they missed Robben, and the sooner he gets going, the better we’ll all be.
Japan: Possibly their best ever performance at a World Cup. Some great players in the side, and against Denmark, I saw the two best free kicks of the tournament so far. An interesting game against Paraguay awaits in Round 2.
Denmark: I thought they would have enough to get through this group, but they showed hardly any real quality. A couple of errors by Sorensen in the Japan game undermined their chances.
Cameroon: Yet another African disappointment. Sadly the country are still in the shadow of what the 1990 squad achieved in Italy a full 20 years ago. Eto’o was played out of position against Japan, and unable to prevent defeats in the other two games.
Paraguay: Good against Italy, outclassed the Slovakians, and were in cruise control against New Zealand. Fully deserve their place in the next round and will certainly feel confident of a Quarter-final place. It won’t be that easy though…
Slovakia: Nothing but steady. Thought they’d done enough to beat New Zealand, but fell asleep at the end. Poor against the Paraguayans, and then took advantage of the old and creaky Italians. A surprise name in the 2nd Round, but I don’t anticipate them causing the Dutch any problems.
New Zealand: 3 games, 3 draws. Something to be proud of certainly. Only a dodgy penalty away from beating Italy.
Italy: Too old. Lacked any spark or creativity, and missed a goalscorer in the Inzaghi or Vieri mould. Admittedly the loss of Buffon was a huge blow, but it simply highlighted the dearth of talent in the Italian game at the moment.
Brazil: Laboured against the North Koreans, showed glimpses of what they can do against the Ivory Coast, before a stalemate with the Portuguese. But with the drudgery of the group over, they can open up and really dazzle us all. Regardless of Dunga’s occasionally dour tactics, they have Robinho, Kaka, Luis Fabiano and Elano who can really play football.
Portugal: Seemed reluctant to show any real intent against the Ivory Coast, and bar a Ronaldo shot against the post were unspectacular. Then ran riot over the North Koreans to all but seal their 2nd Round place. A dull draw with the Brazilians to secure the runners-up spot, leaving a tasty 2nd Round tie against neighbours Spain. Ronaldo against David Villa. I will be watching this with interest. Hard to pick a winner.
Ivory Coast: Showed brief glimmers of what they can achieve, but still have to go down as an underachievement. Preparation was poor, with Sven not getting the squad together until only a few weeks beforehand and then Drogba’s injury. With Didier Drogba probably playing his last World Cup, it’s hard to see where a quality replacement will come from.
North Korea: No heroics to match those of 44 years ago. Did well against Brazil, but then seemed to think the hard work was done. Spectacularly undone by Portugal and less so by Ivory Coast. Still a triumph for the players.
Spain: Shock opening defeat to Switzerland, but then improved against Honduras (well, they ought to have done). Looked shaky to start with against Chile, but eventually showed some class to secure the group and avoid Brazil. Will have to be on top form to beat neighbours Portugal in a potential battle royale.
Chile: Quite a entertaining team really. Wins over Honduras and the Swiss had all but secured qualification, and started well against Spain, before loss of discipline cost them. An all-South American tie with Brazil awaits. Could get tasty with Chilean brawn taking on Brazilian samba skills.
Switzerland: Unremarkable despite beating Spain. Should really have had enough to sneak into the 2nd Round, but paid the price for not having any sort of creative spark in the team. Content to plod along.
Honduras: Nothing really to say about them, that’s how little impact they had on this tournament. Ended the group stage matches with a dour and forgettable 0-0 draw.
Well, that’s my summing up of the World Cup so far. I’ll report back after each round is completed with comments and any talking points. Can England beat Germany? Who will survive the Spain/Portugal battle? Will the South Koreans get past Uruguay? If the results up to now are any guide, Christ knows!!!