Portugal 7-0 North Korea
Chile 1-0 Switzerland
Spain 2-0 Honduras
Today, THE GROUP OF DEATH!! completed play with an absolute massacre; Portugal put away North Korea 7-0, with a six goal second half that just blew the lid off of Ivory Coast’s chances of qualifying for the second round. In my Group G Preview, I picked Raul Meireles as the player to watch for Portugal and after he scored the opening goal, latching onto a gorgeously weighted through ball from Tiago in the 29th minute, I was feeling high and mighty about myself. In the second half, when Meireles set up another, slotting in Simão in the 53rd minute I was getting downright smug. But my arrogance came crashing down to earth when Portugal went on to score four more in the final 30 minutes; maybe Meireles was just as good as everyone else; Fábio Coentrão crossed an inch perfect ball to the forehead of Hugo Almeida which the striker buried in the 56th minute to put Portugal up 3-0, Tiago placed a fine goal into the nbottom corner from 18 yards in the 60th minute, Liédson capitalized on a missed clearance to punch in a goal in the 81st minute, Cristiano Ronaldo scored for the first time in two years for his country, into an open goal after the keeper’s clearance bounced onto Ronaldo’s head, rolled down his back and onto his foot in the 87th minute and Tago grabbed a brace in the 89th minute when he scored a lovely header to complete the scoring at 7-0. Portugal were incredibly impressive because they were finally allowed to come out of their midfield shell and attck; bad news for North Korea, who took the pasting I think everyone expected when they were drawn into this Group. While I was impressed with their resiliency against mighty Brazil in the first game of the Group stage, clearly they got down big in a hurry and put their heads down and stopped fighting, which allowed Portugal to run roughshod over them.
Okay, Anyone Here Not Score Yet?: Portugal Dominate
This sets up a fascinating scenario on Friday June 25th when Group G play their final matches simultaneously. If Brazil, already qualified and playing without Kaka, can handle Portugal and get a win, it means that Ivory Coast could qualify if they score a shitload of goals, depending on the score of the Portugal game; right now, Ivory Coast is at -2 goal differential while Portugal sits at +7; that’s a nine goal swing to turn around, an almost impossible task for Ivory Coast. Still, I am very eager to see Drogba, Kalou, Gervinho and company try to top Portugal’s performance; North Korea have nothing to play for except pride, but unless they give up an historic number of goals against Ivory Coast, it seems as though Portugal and Brazil are through to the knockout stages. But I know Drogba’s gonna try; should be great TV.
In the second game, another red card meant a win as this time Chile capitalized on a red card against Swiss midfielder Valon Behrami, who slapped two Chilea players pursuing him from behind within 10 seconds of one another to earn a straight red card in the 31st minute; the slaps weren’t that bad, but you can’t out your hands to people faces twice in ten seconds. While I could have lived with a yellow card, the red is certainly justified and Behrami’s stupidity put his team down to 10-men with an hour to play. Chile pressed the entire time, with winger Alexis Sánchez constantly providing dangerous runs down the right wing and Jorge Valdivia, a second half substitute, playing dangerous balls throughout. But the Swiss had plenty to be proud of and were defending well and in numbers and in the 69th minute, it was a new World Cup record; the SWiss had gone 551 minutes without allowing a goal in the Tournament, breaking the Italian record of 550 minutes. That glory lasted all of six minutes. In the 75th minute, Chilean sub Esteban Paredes slipped in behind the Swiss defense and found an unmarked Mark Gonzalez on the back post; Gonzalez banged his header into the ground, but it was good enough to clear the leg of Swiss defender Stephan Lichtsteiner and bounce into the top of the net. From there, the Swiss had a glorious chance to equalize when sub Eren Derdiyok found himself alone from six yards out and the ball played to his feet, but Derdiyok pushed his shot wide of the post and Chile controlled things from there with Paredes missing a couple of chances to add to the tally. Still, with a 1-0 win, Chile continue the remarkable run of South American teams in the Tournament; they are playing highly attractive football and look tough to break down. Chile finished the game on six points and well aware that, should Spain beat Honduras in the final game of round two, it would mean a fighting chance to move on and a huge match against Spain on Friday as Chile, Spain and Switzerland will all be battling for three more points and a way out of this suddenly very tough Group.
Gonzalez Ends The Swiss’ Record Run: 1-0 Chile
Speaking of Spain, they walked out 2-0 winners over Honduras who were all but eliminated from the knockout round with the loss. A David Villa brace on either side of half time did the job; Villa started the match playing out wide on the left and, after a great individual move to cut into the box, curled a shot past Honduran goalie Noel Valladares to make it 1-0 in the 17th minute. After a very rusty Fernando Torres flubbed several chances in front of goal, the teams went into the halftime with the sense that a Spanish flood may be on the way. After the interval, Villa’s shot from 20 yards in the 50th minute was deflected into the goal; it was 2-0 and Spain were cruising. Spanish winger Jesus Navas was brought down in the penalty area only moments later and Villa stepped up, got the keeper going the wrong way, but pushed his penalty kick wide of the post. From there, Spain seemed to wilt a little; you just get the sense with this team that something is a little off. With Navas throwing in poor crosses from the right wing and Villa in on goal twice only to have the ball cleared away by great defensive plays from the Hondurans, there was the feeling that this game could have been 4 or 5 nil, but the goals never materialized. The final matches in Group H should be terrific; Switzerland will be playing for their lives, Spain and Chile will be epic. It promises to be a nail biter for Spain; as Portugal did, they could have put the qualification out of the Group within a much closer reach with a flurry of goals if only they had been more clinical. Instead, they walk into the final Group match with a +1 goal differential and three vital points; but will it be enough? If Spain hammer Chile (not likely) and Switzerland win big, Switzerland could still qualify; a draw for Chile and a Swiss win? Spain are going home. Three teams, two spots; it is going to be something to see on Friday.
Haunting?: Villa’s Penalty Miss
Up Next: Day Twelve aka Let The Eliminations Begin!