Saturday’s Game Uruguay vs. Germany (2:30 p.m. EST on ABC). One of these semi-final losers will have the chance to go home on a high note, after offering some of the most entertaining football of the tournament. Diego Forlan’s Uruguay has been one of the pleasant surprises in South Africa, recapturing a little of its former glory. Who would have thought that Uruguay would be South America’s lone representative in the semis ahead of Argentina or Brazil? The Germans, for a moment, had us all believing they might go all the way. They were hard to ignore after their 4-1 thrashing of England and even harder to write off once they destroyed Argentina. But they never truly played like themselves against Spain in their semi-final. Saturday’s third-place playoff is one last chance to show why they might just have been the most exciting team at the World Cup. They have the bookies on their side, going off at 4:5, while Uruguay is offered at 7:2. Paul the Octopus has also picked his home country Germany. And if you hear it from Paul the Octopus, or “Krake Paul” as he is known, it must be true.
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Sunday’s Game Netherlands vs. Spain (2:30 p.m. EST on ABC) A billion people will tune in to watch one of these sides lift the World Cup trophy — which hasn’t been a cup for nearly 40 years. On paper, it is impossibly close. The Dutch have been extremely solid throughout and improved with each round. Spain, meanwhile, has been held close in its last three games, but always managed to do enough to pretend they were never in trouble anyway. No team has ever made it to the final scoring so few goals. But few teams have been able to keep the ball away from the opponents quite like Spain has, either.
Key Players Wesley Sneijder and David Villa. Everything the Netherlands and Spain do seems to go through this diminutive pair. At 5’7”, Sneijder was the shortest man on the field when he headed home the winner against Brazil in the quarter-final and has been able to elude all the midfield cover opponents have thrown at him so far. Villa, at 5’9”, may not be quite so useful in the air, but who needs to head the ball when you’ve got the quickest feet in the West. His mesmerizing dribbling skills have led to a couple of the finest goals of the tournament and completely befuddled Germany in the semi-final. The Netherlands’ No. 1 priority on Sunday will be stopping him. And the most important thing Spain can do is stop Sneijder.
Celebrity Fan Watch Forget Beverly Hills or the United Nations, Sunday’s World Cup final is the place to be. South African-born Charlize Theron and Morgan Freeman, whose connection to South Africa is that he once played Nelson Mandela, will headline the celebrities in attendance. Fifteen African heads of state, including Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, are also expected to join President Jacob Zuma in the VIP section. It remains to be seen whether the 91-year-old Nelson Mandela will be at the game after he skipped the opening ceremony due to his great-grandaughter’s death.
World Cup Word of the Day: Fatwa. The Arabic word, which means a ruling on a point of Islamic law handed down by a religious authority, is usually reserved for people perceived to have committed crimes against the faith — like Danish cartoonists or Salman Rushdie. But on Friday, the United Arab Emirates’ General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments issued a fatwa against vuvuzelas, according to the AP. No one may blow the annoying plastic horn within the Emirates if it exceeds 100 decibels anymore. It’s hard to argue with the clerics on that one. But one party who may not be pleased with it is the UAE airline, Emirates. Their slogan, “Fly Emirates” is plastered all over the World Cup venues, meaning that the de facto soundtrack to their most visible ad is none other than the buzz of vuvuzelas.
And From the Department of British Tabloids It’s standard World Cup fare from the tabs this morning, leaving the broadsheet Daily Telegraph to provide us with the story of the day, with “10 things you didn't know about Paul the psychic octopus.” Now if that doesn’t sell papers, I’m not sure what will. Among the revelations are that he is not afraid of the death threats coming his way and that German television has been broadcasting his predictions live. Just when you had begun to lose faith in reality TV, a psychic octopus from Oberhausen comes running to win everyone’s hearts back.
World Cup Mini-Break After this weekend, there won’t be another World Cup game for four years, so get used to days like today. As if 62 games over the last 28 days haven’t whet your appetite for the final, Saturday brings the third-place game should get your fired up for what could be a classic final on Sunday. The Netherlands and Spain are the most talented soccer nations never to win the World Cup, but one of them is guaranteed to join the exclusive club of countries who have taken home the trophy. The Dutch missed out in consecutive finals in the 1970s, while Spain had never even been as far as the semis before Wednesday.
Saturday’s Game Uruguay vs. Germany (2:30 p.m. EST on ABC). Cynics may dismiss this game as the battle to be No. 3, but the World Cup consolation game will give us all one more chance to watch a pair of teams who became unexpected darlings of the tournament. Uruguay gave us some superb goals — think Diego Forlan against the Netherlands or Luis Suarez against South Korea — while the Germans delivered a pair of the most memorable performances of the World Cup by decimating England and Argentina. Now, thanks to the third-place game, one of them will get to go home on a high note.
Key Players Luis Suarez and Thomas Muller. Both players watched helplessly from the sidelines as they served suspensions while their sides were knocked out in the semi-finals. Muller, who was booked against Argentina for a dubious handball, was harsh. Suarez, who was sent off for a deliberate handball, was more than deserved, but a calculated risk. In any event, the pair of center forwards was sorely missed. Without Muller, Germany was defanged by the swarming Spanish defense. And without Suarez, too many of Uruguay’s offensive duties fell on Diego Forlan. But both will return for the consolation game and perhaps help their teams return to the exciting, attractive football that got them so far.
Celebrity Fan Watch Paul the Octopus. This could be bad news for the Dutch. Paul the psychic octopus from Oberhausen, Germany apparently isn’t holding a grudge against Spain — he’s picking them to win Sunday’s final. Paul hasn’t been wrong yet in this tournament, accurately selecting the winner — or rather the acrylic box with the country’s flag on it and a bit of cuttlefish inside — in all six of Germany’s games. He is also predicting that Germany will beat Uruguay Saturday. Still, there might be some hope for Holland in Mani the psychic parakeet from Singapore. Mani is siding with the Dutch after correctly choosing the winner in all four quarter-finals and the Germany-Spain game.
World Cup Word of the Day Maradona Monument. Argentina has been out of the World Cup for nearly a week now, but its impact is still being felt in Buenos Aires. Argentine legislator Juan Cabandie has put forward a proposal to erect a statue of the legendary Diego Maradona — who won two World Cups as a player and failed miserably this year as the national team’s coach. "The Argentine people have shown that, when it comes to Maradona, the results are not important," Cabandie said. "Having been eliminated in the quarterfinals of the World Cup in South Africa, in a lopsided loss, thousands of people came to the streets to meet him and his 23 players."
And From the Department of British Tabloids Well, it looks like there will be an Englishman in the World Cup final after all. And, just like the members of the England team, fans are used to hating him. It’s referee Howard Webb, who plies his trade week in and week out, blowing the whistle in the English Premier League. But it’s small consolation for the tabloids who have already moved on to the summer transfer gossip. Webb’s story didn’t even get the punny headline treatment.
World Cup Mini-Break We now know the identity of the World Cup finalists and South Africa 2010 promises to go out with a bang. The Netherlands and Spain, both in pursuit of their first World Cup title, will square off in Johannesburg on Sunday. One thing is guaranteed: The exclusive club of World Cup-winning nations is about to grow since in 18 tournaments before this one, only seven countries have won the trophy (Brazil, Italy, West Germany, Uruguay, Argentina, England, France). But to whet your appetite, Uruguay and Germany will meet on Saturday to determine who will take third place and cap a surprising run at this World Cup.
Wednesday’s Game Spain 1-0 Germany. For all the attractive football the Germans have played at this tournament, they tried to sit back against Spain and hope for a counter. But when Spain has the ball virtually two-thirds of the time, something bad is bound to happen. And it did in the 74th minute, when Germany’s defense finally cracked, allowing Carles Puyol to rise above it and power a decisive header home. It means Paul the Psychic Octopus was right to pick against his homeland, giving him a perfect 6-0 record for the tournament.
Celebrity Fan Watch Queen Sofia of Spain. It’s been a good World Cup for royalty, unless of course you mean the English kind, and Sunday’s final will pit two of Europe’s ancient monarchies against each other—they are the House of Bourbon and the House of Orange-Nassau, in case you want to frame it as a 19th-century territorial war. In the Spanish corner will be Queen Sofia, who also attended yesterday’s semifinal against Germany, wearing the colors of the flag. After the game, she was on hand to personally thank the goalscorer, Carles Puyol, and pass on the congratulations "of the king, princes and princesses, our grandchildren and all the people of Spain."
World Cup Word of the Day Los Mejores. The Spanish aren’t mincing their words now that they’re in their first World Cup final—by divine right, if you listen to them talk about it. Even though the team hasn’t won it yet, Spanish sports newspaper Marca is already anointing the players, “Los Mejores del Mundo” in giant block letters and El Mundo calls the side, “ La Mejor Espana.” For two more days, you can call it bravado. But after Sunday afternoon, they may very well be right.
And From the Department of British Tabloids A rather tame effort from the British papers working with the Spanish victory. The Sun displays its subtle mastery of the language of Borges and Marquez with “Marv-El”, while The Daily Star makes a pun on Carles Puyol’s name with, “He’s Puy Wonder”—except it’s unclear what the pun is supposed to mean. The German papers, meanwhile, refuse to get too down on their young team. Several of them ran the same headline, “ Kopf Hoch, Deutschland,” telling the players to hold their heads high. Rather than disappointment and outrage, which would have surely littered the Spanish press had they lost, the Germans took their defeat with honor and pride.
Wednesday’s Game Germany vs. Spain (2:30 p.m. EST on ESPN). Do whatever you have to do, but do not miss this game. With Germany playing some of the most exciting football of the World Cup and Spain marching toward a trophy they believe is rightfully theirs, this is the stuff highlight reels are made of. The Germans have won their last two games, against England and Argentina, by a combined score of 8-1. The Spanish may have looked a touch more vulnerable against Portugal and Paraguay, but still did exactly what was required of them. For now, the bookies are narrowly siding with Spain, making it a 13:8 favorite, while Germany is 17:10.
Key Players Bastian Schweinsteiger and David Villa. Schweinsteiger has kept Germany’s well-oiled machine chugging along, but Villa is probably even more important to his team. Playing in the form of his life, he has scored all but one of Spain’s goals at this World Cup.
