Don’t let North Korea’s late goal fool you. Brazil is still the best team in the world, they’re still the favorites to win the World Cup, and they could very well coast through the hardest of any World Cup group without dropping a point. Their opener was as easy as it’s going to get in these group stages, but you know that Brazil can turn it on whenever they want. World, beware.
Germany was the standout team from the first round of matches. Australia was never likely to pose a threat anyway, but the ruthless German efficiency was a thing of beauty. They will find it tougher against Serbia, especially if their opponents can keep 11 men on the field, but you can pretty much pencil them in a Group D winners now. England will be hoping they win their group and avoid them in the round of 16.
Portugal didn’t play particularly well, but you have to believe they’re still one of the top three or four teams in the world. They were cautious in their opener and Cristiano Ronaldo was a non-factor in the second half, but look for them to take three points off of Korea DPR in their next match.
Hands up if you had Switzerland beating Spain? If your hand is in the air, you’re lying. This was the shock of the tournament in the first round of group matches, and the Spanish will now have to beat down Honduras and Chile if they want to advance. Despite the early hiccup, Spain are still favorites to qualify from Group H.
The Netherlands looked impressive against the Danes, dominating their European colleagues in every part of the field. They attacked well and peppered Thomas Sorensen’s goal, and Wesley Sneijder was fantastic. They left it last to seal the win, but it was thoroughly deserved.
This game was much easier than the scoreline suggests. Argentina bossed the game from start to finish and only some world class stops from Vincent Enyeama kept the deficit at one goal. Lionel Messi looked like he could rip through the Nigerian defense at will and Gabriel Heinze took his goal—despite being wide open on the penalty spot—very well. A win against Korea Republic will see them into the next round.
The defending champions looked nervous in their opening match and they had to wait until De Rossi’s 63rd-minute goal to salvage a point from the game after going a surprise goal behind. Italy is still a force to be reckoned with, but is age really catching up to them like some pundits suggest?
Their much-anticipated opening game ended in disappointment after Robert Green’s gaffe, but the English should be safe in the knowledge that they’re in a pretty easy group. They will still be looking to top their group, but they can’t afford any more slip ups. They need to get their goalkeeping situation in order before the knockout stages, and games against Algeria and Slovenia may just be what Green’s confidence needs.
France is pretty much where they should be. They were ninth in the FIFA world rankings going into the World Cup and they did nothing to warrant edging their way up the rankings after stuttering to a goalless draw against Diego Forlan and Uruguay. They had limited chances even when their opponents had Nicolas Lodeiro sent off, and they will need to respond with a convincing win against Mexico on Thursday.
America won 1-1, if you will believe the New York tabloid newspapers. They entered as underdogs and even though their goal was fortunate, they handcuffed England just enough to probably deserve their point. They were widely expected to go through to the knockout stages before the tournament began, and an opening day draw against one of the world’s powerhouses almost assures them of a spot in the last 16.
Chile came into their Group H encounter without a World Cup win for almost 50 years, but they rode Jean Beausejour’s first-half goal to a valuable three points against Honduras. They’re not really a top-10 team, but they’re on their way to qualifying for the knockout stages, especially considering Spain’s upset defeat. If they topple the Swiss in their next game, even a point against Spain would guarantee them a spot in the last 16. A loss however, would almost certainly put them out.
Was anyone impressed with Uruguay’s stubborn performance against France? You should be, because France is a good side even if they didn’t necessarily show their class here. Uruguay held the Europeans to a bunch of half-chances, and keeper Fernando Muslera was hardly tested despite a barrage of shots. The South Americans will need to do a lot better with set pieces though if they want to get into the knockout rounds.
The Swiss came into the competition on the verge of the top 20 and they shocked the world when Gelson Fernandes’ second-half strike was enough for all three points. Switzerland were battered throughout the entire game, and they had no real answer for the pace and precision of the Spaniards other than to pull them back and chop them down. If it wasn’t for Howard Webb’s liberal officiating, they could have easily seen someone sent off. That said, give the Swiss their due respect. The Spanish left Fernando Torres on the bench for the first hour and the Swiss defense held firm.
Slovenia wasn’t particularly impressive against Algeria, but they got three points on a late goal, and it held up. Robert Koren had a good game even without his match-winning strike, and Slovenia will now be looking to cause an upset against the two favored teams in the group. They are still unlikely to advance, but their chances are infinitely better now that they have a win under their belt.
I thought Greece would dispatch Korea Republic without too many problems, but how wrong I was. They managed just two shots on target despite holding the ball pretty well, but their bigger problems came at defense and midfield where the Koreans were able to run roughshod over their tactics. They need to restricts their remaining two Group B opponents to far fewer shots if they want to be successful.
