World Cup Predictions (Round Two)

There aren’t many compelling reasons to get up early in the morning on a regular basis but the World Cup would be one of them.  Since the 2006 tournament began a fortnight ago, I have seen 95% of the matches played thus far.  (It would’ve been 100% were it not for the past 4 days where 2 games were played simultaneously in the mornings and afternoons.  (I flipped back and forth so I wouldn’t miss any of the goals or terrific saves.  I was mostly successful.) It’s understandable why FIFA scheduled them that way (to avoid chicanery) but I would’ve liked to have seen all the games, which was my goal from the start.)  It was a struggle in the beginning to go to bed at a reasonable hour and then to rise at an ungodly time of the morning.  But I persevered and have seen some amazing moments.  (Unfortunately, it has to be said that a number of the games have been deadly dull.  Hopefully, that’s going to change.)
After doing reasonably well in the first round of predictions, it’s time to move on to the round of 16.  Will I do a better job of prognosticating this time around or worse?  In four days, I’ll have my answer.  Here’s what I think will happen in the 8 matches of the second round:
Germany Vs. Sweden
The former is the home team, they have the number one scorer and they look just as strong as they did four years ago when they made it all the way to the final game against Brazil.  The latter have struggled and need a win against a solid soccer nation to rebuild their confidence.  Germany and Sweden have a long history together going back to 1934 when they battled in that year’s World Cup.  (Germany won 2-1.)  They have faced each other 11 times since then (12 games overall) and Germany have won the majority of matches (7).  Besides that statistic and 4 draws, Sweden has only beaten them once, during a friendly in 1990.
Even without all that knowledge, I would still make the same prediction.  Germany are on a roll and are trying to move on after their terrible defeat at the hands of Ronaldo and company in the 2002 Final.  They seem hungry to me.  Khan hasn’t been in the net this time (he’s a back-up this year) but goaltending wasn’t really their problem.  (Sometimes, despite your best efforts, there are some shots you just can’t stop.)  Here’s hoping there are a lot of goals scored in this one.  Germany will win.
Argentina Vs. Mexico
Before the tournament began, I had no idea who I thought would win the whole shebang.  After seeing Argentina’s first two group matches, I now know.  They look unstoppable.  It’s been 20 years since they last won (controversially, it should never be forgotten) and I can’t even see Brazil, the defending champions, shutting down this South American juggernaut.
Mexico are a good team but they’re not Argentina.  They have faced each other 14 times in International competitions since the 1930 World Cup.  Argentina have beaten them 5 times.  Mexico has only claimed victory twice.  The remaining seven matches ended in draws.  Expect a lot of goals and a terrific match.  Argentina will win.
Italy Vs. Australia
Here’s a very interesting match-up.  2 teams who have never faced each other, not even in a friendly.  Australia surprised me during the group stage but I think their luck will run out against a much-improved Italy.  With the great Totti and Del Piero among others playing well, Italy’s going to have a better World Cup run this year than they did in 2002.  Italy will win.
Switzerland Vs. Ukraine
2 teams I seriously undervalued.  This might be the most difficult match to call.  Their World Cup rankings are very close together (the Swiss are 24th and the Ukraine is 28th).   Like Italy and Australia, they have never fought each other on the pitch.  Could be a very close, exciting match.  Both won 2 of their group matches and looked very confident.  The difference will be goaltending.  Ukraine got killed by Spain (the only team that scored on them) while Switzerland have yet to concede a single goal.  That should be the difference.  Switzerland will win.
England Vs. Ecuador
Once again, here are two teams meeting each other for the first time.  England struggled to get goals at times during the group stage but eventually managed to score 5 times.  They have suffered a major blow with the early exit of Michael Owen who suffered an excruciating leg injury that looks bad no matter how many times you watch the replays.  (He won’t be playing any games for the rest of the year.) It should be noted that he had been struggling through the group matches and perhaps his absence won’t be a factor.  On the plus side, Rooney looks very healthy and seems to be over his foot injury.  (He made his first start in the third group match against Sweden. When he was substituted in the second half of that game, his famous temper was exposed while he threw off his shoes on the bench.  Leave the childishness to McEnroe, eh?)  If he can produce assists and/or goals, England will be in great shape.  And never discount Mr. Beckham.  Seems like a lovely man and when he wants to, he can deliver when England needs him to.  He will continue to be an important factor for Brittania.  My Grandpa would’ve loved him, too.
As for Ecuador, who have qualified for their second consecutive World Cup, they could always shock us again with another win.  But England have a lot more to prove and with Owen out, they will be hungry for a victory.  Should be a close one with few goals.  England will win.
Portugal Vs. Netherlands
This one could easily go either way.  Holland are constantly picked to win the World Cup and always come up short.  Portugal is another favourite who have yet to win the odd-looking trophy.  They have played each other 9 times since 1990.  Portugal have the edge in victories (5 to 1.) and they’ve tied each other on 3 different occasions.  This year, the Netherlands have struggled in the goal-scoring department.  They seem to average a goal a game.  Not good if you want to keep progressing.  Portugal have scored 5 in their 3 matches and have had their problems as well.  In the end, history is a good guide.  Portugal will win.
Brazil Vs. Ghana
The easiest result to predict.  Unless the fierce Brazillians (who look increasingly tough in every match) fall asleep defensively, I don’t see them losing.  Ghana, Africa’s best hope for the championship, have stunned everybody with how well they’ve been playing.  Beating the United States and the Czech Republic (two Top 5 ranked teams, no less) will most definitely enhance their burgeoning reputation.  But, as Ryan Seacrest would say, the journey ends here.  These two nations have faced each other once before and it wasn’t pretty.  Or close.  In a 1996 friendly, Brazil won by a score of 8-2.  Will this year’s result be any different?  I think it’ll be a closer game but ultimately history will repeat itself.  Brazil will win.
Spain Vs. France
This could be the most entertaining match of the second round.  Incredibly, they have only faced each other 7 times since 1988.  And France has been the dominant team during their matches.  (They’ve won 5 games.)  But France has looked shaky thus far.  They’ve only won one game so far (but are undefeated).  They’ve struggled with their offense.  They don’t seem terribly united, either.  (Replays have picked up the occasional disagreement.)  Plus, their superstars, Zidane (who sat out the third match which they won) and goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, are on the verge of retirement.  They’ve already won the World Cup during their peak 8 years ago on home soil.  Could they possibly be determined enough to taste glory again?      
Their opponents are one of the strongest teams playing right now.  Spain have only coughed up one measly goal and they have produced impressive finishes 8 times thus far.  Their only victory against France happened to be the most recent encounter with that nation.  A 2001 friendly in Barcelona.  I have to go against history because Spain have momentum and France are not as solid as I anticipated they would be.  I could be wrong with this pick but I have to go with my instincts.  Spain will win.
Once the matches for the quarter-finals are settled, I’ll be back to assess my second round picks and make more predictions for round three.  Until then, enjoy the second round of the World Cup.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, June 23, 2006
6:57 p.m.
Published in: on June 23, 2006 at 7:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

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