Tuesday’s Game Netherlands 3-2 Uruguay. The South Americans may have hung in there for a half, but when the Dutch needed it most, they found an extra gear to book their spot in Sunday’s final. If you haven’t seen it yet, make sure you get a look at Giovanni Van Bronckhorst’s screamer for the Netherlands—it could be the goal of the tournament.
Celebrity Fan Watch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and Princess Maxima of Holland were in the stands in Cape Town Tuesday, sporting their orange scarves, to cheer on the Dutch. They certainly seemed to enjoy themselves more than some of the other royals at the tournament—Princes William and Harry made for a glum pair during the England-Algeria game they attended.
World Cup Word of the Day Consolation game. After the agony of losing a World Cup semi-final, the two losers must pick themselves up and pretend there is something to play for in Saturday’s game for third place. But dismal as that prospect may seem, the consolation game has been a stage to honor plucky teams who have made surprising runs in recent years. In 2006, an underrated German side took third on home soil—and celebrated almost as if they had won the World Cup. In 2002, a surprising Turkey side defeated hosts South Korea in the consolation game. And in 1998, an excellent Croatian team scored an emotional victory for the young country.
Final Speculation It’s hard to decide which final matchup would hold the better storylines. If the Netherlands and Spain were to meet on Sunday, the two countries with some of the proudest soccer traditions in the world would both have their best chance in decades to take home the Cup. Believe it or not, neither side has ever won it. The Dutch were in the final twice in the 1970s and the Spanish had previously never made it out of the quarters. But a Netherlands-Germany final would dredge up some of that good old Northern European neighbor animosity. One highlight from their rivalry, or lowlight depending on how you look at it, was a notorious spitting incident in the 1990 World Cup. Frank Rijkaard’s gob of spit hanging in Rudi Voller’s hair remains one of the most famous loogies in the game.
And From the Department of British Tabloids German newspaper Bild seems to be out-tabloiding the British tabloids, who have all but lost interest in the World Cup without England. Wednesday’s paper brings the all-important head-to-head comparisons of the Germany and Spain players, as well as their top WAGs. Iker Casillas’s girlfriend Sara Carbonero vs. Bastian Schweinsteiger’s girlfriend Sarah Brandner. Like the game, it’s almost too close to call.
Tuesday’s Game Netherlands vs. Uruguay (2:30 p.m. EST on ESPN). One of these teams is only 90 minutes away, or maybe 120 minutes away, from the World Cup final. The Dutch are riding high after conquering Brazil in the quarterfinal, but the Uruguayans are now convinced they have a higher power on their side. After Luis Suarez stopped a certain Ghanaian goal with his hands—which led to a missed penalty in the final minute of extra time and, later, a Uruguay victory—he claimed that it was a new Hand of God. (Diego Maradona will claim that his was the original and still the best.) The Dutch have never won the World Cup and haven’t even been to the final since 1978. Once-mighty Uruguay has won the tournament twice, but not since 1950. The Netherlands are heavy favorites to march on today at 8:13 odds, while the last remaining South American team is 11:2.
Key Players Wesley Sneijder and Diego Forlan. Sneijder has been crucial to the Dutch campaign, running the team from midfield with his crisp passing and flair for the spectacular. He scored the decisive header against Brazil, even though he was the shortest man on the field. Forlan has been at the center of all of Uruguay’s accomplishments at this World Cup. Leading from the front, he has a cannonball of a shot and can wreak havoc from distance.
Celebrity Fan Watch Paul the Octopus. Paul, from Oberhausen, Germany, is a uniquely gifted octopus. He has made quite a name for himself throughout this tournament by accurately predicting the outcome of all five of Germany’s games, including its shocking group-stage defeat by Serbia. He does it by scooting over one of two boxes with the competing countries’ flags on them. Reports emerged over the weekend that he was now picking against Germany in its semifinal against Spain. But it seems that the photo indicating this was a hoax. Would Paul from Oberhausen really pick against the Mannschaft in the semis?
Wednesday’s Matchup Germany vs. Spain is certainly the more intriguing of the two semis. Germany has scored a whopping eight goals in its last two games to send England and Argentina packing, but Spain is finally hitting its stride in this tournament. Expect a brutally close one here.
World Cup Word of the Day Oranje. That’s the nickname the Dutch give their national team. Take a look at their retina-frying bright orange jerseys and you’ll understand why. But the fans take it very seriously and always travel in great numbers. So prepare to see a stadium with seas of bright orange across the stands when the Netherlands take on Uruguay.
And From the Department of British Tabloids As could be expected after three days without competition, the tabs are more concerned with the players’ exploits off the field. The Sun brings news of the birth of Cristiano Ronaldo’s son. Strangely, he is certain that he is the father, but the identity of the mother has not been revealed—funny how it usually works the other way around. The Daily Star, meanwhile, continues to run with a front-page story on England star Ashley Cole’s extracurricular activities. Tasteful stuff.
World Cup Mini-Break It’s been two days since the most recent lick of World Cup action and there’s still a day to wait. But now, each team is guaranteed at least 180 more minutes of play — the losers of tomorrow’s semi-finals will get to play in the third-place game on Saturday. Sixty games later, we’re down to the last four of the 2010 World Cup and then it’s a four-year wait for Brazil 2014.
Tomorrow’s Game Uruguay vs. Netherlands. The South Americans have come through the easiest quarter of the draw, thanks in large part to France’s self-implosion. But that isn’t to take anything away from how well they have played so far, led by their golden-locked striker Diego Forlan. The Dutch, however, will go into the game as favorites after toppling Brazil in a stunning come-from-behind victory.
Bracket Speculation The bracket couldn’t be simpler at this point. Win, and it’s a trip to the World Cup final, the biggest soccer stage on the planet. Lose, and it’s a consolation game followed by four years of thinking just how close you came. So will it be the Dutch or the South Americans awaiting the winners of Wednesday’s Germany-Spain clash? For more idle speculation, view the full bracket here.
World Cup Word of the Day Weltmeisterschaft-Titel. The long, typically Teutonic words that mean World Cup title have been all over the German papers for the last couple of days. And with good reason. Confidence in the Mannschaft is at an all-time high. The Germans have scored eight goals in their last two games, eliminating England then Argentina. It won’t be easy to finish the job, with Spain and possibly the Netherlands up ahead, but Germany odds are shortening considerably. Though Spain is still a narrow 15:8 favorite to win the World Cup, Germany is now 2:1.
And From the Department of British Tabloids England has been out of the World Cup for over a week now, and it is still clutching at straws. Bizarrely, the latest words of comfort come from Germany’s captain, Philip Lahm, who says that England was a better opponent than Argentina. The News of the World, meanwhile, is still trying to assign blame for England’s miserable campaign. It turns out it was all Wayne Rooney’s fault.
World Cup Mini-Break You couldn’t have asked for a more dramatic set of quarter-finals. And now everyone has two full days to recuperate from all that drama. There were late goals and penalty kicks, an upset, and a flogging. That boring first set of group stage games now seems like it was a long time ago. There are only four games left in this World Cup and they resume on Tuesday with the semi-final between the Netherlands and Uruguay. Tragically, there will only be one game a day from here on out—though it also means that those of you who have watched all 60 so far can begin to reclaim your lives.
Celebrity Fan Watch Angela Merkel, the camera loves you, baby. After each of Germany’s four goals against Argentina, the world feed quickly cut to Merkel’s celebrations, whether she was clapping, pacing up and down the aisle, or being congratulated by Jacob Zuma as if she’d put the ball in the net herself. But she wasn’t the only celebrity in the star-studded VIP section. Leonardo DiCaprio took in the Germany-Argentina game, wearing a University of West Virginia cap — mourning Robert Byrd, perhaps? — and sitting right behind the increasingly haggard Mick Jagger. Native South African Charlize Theron was also there, seven months after she awkwardly hosted the World Cup draw.
Germany 4-0 Argentina Germany completely blindsided Argentina from the moment they opened the scoring in the third minute. Diego Maradona’s men never had an answer for Germany’s well-oiled machine as its prodigious offense suddenly dried up.
Spain 1-0 Paraguay Spain left it late, but finally unlocked the stout Paraguayan defense in the 82nd minute to win an incredibly tense contest and book its first ever trip to the semi-finals.
Bracket Speculation The semi-finals are set and promise to deliver pure theater. The Netherlands will take on Uruguay first and fancy themselves as favorites to make next Sunday’s final. But the second semi, between Germany and Spain should be yet another too-close-to-call classic. Spanish and Dutch victories could set up a final between two of the highest-pedigree countries never to win the World Cup. But if it’s the Dutch and the Germans, there will be no love lost there either. The European neighbors aren’t each others’ biggest fans — especially after that whole World War II thing — and routinely turn games into dirty, physical matches oozing with vitriol. And if Uruguay ends up meeting Germany in the final, it will be a matchup of two teams with five World Cup titles between them — much like yesterday’s game between Germany and Argentina. For more idle speculation, view the full bracket here.
World Cup Word of the Day: Penalty! In a mad 90 seconds during the Spain-Paraguay game, the referee awarded a penalty kick to each side. And, somehow, both were saved. Considering that a penalty kick is a free shot at goal, facing no one but the goalkeeper, from 12 yards out, the fact that two of them were awarded, then stopped, seemed miraculous. It had not happened in a World Cup since the first edition in 1930.
And From the Department of British Tabloids With Germany and Argentina, England’s two most hated rivals, playing each other, the tabs couldn’t lose. One of them was going home no matter what. With Miroslov Klose scoring for Germany in the victory, the Sun’s headline wrote itself: “ Not Even Klose.” The Daily Star preferred to focus on Diego Maradona’s impending exit as Argentina’s manager with, “Mara-Goner.” And finally, the Mirror was far too concerned with humiliating another England player in a sex scandal— that’ll teach England to lose.
If You Only Catch One Game Saturday It has to be Germany vs. Argentina (10 a.m. EST on ABC). One of the most eagerly anticipated matchups of the tournament, this quarter-final is packed with intrigue and history. Both sides came into the World Cup as unknown quantities. Could Diego Maradona hold together all the talent in his Argentina side? Would Germany’s young team gel? And both have answered their critics with resounding performances. To cap it all off, these two teams just really don’t like each other. Their last meeting — in the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup — ended with a giant brawl after Germany advanced on penalty kicks. As evenly matched as they are this time around, it could come to penalties again. But Argentina won’t let itself be outsmarted by the German goalkeeper again. In 2006, then-goalkeeper Jens Lehmann had a tip sheet with the tendencies of Argentina’s shooters tucked in his sock. Now, Maradona said, his team has done its homework. The South Americans are the bookies’ favorite at 13:10, with Germany at 9:4.
