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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Signs of Life

The World Cup kicked off on June 11 but for me the tournament really started on Tuesday, June 15 when Brazil edged off North Korea 2-1. This was easily the biggest mismatch of the tournament with the #1 ranked Brazilians taking on the 105th ranked North Korean team. 5 time World Cup Champions Brazil are the favourites at every tournament and are the only country to have played in every single World Cup. On top of that, they are the nation most associated with the beautiful game and every single aspect of their game is constantly studied, analyzed and talked about. Their players are well paid professionals who play for some of the top European teams. On the other hand, North Korea is an isolated nation whose football is invisible from the international stage and who were last seen in the World Cup back in 1966. The North Koreans only have three players who play international club football with An Yong Hak and Jong Tae Se playing in Japan and Hong Yong Jo based in Russia. Yet for almost 55 minutes they kept Brazil at bay and even had more shots on target than Brazil in the opening 20 minutes. Such a display is one of the real charms of the World Cup. In fact, only in soccer can two teams with such a vast gulf in skill set compete equally because soccer is truly a global game that is accessible to anyone with or without money. All one needs is a ball and if a ball is not available, then any round object will do.

If North Korea’s brave effort was eye catching, then the Swiss result over Spain is truly amazing. Ofcourse, Switzerland hardly had the ball but when they did have it at their feet, they made the most of it, first by bundling it over the line and then almost doubling their lead only to be denied by the post. Spain may have had 99.9999% possession of the ball but for the best part of an hour, they hardly did anything with it. As has often been by demonstrated by Arsenal, making sideway passes is absolutely pointless unless there is an end product.

The Swiss victory has the potential to change everything because if Spain finishes second in their group, then they will face Brazil in the next round, as opposed to meeting Brazil in the final. This assumes that Chile does not knock Spain out of the world cup.

South American delight

The 6 matches played by the South American teams have yielded 4 wins and 2 draws -- Uruguay 3-0 South Africa, Argentina 1-0 Nigeria, Brazil 2-1 North Korea, Chile 1-0 Honduras, Paraguay 1-1 Italy and Uruguay 0-0 France.

There is a strong possibility that all 5 South American teams can progress to the next round and 4 South American teams can occupy all the semi final spots. It will be interesting to see if Chile can maintain its high tempo entertaining style as the tournament goes along and whether Paraguay & Uruguay can continue to post impressive results.

Based on the first week’s results, it won’t be surprizing to see a South American World Cup winner. Ofcourse, it would be a real fairy tale if a South American team other than Brazil or Argentina can win the title.

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