World Cup Recap - Groups A-D
by Celso Castilho - 06/15/2006
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Midway through the first week of play, the World Cup has pretty much gone according to expectations. What follows are some statistical benchmarks and general observations:
- Trinidad and Tobago's fortuitous 0-0 tie against Sweden and Ecuador's opening-day 2-0 win over Poland accounted for the only unexpected results of the tournament. In fact, the favorites have prevailed in nine of the eleven matches, with the exceptions occurring with the aforementioned outcomes.
- The first eleven games produced a total of twenty-seven goals, for a 2.45 goals per game average. Only one match has ended in a tie and we have not yet witnessed a penalty kick. Also, the team scoring first has held on to win nine out of ten times, with Australia's three come-from-behind goals against Japan being the lone exception.
- Five players, from Germany's Miroslave Klose to Australia's Tim Cahill, have scored twice. Costa Rica's Paulo Wanchope, Mexico's Omar Bravo, and the Czech Republic's Tomas Rosicky join the German and Australian as the top scorers thus far.
- Ecuador's convincing 3-0 victory over Costa Rica on Thursday will have definite implications for the second round. It sealed the South American's pass into the next round and will allow the team to rest injured and/or yellow carded players in the team's final first-round match against Germany
- In Group B, England secured its ticket to the second round in a match against Trinidad and Tobago. Adding to the expectations swirling about the English team is the return of forward Wayne Rooney. English fans and the media were harshly critical of the team's inability to establish a greater margin of victory against Paraguay in their first game, but the 1-0 final may also reflect Paraguay's competent defense.
- The second round of games in Group C, like with Group A, feature two teams that won their first games against those that lost their 2006 opener. Argentina and the Netherlands will look to end the World Cup aspirations of Serbia and the Ivory Coast, respectively. While I expect Argentina to send the Balkan nation packing, the Netherlands versus Ivory Coast game could be fertile ground for an upset. Given the 'favorites' strong performance thus far, the odds for this match may be undeservedly high for the Dutch.
- For Group D, the subplots abounded before the opening matches. Mexican goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez dealt with a delicate family situation after a heart attack claimed his father's life days before he was set to be off to Germany to see his son play. Also, the Iranian Head of State caused some anxiety as he was deemed ineligible to enter the country for his denial-of-the-Holocaust beliefs. Another politico-historical storyline surrounded the Portugal versus Angola game as the former colony faced the former colonizer, whom by the way is coached by Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari.
- On the field, the action was perhaps the most riveting of any group thus far. Mexico nabbed a 3-1 victory that was not guaranteed until the last fifteen minutes. Regardless, the Mexican side assumed control of the game from the outset, and substitute Zinha showed the traits of one that could change a game.
- On that same night, Portugal held off Angola 1-0 in a match that generally disappointing. Star forward Cristiano Ronaldo was pulled off early in the second half, central midfielder Luis Figo was a shadow of his former self, and Angola tantalized, but could not satisfy the upset-inclined crowd.
- Like in 2002, the Portuguese team entered the competition with much fanfare, but from what was exhibited in the first match this team could struggle with Iran and I believe will not beat Mexico.
- Overall, the results point toward two conclusions, even if they might seem contradictory. The first is that the favorites have simply dominated. The second is that upsets await. Teams such as the Ivory Coast, Paraguay, and Angola opened against fairly competent squads in Argentina, England, and Portugal, and came up short.
However, with the 'big' team of the group out of the way, these teams may present some good value in their second and third games.
- Perhaps, the string of upsets may begin with play in Group G, where Togo opens against 2002 semi-finalist, South Korea. The Togolese team, according to the German newspaper Spiegel, is set for its World Cup debut, despite recent turmoil involving German-born head coach Otto Pfister. In a dignified move, Pfister submitted his resignation last week after it became apparent that the Togolese Soccer Federation would not honor an agreement made with the players prior to the World Cup regarding cash bonuses. The German press reported that Pfister has made amends, and that the players will receive their bonuses.
While it's too early to tell if the recent developments were a distraction or an experience that forged team unity, the fact remains that this team which qualified in front of Cameroon and Senegal is certainly capable of holding off the South Korean side. Tellingly, prior to playing on its home turf in 2002, the South Korean team had never won a World Cup game.
A recap of the openers from Groups E through H will appear shortly, as well as a special feature on the United States.
The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of Doc's picks service.