This afternoon’s game can’t quite match it for pedigree, though Spain vs. Paraguay (2:30 p.m. EST on ABC) could hold some surprises. Paraguay, who stunned Italy with a draw in the first round, will try to shut down Spain’s offensive juggernaut in David Villa and hope to sneak a late goal. And the Spanish defense has proven several times already that it isn’t impregnable. Could this be an upset in the making or will Spain roll into the semi-finals?
Celebrity Fan Watch Paris Hilton. The heiress known for her questionable decisions was at the Brazil-Netherlands game Friday before her day in Port Elizabeth was spoiled by a run-in with the law. Hilton was detained by South African police outside the stadium for marijuana possession and made a brief appearance in court. [link: ]
Netherlands 2-1 Brazil After being down 1-0 at the half, the brilliant Dutch turned the game around thanks to a masterful performance by Wesley Sneijder. It was the Netherlands’ first World Cup victory over Brazil since 1974 and the South Americans’ were inconsolable.
Uruguay 1-1 Ghana (Uruguay wins 4-2 on penalties) After 120 minutes of soccer, this game provided one of the wildest finishes in World Cup history. In the final minute of play, a Uruguay player deliberately stopped a Ghanaian goal on the line with his hands, earning himself a red card and giving Ghana a penalty kick. But Ghana blew its chance to win the game when Asamoah Gyan missed and subsequently lost in a penalty shootout. Soccer can be a cruel mistress.
Bracket Speculation Friday’s results set up a semi-final between the Netherlands and Uruguay, with the other semi-finalists to be determined Saturday. In all likelihood, Spain will prevail over Paraguay and whichever team comes out of the too-close-to-call Germany-Argentina quarter-final will provide a more than worthy opponent. The way things are going, it looks like they could all be vying for the chance to meet the Dutch in the final. For more idle speculation, view the full bracket here.
World Cup Word of the Day: Desolação. It’s the Portuguese word for sorrow and it’s all over Brazilian lips at the moment. Defeat in the World Cup is not something the Brazilians swallow easily and four years seems like an awfully long time to wait for the next chance to win a sixth title. Brazilian newspaper O Povo’s front page told readers that there were only 1,471 days till the 2014 World Cup with a giant headline, while others were glad to mark the end of the Era Dunga, and all the ugly football it brought with it. But once the national sadness lifts, the inquest will begin. The side’s manager, Dunga, has already said he would not continue in the job.
And From the Department of British Tabloids Between England crashing out of the World Cup and Andy Murray losing at Wimbledon, it’s been a bad week on the British sports scene. But that doesn’t mean they can’t revel in a little schadenfreude for Friday’s beaten quarter-finalists. The Sun offers up, “Brazil Shamed” and “Never Ghana Live it Down,” after the last-minute penalty miss. [link: ] The rest of the tabs seem far more concerned with what will become of the England team now that it is stuck with its Italian manager Fabio Capello for a couple more years.
If You Only Catch One Game Friday Absolutely make it Netherlands vs. Brazil (10 a.m. EST on EPSN). Take an early two-hour lunch, pull up a feed on your computer, call in sick, do whatever you have to do to watch this game. The Dutch are one of two remaining sides to have won all their games so far and have looked extremely good as they seek their first ever World Cup title. But standing in their way is mighty Brazil, for whom anything less than a sixth success would go down as an abject failure. This promises to be the kind knock-down drag-out heavyweight clash the tournament is all about. The Netherlands have been slightly worried by reports of a rift within the camp, but it should be nothing compared to the chasms that grew within the France and England sides. Brazil, meanwhile, hasn’t yet looked at its free-flowing best, though it flashed moments of utter brilliance against Chile. But expect this game to light a fire under both teams. The bookies are siding with Brazil at 10:11 odds, while the Dutch are 16:5 to advance to the semi-finals.
The afternoon game is one for the underdog aficionados. The surprisingly strong Uruguayans will take on Ghana, who conquered the U.S. in the second round, at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN. The idea that either of those teams would be in the semi-finals would have seemed ludicrous three weeks ago, but the World Cup has a funny way of making those things happen — just ask Turkey and South Korea, who were both semi-finalists in 2002.
Celebrity Fan Watch Between the G-20 and a taxing election at home, Angela Merkel could use a break. So she’s taking it this weekend by flying to South Africa to cheer on the Mannschaft against Argentina on Saturday. So far, Merkel has only been able to watch her boys on television, and she hasn’t missed a moment. During the G-20 summit last Sunday, she even snuck out with British Prime Minister David Cameron to watch the England-Germany second-round match. For her at least, it was certainly more uplifting than discussing the politics of austerity.
Bracket Speculation Whichever side wins Friday’s Brazil-Netherlands match up will fancy itself quite likely to make the final, since it will meet whoever emerges from Uruguay-Ghana. That semi-final will take place on Tuesday. For more idle speculation, view the full bracket here.
World Cup Word of the Day: Era Dunga. That is what the Brazilian press has dubbed the tenure of former team captain Dunga as coach of the national team. And it is a term that carries with it a healthy dose of derision. Brazil overall has not been pleased with the Seleçao’s performances. Though Dunga has produced results, it has come at the expense aesthetics. Brazil isn’t playing the kind of beautiful football that made it famous, instead favoring a physical, grind-out-goals approach. For the time being at least, Dunga can ignore the critics. But should the team go home with anything less than the World Cup trophy, the press will be baying for his head.
And From the Department of British Tabloids The World Cup pretty much ended last week, as far as the tabloids are concerned. Far more important at the moment are the fates of England manager Fabio Capello and Andy Murray at Wimbledon.
World Cup Mini-Break It’s been nearly two days since there was any World Cup action—two days!—but don’t go into withdrawal just yet. The quarter-finals start Friday, and they promise at least two titanic clashes that will make getting up for all those 7:30 a.m. EST games earlier in the tournament worthwhile. In the meantime, the bookies have shortened the odds for the remaining eight—sorry if you had France, Italy, or England going the distance—and now make Brazil the favorite to win its sixth title at 5:2, narrowly edging out Spain at 11:4 and Argentina at 9:2. Surprisingly, the Dutch are still a relative long shot at 7:1, even behind the young Germans at 13:2.
Celebrity Fan Watch Remember Koman Coulibaly? He’s the referee who denied the United States a perfectly good goal against Slovenia in the group stage. Now, for the rest of the World Cup, he will be just another fan. He and several other blundering referees were cut by FIFA when it announced its list of officials for the remaining three rounds. Jorge Larrionda, who failed to see Frank Lampard’s shot cross the line against Germany, and Roberto Rosetti, who allowed Carlos Tevez’s wildly offside goal against Mexico to stand, were also among those turning in their World Cup whistles. At least when they’re watching from home they’ll have access to instant replays.
Friday’s Games The Netherlands and Brazil will kick off proceedings at 10 a.m. EST on ESPN in one of the games of the tournament. South American upstart Uruguay will then take on the lone remaining African team in the World Cup, Ghana, at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN.
What Those Could Mean for the Bracket By the end of play Friday, the first semi-final will be set. But who will be in it is anybody’s guess. Both games seem too close to call. Uruguay may be a slightly more offensively-minded team than Ghana, but then again, Ghana’s physical prowess was enough to make the United States look slow. The Netherlands, meanwhile, have been unflappable so far, but how will they deal with Brazil’s new no-nonsense approach? However it shakes out, the winners of those two games will move just 90 minutes from the World Cup final. For more idle speculation, check out the full bracket here.
World Cup Word of the Day: Mugging for the camera. With cameras capturing every bit blade of grass and every stray gob of spit at the World Cup, it was inevitable that some players would grow a little uncomfortable. None more so than Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina’s Gabriel Heinze. After Spain eliminated Portugal 1-0 on Tuesday, Ronaldo wasn’t especially pleased with having a lens shoved in his face. So he made his feelings known by hocking up a loogie that was far more accurate than any of his efforts during the game. But Heinze’s awkward moment came when he had little to be upset about. Argentina had just scored a goal and Heinze was celebrating until he wheeled around and slammed into a camera. Angry that a camera should dare to be so near him, he reacted by punching it. Whatever happened to smiling?
And From the Department of British Tabloids The World Cup is pretty much over, as far as the tabs are concerned. England is out and the players are off on holiday with the WAGs. The Daily Star just brings the news that, despite being denied a goal against Germany, something is going right for Frank Lampard, who seems to have just proposed to his girlfriend. “Lamps Scores at Last,” reads the headline. But the News of the World is more concerned with Thomas Muller, who scored a pair of goals against England, and his analysis of the Three Lions. After he said the team had too many alpha-males, the paper ran an illustration of England’s top stars as gorillas in the mist under the headline, “Mullered again!” See, this is what happens when there are no games on.
World Cup Mini-Break After 56 games over 19 days, Wednesday is the first day off of the World Cup so far. And it’s just long enough to realize that this month-long soccer party is nearly over. Twenty-four teams have gone home and seven-eighths of the games are behind us. But isn’t that last eighth exciting? The quarter-finals start on Friday and they kick off with one of the games of the tournament so far, the Netherlands vs. Brazil. So take these two days, apologize to the people you’ve ignored for the last 19, maybe buy that Uruguay kit you’ve had your eye on, and get set to savor the last three rounds. Because before you know it, South Africa 2010 will be in the books.
Celebrity Fan Watch Enrique Iglesias. The singer has promised that if his Spanish side goes all the way at the World Cup, he would water ski naked in Florida. "If Spain win, I'm going to get drunk and ski naked in Biscayne Bay," he told the BBC. "That is what we used to do when we were kids. “If Spain didn't qualify to the next round it would be like writing one of the greatest songs of all time and no one being able to hear it.” Argentina’s portly coach Diego Maradona has promised something similar. He said before the tournament that if he won the World Cup for a third time — he won it twice as a player — he would run around the center of Buenos Aires in the buff. When did stripping become an accepted form of celebration?
