If you’ve come here looking for your weekly NFL fix from your favorite NFL pusher man, sorry, you’re in detox from now until camps open in a few weeks. Want to know what there was to report in the last week? Randy Moss opened a Jamba Juice. NFL players can’t take amphetamines anymore. Ben Roethlisberger thinks maybe he should have worn a helmet. Michael Strahan’s ex wife says he’s gay. And that’s it.
Now, we look at the new raison de etre of this column for the time being, the World Cup. The group stage is over, the single elimination knockout stage is in full swing, with the Round of 16 already in the books. What went down in the eighthofinals, and what matchups will we see in the quarterfinals? Let’s find out.
GERMANY 2, SWEDEN 0
The Swedes advanced to the second round almost by default, thanks to the good fortune of being placed in a group with Paraguay and Trinidad and Tobago, two overmatched squads that managed only 2 goals between them in their entire World Cup stay. A 2-2 draw in their finale against England provided some hope heading into their match against the hosts, but that hope was quickly extinguished when Lukas Podolski scored twice in the match’s first 12 minutes to break down Sweden. The Germans dominated this match, outshooting the Swedes 26-5, with 11 shots on goal to Sweden’s 2.
Touch My Monkey!
ARGENTINA 2, MEXICO 1
If you saw this match, you know there is really only one play you need to discuss. If you didn’t see the match, go find the highlight of Maxi Rodriguez’ game winning goal, NOW.
The Atletico Madrid midfielder’s goal in the 98th minute was probably the single most impressive athletic feat I’ve seen this year. Standing on the near side of the field just outside the corner of the penalty area, he received a long crossing pass, stopped it with his chest, and in one motion launched a high, arching rainbow of a shot that nestled in the crow’s nest of the goal on the opposite side of where he shot it. It was an unbelievable end to a very evenly played match, and a heartbreaking way for Mexico to exit the World Cup.
GERMANY V. ARGENTINA
HERE’S YOUR FORECAST
At the beginning of the tournament, Brazil was the team to beat. Then the perception changed when Argentina thumped Serbia 6-0, and for about half a week, the favorite was Argentina. Now, the team in the best form is the hosts, Germany. Since a shaky opening match against Costa Rica, they’ve steamrolled thru three pretty decent squads in Poland, Ecuador, and Sweden, beating them by a combined 7-0 count. Argentina, meanwhile, hasn’t played very well other than in the Serbia game. They won their opener 2-1 over Cote d’Ivoire, slogged to a scoreless draw against the Netherlands, and got all they could handle against Mexico. One thing is certain, after this match, one of the world’s great soccer powers will have been eliminated, and I say that squad will be Argentina. Germany advances.
ITALY 1, AUSTRALIA 0
Italy came dangerously close to being booted out of the Cup in the Round of 16 for the second time in a row.
The Azzurri had numerous scoring chances that they didn’t convert in the first half, then played with 10 men for the majority of the second half after Inter Milan defender Marco Materazzi received a red card for a late challenge. Italy held firm though, and in the final minute of injury time, Blackburn’s Neill Lucas took an ill-advised penalty in the box. Francesco Totti drove home the PK, the final whistle blew, and Italy escaped into the final 8.
Be Careful, You Won’t Be Able to Play Against Ukraine If Your Head Explodes
UKRAINE 0, SWITZERLAND 0 (UKRAINE WINS ON PK’S 3-0)
This game was sort of like the 8 vs. 9 seed opener in the NCAA tournament. Neither team was considered any threat to win the whole thing, and neither played like they should be. Switzerland was eliminated after failing to score on 3 consecutive penalty kicks in the overtime shootout. That’s a little like missing 3 free throws that could win the game, only instead of throwing the ball into a basketball hoop, you’re trying to throw it into a swimming pool. And you are already standing in the swimming pool. Switzerland becomes the first team EVER to be eliminated from the World Cup without having conceded a goal in the entire tournament.
