World Cup Digest - Tuesday, June 13
by Trevor Whenham - 06/13/2006
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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:
Korea wins -It was the first time in team history that they had won a World Cup game away from their own home cooking. For the first half of this sloppy game it didn't necessarily look like they were going to pull it off. Togo was supposed to be in disarray, but they scored in the first half and held the lead at halftime. A red card against Togo (there were also six yellow cards, making the refs the busiest guys on the field) changed the momentum for good and South Korea took advantage of their man advantage to pot two goals. The remarkable thing was that the Koreans stayed calm when they were behind and looked very efficient and controlled. It wasn't pretty, but it confirms what we thought we knew about Group G - Korea may be a factor, but Togo will not be.
France still can't score - With their scoreless draw against Switzerland the French still have not scored a goal in the World Cup since the 1998 final. That fact is enough to give a million Frenchmen a heart attack. The teams also played to a draw leading up to the tournament so the result doesn't come as a surprise. It was a better game than the score would indicate, though. Both teams played at a solid tempo and both had very good chances to win. Superstar Thierry Henry was a dark point in the game - he went over an open net with a header and had just two other shots, both of which your grandmother could have saved. The biggest challenge of this result is that it tells us very little about either team. These should be the two teams to advance out of Group G, but until one of them plays Korea we won't know how they stack up. That makes it harder to make your picks.
Did Brazil sleep in? - Brazil beat Croatia, as everyone in the world knew they would, but it sure wasn't pretty. It looked destined to be a draw until the Brazilians finally potted one right at the end of the first half. Kaka had the goal, and he may have the best name in the tournament. And that was it. Brazil had some chances, but they certainly didn't look like the monsters that they are supposed to be. Some of the credit has to go to Croatia, who has to be proud of their performance. Brazil, though, will have to find a spark and get their act together. Fortunately for their fans they have two games against relatively soft competition (Japan and Australia) to get into form. Unfortunately for bettors, that means that we won't get a good idea of how Brazil will react until they meet elite competition in the second round. If they don't play better than they did today, an upset could be in the offing.
Was that Ronaldo?!? - I'm not saying I'm an elite athlete or anything, but Ronaldo is huge. At the last World Cup he was the scariest player on the pitch. Now he looks like he has been entering more eating contests than soccer matches. He has a John Goodman-esque gut and he's in relatively awful shape. He looked lethargic and out of place when he played, and left the game in favor of Robinho, who was a major upgrade. It's hard to put a superstar on the bench but Ronaldo may need to sit down. Or quit eating.
The wounded may rise - Andriy Shevchenko, the man who carries the hopes of the Ukraine on his shoulders, says he feels healthy enough after his knee injury to play against Spain on Wednesday and has been inserted into the starting lineup. He may not be at 100%, but this game will likely determine the winner of Group H so he is very much needed. On the other side of the pitch, Spanish star Raul has not passed the health test, and will start on the bench. He's healthy enough to see action as a sub if his team is in trouble, and he will be ready for games later in the tournament.
Tunisians made of glass? - Tunisia plays Saudi Arabia in a game that they absolutely must win to stand a chance of advancing, but they will have to do it without their top roster. Their players are falling like flies. It started last week when striker Issam Jemaa withdrew because of a knee injury. Now Mehdi Meriah, a reserve defender, has left the team after suffering an injury in practice. But neither of those absences will hurt as much as the loss of striker Francileudo dos Santos. Tunisia's top player will miss the first game because of an injury, though he should be back later on. Forward Haykel Guemamdia has taken Meriah's place on the squad to fill in for dos Santos.
Second set of games begin - Germany kicked off the tournament, and now they will be the first team to play their second game when they face Poland. Poland will be looking to rebound from a dismal performance against Ecuador, and they will probably face a renewed German defensive effort after Costa Rica found more offensive holes than they should have. Poland desperately needs a win, which seems unlikely (they are +600), if they are to maintain a reasonable chance of advancing. In a bizarre twist, a German victory would be their first against a European team at a major championship since Euro 1996.
Swedish tensions - The Swedes handled their surprising draw with Trinidad & Tobago in the classy way - by getting in a fight in the dressing room. Though it was originally denied, the team has now confirmed that captain Olof Mellberg and midfielder Freddie Ljungberg exchanged hot words and a few fists, after they disagreed on just who was to blame for the disappointing performance. The same two players fought in practice before the 2002 World Cup. It will be interesting to watch if the Swedes can keep their act together.
Koller will survive - It looked like Czech Jan Koller had suffered a serious injury when he went down against the Americans and got carried off the field. He was just coming back from a knee injury so the natural assumption was that he had re-injured it. It turns out that it was just a strained muscle. Koller will miss his team's next game against Ghana but could be back either later in the first round or hopefully by the second, which the which the Czech's are very likely to make.