World Cup Digest - Wednesday, June 14
by Trevor Whenham - 06/14/2006
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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:
Ukrainian disaster - Experts everywhere had chosen Ukraine as the upset special of the tournament before it started, with a good chance of making the semis. That seems to be a kiss of death. The first game against Spain was terrible in every possible way. They allowed four goals, picked up a red card and two more yellows, had no offense, no defense and did pretty much nothing to build upon going forward. Other than that it was great. Their own coach has an opinion: he said they played like the worst team in Europe and he apologized to the fans for the disgraceful performance. It's hard to tell whether this was nerves, bad preparation or a reason to panic. Either Ukraine is really not that good, or Spain is better than we though. Most likely, the truth lies somewhere between the two. No matter what, there are a lot of Ukrainian fans drinking a lot of beer to dull the pain.
Tunisia does Ukraine a favor - Tunisia took an early lead, gave it up to Saudi Arabia with second-half two goals, and then waited until more than two minutes into injury time to tie it up. The draw was a poor outcome for both teams. Now one of them will have to beat Ukraine to move on now (assuming they both lose to Spain, which they will). A win for either team, coupled with a goal differential advantage against over Ukraine, would have been a much better situation. In other words, Ukraine has much more life than they deserve. The biggest thing to come out of this game, though, is that neither team is particularly good. They are both distant underdogs in the group, and they showed that they deserve it. Spain can rightly go into cruise control.
Germany wins, fans don't rejoice - German fans had visions of their home team sweeping to World Cup glory before the tournament started. That may still happen, but the road hasn't been as smooth as many would have hoped. They played reasonably well against Poland, and never looked to be out of control, but the score was much closer than it should have been. They needed a very late goal to prevent the scoreless draw. Germany has all the talent they could need, but it has to get it all firing together before the real tournament starts in the second round. The return of captain Michael Ballack was good to see, but didn't provide as much of a spark as it could have. The Germans would have looked better if it weren't for the heroics of Artur Boruc, the Polish goalkeeper who toils for Celtic. Poland owes the closeness of the result entirely to Boruc. His performance wasn't enough though, as the Poles are eliminated with the loss.
First Game Wrap-up
Every team in the tournament has now played at least one game. Here's a look at the best and the worst:
Best team - Spain absolutely massacred Ukraine, and it was as close to a perfect game as they could have played. They scored pretty much at will and had several more good chances which didn't quite connect. They played smothering defense and showed off the depth that they have - captain Raul didn't even start - while not earning one card. Spanish backers had been touting this team before the tournament, but the rest of the world had better start listening. Spain is ready to rumble.
Runners-up -Czech Republic, Italy
Worst team - There are no words strong enough to describe how bad the United States was. They played without heart, did nothing notable, and looked like they didn't belong on the field. They are getting massacred by their home media, but even the nastiest journalist isn't being too unkind. For a team that thought it was one to beat it was almost incomprehensibly terrible. Some would argue that Ukraine put up as bad a performance, but they lost to a better team than the Americans did. The U.S. needs to make major changes, starting with their attitude, or it could be a short tournament.
Runners-up -Ukraine, Poland
Biggest surprise - Everyone likes to root for an underdog, and few teams are a better underdog than Trinidad & Tobago. The entire country has less than 2 million people, but they somehow managed to play Sweden to a draw and they did it despite being a man down for much of the game. The dream will likely die with tough games remaining against England and Paraguay but for now there's lots of room on the bandwagon.
Most disturbing trend - Big teams underachieving. There have not been a lot of upsets so far in the first round (only Ecuador over Poland really qualifies), but there have been a surprising number of major teams that have put up very flat performances. Brazil may be the presumptive champions but they didn't play like it. England, Sweden, Portugal, and France weren't much better. The second games better be much better for each squad. They will all likely survive the first round but the second round could be short-lived if they aren't more crisp and inspired.
Goals - There were 39 goals scored in the 16 games of the first round. That puts the teams on pace to score 156 over the course of the tournament. That's well behind the 46 that were scored in the first set of games in 2002, but that total was skewed a bit by an 8-0 shellacking of Saudi Arabia by Germany.
Rooney may return - Wayne Rooney has the most watched leg in the world right now and it may be even easier to watch soon. He is reportedly about to play for England against Trinidad & Tobago. He likely won't start because of lacking stamina since he's been out of action so long, but the striker will probably come off the bench and could give his team a much needed boost after their last flat performance.
Swedes aren't panicking - It would be easy for the team to change everything after a shocking draw against Costa Rica, especially since teammates have come to blows since the game, but the team vows to change very little about their approach for their game against Paraguay. That makes sense since they are much better than they showed in their first game, and have more than enough to beat Paraguay if they recapture their mojo.
Ecuador can move on - Ecuador was given little consideration before the tournament, but the high-altitude South Americans can secure a spot in the second round with a win against Costa Rica. They are a -120 favorite to pull that off.