Paraguay 0-0 Japan (Paraguay wins 5-3 on penalties) Because the first 90 minutes of the game were so dire, these two teams made fans actually sit through 30 minutes of extra time because neither of them could muster a goal. It came down to the first penalty shootout of the tournament, with one Japanese kick hitting the crossbar making all the difference.
Spain 1-0 Portugal Spain attacked Portugal from the opening kickoff, but took well into the second half to score. The Portuguese defended admirably and always looked like they might sneak in a goal, but their neighbors’ onslaught proved too much to handle in the end.
What Those Mean for the Bracket After overcoming Portugal, Spain has earned itself a somewhat easier matchup in the quarter-finals against Paraguay. Not that it will be a stroll in the park, but the Spanish will expect to advance to the semis where the winner of Saturday’s Germany-Argentina clash will be waiting for them. For more idle speculation, check out the full bracket here.
World Cup Word of the Day: A nonsense. That’s what FIFA president Sepp Blatter said it would be if the game’s world governing body did not consider implementing goal-line technology to avoid repeating the kind of fiasco the world witnessed in the England-Germany game. Frank Lampard’s shot had ricocheted down off the crossbar, into the goal, and back out, only to be disallowed by a linesman who never saw it bounce at least a foot behind the line. Until now, FIFA has been categorically opposed to any form of instant replay, but said it would discuss using it in limited situations. "It is obvious that after the experience so far in this World Cup it would be a nonsense to not reopen the file of technology at the business meeting of the International FA Board in July,” Blatter said.
And From the Department of British Tabloids As far as the tabs are concerned, the World Cup is pretty much over now that England is out and outrage is still brewing over the players’ cavalier attitude to the defeat. The Sun printed a fuzzy cell phone photo of the team relaxing with booze and cigars at its hotel after losing to Germany, under the headline, “Are You Havana Laugh?” The Daily Star, meanwhile, has shots of the players now heading on their summer vacations, telling them to, “Pack Your WAGs.”
If You Only Catch One Game Tuesday It has to be Spain vs. Portugal (2:30 p.m. EST on ESPN). This promises to be the game of the second round, as both countries fancy themselves pretenders for the title. Spain’s David Villa looks in the form of his life, but the Spanish will have to deal with Cristiano Ronaldo and a more muscular Portuguese side than in recent tournaments. But the bookies are putting much faith in Portugal, making it a 10:3 underdog, while Spain is being offered at even odds.
And, as if either team needed any more incentive, Wednesday’s prize for Spain and Portugal is a quarter-final date with Paraguay or Japan, who play at 10 a.m. on ESPN. Not to disparage either one, but both Iberian sides are capable of making light work of them — even though Paraguay did shock Italy in a 1-1 group stage draw. The South Americans will have to be particularly wary of the Japanese from set pieces — they scored two screaming free kicks against Denmark in their last game.
Celebrity Fan Watch Nike’s advertising stars. As brilliant as Nike’s Write the Future campaign was, it seems to have cursed]the players who were in it. England’s Wayne Rooney, France’s Franck Ribery, Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro, and the Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba all made early exits from the tournament. Brazil’s Ronaldinho never even made it to South Africa. The only two left are Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo — this may not be true by this afternoon — and Brazil’s Robinho, who appears in a sequence that was not in the original ad. Maybe it was better luck to be in the Adidas campaign? Lionel Messi and David Villa are still around.
Netherlands 2-1 Slovakia It was another professional display from the Dutch, who never looked troubled by Slovakia — the underdogs’ single goal came from the penalty spot in the final seconds of the game.
Brazil 3-0 Chile The Seleçao turned on the style to sink a dull Chilean side and, at times, finally looked like the Brazil we’ve been waiting for. If they’re just beginning to click into gear, the teams remaining in the tournament may be in big trouble.
What Those Mean for the Bracket Monday’s victories by the favorites set up the mouth-watering prospect of a Netherlands-Brazil quarter-final on July 2. It’s the kind of matchup the World Cup is all about. Too close to call and too thrilling to miss. The winner of that game will be odds-on to go all the way to the final — since the other quarter-final in that half of the bracket pits Uruguay against Ghana. For more idle speculation, check out the full bracket here.
World Cup Word of the Day: El Derbi. That’s what the Spanish papers are calling Tuesday’s game between Spain and Portugal, the ultimate local derby. There’s only one other grudge match Spaniards care as much about, and that one has a name of its own, too — Barcelona vs. Real Madrid is known as El Clasico.
And From the Department of British Tabloids Two days after suffering the ignominy of going out of the World Cup, England fans are still fuming. And pictures of the players laughing on their way back to the private jet that flew them out of South Africa are all over this morning’s tabloids. The Daily Star has the shot plastered across the front page under the word, “DISGRACE,” while the Mirror went with “ What a JOKE.” The Sun and News of the World were more concerned with the fate of England manager Fabio Capello, who may very well stick around because it would cost English Football Association over $18 million to fire him.
If You Only Catch One Game Monday It’s worth taking a look at Brazil vs. Chile (2:30 p.m. on ESPN). Chile was surprisingly solid in the first round and Brazil is not the free-flowing side we’re used to watching. Under its new coach, the former captain Dunga, the Seleçao is a more physical no-nonsense team—much to the chagrin of the purists in Rio who maintain it isn’t how the beautiful game should be played. Chile is a tough side to break down and maybe, just maybe, there is a chance for an upset. Although the bookies don’t think so. Brazil is an 8:15 favorite and Chile is at 11:2.
Speaking of upsets, the surprising Slovakians, who took Italy’s scalp in the last game of the group stage, are in action in the early game against the Netherlands (10 a.m. on ESPN). It is unlikely they can repeat the amazing performance that carried them to a 3-2 victory over the Azzurri, especially against the much quicker and better-organized Dutch, but stranger things have happened. The prize is a quarterfinal matchup with the winner of Brazil vs. Chile.
Celebrity Fan Watch Over the last two days, Mick Jagger has learned the hard way that you can’t always get what you want. Sitting in the stands for both the U.S. and England defeats, he looked sad sad sad as neither side gave him any satisfaction. It was rough justice, but any way you look at it, the U.S. and England were barely even respectable on their way out. (For those of you keeping score at home, that’s six Rolling Stones titles in three sentences.) Naturally, the England WAGs were also on hand to watch their boys crash out, prompting the Sun to run the headline, “Sad Wags and Jags,” and changing it to “We Can’t Get No Satisfaction” online.
Germany 4-1 England The poor English were completely blindsided by the speed and verve of the Germans, who scored first and never relented. England put up a fight once it was 2-0 down, scoring one and then having a perfectly good goal disallowed—a decision that changed the entire complexion of the game. Instead, Die Mannschaft rode its luck and advanced to the quarterfinals.
Argentina 3-1 Mexico Yet another awful decision by the officials allowed Argentina to score first, with a goal that was clearly offside. But Mexico could never keep up to the smooth as silk South Americans. Argentina may be a beatable side, with its vulnerable back line making up for all of its firepower, but Mexico was not the team to make it pay.
What Those Mean for the Bracket Yesterday’s results set up a terrific quarter-final between Germany and Argentina, one of those games that just makes the rest of the tournament seem like prologue. They will play July 3 at 10 a.m. and whatever you do, don’t miss it—it’s what the World Cup is all about. It is also likely that whoever wins that game will ultimately meet the winner of Tuesday’s Spain vs. Portugal game in the semi-finals. For more idle speculation, check out the full bracket here.
World Cup Word of the Day: Instant replay. Two major decisions yesterday fanned the flames of the instant replay debate in soccer. Argentina’s first goal was clearly offside. And what would have been England’s second goal was disallowed after the ball bounced down off the crossbar because the linesman never saw the ball cross the goal line—which it cleared by at least a foot. (British bookies even paid out on the goal. Currently, soccer does not use any form of replay and FIFA, the game’s world governing body, has always resisted it. But after Sunday’s double debacle, surely, the case against it has disintegrated.
And From the Department of British Tabloids As expected, the tabloids were merciless. Immediately after the game, in which Thomas Muller scored twice for Germany, three of the big four went with some version of “ MULLERED.” And this morning, the Sun was even more direct, screaming “You Let Your Country Down” across the page, while the front of the Daily Star proclaimed, “Fritz All Over.” Now, the calls for the manager, Fabio Capello, to be fired can begin—the Mirror simply urges, “FABIGO.”
If You Only Catch One Game Sunday Make sure it is England vs. Germany (10 a.m. on ESPN), although your other option, Argentina vs. Mexico (2:30 p.m. on ABC) certainly isn’t bad either. But England-Germany is one of soccer’s most bitter rivalries, and not just because they have played some classic games over the years, including the 1966 World Cup final and the 1990 semifinal. England fans also love to bring up the score from the two World Wars, singing “Stand up if you won the war!” The pre-match talk has centered on England striker Wayne Rooney, whose form could make or break their chances today. The bookies figure this one is almost too close to call with Germany at 19:10 and England at 13:8.
In the second game, free-flowing attacking soccer should abound as Argentina takes on Mexico. The Argentineans have played some of the prettiest stuff at the tournament and have grown into one of the favorites. Mexico, meanwhile, made it out of the group stage after its shocking upset of France and has the pace to cause some surprises.
Celebrity Fan Watch The celebrities were out in force in Rustenberg on Saturday to cheer on the suddenly popular Americans, but none had more star power than the pair of aging rock stars in a private box: Mick Jagger and Bill Clinton. Wearing a Team USA tracksuit top, Clinton sat next to the haggard-looking Jagger and both seemed positively dumbfounded when Ghana scored. (Incidentally, the Daily Mail wins the award for best use of a Rolling Stones title in a headline this morning: “Bill Clinton and Mick Jagger find You Can't Always Get What You Want as USA exit the World Cup.”) The Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, the New Orleans Saints’ Reggie Bush, Wolf Blitzer, and Katie Couric were also in the VIP section.
Uruguay 2-1 South Korea Uruguay continued its improbable run in this World Cup on the back of two goals by Luis Suarez. His second, in particular, was a stunning curling strike that broke a 1-1 deadlock late in the game to book the South Americans’ spot in the quarterfinals.
Ghana 2-1 USA It was a heartbreaking end to the tournament for the United States. The Americans never delivered on their potential Saturday and allowed Ghana to score early goals in regulation and then in extra time.
