Spain’s shock defeat at the hands of Switzerland this afternoon completed the first round of games at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
With many of the big teams failing to inspire, let’s take a look at the 25 most pressing questions for the next set of matches.
Feel free to comment with any burning questions you have for the upcoming fixtures.
In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s been quite a fuss about the “roundest ever football”. After a couple of goal keeping howlers in the first round of games, many have been quick to criticise the flight of the ball for their inadequacies.
England manager Fabio Capello even branded it “the worst ball ever”.
Surprisingly, many teams sponsored by the ball’s manufacturer Adidas have come out to defend the ball. This trend was only broken by Brazilian defender Maicon coming out and voicing his support for the ball, but then the Nike-sponsored South American had just scored an absolute belter with it.
Will the controversy die down? Let’s hope so, it’s all getting a bit boring, and we’re not even a week into the tournament.
Like them, love them, or loathe them – the horns are here to stay according to tournament organisers. The instruments have been providing a colourful, if slightly annoying, backdrop to the football so far.
Reaching the boisterous heights of 127 decibels, it would be an understatement to say the horns have made an impact on the competition - with their output rumbling around the South African stadia.
Dare I say it; the whole affair has been overblown. You get the feeling that this would be less of an issue if the players were firing on all cylinders. Hopefully a string of better performances in the next set of games will consign the gripes to history.
Spain rolled into town as kings of Europe – having won the European Championships in 2008 – one of the favourites to win the tournament, and an ominous record of 45 games with only one defeat. So when Gelson Fernandes bundled the ball over the line in the 51st minute for the Swiss, it was more than a bit of a surprise.
It wasn’t pretty, but they all count. The result leaves Spain bottom of group H with it all to do.
So how will they react in their next game? You get the feeling that it probably won’t be a good time to be Honduras, who are Spain’s next opponents. The Iberians will want to send a message to the rest of the competition.
Even if they do turn it around and qualify, the defeat leaves them in a difficult position – as they may have to face the winner of the ‘group of death’ in the Round of 16, which is looking like it could be Brazil. Many thought this would turn out to be the final.
Time will tell if this scenario transpires, but it puts the Spanish under massive pressure in their last two games. How will they respond?
This also leaves the question, if Spain aren’t going to win group H, then who will? Chile impressed against Honduras in their first game, and Switzerland are going to be difficult to beat.
Chile take on the Swiss in their next group game and it’s set to be a fascinating encounter. It’s almost ‘winner takes all’, as three points for either side would put them in a commanding position to qualify.
Chile are the more expansive side, and since they face Spain in their final game, will be eager to cement their position with a victory. Switzerland, on the other hand, are a defensive side so it will be an interesting clash of styles as well as having big repercussions for the prospects of qualification.
Not one to miss.
When group G was drawn, North Korea looked like they’d drawn an absolute nightmare of a group. Brazil, Portugal, and Ivory Coast were to be their opponents. In an instant, it was decided the Koreans would finish bottom – the only question was how many goals they would concede in the process.
It came as a massive surprise when they emerged with a very respectable 2-1 loss to five-time champions Brazil in their opening game. The result was a fair reflection of the action, and it begs the question, can North Korea defy expectations and pick up a surprise win?
It will be difficult, but Portugal failed to impress in their 0-0 draw with Ivory Coast and the Europeans face the Koreans in their next group game. Can the plucky side from Asia replicate their performance and conquer the Portuguese?
So, if North Korea aren’t the worst team in the tournament – who are? Greece looked far from inspired in their opening game against South Korea, and Germany hammered a lacklustre Australian side.
Australia have arguably faced their toughest test, while Greece are yet to play against the mighty Argentina – but more about that later.
Suffice to say, if Maradona’s side manage to put more than four past the Grecians, it’ll be hard to argue the case for the defence...in more ways than one.
While the fallacy that the Italians are by far the oldest side at the tournament doesn’t quite play out, it is true that they do have a couple of antiques in their arsenal.
Captain Fabio Cannavaro recently announced his intentions to step down from international football at the end of the tournament, following in the footsteps of Gennaro Gattuso.
Coach Marcello Lippi is also said to be heading for the hills after the tournament, but this didn’t stop him from allegedly trying to coax Alessandro Nesta out of international retirement for one last hurrah in South Africa.
How many will decide to follow him?
