by Joe Schwartz
One game changes everything, the saying goes. For the United States it was more like one kick, a single Landon Donovan tap in propelled the Americans from elimination to winning a group for the first time since 1930. Coincidentally that year was the country’s most successful tournament in history as they advanced to the semifinals. Things are shaping up similarly now with the USA set to face Ghana for the right to play Uruguay or South Korea.
And today, after the single most important strike in USA history and with a country experiencing the World Cup fever that others romanticize about, the tournament continues. We’ll add four more teams to our list of Argentina, South Korea, Uruguay, Mexico, England, USA, Germany and Ghana in the round of 16. We could lose the defending champion. We could see a team without a professional league in its borders advance. If yesterday is any guide, we’ll see a few stunners along the way.
Group F: Italy v Slovakia ESPN Paraguay v New Zealand ESPN2 10 a.m.
We continue with dual games closing out the group stage, and all four of these countries can advance. Paraguay leads this group with four points compared to Italy and New Zealand with two and Slovakia with one. Paraguay can earn a draw with New Zealand and win the group as long as Italy doesn’t score three more goals than them. Slovakia can advance by beating Italy and seeing Paraguay win or draw. Trust us, it will all work out.
The real intrigue here is with an aging Italian team defending its World Cup trophy and having drawn to New Zealand in its last match. For the sake of our pizza enjoyment everywhere, here’s hoping Italy advance someway, somehow, despite Daniele De Rossi’s disgraceful dive against the Kiwis that saved them from the most embarrassing defeat in tournament history. The entire country of New Zealand only has 25 professional players to choose from. Look for the experienced Italians to find a way to advance.
Predictions: Italy 2 Slovakia 0, Paraguay 1 New Zealand 0
Paraguay top the group, Italy advances in second
Group E: Denmark v Japan ESPN Netherlands v Cameroon ESPN2
This group has the most straightforward formula of them all. The Dutch have locked up a spot in the knockout rounds and can win the group with a draw in their match or in the other one. Cameroon has already been eliminated after two loses. Denmark and Japan, tied on three points, have it all to play for today. A tie puts Japan through on goal difference. A Danish victory earns them the coveted spot in the next round.
The Dutch have not lost a group stage match in ages, so even though they’ve advanced, don’t expect them to take it easy. Cameroon will be playing for pride. Though they can’t continue past today, this is their last chance to play in front of their Afirican compatriots, and they’ll want to make it memorable.
The Danish and Japanese tilt should be open and interesting. Denmark may be forced to play without their top striker, Nicklaus Bendtner who is not half as good as he thinks he is, but still represents a significant loss to the team. Look for Japan’s Keisuke Honda to continue to show The Power of Dreams.
Predictions: Netherlands 2 Cameroon 1, Japan 1 Denmark 0
Netherlands top the group, Japan advances in second, setting up Dutch-Italian and Paraguayan v Japanese matches in the next stage