World Cup Second Round Wrap-up & Quarterfinal Predictions

I have redeemed myself.  I correctly predicted the winners of 6 of the 8 second round match-ups in this year’s World Cup.  As expected, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, England, Portugal and Italy won their games and are all one step closer to winning perhaps the ugliest trophy in sports.
On an unfortunate note, I went with the Swiss instead of the triumphant Ukraine.  (I don’t know about you but that was the most boring game I have ever witnessed in my young life.)  Despite not coughing up any goals from any team they faced, the Swiss blew it during the penalty kicks.  (Interestingly, this has been the only game thus far to get to the penalty kick stage.)   On three attempts to put it past the keeper, one hit the bar and the other two were kept out.  It was an utter disappointment.  The only good thing about the result is that there’s one less dull team to put up with during these finals.
Also, I’m very shocked that France defeated Spain even though history was on their side.  (France have won the majority of their matches over the years.)  They looked so shaky during the group stage I could’ve sworn Spain was going to knock them out.  After taking an early lead (on a penalty kick, no less), they gave up 3 unanswered goals and have been sent packing.  After playing so well in their first three matches, it’s an absolute surprise to me that the Spaniards are gone.  Still, I’m proud of my second round record.
And now it’s time to talk about the quarterfinal match-ups.  We started with 32 and now we’re down to 8.  Who will be the strongest of the remaining squads?  Let’s size up the teams.
Germany Vs. Argentina
The last time these two soccer superpowers battled it out it was the 2005 Confederations Cup tournament.  (It ended in a 2-2 draw.)  They’ve been kicking it back and forth on the pitch since the 1958 World Cup (which was held in Sweden that year).  Of the 10 times they’ve played on the International stage, there have been 4 victories for Argentina, 3 wins for Germany and 3 indecisions.  On any given day, either one of these teams can have their moment in the sun as their past history suggests.  But I still feel the same way about this Argentina squad as I did in the previous two rounds.  They look unbeatable to me.  (Although in the round of 16, Mexico exposed a rare defensive vulnerability.)  This will be very close.  One goal will decide who proceeds to the final four.  Argentina will win.
Italy Vs. Ukraine
The thumbsucker saved the day for the Italians.  But can he do it again in this crucial third round encounter?  These 2 soccer-mad nations have previously played each other on three different occasions.  Italy has defeated them decisively twice and the third match ended in a goalless draw.  We have seen many surprises in this World Cup tournament but this will be a predictable result.  I’m hoping for a much more exciting game.  Italy will win.
England Vs. Portugal
David Beckham single-handedly booted the English squad into the quarter-finals with his terrific free kick in the match against Ecuador.  They are set to do battle with a demoralized Portugese team.  The second half of the second round encounter with the Dutch was one for the history books.  Exciting, interesting and loaded with controversy.  A simple screw-up by the referee in that match after an injured player had been dealt with was the beginning of the madness.  (Long story short, the Dutch player who was given the ball just needed to kick it to the other team and play would resume as normal.  But he kicked it to a teammate who subsequently went for a goal.  It got worse from there.)  In the end a dozen players got cautioned (mostly on the Portugese side), 4 of which were sent off.  (In the end, each team played with 9 guys on the field, just like the Italy/USA group match.)
This result has greatly affected the starting line-up for Portugal.  Deco and Costinha have been suspended and won’t be playing at all against England.  Luis Figo (who did his Junkyard Dog impersonation for no reason in the Dutch game) is very lucky not to have been red-carded himself.  (Apparently, he was supposed to but was only given a yellow.)  Any more shenanigans from him (which also included pitiful attempts at pretending to be injured), if he’s still allowed to play, that is, and Portugal’s confidence will continue to plummet.  Other players will be carrying their cautions into the quarterfinals and like Figo will have to watch themselves.
England and Portugal have played each other 10 times previously.  The Brits have won 3 times while the Portugese have won twice.  (There have been 5 ties.)  All that considered, England have the advantage.  Despite the absence of Michael Owen (who wasn’t playing very well anyway), England have proven they can work very hard to score goals, but they need to score more often.  They will need to shut down the determined Portugese strikers completely if they are to be successful.  They are more than capable of doing this. 
The last time these two juggernauts met was in the quarterfinals of Euro 2004.  After battling to a 2-2 draw following 2 hours of play, Portugal won 6-5 on penalty kicks.  The result will be different this time.  Portugal will not have 2 of their best players on the field and with several others booked by the referee in the previous match with the Dutch, they probably won’t play as hard as they would like.  Beckham and the lads are the hungrier and more talented squad.  I’ll be rooting for them.  England will win.
Brazil Vs. France
8 years after their asses were handed to them, Brazil will be hoping for a better result against the team that skunked them in the 1998 Final.  France have been a slow starter in this year’s finals but they’ve steadily improved since the third group match (their first victory since they won the ugly-ass trophy in ’98).  They looked mighty impressive against Spain in round 2, coming from behind to win 3-1.  (If only Henry can stay onside for once in his life, they might be able to score more goals in the future.)  With captain Zidane back in the lineup (and scoring that third goal which was a beauty), their confidence is high. 
Brazil look like a team ready to repeat, but this will be a difficult game for them to win.  These 2 powerhouses have faced each other 7 times since 1958.  France won three times while Brazil managed two victories and they tied each other on 2 other occasions.  But here’s something else to ponder:  Brazil haven’t beaten France in 14 years.  Will their slump continue? 
This is a very difficult one to call.  It’s another one of those heavyweight encounters that could favour either team.  I greatly misread France’s collective psychological state and was surprised that they were able to fend off the Spanish attackers.  I will not make that mistake again.  Brazil are the greatest soccer nation in the history of the sport but France has given them plenty of trouble in the past.  I’m thinking Brazil will not have an easy time scoring against this vastly improved French team.  Brazil haven’t beaten them in a World Cup final since 1958 when they won 5-2.  They’ve not scored more than 2 goals on them in a single game since then.   With France finally finding open spaces near the goal, expect them to score big against Brazil.  It probably won’t be a shut-out and it may be so close it’ll get to the crucial penalty kick stage, but I don’t think this team of superstars will end their dreadful slump.  France will win.
When the semifinal match-ups are settled, I’ll be back to recap my picks and forecast round 4.  Here’s hoping we witness some amazing football this weekend.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
6:27 p.m.
Published in: on June 27, 2006 at 6:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

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