Coach Raymond Domenech opted to leave Karim Benzema at home, and bench Thierry Henry against Uruguay. Starters Nicolas Anelka and Sidney Govou barely have an international goal between them for the past two years for France, begging the question:
Where are the goals coming from?
The French hardly set the world alight against a tidy Uruguay; will Les Bleus manage to find the net against their Mexican opponents in the next round of fixtures?
They better hope so, or Domenech will end a tumultuous reign with another early exit from a major competition.
With South Africa all but out of the competition, how many Africa sides can buck the trend and progress into the Round of 16?
Ghana are the most likely candidates after securing an important victory over Serbia in group D, they have the chance to cement their position as they face Australia in their next match.
A victory for Nigeria against South Korea would give them a good chance of making the next round. It will be tough, as South Korea beat Greece in their opener whilst Nigeria lost to Argentina. Both sides are evenly matched, and with their World Cup riding on the result, expect the Super Eagles to come out fighting.
Ivory Coast gave themselves a chance after a 0-0 draw with Portugal. They face Brazil in their next game and if they avoid defeat against Dunga’s side, they’d go into their final game against North Korea with a decent shout of qualification. Group G promises to be a very interesting one.
Cameroon still have an outside chance, but were poor against Japan and will play a solid Denmark side in their next game. They’ll have to win and hope Denmark does them a favour against the Samurai Blue in the final game, as they take on group favourites Holland in the last match.
Finally, Algeria sits at the bottom of group C having already played their easiest opponents. They play England in their next match before taking on USA in their final game. The Desert Foxes aren’t a bad side, but they’ll be lucky if they finish the World Cup with a point.
Chances are there will only be two or three African nations progressing to the next round.
With the French struggling, group A is wide open. Uruguay effectively sealed their progression into the knock-out stages with a 3-0 victory against hosts South Africa. The South Americans currently top the group with 4 points and a healthy goal difference.
The contest between Mexico and France will go a long way to deciding who will join them. A draw wouldn’t be the end of the world for France, as they face the hosts in their final group game and would be favourites to win that game.
But if Mexico manage to overcome the French it would be a long way back for the Europeans.
Slovenia triumphed over Algeria in their opening game and their chances of qualification hinge largely on their ability to overcome USA in their next game. The Europeans weren’t great in their opener, and USA got a good result against England – but if they can somehow draw against the Americans, they might squeeze into the knock out stages.
Don’t count on it; this group is a straight battle between USA and England. Unless there are some big surprises.
After Germany thrashed a poor Australian side in their opening game, some have started talking up their chances of winning the tournament outright. While they put in one of the standout performances so far, talk of them dominating the World Cup is a bit premature.
That said, Mesut Ozil put in an eye-catching performance and you write off the Germans at your peril. They’ll have a chance to re-stake their claim against a robust Serbian side – how will they perform?
It doesn’t matter though, as they still won’t win the World Cup.
Argentina dominated Nigeria in their first game but could only come away with a 1-0 victory, with talisman Lionel Messi being denied by a string of superb saves.
If they manage to put in a similar performance against Greece it could get very messy indeed (no pun intended). This might go some way in determining who walks away with the golden boot at the end of the tournament.
Or the Argentineans could disappoint ...I doubt it, this could be the game that sees the South Americans establish themselves as firm contenders. First they play South Korea in a game that will most likely decide who tops the group.
Don't bet against the South Americans.
Speaking of which, the Golden Boot is most certainly up for grabs after the first round of matches. As it stands, Diego Forlan is leading the charts with two goals in two games (both against South Africa). Every other contender has scored one goal.
Miroslav Klose grabbed the golden boot in 2006 after registering a hat-trick in the group stages – he scored five goals in total – will anyone seize the opportunity in this next set of games and establish themselves as a firm favourite?
Despite Forlan’s early lead, my money’s on Robin van Persie.
It’s still early doors in the World Cup, most teams have only played one game, but Robinho established himself as an early candidate for leading light of the tournament. Despite taking on minnows North Korea, the Brazilian looked lively and full of trickery, and crucially, plays in a side tipped to go all the way.
Of course there are many other candidates...the fun has just started, after all. Let’s hope that the biggest names in international football can follow Robinho’s example and step into the spotlight. As for the Manchester City winger, the challenge will be to put in even better performances against tougher opposition.