What Those Mean for the Bracket Uruguay and Ghana will now meet in the quarterfinals on July 2. Who the winner of that game will meet in the semis is anyone’s guess, but the top two sides in that side of the bracket are Brazil and the Netherlands, who are on a collision course for the next round.
World Cup Word of the Day: Penalty kicks. No guarantees it will come to that today, but a refresher is always useful—especially when England and Germany meet. The sheer mention of penalties is enough to make England fans cringe, since the team has been knocked out of five tournaments on penalty kicks since 1990. The process comes into effect if the score is tied after 120 minutes (90 in regulation, plus 30 of extra time). Players from each team take turns taking one shot at the goal, trying to beat the goalkeeper from 12 yards out. If, after both teams have taken five, the score is still tied, then they keep taking them on a sudden death basis. No one can take two penalty kicks until all 11 players on the team have taken one, by which time the shootout is so deep into sudden death that local hospitals have all their cardiologists on high alert (probably).
And From the Department of British Tabloids This is what the British tabloids live for, full-on soccer-inspired patriotism, bordering on the jingoistic with no regard for taste, decorum, or objectivity. The Daily Star makes no bones about it, splashing “We’ll Stuff Germans” across the front page under a photo of Wayne Rooney. The Sun has also gone with Rooney, who has yet to score in the tournament, and “He’s Coming to Get Roo.” Finally, the News of the World has put fangs on three England players, since the team is known as the Three Lions, along with, “All-Out Roar.” It’s no, “Achtung! Surrender,” which ran on the Mirror’s front page before and England-Germany game in 1996, but it’s a solid effort by the tabs.
Team USA Countdown There isn’t much to count down to anymore, except the team’s flight out of South Africa. Life will return to normal for American soccer next week. Major League Soccer’s season will resume, the players with European clubs will soon report to training camp, and Landon Donovan will go back to the life of any American celebrity—with a paternity claim.
If You Only Catch One Game Saturday It can only be USA vs. Ghana (2:30 p.m. EST on ABC) It took a dramatic 91st minute goal to get the Americans into the knockout stages and now they have a chance to make the quarterfinals for the second time in eight years. With Landon Donovan in the form of his life and the likes of Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Tim Howard playing at their best, this could wind up being a special tournament for the U.S. But Ghana is no pushover. Extremely physical with the speed to hurt teams on the counter, the last remaining African team is carrying the hopes of a continent. Watch out for playmaker Asamoah Gyan—everything Ghana does seems to go through him. Going into the game, the U.S. is in the rare position of being the bookies’ favorite at 6:4, while Ghana is offered at 2:1.
In this morning’s second round game, Uruguay will face South Korea (10 a.m. on ESPN). There may not be a lot of superstars in either side, but both teams have proven themselves to be extremely effective as units. Uruguay was one of the revelations of the group stage, bringing a surprisingly sturdy squad with the deadly Diego Forlan up front and winning Group A. South Korea also impressed with wins over Greece and Nigeria to qualify behind Argentina. Jisung Park of Manchester United is the South Koreans’ main man. The South Americans are heavily favored to advance at 5:6 on. The underdogs are a 4:1 bet.
Celebrity Fan Watch Franz Beckenbauer. The German legend and World Cup winner, nicknamed the Kaiser, can’t seem to keep out of the back pages these days. First, he accused England of returning to its boring kick-and-run style. And then, ahead of the Germany-England game on Sunday, he became tabloid fodder when he called the England team "stupid" for not winning Group C. Now, he has apologized to England—not sounding entirely sincere—by saying he loves English soccer. “Maybe it was a reaction because I was disappointed,” he said, referring to England’s results, “and maybe in a bad mood.”
Brazil 0-0 Portugal What should have been one of the games of the first round turned into a dull, scoreless affair since both teams knew a draw would be good enough to see them through.
Ivory Coast 3-0 North Korea The Africans needed to win by at least nine goals to have a chance of qualifying and, for a spell they were on pace to do it. But they squandered too many opportunities in the second half. And, with Portugal’s tie, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
Switzerland 0-0 Honduras Switzerland had a real chance of advancing if it could ever break out of its boring defensive style and score some goals. But Honduras, already eliminated, put up enough of a fight to deny the Swiss a chance of advancing.
Spain 2-1 Chile With a sensational performance by David Villa, Spain made sure that everything was right in the world by beating Chile to win Group H. That loss to Switzerland seems a long time ago now, doesn’t it?
What Those Mean for the Standings In Group F, the tie between Brazil and Portugal sent both of them through, with the Seleçao winning the group. Combined with Chile’s loss to Spain in Group H, it sets up an all-South American second round match between Brazil and Chile on Monday. More intriguing still will be the tasty matchup between neighbors, Spain and Portugal on Tuesday for a spot in the last eight. The Ivory Coast, North Korea, Switzerland, and Honduras will all have to watch from home as they were eliminated. For the final group standings, click here.
World Cup Word of the Day: Vergogna. Knockout rounds. We’ve bid farewell to 16 teams. Now, 16 remain and the rules change. Think of it like the NCAA Tournament if it started at the Sweet 16. For the final four rounds of the tournament, there will be no more ties. That means that at the end of every game, one team progresses and the losers go home. Starting Saturday, if the score is tied at the end of 90 minutes, the teams will play another grueling 30 minutes of “extra time” (soccer tends not to refer to it as overtime). And, if the teams are still tied after that, then comes the dreaded penalty shootout. The teams take five penalty kicks each from 12 yards out. Whoever scores most, wins. Simple enough, but soccer has a love-hate relationship with penalty shootouts. On the one hand, it is almost a lottery. On the other, it provides some of the most dramatic moments of the World Cup as entire nations hold their breath. Four years ago, a billion people watched as the World Cup final was decided by the nail-biting process and Italy edged France.
And From the Department of British Tabloids To the tabloids, it’s almost as if there were no games Saturday. All that matters is the old grudge match with Germany on Sunday. Few teams hate each other quite as much as those two. England defeated West Germany to win the 1966 World Cup final. (England fans invariably find a way to also work World War II into soccer, with songs like, “Stand up if you won the war.”) But since then Germany has had the upper hand at international tournaments, twice eliminating England in heart-breaking penalty shootouts in the 1990s. The Mirror leads the way Saturday with a picture of the German team in front of some lions on safari under the headline: “ German Scaredy Cats.” And the Sun leads with an image of the scoreboard from England’s 5-1 victory in Munich in a World Cup qualifier in 2001 and the headline: “ Look At This and Do It Again!”
Team USA Countdown Saturday’s the day. As much fun as it would be to look ahead and figure the U.S. could play the winner of Uruguay vs. South Korea, there is serious business to attend to this afternoon. And for the Americans to make it past Ghana, they will have to find their finishing touch again. As thrilling as Donovan’s injury-time winner was, it only came to that because they missed chance after chance in front of the Algerian goal. For everyone’s sake—especially those with heart conditions—it would be nice if the U.S. could take some of those chances earlier since Ghana’s defense is by no means impenetrable.
If You Only Catch One Game Friday Make it Brazil vs. Portugal (10 a.m. EST on ESPN). Both teams have pretty much qualified already, but how can you pass up two of the three top-ranked teams in the world squaring off? Plus, they have a serious incentive to win Group F since the loser will be much more likely to play Spain in the second round. And that's not a game anyone wants except the neutral fans. Brazil is the pre-match favorite at 6:5, with a draw at 2:1 and Portugal as the 13:5 underdog.
But if you can't watch that one, Chile vs. Spain (2:30 p.m. on ESPN) should give it a pretty good run for its money since the winner will take the group and avoid the winner of the Brazil game. On the Group G undercard, the Ivory Coast will try to run up as many goals as possible against North Korea (10 a.m. on ESPN2) to keep its slim chance of qualifying alive. And in Group H, Switzerland will face Honduras (2:30 p.m. on ESPN2), knowing that a victory could very well send it into the second round.
Celebrity Fan Watch It's still Bill Clinton, if only because photos of his 45 minutes in the U.S. lockerroom after its victory over Algeria are now beginning to surface. Like this one, of Bill knocking back a Budweiser with American captain Carlos Bocanegra. Now how much more patriotic can you be? The answer is none—none more patriotic. When he isn't hanging out with the team, though, Clinton is spending his time in South Africa pushing for the United States to host the 2018 World Cup. "One of the great things about having this in America is, we already have a network of stadiums we can host it in," he said. "And almost no matter where we site the matches, virtually any team that comes can have its own hometown cheering squad."
Slovakia 3-2 Italy In the best 15 minutes of any game so far, Italy seemed to come back from the dead, only to be shoved back down by Slovakia as the Eastern Europeans' 2-0 lead turned into a 3-2 victory. Slovakia, against all odds, will now be in the last 16 while Italy heads home.
Paraguay 0-0 New Zealand Paraguay was all but qualified before kickoff and New Zealand needed a miracle to go through. The Kiwis' goalkeeper kept the dream alive, but the South Americans' never risked too much and were perfectly happy to take the draw.
Japan 3-1 Denmark With a pair of masterful free kicks, Japan took a 2-0 lead that the disorganized Danes never recovered from. As it heads into the last 16 to face Paraguay, Japan is turning into one of the tournament's real surprises.
Netherlands 2-1 Cameroon Eliminated before a ball was even kicked, Cameroon provided another weak showing against a Dutch team that never had to push too hard. The Netherlands became the only team in this World Cup to win all three of its group games. Now only Brazil and Chile can match the feat.
What Those Mean for the Standings Paraguay's draw was enough to win it Group F, meaning it will play Group E runner-up Japan on Sunday. And Slovakia's stunning victory sent it into second place and eliminated Italy. The prize, however, is the stern test of facing the Netherlands next Monday.
For the full standings, click here.
Permutations In Group G, the winner of the Brazil-Portugal game will finish top—simple as that. And, in all likelihood, the loser will finish second, unless Brazil wins and the Ivory Coast can somehow beat North Korea by at least six or seven goals to make up for their abysmal goal differential. In Group H, the situation is much more complicated. Here's how it could play out: • If Spain and Chile tie and Switzerland wins, then Chile and Switzerland will go through. • If Spain and Switzerland both win by enough, then they will both go through. • But if Switzerland wins by one and Chile loses by no more than one, it will come down to which one has scored more goals. If they are still tied, FIFA will draw lots to determine who will join Spain in the last 16.
