Arrivederci, Italia: FIFA World Cup Day 13 Grades
Wow! The holders of the 2006 FIFA World Cup are out in the first round - winless and bottom of their group. Also exiting stage left are New Zealand, Cameroon and, a little more shockingly, Denmark.
This grade is more about Italy's overall disappointing performance over three games rather than today's effort (which would have been a C-), where they lost 3-2 to upstart Slovakia. What amazed us was Marcelo Lippi's management skills. At 1-0 down, Lippi refused to change things, despite the fact that his country was in the crapper. Where was Pirlo, who was brilliant when he came on and was Italy's man of the match?
The Italians will probably curse the officials for an offside that was as close as they come, and for not giving the team more time because of Slovakian second half time-wasting. However, it was the appalling defending that let in the first goal, and the lack of marking for the second that really cost them - as well as two inept performances against Paraguay and New Zealand. What's next? Ignominy and a rude reception in Rome upon their return.
When the Slovakian players weren't constantly falling to the floor, they were actually quite good footballers. They passed the ball well, finished chances given to them, and definitely contributed to one of the most exciting games of football you'll ever likely see. We look forward to more of them soon.
What's next? The second round, and a tie against the Netherlands - who will probably beat them handily.
We didn't see too much of Holland in their group games, but did they ever really get out of second gear? The Netherlands have a devastating amount of talent at their disposal, and that's why we reckon they are hot favourites to at least get to the semi-finals. Nine points out of a possible nine isn't a bad way to start a tournament - England would have loved another win, wouldn't they? What's next? Slovakia, and then the quarterfinals.
New Zealand (A)
We expected 'The All Whites' to get slaughtered in their three group games, and how wrong we were. Today's effort against Paraguay was yet another plucky effort, and we loved seeing the team play in black.
They battled for every inch of their turf once again, and anyone who is a New Zealander should be proud of their country's efforts over the last few weeks. We just wish they'd scored a victory to really upset the world, and seen a haka. We missed both. What's next? Hopefully an incredible reception in Auckland.
Japan play some pretty football, and they can also shoot. Just ask Denmark keeper Thomas Sorenson, who let through two of the loveliest free-kicks you're ever likely to see. Driven on by Honda, their striker (no pun intended), Japan were skillful, continually remembering to actually move for a pass - something that England struggled to do against Algeria. What's next? A monster, but winnable clash with Paraguay.
If you want to scare people, it's probably not the best of results to only draw with New Zealand, is it? If we're honest, we weren't too in love with Paraguay after the Italy game, and we aren't feeling the same for them this time, despite the fact that they finished top of their group. What's up? Japan.
I had to laugh at the nickname 'The Indomitable Lions', because Cameroon proved to be anything but indomitable in South Africa. They were outclassed by the Dutch, and will go home having ventured little and gained nothing. What's next? Regrouping before the next African Nations Cup.
It must be really annoying for a set of fans to see their team go out of the World Cup when, once again, they were expected to at least go to the second round. But tonight, they were outclassed by Japan, who won 3-1 in a superb game between sides needing the victory to guarantee qualification for the knock-out stages.
Denmark will be looking to give Niklaus Bendtner shooting lessons when all is said is done, as he missed another two good chances in Thursday's game. What's next? European qualifiers, and reminding the crowing Swedish fans which country actually made the finals.
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