The group stage of the World Cup has come to an end and the final 16 teams are set for the knockout stage.
Before we leave the group stage behind and look ahead to the “Sweet Sixteen” of soccer, let us look back at some of the stories from the first leg of the World Cup.
One of the biggest stories has to be the struggles of African teams on their home continent. After the group stage African teams are a combined 3-5-10 out of six entrants.
Moreover, only one African team advanced out of the group stage to the knockout round, which was Ghana.
Even more disheartening to the African cause is that host country South Africa failed to make it past the group stage. The Bafana Bafana’s ouster is the first time in World Cup history that a host nation failed to make it to the round of 16.
The African nations are not the only teams struggling. European teams are also struggling in this World Cup.
Europe had the most entrants into the 2010 World Cup with 13 nations taking part. Seven of those nations failed to make it out of the group stage.
As a whole, European nations are 15-10-14 so far in this World Cup. Even worse was the showing by Italy and France, the two nations that played in the final of the 2006 World Cup.
Both nations failed to win a single game in the group stage, and they both finished last in their respective groups. This marks the first time that both nations who played in the previous final and qualified for the next World Cup failed to make the round of 16.
The Azzurri and Les Bleus were not the only European teams to struggle. Pre-tournament favorites England and Spain struggled to score goals but did advance. A young German team had its own hiccups but did win its group.
Greece and Denmark were also thought to have good chances of advancing. The Greeks and the Danes failed to advance, and both had only one win to go with two loses in their group.
While teams from Africa and Europe have struggled, teams from the Americas have dominated. Every team from North, South, and Central America but Honduras that made the tournament will advance.
The South American teams have been so dominate that only Chile lost a group stage match. Overall, only Mexico, a loss to Uruguay, and Chile are the only teams from the Americas to lose a group game.
For the first time in World Cup history all five South American teams advance to the knockout round. Also teams from the Americas won five out of six groups they were in.
For Asia they produced two teams in the round of 16 out of four. After a great run as host nations the 2002 tournament, both Japan and South Korea have had a great 2010 tournament.
The group stage of this World Cup also has had the lowest scoring average in World Cup history. Many have questioned if the lack of scoring is due to the games being played above sea level, a new ball, or the players.
Even with a goalie gaffe in nearly every game, teams in this World Cup have not been able to find the back of the net with any regularity.
Whatever for the lack of scoring, it can all change in the win-or-go-home knockout round. Goals will become even more of a premium in the second stage of the tournament.
The biggest story so far of this 2010 FIFA World Cup has to be the poor officiating.
Anyone who has watched a full game has seen the price no technology in soccer. Officials are human, but the group stage has featured bad/missed calls, good goals that were disallowed, and bad cards that have changed the outcome of games.
It would be nice if FIFA will take a look at adding extra officials or replay after this World Cup. Although FIFA has stated they love the controversy.
Enough about the group stage, since it is done an over with. Now it is time to take a look at the World Cup’s version of the “Sweet Sixteen”.
To make the bracket easy, first we will take a look at the games being played on June 26, 2010 and June 28, 2010. Secondly the games being played on June 27, 2010 and June 29, 2010 will be looked at.
The first game of the second round will feature South American and Group A winner Uruguay against Group B runner-up and surprise team South Korea. Uruguay has not tasted defeat in this World Cup having won two matches and a draw against France in their opening round game.
South Korea is one of two teams to reach the second round with a negative goal differential. For Uruguay, they will look to see Diego Forlán (two goals) score in the second round.
South Korea will lean on Lee Jung-Soo (two goals) to lead them past the first elimination game. The South Americans have been good so a slight nod has to go to Uruguay to advance past the South Koreans.
In the other game on the opening day of the knockout stage the United States, winner of Group C will take on Ghana the runner-up of Group D and the only African nation still left. The USA needed a last second goal by Landon Donavon just to advance and win their group.
Ghana is playing for the pride of an entire continent and will be the overwhelming crowd favorite. Asamoah Gyan (two goals) of Ghana will look to carry the scoring load.
The United States will turn to Donovan (two goals) and Clint Dempsey (one goal) to lead them to the quarterfinals. The USA has payback for Ghana who knocked them out of the 2006 World Cup and look for them to get that payback and advance.