Don’t Look Now, But Ukraine’s In the Quarterfinals
ITALY V. UKRAINE
This game represents a struggle for my very soul. 50% of the blood coursing through my veins is pure Italian, 50% is pure Ukranian. Italy has been grinding out wins in this tournament, and own victories over Ghana, Czech Republic, and Australia, and those are all quality teams who all play different styles. Ukraine, on the other hand, got crushed in their one game against a good team, their opening 4-0 loss against Spain, then reached the final 8 by beating an unimpressive lineup of Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Switzerland. I don’t think they have what it takes to hang with the big boys, and I think they go home after this one. Italy moves on to the semis.
ENGLAND 1, ECUADOR 0
David Beckham scored the game winner here, but Ashley Cole saved the game for England. In the 11th minute he came out of nowhere to make a sliding deflection of a breakaway shot, diverting the ball just enough so that it hit the crossbar rather than the back of the net.
In the 60th minute, Beckham launched a free kick from 15 yards outside the box, that just snaked past the inside post, giving England the only goal of the game. It’s the second game in this tournament that England has won on a Beckham free kick. England is still unbeaten in this tournament, despite having played horridly for the most part. That level of play has been good enough so far, but it won’t be in their quarterfinal match up.
PORTUGAL 1, NETHERLANDS 0
There were four red cards handed out in this match, 2 for each side, which is pretty much unheard of. I’m pretty sure I got a red card. I don’t know for sure though because I slept through most of this one. The officiating in this tournament has been ridiculous and this match is the poster child for that.
The Dutch had numerous scoring chances, but couldn’t convert on any of them. Chelsea midfielder Maniche did convert on a nifty move in the 23rd minute though, and his goal stood up despite the Dutch winning time of possession by almost a 2 to 1 margin.
Portugal Dunks the Dutch
ENGLAND V. PORTUGAL
The way England’s been playing, they’re just begging to be bounced from this tournament. They’re either saving all the good stuff for the games that really matter, or it’s just not going to happen for them in 2006. I’m going to go with option B. Portugal goes to the semis.
BRAZIL 3, GHANA 0
To hear the way people were talking about Ronaldo earlier in the tournament, you would think he showed up in Germany looking like Bartolo Colon or something. All I keep hearing is how out of shape he is. By American standards, he looks anorexic.
Anyway, Ronaldo provided the most notable moment of this match when he became the leading goal scorer in World Cup history by faking the Ghana goalkeeper out of his leopard skin underwear before tapping the ball into the net to put Brazil up 1-0 in the 5th minute. Ghana almost equalized if not for a “hey look what I found” save in the 42nd minute, but Brazil salted the game away shortly before thanks to a goal by Inter Milan forward Adriano.
Can This Lardass Lead Brazil Into the Semis?
FRANCE 3, SPAIN 1
Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it. Ahh there it is. You knew it was only a matter of time before Spain dumped all over themselves, and the inevitable happened in their first knockout round game.
The Spaniards opened the scoring in the 28th minute, when David Villa scored after being awarded a penalty kick on a bullshit call. France quickly equalized on a beautiful deke by Olympique Marseille midfielder Frank Ribery shortly before the half. Then, in the 83rd minute, Juventus midfielder Patrick Vieira drove home a nifty header to give France the lead, and Zidane drove the proverbial sword into the Spanish bull with a goal in the 92nd minute.
No Surrender Yet For the French
BRAZIL V. FRANCE
The last 2 World Cup champions meet in the round of 8, and that’s pretty cool. Unfortunately, no matter what Vince McMahon tries to tell you, it’s not 1998 anymore, and Brazil is a much better team than France in 2006. Brazil rolls on.
THAT’S A WRAP
Aaaaand that’s it for this week. Next week, we’ll be down to our final 4 in the World Cup. Find out who they are, and how they got there. Plus I cover NFL news, in the unlikely event there is any. If not, I’ve got a Michael Strahan story you’ll enjoy.