World Cup Word of the Day: Vergogna. The inquest has begun in Italy and vergogna, the wonderful word that combines shame and dishonor into a single thought, is all over the place. After the ignominious defeat Thursday, Italy's sports daily, La Gazzetta dello Sport led with the headline, "Going Home in Shame." And Friday, coach Marcelo Lippi is taking the blame. "I failed to prepare the team," he said, even though the ravages of age probably slowed his players down more than anything else. Combined with France's own disaster of a World Cup, it means that both of the 2006 finalists are now out before the second round, without a victory between them. Vergogna indeed.
And From the Department of British Tabloids Germany and England are sparing each other the niceties ahead of their clash on Sunday. The talkative German legend Franz Beckenbauer doesn't believe England is fit enough to hang with his side, an argument the Daily Star succinctly summed up under the headline, "Kaiser Sticks Boot in Again: You Lot Are Stupid." Not one to take an insult, England's Jermain Defoe hit right back on the back page of the Sun, which boiled down his point of view to the headline, "Kaiser Chief is So Stupid." Guess that means it's settled then.
Team USA Countdown One day until the Americans take the field against Ghana for a place in the quarterfinals. Though it is tempting to look past the last remaining African side in the tournament, it's important to remember that this was the team that knocked out the US in 2006. Still, the side has undergone many changes and, crucially, is without its injured playmaker Michael Essien. In the meantime, the rest of the world is starting to fancy the Americans' chances of going deep in the tournament. Even Spain's Cesc Fabregas thinks they can reach the semifinals. "The USA never give up," he said, "That's why I believe they can go much further because they fight to the end and work so hard."
If You Only Catch One Game Thursday Paraguay vs. New Zealand has the potential to be a real thrill at 10 a.m. (ESPN2). The Kiwis, who turned into the darlings of the group stage after holding Italy to a tie, now have the chance to qualify for the last 16. It will take beating Paraguay, so expect them to come out swinging. The bookies think it's unlikely, pricing a New Zealand at 7:1, but this World Cup has already thrown up some strange upsets. Paraguay is favored at 4:9, with a draw at 3:1.
The other game in Group F pits the underwhelming Italians against the just plain dull Slovakians (10 a.m. on ESPN). Then at 2:30 p.m., the matter of Group E will be settled. The Netherlands, which has already qualified, will take on Cameroon, which is already eliminated (ESPN2). The real intrigue will be between Denmark and Japan, who are both vying for that second qualifying spot.
Celebrity Fan Watch Bill Clinton. The former president was in Pretoria to watch the U.S. and flash them the familiar lower-lip-biting fist-wagging thumbs-up Wednesday. Sitting next to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, Clinton looked quite concerned as American strikers squandered opportunities left and right. But when it was all over, he made a surprise appearance in the American locker room and reportedly hung out for around 45 minutes. "As someone who cares about our country," Clinton told the players, "you made me proud to be an American."
USA 1-0 Algeria Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Or indeed Landon Donovan in the 91st minute. With what could be the most important goal of his international career, he propelled the United States in the last 16 for the first time since 2002. High drama all the way.
England 1-0 Slovenia England scored early to appease the baying headline writers, but never looked entirely fluid. Still, it was enough to sneak through the group stage. Now Germany awaits the English—cue the World War II references of questionable taste.
Germany 1-0 Ghana The Germans never had to shift into high gear to dispatch Ghana and looked happy to sit on a goal from the fabulous Mesut Ozil. Ghana wasn't too dismayed by the defeat either since it didn't get in the way of their progressing to the second round.
Australia 2-1 Serbia For a few moments, the Socceroos saw a glimmer of hope as they went up 2-0. But Serbia's late goal dashed their hopes and turned the game into a footnote. Both teams packed their bags last night.
What Those Mean for the Standings The combination of victories in Group C meant that the U.S. actually won the group and avoided the Germans, who won Group D. England, who finished second, will have to deal with them. Instead, the U.S. earned the far more enviable task of playing Ghana on Saturday for a place in — would you believe it? — the quarterfinals. Slovenia and Algeria were eliminated. In Group D, Australia and Serbia got the chop, with the Socceroos just missing out because of their poor goal differential. For the full standings, click here.
Permutations In all likelihood, Paraguay will beat New Zealand, and a draw will be enough to see Italy join the South Americans in the second round from Group F. If by some miracle New Zealand can win, then the Kiwis are guaranteed to go through. But the strangest scenario is if both games end in identical ties. It would leave Italy and New Zealand completely level, forcing FIFA to draw lots. A victory for Italy would also send it through and the same can be said for Slovakia. So everyone is still playing for something. Expect a lot of scoreboard watching.
In Group E, things are less complicated. A draw for the Netherlands will win it the group and whoever wins the Japan-Denmark game will also advance. A tie in that game, however, would send Japan through with its superior goal differential. And only a victory for either of those sides by three goals or more, combined with a Dutch defeat, could win them the group.
World Cup Word of the Day: Academic. For all the drama of the last day of the group stage, there are, unfortunately, games that become totally irrelevant. In the end, for instance, Australia vs. Serbia made little difference besides allowing Ghana to lose and still advance. And Thursday, Netherlands vs. Cameroon since the Dutch practically have the goal differential to lose and still win the group. Cameroon, meanwhile, will simply be playing to prove it isn't the most disappointing African team at this World Cup—a tall order given just how badly the Indomitable Lions have played.
And From the Department of British Tabloids The German and English papers are going with the same message Thursday: Hey you, it is so on. The Sun is preparing its readers for, "Germ Warfare" (get it?) on Sunday while Germany's Bild is taking a more, well, German approach. "We have more POWER than the English," the paper screams, quoting the legendary Franz Beckenbauer. But the English are also celebrating their victory with a string of puns on Jermain Defoe's name, like " Jermain Man" and " Jermainia". And finally, the Sun has the hard-hitting report revealing the true secret to England's victory: the coach let the team have beer the night before.
Team USA Countdown The celebration is over and Bill Clinton has left the lockerroom. In two days, the Americans will take the field for the latest in a string of games of their lives. By winning the group, they snuck their way into what is arguably the weakest quarter of the draw. So peeking past Ghana on Saturday shows that possible quarterfinal opponents are Uruguay and South Korea. Daydreaming even further is dangerous, though. The Netherlands, Brazil, or Portugal could await in the semifinal. But the way this tournament is going, it could just as easily turn out to be Paraguay.
If You Only Catch One Game Wednesday Is this even up for debate? It has to be USA vs. Algeria (10 a.m. on ESPN), if only because the Americans will have a chance to banish the ghosts of recent World Cups and actually win their group. Algeria has yet to score a goal this tournament, but it has been difficult to break down at the back and somehow still has a shot at advancing. The U.S. should be its toughest test so far, especially if the Americans play the way they did in the second half against Slovenia. The Americans are heavy favorites to win at 5:6 odds, with a draw at 5:2 and an upset at 10:3.
At the same time, England will be taking on Slovenia to try to put its World Cup campaign back on track with its first victory (10 a.m. on ESPN2), despite serious unrest in the camp. In the afternoon games, Group D will be resolved with all four teams still able to advance. Germany plays Ghana (2:30 p.m. on ESPN) and Serbia faces Australia (2:30 p.m. on ESPN2).
Celebrity Fan Watch Team USA will have at least one celebrity fan in attendance Wednesday, from the other football. New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush, who won the Super Bowl in February—and then broke up with Kim Kardashian—is in South Africa. On Monday, he was hanging out with French legend Zinedine Zidane, and Wednesday he will be in the stands at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium to watch the Americans.
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Uruguay 1-0 Mexico Uruguay confirmed that it was far and away the best team in Group A with an efficient victory over Mexico to win the group and stay undefeated.
South Africa 2-1 France For a brief moment in the first half, with South Africa up 2-0, it looked like the hosts might actually have a chance of advancing. And even though that did not materialize, the South Africans still went out with a bang and put the awful French out of their misery.
Argentina 2-0 Greece Performing with just enough flair, and not much effort, Argentina cruised past the woefully boring Greeks to become the first side to win its group with a maximum nine points.
Nigeria 2-2 South Korea Both sides had chances to win this thrilling back-and-forth game, but the Argentina result meant that a draw would be enough to see South Korea through. Despite plenty of late pressure from Nigeria, the South Koreans hung on to advance for the first time in eight years.
What This Means for the Standings Settling the first two groups means that we now know what the first two Round of 16 games will look like. Because Uruguay emerged from Group A in first place, its reward is facing South Korea, the runners-up from Group B, in the second round. Mexico, which finished second in Group A, was not so lucky. It has a date Wednesday with Group B top dog Argentina. South Africa, France, Nigeria, and Greece were all eliminated—though we are certainly not done hearing from France's circus. For the full standings, click here.
Permutations There are a lot of ways Groups C and D could go Wednesday, because technically all eight teams are still alive. In Group C, the United States will certainly qualify with a victory, though a tie is good enough if the other game also finishes level. England, however, needs to beat Slovenia to have any chance of advancing. A draw won't be good enough. And yet, Slovenia, England, and the U.S. all have a chance of winning the group, although only the 2:30 games will tell if that is a good thing because Group C's winner could wind up with the booby prize of playing Germany if it finishes as the Group D runner-up.
In Group D, Ghana can win the group by beating Germany, but a draw would see both sides through if Australia can beat Serbia. But a victory for Serbia would mean that a Ghanaian win or draw would eliminate Germany, which started so impressively before their shocking defeat by the Serbs.
World Cup Word of the Day: Enfer. The French word for Hell is all over the Parisian papers this morning as the team begins the inquest into what went so horribly wrong at this World Cup. But first, it seemed to breathe a sigh of relief at being eliminated. "Journey to the End of Hell" read L'Equipe's headline on the Web after the game, and "The End of a World" was the headline in the paper this morning. Meanwhile, Thierry Henry, who is believed to have been one of the ringleaders of the French team's Communards, will meet with President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday morning in a conference the player requested. Dramatic stuff.
