World Cup Digest - Monday, June 19
by Trevor Whenham - 06/19/2006
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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:
Switzerland good, not great - The Swiss were able to handle Togo, but they haven't yet convinced anyone that they are a serious contender. Togo was reasonably impressive despite a ridiculous tournament run which has included threats of boycotts and all sorts of drama. The Swiss scored a couple of nice goals and were able to thwart any attempts by Togo to string together any momentum, but they will struggle to do the same against serious competition. Their passes weren't quite crisp enough and their defense not quite smothering enough to contain Spain or Ukraine in the knockout round. If they get that far, that is. They'll need to beat South Korea or rely on Togo to beat or tie France to advance.
Ukraine rebounds - As expected, the Saudi's had to feel the wrath of a frustrated Ukrainian team that had been shamed by its first-game collapse against Spain. Ukraine came out firing on all cylinders and the Saudis had no answers. Ukraine let their foot off the gas a bit after the fourth goal or the game could have really gotten out of hand. This Ukrainian team can cause some real problems for its opponents in the second round because of their offensive firepower. The question marks are a shaky defense and general inconsistency. Their game against Tunisia will tell us if the new-and-improved Ukraine is here to stay. A win and they are guaranteed to move on.
Spain is here to play - Tunisia had their fans dreaming of an upset when they took a halftime lead, but Spain flexed its muscles and proved that they are among the best teams in Germany with a strong final 45 minutes. They showed how explosive they can be by scoring two goals in six minutes. Raul had his ego taken down a notch by starting the game on the bench, but scored the tying goal as part of an impressive second half. Fernando Torres scored the other two goals to take the tournament scoring lead (three). Spain has scored seven goals and, aside from a lapse in this game that led to Tunisia's score, has looked just as solid defensively. Barring a disaster, no team they can meet early in the next round should provide any challenge to them.
Sun sets on second round of games
Every team has now played two matches, meaning much has already been determined as far as who goes on and who goes home. However, seeding for the knockout round is still critical.
Advancing - , Ecuador, England, Argentina, Netherlands, Portugal, Brazil, Spain.
Out of luck - Poland, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Ivory Coast, Serbia and Montenegro, Iran, Togo.
Only Brazil and Spain have locked up first place. The other six are still jostling for position.
Unfortunately, history doesn't give us much help in picking the games involving those who have already earned advancement. In the last two World Cups, seven teams have clinched after two games. Those teams have gone 3-3-1 in their third games. Eliminated teams provide more consistency - posting a 2-6-4 mark in the 12 games played by teams already dumped from contention. In other words, odds are most of the seven teams out of contention won't win their final game.
Poland (-154) vs. Costa Rica - Two eliminated teams with nothing but pride to play for. It's hard to tell who will come out firing and who will quit. On paper Poland is by far the better team, since they were chosen by almost everyone to advance, while Costa Rica is right where everyone expected. Poland is the sound choice, but there may be too many wild cards to make the game worth too hard a look.
Germany (-275) vs. Ecuador - Both teams are heading to the next round, but the winner claims first place in the group and could avoid England, the Group B front-runner, in the second round Ecuador has been playing exceptionally well and is one of the real surprises of this tournament. This will be a great test against a determined German team facing the pressure of having to please a crazed home crowd.
Paraguay (-125) vs. Trinidad and Tobago - T & T is still alive, but they need a lot of help. They need to hammer Paraguay and then hope Sweden loses to England by enough to erase a three-goal differential. This game is a wild card. Paraguay has completely underachieved while Trinidad has surprised everyone, including themselves. If you played the game a hundred times Paraguay would win the large majority of them, but what will happen tomorrow is a complete guess. Paraguay should win but Trinidad should also have eight goals against by this point in the tournament instead of two, so it's a crapshoot.
England (+140) vs. Sweden (+235) - You get a nice price no matter which side you pick in this one. Wayne Rooney is starting, while slumping Michael Owen will be relegated to the bench. On the other side, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is nursing a sore groin and isn't expected to play. Sweden needs at least a draw to guarantee life in the next round, so it has a bit more motivation. England is still looking for its first inspired, all-around performance to justify their lofty expectations. But how often have you heard that said about England at the World Cup? And how often have they let you down?