World Cup: A Look Back, Forward
by Jordan Adams - 06/24/2006
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The FIFA World Cup is the purest spectacle in sports. Every four years our world unites as 32 nations become one, giving everything they have for one goal and in the process offering loving respect to all in chase of this dream. This display of brilliance offers what no other sporting event has. No B.S. No steroid scandals. No alleged rigged outcomes. No season lockouts."Beauty is a joy forever" and this year's tournament has been a brilliant display of passion, commitment and true excellence in this sport at its highest levels.
Among the best stories of the first round were the African debutantes that brought joy to their countries and an electric, fast-paced style of play to the World Cup stage. Ghana's upset over the Czech Republic paved its way to the round of 16, while the Ivory Coast, arguably the best African team, played well but drew a group too tough to make progress in as a first-time qualifier. Though it will be extremely difficult for Ghana to win its second round match against Brazil, no one can take away the positive steps these African nations have made in hopes of one day winning the World Cup.
Outside of Ghana and Ecuador advancing, the other 14 clubs were pretty much expected. One could argue that Australia was not a favorite to make it to the second round, but after Brazil, Group F's runners-up spot was basically a toss-up.
All the top seeds in each draw won their respective group, with the exception of Switzerland, which forced the French to the second slot. Although it could be debated that the Swiss are just as talented as France, the French had a much higher World Cup seed and FIFA World Ranking. The more prominent world soccer power, France came to Germany with a much older team and some assumed it would not be much of a contending threat.
Switzerland proved a great deal why it should be considered the best nation from its group. The Swiss beat both South Korea and Togo while drawing against France and did not allow a goal throughout group play. After watching every match in group play, without a doubt Switzerland has the most talented and physically dominating defense. Led by 21-year-old Philippe Senderos, its back line is intimating and good at shrinking space in its opponents' attacking zone. Overall, Switzerland was one of the most impressive teams throughout the first round and has a great shot to find a spot in the final eight.
If the draw stage was any indication of what is to come, the round of 16 bodes well for this World Cup. Spain v. France, Germany v. Sweden, and Brazil v. Ghana will all be exciting matches, but the most intriguing match-up has to be Group D winner Portugal against the Group C runners-up Netherlands. At of the end of group play, Holland has been dubbed the slight favorites despite not winning its group. The Dutch are currently listed at +130 to win, while the Portuguese are at +200 to advance to the quarterfinals.
This match will be composed of opposite styles of play between the two elite soccer nations. Holland loves to play a possession game, controlling the tempo and waiting patiently until the right opportunity presents itself to strike. Portugal has a great number of athletes and will go right through you. Cristiano Ronaldo, 21, is as gifted as any player in Germany with his rare combination of speed, strength, and ball skills. He, along with the crafty veteran Luis Figo and main scoring threat Pauleta, love to push up the field and look for the advantage whenever possible. The Dutch, however, are impressive on the back line. Its keeper Edwin Van Der Sar is one of the best in the world between the posts. These two styles of play are on converse sides of the spectrum and it will be interesting which is more effective as the match plays out.
Looking ahead, the Round of 16 winners could produce some highly anticipated matches for the final eight. In one quarterfinal, defending champion Brazil could have its hands full with an explosive Spanish side. Brazil could very well be the favorite until it loses, but Spain's group play success cannot be ignored. Led by the trio of Fernando Torres, Luis Garcia, and David Villa, Spain boasts a deadly attack that can play right with Brazil. Spain's all-time leading scorer, Raul, now comes off the bench and is a reserve weapon.
The host country could run into a roadblock in the quarters, despite how well it has been playing. Germany could potentially meet an Argentina team that no one wants to see. Both love to play an up-tempo style of play and that match-up could be one of the best matches in the knockout round. Also not to be forgotten is an English side that may have been written off because of its slow start. England could potentially run into Portugal or Holland, and the way this team has been playing, England's chances for FIFA gold could end there.
Still, so many teams remain that could win this tournament. Of the eight or nine teams originally thought to be the top contenders in Germany, all have made it to the second round. Just looking at the elimination bracket, Italy seems to have the easiest route to one of the semifinal matches. With Australia, Switzerland, and Ukraine all seeded 25 or lower in this World Cup, Italy will not run into a perennial soccer power. The other three sections of the bracket contain at least two of the best ten nations in the world, leaving the possibilities endless. One game can change everything and with so much at stake in these upcoming matches, it can be the slimmest margin of whether you go home or advance.