And From the Department of British Tabloids This is it for England, "Roo or Die," as the News of the World put it. Without a defeat, the Three Lions will certainly go home, but the tabs seem optimistic. The Sun is preaching the wisdom of England manager Fabio Capello, leading with "I'm not crazy—I still believe we'll win World Cup." And The Mirror is convinced that the rare all-red kit England will be wearing can be lucky: "We're Reddy," the front page screams. Maybe no one told them that the last time England wore it was 15 years ago in a 3-1 loss to Brazil. And the last time it wore all red in a World Cup—rather than red with white or blue shorts—was in 1962 in an awful 0-0 draw with Bulgaria. Still, that result was enough to see them advance then.
Team USA Countdown The beauty of having simultaneous games on the last day of the group stage is that everyone knows exactly what they have to do—and that can change in a matter of seconds. While the U.S. plays Algeria, the team's press officer will be in charge of keeping the players informed of the England score. For instance, if the U.S. game is tied and either side goes ahead in the other game, he will let them know that a draw is no longer good enough. "You have to play," Landon Donovan said. "But you have to also be aware of what the other result is."
If You Only Catch One Game Tuesday It has to be France vs. South Africa (10 a.m. on ESPN2), if only to watch the continuing saga of Les Bleus. After three days of total turmoil, the team dubbed Les Misérables seems to have almost forgotten it still has a slim chance of qualifying. Some players, after boycotting practice on Sunday, have even warned the embattled coach they will refuse to take the field Tuesday. It will be a minor miracle if the entire team manages to stay on speaking terms for the entire 90 minutes. France is a heavy favorite at 13:10 odds, while a South African upset is going at 21:10 and a draw is priced at 23:10.
In other Group A action, Uruguay and Mexico will go through the motions at 10 a.m. on ESPN, since a draw is enough to see them both through. And at 2:30 p.m., the matter of Group B will be resolved with Greece playing Argentina (ESPN) and Nigeria facing South Korea (ESPN2).
Celebrity Fan Watch It just wouldn't be the World Cup without the England WAGs. They're back in the news Tuesday because four of them have reportedly accepted invitations to a promotional event on Friday where each of them will receive goody bags valued at more than $14,000. It's probably a very tasteful goody bag for some very tasteful ladies.
Portugal 7-0 North Korea Chances are this result won't be published in North Korea. With brutal efficiency, Portugal scored six second-half goals to punish the sloppy—and now eliminated—North Koreans, who looked nothing like the side that briefly worried Brazil.
Chile 1-0 Switzerland Chile maintained its unbeaten record so far by breaking down a steely Switzerland side reduced to 10 men in the 31st minute. It was heartbreak for the Swiss, who conquered Spain in their opener, but Chile guaranteed its place in the last 16.
Spain 2-0 Honduras Spain is now 1-1, thanks in part to a stunning goal from David Villa, but took its foot off the pedal the rest of the way, casting some doubt over their makeup. The Spaniards will have to be far more ruthless than they were against Honduras if they are to live up to their billing as favorites.
What This Means for the Standings Portugal has certainly given itself an excellent chance of advancing, especially by padding its goal differential. Portugal and Brazil are now all but guaranteed to emerge from Group G. Spain, meanwhile, kept its World Cup dreams on track with its first victory, but Chile still tops Group H with six points. Spain and Switzerland are both tied at three. For the full standings, click here.
Permutations OK, this is the point in the World Cup where things get complicated. After only three games, there are bound to be teams tied on points across the board. And it's that time when fans turn into amateur logicians, spouting wisdom generally along the lines of, "If, and only if, X happens and Independent Outcome Y also occurs… then France/England/whoever can advance to the next round."
Here's the situation for Group A: Uruguay and Mexico will both advance with a draw. But should either side win, it will leave the door open for France to qualify if they can trounce South Africa and win by at least four or five goals. In Group B, Greece and South Korea are vying to join Argentina in the last 16. Essentially, whichever team picks up the best result of those two will advance—though South Korea has the advantage of playing Nigeria while Greece faces Argentina. If both games end in draws, South Korea will advance by virtue of its goal differential.
World Cup Word of the Day: Lie-in. No more 7:30 a.m. games for this World Cup. For the next four days, we'll be resolving the group stage with four games a day—two at 10 a.m. and another two at 2:30 p.m. The reason FIFA schedules the final two games of each group simultaneously is to avoid the travesty that occurred between West Germany and Austria in 1982. Playing in the last game of their group, the two sides knew that a 1-0 win for the Germans would see both sides through. So, after they went ahead 10 minutes in, both sides effectively stopped playing under a secret agreement.
And From the Department of British Tabloids The tabs are still dealing with the trouble brewing in the England camp after John Terry—who was stripped of the captaincy earlier this year because of a sex scandal—openly criticized manager Fabio Capello. Tuesday's back pages are all variations on the same theme, encapsulated by the Mirror's headline: "John Terry's 'Big Mistake.'" Still, it doesn't compare to the mess in the French camp.
Team USA Countdown For the U.S., one day ahead of its crucial showdown with Algeria, everything seems happily mellow. With no significant injury setbacks and a clear need for a victory, Landon Donovan says he believes the side is "as prepared as we can be for what's ahead of us on Wednesday." Well then, bring on the Algerians.
If You Only Catch One Game Monday Spain vs. Honduras is certainly worth watching at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN. Honduras may not be very good, but Spain, who started the tournament as heavy favorites, has yet to prove it is any better. After its stunning defeat against Switzerland in the first game, the Spaniards could explode as they try to get their campaign back on track and score their first goals of the tournament. The bookies don't see it going any way but Spain's, offering the favorites at 1:9, with a draw at 15:2, and a long-shot Honduran victory at 22:1.
Earlier, Portugal began the day against North Korea in the final 7:30 a.m. game of the tournament—it will be all 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. kick-offs from here on out. And at 10 a.m. Chile will take on Switzerland in a battle that no one every thought could determine the leader of Group H.
Celebrity Fan Watch With his country's team in absolute shambles, France legend Zinedine Zidane took some time to catch the Brazil game Sunday. Meanwhile, his former teammates staged a mini-revolution over the chain of events that led to Nicolas Anelka being sent home. They refused to train Sunday, an official and a coach resigned, and some pundits suggested that Zidane was behind all of it. They said that Zidane was the one who had originally suggested the players demand a change of tactics to their coach last week. The players finally returned to training on Monday.
Paraguay 2-0 Slovakia Paraguay continued an impressive showing by South American teams—every one of them could qualify for the Round of 16—and again proved it is not to be discounted after earning its tie against Italy.
Italy 1-1 New Zealand In yet another stunning upset, the Kiwis shocked a beleaguered Italy by taking an early lead and hanging on for the draw. Unbridled joy for New Zealand. The prospect of an early exit for Italy.
Brazil 3-1 Ivory Coast With some lovely flowing soccer, Brazil got back to looking like Brazil with its clinical domination of another underperforming African side. Even after the wrongful dismissal of Kaka, the Seleçao never looked in trouble.
What This Means for the Standings Paraguay is now sitting pretty at the top of Group F with four points. Italy and New Zealand are tied behind it with two points apiece, but the Italians have the easier game on the last day of the group stage against Slovakia—and the Kiwis have to face Paraguay. Meanwhile, Brazil's victory put it firmly in command of Group G with the maximum six points. For the full standings, click here.
World Cup Word of the Day: Hand of God. When Diego Maradona scored with his fist against England in 1986—without the referee's noticing—he admitted that he had cheated and said God made him do it. Yesterday, the excuse came up again after Luis Fabiano appeared to handle the ball twice, once with each arm, in scoring his second goal against the Ivory Coast. "It's a spectacular goal with an accidental foul," he said according to France's L'Equipe. "It's a holy hand, a hand of God." But Maradona still says there can only be one.
And From the Department of British Tabloids While the French camp has its farce, the England camp is also in turmoil after frustration boiled over into dissent and senior players held "clear the air" talks with the coach. Today, the News of the World is using the "ROOVOLT" headline, in reference to England star Wayne Rooney, while the Daily Star recognizes that England's last chance to save anything from this tournament is coming up. "Shout or We're Out," it screams.
Team USA Countdown Two days to go until team USA's crunch match with Algeria. But all seems relatively quiet in the American camp, which can only be a good thing. The only minor controversy is over FIFA not letting the team practice at the stadium in Pretoria the day before its game there to protect the field. As for the referee who denied the U.S. a winning goal against Slovenia, it doesn't look like he will be blowing the whistle on any more games at this World Cup after FIFA left him off its latest list of officials.
If You Only Catch One Game Sunday It has to be Brazil vs. Ivory Coast (2:30 p.m. on ABC). The Group of Death is back in action with one of the most feverishly anticipated games of the first round. Brazil, the five time champions, take on the home continent favorites, the Ivory Coast. The Seleçao looked slightly vulnerable in its opening game against the resolute North Koreans and the Elephants, as the Ivory Coast players are known, will be boosted by the possible return of their star striker Didier Drogba to the starting lineup. The Ivory Coast will also be flying the flag for Africa as one of the few teams with a chance to qualify after Cameroon's ugly demise on Saturday. This has the potential to be the real firecracker game the World Cup has been waiting for. Still, Brazil is the heavy favorite at 7:10, with the Ivory Coast at 9:2 for the upset and a draw going at 12:5.
In Sunday's other action, Group F surprise Paraguay kicked things off against Slovakia (7:30 a.m. on ESPN) and the disappointing Italians will hope to get back on track against the much weaker New Zealand All-Whites (10 a.m. on ESPN).
Celebrity Fan Watch Until Friday, no one had ever heard of a Pavlos Joseph, the mortgage advisor from South-East London. But he became an unlikely celebrity when he wandered into the England dressing room after its poor draw with Algeria. As long as he was there, he thought he would give them a message. "You're a disgrace," he told the players. Today's Mirror has the exclusive interview with Joseph in which he claims, "The crazy thing is I only went looking for the toilet." A likely story.
Netherlands 1-0 Japan For all their technical brilliance, the Dutch only found one goal against the dull Japanese. But it was enough to get the job done and comfortably book its spot in the second round.
Ghana 1-1 Australia Ghana continued to ride its luck by overcoming an early deficit from the penalty spot to take a point from an unimpressive game.
Denmark 2-1 Cameroon After one of the wildest games of the World Cup so far, it was curtains for Cameroon. The African side went ahead before the fast-paced Danes pegged them back and earned the deserved victory.
