World Cup Digest - Thursday, June 22
by Trevor Whenham - 06/22/2006
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Here's a look at the day's matches, and the news that is important for bettors making decisions on upcoming games:
Americans lay another egg - Loyalists will claim that the Americans lost and were eliminated because of a questionable penalty call at the end of the first half. The fact is that the team had lost the game well before then. They rarely showed any spark and were outworked, outplayed and outmuscled by Ghana. Landon Donovan was perhaps the most disappointing American, but he is on a long list. It will be a long four years until they can try to redeem themselves.
That shouldn't take anything away from Ghana, though. They were aggressive and showed flashes of impressive skill, topped by the incredible penalty goal by Stephen Appiah. Ghana has opened many eyes with their performance in Germany. Unfortunately they have to play Brazil next, so the ride is almost certainly about to end. Ghana's good, but not good enough to contend with the Brazilians.
Italy cruises - I don't think that there is a more disappointing team in the final two games of the first round than the Czech Republic. In their first game against the Americans they looked as good as any team has looked all tournament, but then they got progressively worse as the games went on. They were close to terrible today and two goals from substitutes led Italy to an easy win in the game and the group. Italy again looked under control and in command, especially in the second half, and has shown that they can rise above the mess that soccer is in their own country right now to make an impact in Germany. They draw a second round match with Australia which will certainly be interesting. Italy is by far the more talented side, but Australia has a little bit of that World Cup magic on their side.
Hiddink proves his worth - For the second straight World Cup, coach Guus Hiddink has advanced with an overachieving team. There is no more relieved guy in the world right now than Aussie goalkeeper Zeljko Kalac. The substitute had started this game in place of Mark Schwarzer, the top keeper who had looked iffy in the first two games. Kalac looked questionable on an early free kick and then let in what is without a doubt the weakest goal I have ever seen in the World Cup to give Croatia a lead late in the second half. It took a goal from veteran Harry Kewell to get the draw and let Australia advance. The game got completely out of hand in the last few minutes as the yellow cards flew and the ref started to look scared for his safety.
The giants awaken - It took until the sixth half that they played for Brazil to look like Brazil, but they served notice that they fully intend to go home with the hardware. Japan scored in the first half and for a while had to be dreaming of one of the biggest upsets of all time. Ronaldo scored in extra time in the first half to tie it up. Then the floodgates opened. Ronaldo still looks fat and out of shape, but he finally performed like what he is - one of the finest players ever to take the field. He added a second goal in the second half to tie the all-time World Cup mark of 14. Despite playing with five reserves the Brazilians completely outclassed and outplayed Japan. They can play half as well as they did in the second half against Japan and still roll past Ghana.
The first round comes to an end Friday with the last games in groups G and H.
Spain (-665) vs. Saudi Arabia (+1200) - Spain will win the game and the group. It's as simple as that and there's no reason to waste more words talking about it.
Ukraine (-175) vs. Tunisia (+475) - Ukraine advances with a win or a draw, while Tunisia needs to win to move on (a Saudi win by two or more would make it interesting, but we can ignore that). Ukraine absolutely should win this game and win it easily. If they show up that is. They have had the most inconsistent showing of any team so far. In the opening game against Spain they got completely crushed and looked terrible. Next time out against Saudi Arabia it was them who did the crushing and the dominating. The strong Ukraine is the more recent version, so we can confidently hope that they will appear again in this game. That could make the -175 attractive.
France (-600) vs. Togo (+1000) - Togo is already eliminated, but this game is crucial to France if they want to avoid another huge World Cup embarrassment. The French need to win by at least two goals to ensure that they move on. If they win and Switzerland and Korea don't draw then France moves on. If it is a draw then it gets really confusing. That all won't matter unless we see a different French team than we have the first two games. They are a much better team than Togo, but they are a better team than the other two teams in the group as well, and that hasn't mattered much so far. Zinedine Zidane is out of action after receiving two yellow cards so he could have played his last game for France. Whether they will advance is anyone's guess, but they should finally figure out a way to score and win this game fairly easily. However, that they have struggled so much offensively makes the -600 price a bit scary, though.
Switzerland (even) vs. South Korea (+290) - The Swiss advance with a win or a draw while South Korea needs a win or a draw with some help from France to move on. If Togo wins then both teams go through. Winning has extra importance, because it means that they win the group and likely avoid having to play Spain next game. In their games against France both teams struggled to score. The Swiss played to a scoreless draw and Korea took until the 81st minute to tie the game at 1-1. The lack of scoring has to be more of a concern for the South Koreans because the Swiss play a disciplined and often smothering defensive style. If the Swiss can recreate the offensive spark in this game that they showed against Togo, led by the impressive Alexander Frei, they should be able to win. A draw (+190) is more likely in this game than any other today.