World Cup Digest - Thursday, June 15
by Trevor Whenham - 06/15/2006
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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:
England sleepy again - England again beat an inferior opponent, but again they didn't look very good doing it. With all due respect to Trinidad & Tobago, it definitely should not have taken England more than 80 minutes to score a goal. The English seem to be playing down to their opponents. Not trying hard against a weaker side is the sign of an arrogant team and England definitely fits that bill.
The thing you have to decide before you choose whether to bet on or against them in the second round is whether they have the ability to step up their game when they run into a better opponent. They clearly believe they can. There are a couple of things leaning towards buying into that. First, David Beckham is in fine form. He set up both goals and was the Man of the Match today. Second, Wayne Rooney, back from a nasty broken leg that kept him out of the opener, continued his miraculous comeback and played the final 35 minutes of the game. He didn't play great, but he'll get better and his mere presence will boost the team. Having your best player on the pitch tends to do that.
One more factor to consider with England - they would obviously much rather face Ecuador than Germany in the second round. The result of the game between those two teams a few hours before the Sweden-England match next Tuesday will be huge. If Ecuador wins or ties they win the group. In that case England would rather finish second in their group, pointing to a weak effort against Sweden. If Germany wins, England will go full-out to win their group. In other words, you might want to hold off on betting on the England game until just before it starts.
Ecuador sends its country into frenzy - If you said you expected Ecuador to clinch a berth in the second round after two games, I would call you a liar. They're pulling it off in a big way, though. After upsetting Poland they cruised past Costa Rica. They have scored more than most teams, they haven't allowed any goals and they have shown an incredible ability to pass and to take control of a match. In the second round they will be a treat for bettors - a live underdog on a roll. Every World Cup has one that goes deep and Ecuador could be it this year.
Sweden wins. Barely - A header in the 89th minute was the first goal Sweden has managed to score in two games. It was a win they desperately needed to stay alive. They now control their own destiny - they advance with a win or draw against England. They can also advance with a win or aw by Paraguay. Only a Trinidad and Tobago win and a Swedish loss can make it tense for the Swedes. From a betting perspective, this game told us something else, too. Unless they can find a whole new level, Sweden doesn't have what it takes to compete at a higher level. Either Germany or Ecuador would be a nice pick against Sweden.
Mexico looking to advance again -Mexico has been in the Round of 16 in four consecutive World Cups and they look good to do it again. They suffered a setback against Iran, though, when all-time leading scorer Jared Borgetti tore a hamstring which will keep him out of the rest of the group stage. Even without him, they are -250 at Bodog to win the game so it shouldn't be too much of a challenge for them to beat Angola. He didn't need to score in the 3-1 win over Iran. If they win, there will be no pressure for Borgetti to rush back. They will be a challenge for whoever comes out of Group C to play them.
No love in the Netherlands camp - The biggest opponent the Netherlands players will have to overcome is themselves. Infighting among the team is a story at every World Cup and this one is no exception. Striker Robin Van Persie thinks striker Arjen Robben gets too much attention and spends too much time with the ball. No one is talking to striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy, who was so bad in the last game he got yanked after 69 minutes. If they can keep it together, this game should be theirs for the taking.
Ivory Coast has some solid players, like Didier Drogba up front and Kolo Toure defending, but they were clearly the second-best team on the field against Argentina. At their best, the Netherlands can compete with Argentina so they should also be able to handle Ivory Coast. The checkmark in the Ivory Coast column is that they are playing for their lives - a loss and they are out. If a team has heart, which Ivory Coast seems to, then getting backed into a corner only makes them better. Still, Netherlands is the favorite at -125 and is the safe choice.
Argentina ready for action - On paper, Argentina is a solid favorite against Serbia & Montenegro at -189. They aren't taking anything for granted, though. They've made one small change to their lineup which gives a hint to their approach to the game. Esteban Cambiasso, a defensive midfielder, is being replaced by Luis Gonzalez and his more offensive style of play. Another offensive spark who still may not see the pitch is the young Lionel Messi. He suffered a bit of a mystery injury in training and may not be healthy enough to go. Argentina should be fine even without that future superstar on the field. The Serbs are feeling a lot of pressure from fans and the media and they aren't handling it very well. Argentina is the safe choice.