Serbia is a good team on paper, but they can count themselves unfortunate to emerge from their opening match without a point. They deserved a draw against Ghana, but a late penalty saw them leaving Loftus Versfeld stadium empty handed. Marko Pantelic needs to get much more involved in the next game, although you expect Germany to win pretty comfortably.
Rafael Marquez denied the hosts a win on the first day of the tournament, although Mexico will feel disappointed with just one point. They were the better team throughout and they created enough chances that they really should have won. Up next is the French, and they will definitely have to be more clinical there.
Cameroon will find it difficult to progress from Group E after a 1-0 loss to Japan in their first match. Keisuke Honda scored the only goal of the game, while Eric Choupo Moting looked decisively average at the other end before getting substituted. If this was supposedly Cameroon’s easiest match, they could be in trouble. A win against the Danes is vital to make their third match with the Netherlands meaningful.
Nigeria ran into an offensive juggernaut in Argentina although they can take heart in the fact that this was as hard as they come. If they can craft a result against Greece, there is still every chance they can finish second in their group. It is obvious just how much the loss of John Obi Mikel means to the Nigerians.
The Socceroos got a footballing lesson in Durban and they will need to be much better against Ghana. Tim Cahill’s suspension puts them in a hole and anything but a victory on Saturday will likely mean an early exit.
21. Ivory Coast
Without Didier Drogba for most of the contest against Portugal, Ivory Coast looked pretty toothless. Yes, they were up against one of the best teams in Europe, and yes, they neutralized Ronaldo, but with Brazil still to come, things are not looking rosy. They are unfortunate to be in this group, considering they would have a good chance of progressing from most of the others, but I don’t think 2010 is going to be their year.
Paraguay can feel proud of their performance against Italy, and they can count themselves pretty fortunate to be in one of the easier groups. They matched their European opponents for most of the game, and even though they lost their first-half lead, they should be optimistic about progressing even if they’re not really that good.
Ghana absolutely deserved their victory over Serbia, even if they relied on the Serbs self destructing when they looked certain to get at least a point. A 2-0 scoreline would have been embarrassing for the Serbs had Gyan not hit the post in the closing minutes, but Ghana won’t care about that.
Algeria lost against a pretty average Slovenia team and now they are doomed, still having to face England and the USA. They had a man sent off and they are at the bottom of their group with no hope of turning it around. Their best bet is to play spoiler against one of the bigger teams in their final two matches, although playing for pride looks pretty bleak right now, too.
Slovakia should never have dropped points against New Zealand, and they now have a crunch match with Paraguay in Mangaung on Sunday if they want to get their tournament back on track. They are evenly matched with Paraguay, but with Italy looming in their final group match, this is essentially a must-win encounter.
The Danes are not the team that you knew in the mid ‘90s. They are no longer a European superpower and they are distinctly overmatched with the Netherlands and Cameroon in their group. They were exposed as an average team at best against a strong Dutch team that could have won at a canter.
I’m under no illusions that Japan is a good team, but you have to respect their win against Cameroon in their first match. It was their first World Cup win away from home and even if they lose to the Netherlands in their second Group E game, they could still sneak into the second phase with a result against Denmark.
28. Korea Republic
Korea Republic probably deserves to be higher on this list after their 2-0 win over Greece, but the fact remains that they’re not very good. Sure, they looked pretty effective against a distinctly sub-par Greece in Port Elizabeth, but they are ranked No. 48 in the world for a reason. This result was nothing more than a fluke and I fully expect them to get exposed in their next two games.
Honduras is playing as well as ever, even if they got spanked by Chile. Okay, 1-0 isn’t exactly a beat down, but Honduras was never really in the game. They are a weak team in a decent group, and they had no reply for Chile’s off-the-ball movement and ability to create chances. It only gets worse from here.
30. Korea DPR
Give credit to Korea DPR for scoring against Brazil, but they are a poor team with an even worse chance of making any noise in the 2010 World Cup. They are the worst team in the hardest group, and the fact that they allowed Brazil to get 26 shots off tells them everything they needed to know. Korea made them work for their three points, but don’t expect even a single point from their time here.
31. South Africa
I want to rank them higher, but there’s really no justification for it. They are a pretty bad side that was frankly fortunate to earn a draw in their opening match. They are well on their way to becoming the first host nation not to make it through the group stages, and not even the encouragement from millions of vuvuzelas will be enough to help them through. If fan support could carry a team through, Bafana Bafana would be fine. Unfortunately, it’s not.
32. New Zealand
New Zealand is the second-worst team in the tournament, although they didn’t look horribly out of place against Slovakia who are far superior in every way. They scraped a point with Winston Reid’s injury time equalizer, but it’s likely to be the only point they get. Like Korea DPR they are set to be overwhelmed, but I’m glad to see the All Whites in this World Cup, even if they are rubbish and their stay will be brief.