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Well, the first round of the World Cup has been an exciting one, especially for all you USA fans out there. A mixture of excitement and disappointment was felt throughout South Africa, but as some teams look forward to the knockout round, others get to sit back and think about what went wrong. Here are just some of the highlights (and for others…lowlights), just in case you missed it.
When the World Cup group selections happened several months ago, there was outrage that France was placed in a seemingly easy Group A. In their three games, France struggled to score only one goal. Repeat: The World Cup 2006 runner-up scored one goal! They were shut out in a tie against Uruguay, the eventual group winner; lost 2-0 to Mexico, the group runner up; and were upset by host nation South Africa 2-1. Perhaps they shouldn’t have boycotted practice when one of their teammates was sent home early. Now they can all meet up with him back home.
There was little hope for New Zealand coming into the World Cup. In their previous appearance, they failed to score a goal, so naturally they were supposed to struggle in a group consisting of Paraguay, Slovakia and reigning champion Italy. The something funny happened. The Kiwis scored early, but gave up equalizing goals to Slovakia and Italy. A scoreless draw against Paraguay meant two things: (1) New Zealand was undefeated at the World Cup and (2) they finished third in the group and did not advance to the knockout round. For a team expected to roll over for national powerhouses, New Zealand gets bragging rights for finishing ahead of Italy (trust me, we will get to Italy later.)
Has there been a more exciting team in this World Cup the the USA? They came into the Cup in the most anticipated match of group play. After giving up the extremely early goal to England, they fought back to salvage a point with a tie. Their next game they allowed two early goals, only to fight back and win the game! Wait? That was called offsides… as the English would say…Bollocks! Then in a third game, A MUST WIN, they came out swinging, but due to some bad officiating and extraordinary goaltending, it appeared that USA was going home. However, Algeria had one lapse of judgment, which led to a fast break that the USA capitalized on. When Landon Donovan slammed home the winning goal in 90+1 minutes, it did more then just allow the United States to advance to the next round; it allowed them to win their first group sine 1930. That year, the United States finished third: an end-result many Americans would be glad to see again.
The World Cup has done a tremendous job of showing the continent of Africa as a sports loving paradise. However, the teams did not live up to the hype. Of the six African nations to qualify for the tournament, only one has advanced past the group play: Ghana. The other four, South Africa, Cote D’Ivoire, Nigeria, Cameroon and Algeria all struggled.
African favorites, Cote d’Ivorie, found themselves in the group of death with Brazil and Portugal and with their star Didier Drogba suffering a broken arm before the World Cup, all hopes were dashed.In another group, they might have found themselves advancing, but that’s the luck, or unluck of the draw. It appears that the highlight for the African nations will remain South Africa’s upset of the French team, that is unless Ghana can make some noise in the Round of 16. Watch out USA.
Love ’em or hate ’em, the vuvuzelas have stolen a lot of attention during the World Cup. The buzzing has given South African a distinct sound, even if some can’t stand it. Apparently a man in Germany threatened to kill his neighbors because of the noise. Also, Major League Baseball is looking to ban the horn after a Rays-Marlins game got out of control. Still, fans attending games seem to be entranced by the simple plastic instrument. Is it getting out of hand? Maybe, but who cares? Think, soon you won’t worry about vuvuzelas for another four years. Unless your buddy has the phone app version.
It’s not that Italy isn’t moving on to the next round. Or that they even finished at the bottom of their group, behind even New Zealand. It’s the lackluster performance they showed up with, game in, game out. There was hardly any sign of life for the Italian squad until they were down. When Slovakia went up by two goals late in the final match of Group F, the fire was finally lit. The desperation was clear and they played with the swagger and skill you would expect from an Italian squad. Too little, too late. The 3-2 loss ended Italy’s bid to repeat as champions, or make the second round for the eight consecutive time.
Still, do not feel bad, they did not deserve to move on. Paraguay and Slovakia were not going to roll over for Italy, and New Zealand was playing for pride. Italy came in expecting to steamroll the group and now find themselves home early. The last time Italy was booted early, they were greeted back home by rotten tomatos. This year might not be any different.
Exciting is an understatement if you are a soccer fan. Only Argentina and the Netherlands ran away with their groups. Even Brazil had to fight to beat Portugal and only escaped with a 0-0 tie. South Korea, Slovakia and Japan surprised many by advancing to the next round, while Slovenia, Austrailia, New Zealand and Switzerland kept fighting to the end.
Many games came down to the wire and two in particular stand out. The United States and Algeria was one of the most exciting games in World Cup history. They were more evenly matched then anticipated and the Donovan goal was as thrilling as they come. Also, Italy and Slovakia played as well as game as you could, albeit in the final 20 minutes. Italy scored a goal in stoppage time and almost tied it in 90+4 minutes, with the ball sailing wide.
More of the game. With 16 games remaining, they are all must-watch games.
In other words, do not miss a single moment of the next round. This could be the best World Cup ever. As of right now, this is anyone’s tournament…sorry Brazil, you are not walking away with it. For USA fans, the Americans have the best chance of moving into the quarterfinals then ever before. If they can avoid falling behind early, we might actually be talking about the United States playing for a spot in the World Cup finals. I can’t believe I just typed that!