On June 28, the Netherlands, winners of Group E, will meet surprise runner-up of Group F Slovakia. The Dutch are always dominate when a tournament is in the Group stage but fall apart when it comes time to win trophies.
Slovakia bounced defending champion Italy and is the other team that advanced with a negative goal differential. For defeating Italy, Slovakia’s reward is meeting a Netherlands team that is a favorite to win this tournament.
The Dutch will look to Arjen Robben, returning from injury, to lead them into the quarterfinals. Slovakia needs Róbert Vittek (three goals) to keep scoring if they want their dream run to continue.
It is time to for the Netherlands to prove they can win when it counts and need to advance deep into this tournament. Slovakia will not just roll over and let the Dutch win, but the Netherlands should find the goals to advance.
Rounding out this side of the bracket of June 26 and June 28 is Brazil, the Group G winner, and Chile, the Group H runner-up. With all the South American teams advancing it was only a matter of time before they began to face each other.
These two teams know each other well and in their last meeting the Brazilians beat the Chileans 4-2 in a qualification game. Since 2006, Brazil has beaten Chile four straight times and none of the games have been particularly close.
Brazil has plenty of players who can score. Chile is playing for a country rocked by a massive earth quake earlier this year. Look for Brazil to advance over their South American bretheren.
In the second half of the bracket has games being played on June 27 and June 29. Starting of this side of the bracket is Argentina, the Group B winner, against Mexico, Group A runner-up.
Argentina started off slow but has been rolling and is the other team not taste defeat or a draw. Mexico earned a draw against South Africa and lost to Uruguay but their win over France sent them into the second round.
The focus on Argentina off the field will be on Diego Maradona, but on the field the attention will be on Gonzalo Higuaín (3 goals). Mexico is a solid team but they do not have the stars Argentina can put on the field.
Look for Maradona and Argentina to cruise into the quarterfinals. Mexico will put up a good fight.
One of the most anticipated second round matches will feature the Group D winners Germany against the Group C runner-up England. These two teams know each other well and have a long history on the pitch.
Germany started out strong against Australia but then struggled against Serbia in a loss and Ghana in a win. England has only scored two goals in this World Cup and has struggled in every game.
Both teams will be under a ton of pressure to advance. But the English Premiere League All-Stars of England might be facing more pressure than their German opponents.
If the English stars of Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Frank Lampard and others can start finding the back of the net this team could go far. Germany will have a good chance to move on if they can return to their opening game play but the Three Lions of England will advance.
Playing on June 29 is Paraguay, the Group F winners, against Japan, the Group E runner-up. In a strange occurrence, Japan as the group runner up has more group points then group winner Paraguay.
Driving the offense, pun intended, for Japan is Keisuke Honda (2 goals) who is the best creative player on the pitch for the Japanese. Paraguay has trio of players with at least one goal.
Paraguay will need to find offense since Japan outscored them in the group stage. Defense will be on display for both teams since Paraguay only conceded one goal and Japan has only conceded two goals.
This has been a South American World Cup so it is hard to go against Paraguay. That is until they meet the Blue Samurais of Japan who advance.
In the other highly anticipated round of 16 game being played on Junev29 features Group H winners Spain against Group G runner-up Portugal. This game features some of the biggest stars in the soccer world.
Spain has Fernando Torres who has yet to score but David Villa (three goals) has had no trouble finding the back of the net. Portugal has gotten a goal from Cristiano Ronaldo, but so far Tiago (two goals) leads the way in the scoring column.
This game could become an instant classic if all the goal scorers show up in this match. The nod has to go to Spain who has had no trouble scoring after a loss to Switzerland.
Portugal scored seven goals against weaker North Korea but has two scoreless draws against Brazil and the Ivory Coast. Look for Spain to sneak into the quarterfinals.
There you have it. There are at least three games US fans should make time check out.
The first is the United States against Ghana, then Germany against England, and finally Spain against Portugal. Other games that should be interesting are Mexico against Argentina, Japan taking on Paraguay, and South Korea clashing with Uruguay.
Enjoy the second round and look forward to the quarterfinals preview after these games are played.