World Cup Digest - Wednesday, June 21
by Trevor Whenham - 06/21/2006
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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:
Portugal's second-string wins - Portugal won despite essentially taking the second half off. They looked inspired for much of the opening half, fell asleep after their second goal to let Mexico score, and then forgot to show up after the break. Unfortunately, the game tells us very little about what to expect when Portugal meet Netherlands in the next round because the lineup was lacking several starters who were resting injuries or trying to avoid a second yellow card. Mexico was without several players as well, though that was due more to injuries. The Mexicans played angry and had some decent chances in the second half, but it is tough to imagine how they could beat Argentina.
No miracle for Angola - Angola got the Mexican loss they needed, but they couldn't win by multiple goals against Iran so they are going home. This draw was an uninspired effort by two teams who looked like they had already come to terms with their demise. The most entertaining aspect of the game was that it only took about ten minutes after the game for news to emerge that Iran had fired the head of their soccer federation. Angola did their fans a favor, really, because the team would have been absolutely crushed by Argentina.
Argentina draws a snoozer - Clearly neither team was that scared of playing Portugal in the next round, because neither did much to win the game and avoid them. The starting lineups were largely absent of stars on both sides, and many key players who did start were subbed out relatively early. Both teams had some chances and took turns controlling the play - Argentina in the first half and Netherlands in the second - but neither seemed that interested. That's what happens when two teams with secure futures meet. They will both likely be favored next time out and will hopefully play with more enthusiasm.
Ivory Coast rallies for W - I thought this game would be a mess, and a mess it certainly was. Serbia scored two quick goals and looked as if they had finally decided to play to their potential. Ivory Coast looked disjointed and out of place. And then something changed. Serbia went back to playing like they have all tournament and Ivory Coast looked like world beaters. Yet again, this game made me think that Ivory Coast is the team with the most unlucky draw in the tournament. They were outclassed in this group but could have advanced in three or four others.
Today is a much better slate of matches than we saw today. All four games have major implications for who moves on. Only Brazil has clinched a spot in the second round and all seven other clubs can either move on or go home. For once that means that all teams will be fielding top lineups (except maybe Brazil, but their substitutes are still probably better than any other lineup in their group). That means we can actually handicap based on what we have seen instead of guessing at scratches and motivation. It also means that most teams will be less willing to settle for a draw.
Italy (-110) vs. Czech Republic (+280) - Both teams control their own destiny. The Czech's advance with a win, while Italy moves on with a win or a tie. The game comes down to which Czech team shows up. The one that manhandled the Americans could make this matchup interesting. The one that laid an egg against Ghana won't cause the Italians to break a sweat. It doesn't help that the Czech's are riddled with injuries and absences - starters Jan Koller and Milan Baros are hurt while Tomas Ujfalsi and Vratislav Lokvenc are serving penalties.
Ghana (+115) vs. United States (+175) - Since I'm not an American I was able to watch the American's disastrous first game with a shocked detachment. I didn't really expect them to win, but I certainly thought that they would show up. They rebounded against Italy (with help from an own goal) and are still more alive than they probably deserve to be. The easiest advancement scenario is that the Americans need to win and need to have Italy win. The U.S. could advance if the Czechs demolish the Italians, but that is unlikely.
The Americans find themselves up against a sound Ghana team that won't make it easy. The U.S. will have to face the Ghana offense without midfield weapon Pablo Mastroeni (red card) or defender Eddie Pope (two yellows). Ghana will be missing both Muntari and Gyan - the two scorers against the Czechs. With them in the lineup Ghana would be a clear winner. Without them they are favored in a much closer match. It will come down to who can channel their desperation better. I think it will be Ghana, but the Americans have it in them to pull off the upset as long as they can get an early lead.
Brazil (-500) vs. Japan (+1000) - Brazil is in and will win the group with a win or a tie. Japan needs a win and some help to move on. They won't get it. Brazil hasn't been at their best yet, but Brazil at their most average is better than Japan at its very best. As has been the case with Brazil throughout, the decision is not whether to pick them, it is whether you want to wager a lot of money for a shot at not winning very much. How important is ROI to you?
Croatia (+120) vs. Australia (+210) - Croatia needs a win while Australia needs a win or a tie. A Japanese win can throw a wrench in the hopes of both teams. This game is a test of just how good Guus Hiddink, the Australian coach who has performed wonders at past World Cups, is. Croatia is the more talented team, but Hiddink has elevated the performance of his squad and put them in the unlikely position of controlling their fate.
As an interesting twist, several Australian players are of Croatian descent and three Croatian players were born in Australia. The Croatians have yet to score, but they have the ability to. Croatia has quite rightly been installed as the favorite, but Australia is certainly the most attractive underdog pick at longer odds on the board today.