North Korea surprised Brazil, Switzerland stunned Spain, USA tamed the Three Lions, Argentina could only score once against Nigeria, Holland struggled to break down Denmark, and France and Italy couldn’t even win their opening games.
Is this a sign that there are more shocks to come? Have the so-called powerhouses of international football been caught up by supposed lesser nations? Or are the bigger teams just saving themselves for the latter stages?
It remains to be seen, it might be a bit premature for Swiss fans to think they have a realistic chance of claiming World Cup glory, but the gap between big and small looks to be closing fast.
There are very few easy games any more.
Ok, so this might be a bit of a controversial one – especially if your team has been subjected to a suspect dismissal – but overall (keep it quiet) the officials haven’t been half bad in South Africa.
A lot of the offside decisions have been spot on, and nobody has issued three yellow cards to one player...which makes a nice change.
Will the standard of officiating continue to impress? Don’t count on it; South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira has already slammed the referee in the aftermath of their defeat to Uruguay.
A sign of things to come?
And you thought Africa was a land of roaring sunshine all year round? Apparently there is a good chance of snow when England take on Algeria in their second group game.
This would obviously play into the hands of the Three Lions, as they could always blame the weather if they fail to get the required result against the Africans.
“Jabulani? I thought it was a snow ball Mister Capello.”
It wouldn’t be the World Cup if a sleuth of players weren’t linked with big money moves every time they did something vaguely impressive. It’s what gossip columnists and agents live for.
Of course, since Manchester City are now backed by some insanely wealthy Arab, they are the club of choice of every transfer rumour going.
Germany's Mesut Ozil is just one of the players being linked with Eastlands after his showing against Australia. I know some of the teams in the Premier League aren’t great, but they’ve got to be better at defending than the Aussies?!
As we get deeper into the tournament, the strength of reinforcements will become increasingly important – so who has the best option waiting in the sidelines?
Barcelona are said to be prepared to pay Arsenal £30m for the services of Cesc Fabrgeas, but not only can he not get into the Spanish starting line-up, he wasn’t even one of the three substitutes called upon by Vicente del Bosque when Spain went a goal down against the Swiss.
He has got to be the best substitute at the World Cup – despite apparently being fourth choice.
Depending on who you believe, between 93-97 per cent of tickets have been sold for games in South Africa. Whatever you believe, a picture can’t lie (unless it has been quickly photo-shopped).
Either I’m rubbish at maths, or something isn’t right here.
FIFA have tried to blame corporate types not bothering to turn up, but that doesn’t wash. The chances of the World Cup returning to Africa in our life time are small, if you can’t sell the tickets just give them away to locals...it’s not like FIFA aren’t making enough money out of the whole event.
Let’s be honest, the tournament hasn’t yet been set alight with stunning attacking play – despite a good effort from the Chileans, and a decent showing by Brazil.
It’s slowly starting to build up, but the players need to step it up a notch. This is the World Cup, if we wanted to watch boring football, we’d wheel out footage of Bolton Wanderers.
But if they want to throw in a couple more shocks, like Spain losing to Switzerland, I won’t complain too much.
So the first round is over, we’ll forgive some of the nervous performances, but will the shackles come off in the next set of games?
Uruguay showed they can do more than defend against South Africa, and hopefully some of the bigger teams will follow their lead. So far there has been a lower than average number of goals scored in this tournament (compared to previous World Cups), it’s time for Ronaldo, Messi, and company to throw the shackles off and show the world what they can do.
Did I mention that this is the World Cup?
Think you know who will get through the group stages? Think again. There’s bound to be a massive shock or two...whether that’s a European giant being humbled, or a minnow coming from nowhere to sneak into the Round of 16 – it’s certain to happen.
So who are the candidates? Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and England could all fail to progress to the next round. While Mexico, Nigeria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Ivory Coast and Chile could all make the next round.
Hopefully that covers all the bases.
Last, but certainly not least, is the biggest question on everyone’s lips: Who will win the World Cup?
There’s a long way to go, but there is no single team who looks like they are ready to dominate the competition. Spain and Brazil were the biggest favourites and they both struggled in different ways, whilst the second-tier all have big question marks hanging over them.
It promises to be an enthralling few weeks.
It’ll definitely be Brazil, honestly...or possibly Argentina. You’ll see.