What Those Mean for the Standings With Cameroon out and the Netherlands through, there is only one qualification spot left open in Group E. It will come down to the decisive game between Denmark and Japan next Thursday. Loser goes home. Ghana's point, combined with Germany's shock defeat on Friday, means it is now sitting pretty at the top of Group D with four points. But qualification is by no means guaranteed with Germany lying in wait for the final game in the group stage on Wednesday. For the full standings, click here.
World Cup Word of the Day: Débâcle. It means the same in French as it does in English, but there is no one it applies to better right now than the French camp at the World Cup. While the press all but calls for the manager, Raymond Domenech, to be guillotined, the team itself is in turmoil. Yesterday, sports daily L'Equipe revealed that during half time of the side's miserable loss to Mexico, striker Nicolas Anelka called out Domenech in an expletive-laden tirade. The worst line of it was shockingly splashed on L'Equipe's front page in bold type. Essentially, Anelka instructs his manager to get lost, while tossing in some speculation about his mother's profession. Anelka was subsequently booted off the team. The French camp's reaction wasn't good, calling whoever leaked the story to the press a "traitor" who must be "eliminated."
And From the Department of British Tabloids The British tabloids today seem tame by comparison. Besides the Mirror's top-notch journalism about the fan in the locker room, the news centers on Wayne Rooney and the simmering tensions inside the underperforming England team. The headline of the day comes from the News of the World: "ROOVOLT."
Team USA Countdown With three days to go before its final group game against Algeria, the US is considering the permutations required to qualify for the knockout rounds. A victory would all but guarantee the Americans' passage. But a draw could be enough if the plucky Slovenians can beat England. And there is even a chance for the United States to win the group outright if England and Slovenia tie. In case you didn't catch that, don't worry. You can be sure it will be spelled out many, many more times between now and then.
If You Only Catch One Game Saturday Japan vs. Netherlands (7:30 a.m. on ESPN) may be a touch early for a Saturday morning, so short of that, make sure you catch Denmark vs. Cameroon at 2:30 p.m. on ABC. The Danes gave a decent account of themselves in their opening defeat against the Netherlands while Cameroon, initially considered to be the strongest of the African teams, slumped to Japan. Both teams have plenty to play for since the losing team will certainly be heading home after the group stage. Denmark is a 6:4 favorite with the bookies, while Cameroon is at 19:10 and a draw is offered at 21:10.
Celebrity Fan Watch Prince William and Prince Harry began what is being called a "six-day South African tour" — which makes them sound rather like a cricket team — by attending England's desperately boring draw with Algeria. Both are known to be huge soccer fans, especially since William technically heads the English Football Association, and they suffered just as much as the vuvuzela-blowing England supporters who weren't wearing tailored suits in the rest of the stadium. And as they lamented every missed opportunity, they were certainly far more animated than many of their relatives have been for years.
Serbia 1-0 Germany Mein Gott! What happened to the Germany who rocked Australia? A bizarre sending-off reduced Germany to 10 men and a minute later, Serbia took a shock lead to set the stage for a startling upset. [link: ]
USA 2-2 Slovenia Blame the team first, then blame the referee. Slovenia had a 2-0 lead at half time and then the U.S. showed up, scoring two beauties in the second half. But a disallowed third became the flashpoint of the game since no one could tell why the referee called it back.
England 0-0 Algeria In one of the worst games of the tournament so far, an ugly, disjointed England side could not muster a goal against a thoroughly ordinary Algerian team, who greeted the result as if it had won.
What Those Mean for the Standings The two draws Friday left Group C wide open and the United States will actually have a chance to win it if results go their way. Slovenia is currently top with four points, while the U.S. and England are tied with two apiece. Algeria is fourth with one point. There are many possible permutations, but this much is clear: the U.S. needs to beat Algeria next Wednesday or it will be a second a successive group-stage exit. Group D, meanwhile, has also been blown wide open as three teams are tied with three points. Ghana will have a chance to take sole command of the group Saturday with a draw against Australia.
World Cup Word of the Day: Referee. It was the word on everyone's lips inside Ellis Park in the 86th minute Friday, probably seasoned with a few choice descriptors. After Koman Coulibaly called back the United States' third goal against Slovenia — which would have surely meant a victory instead of a tie — he was immediately surrounded by blue jerseys. The players, led by an angry Landon Donovan and an incensed Michael Bradley, demanded an explanation but were silently waved off, left to deal with the horrendous call. [link: http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-06-03/the-10-worst-blown-calls-in-sports-history/ ] And in the earlier game between Germany and Serbia, the German team was equally confused by the Schiedsrichter's decision after he sent off Miroslav Klose for a pair of benign fouls.
And From the Department of British Tabloids England was booed off the field Friday and the noise still echoed in this morning's tabloid headlines. The Mirror led with, " Cape Clowns" and the Sun focused on Wayne Rooney's anger at the fans' reaction — in rhyme, of course: "Roo Blows Fuse over Boos."
Team USA Countdown It would be tempting to keep fuming over the blown call against Slovenia, but the United States' World Cup is far from over. It still has a potentially tricky game against Algeria on Wednesday where a victory would all but guarantee qualification. Simple as that.
If You Only Catch One Game Friday It's crunch time for the United States as they face Slovenia ( 10 a.m. on ESPN). After earning a vital point against England, a victory over Slovenia would nearly put the Americans' in the second round and give them a chance to win the group outright — which would likely save them from meeting Germany in the last 16. But Slovenia are not to be written off. They may have been hopelessly dull against Algeria, but its players were resilient and patient enough to outlast Algeria in their first game. Let's not forget that Slovenia is actually top of Group C and a win over the U.S. would guarantee qualification. As for the bookies, they're narrowly siding with the United States at 23:20. Slovenia is 13:5 to win and they're offering a draw at 21:10.
In the early game, Germany kicked off proceedings against Serbia (7:30 a.m. on ESPN). And after the US clash, there will be more action from Group C as England takes on Algeria ( 2:30 p.m. on ESPN2).
• Complete coverage of the World Cup They aren't celebrities yet, but Mexico's costumed supporters are gaining some visibility at this World Cup. Louder than the vuvuzelas during their victory over France, the green-clad supporters broke out far more than jerseys and face paint. All over the stands, fans of El Tri broke out their brightly colored lucha masks—the world feed even cut to a toddler wearing one. And, even better, more than one fan donned feather headdresses and costumes with wings to look like the feathered serpent Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. That's some recherché national pride, right there.
Argentina 4-1 South Korea A sublime showing by the Argentines. Gonzalo Higuain's sensational hat trick and the team's scintillating play more than made up for the scene on the sideline where the ranting, raving Diego Maradona in an ill-fitting suit conducts himself with all the elegance of Super Mario.
Greece 2-1 Nigeria After an awful opening to its tournament, Greece put itself back on the right track with an ugly victory over 10-man Nigeria. Excellent as he was, the Nigerian goalkeeper could not save the Super Eagles.
Mexico 2-0 France The speedy Mexicans punished France for a dull, disjointed performance and all but guaranteed Les Bleus will be going home next week.
What Those Mean for the Standings France's chances of going qualifying now hang by a thread and it is in great danger of becoming the first powerhouse nation to go home. Les Bleus no longer control their own destiny and it seems all but certain that Mexico and Uruguay, who face off next Tuesday, will be the teams to progress from Group A. Group B, on the other hand, is up in the air. Though the Argentineans already have a foot in the second round, Greece, South Korea, and Nigeria all still have a chance of joining them there. For the full standings, click here.
World Cup Word of the Day: Avion, the French word for airplane. For years after France won the World Cup in 1998, the fans chanted, "On est les champions" (We are the champions) over and over at games. After all, for a while they seemed unbeatable. But when it all came crashing down at the 2002 World Cup, where Les Bleus failed to score a single goal, they modified the song slightly. To the same tune, the fans jokingly sang, "On est dans l'avion" (We're on the plane.) The all-too familiar chorus began again Thursday.
And From the Department of British Tabloids On the 70th anniversary of Winston Churchill's historic "We will fight them on the beaches" speech, England is steeling itself to take on Algeria. And the moment was not lost on the Sun, who led with "Their Finest Hour (and a half.)" But Friday's game left little room for the tabloids to rub salt in France's wounds—much to their chagrin. Still, the French papers did plenty of that, treating the defeat as a national scandal. The sports daily L'Equipe screamed, "THE IMPOSTORS" of the French team, while the front page of Le Parisien went with, "Pitiful!" And in Italy, where there is never any love lost for France, the Gazzetta dello Sport reveled in the defeat with, "Mexi-K.O. for Ribéry."
Team USA Countdown There's every reason to believe that England will beat Algeria this afternoon. That means the US can't afford a slip-up against Slovenia. Anything short of three points would leave the Americans in third place without control of their own destiny. But, this is a rare occasion when the US goes into a game as the favorite—a role that has not always suited the team. But even if it controls most of the possession, breaking down a resolute Slovenian defense will take another sterling performance from Clint Dempsey and require Landon Donovan to be more visible than he was against England.
If You Only Catch One Game Thursday It has to be France vs. Mexico (2:30 p.m. on ESPN2). After lackluster showings from both sides in their opening games, it's time for both of them to deliver or face the prospect of an early exit. France, the 1998 champions, was held to a frustrating draw by Uruguay and Mexico was lucky to escape with a tie after going down to South Africa in the opener. The winner of this game will be in prime position to emerge from the group. And perhaps, finally, it will provide some of the flowing, attacking soccer the group stage has so badly lacked. The bookies are siding with France, offering Les Bleus as 13:10 favorites, while Mexico is 12:5 and a draw pays 2:1.
Thursday's other matchups also hold some intrigue. Argentina kicked off at 7:30 on ESPN against South Korea. An upset was unlikely, even though South Korea played with surprising aplomb against Greece and the country is certainly in the mood for a party — condom sales reportedly skyrocketed after the victory. And at 10:00 a.m., Nigeria and Greece will look for their first goals, and points, of the tournament. A loss for either side would surely mean curtains.
Celebrity Fan Watch Since leaving office in March, it seems that former president of Chile Michelle Bachelet has some time on her hands. After visiting the Chilean squad's training base, she was on hand in Nelspruit Wednesday to watch the Roja beat Honduras in their opening game. She has said she plans to attend all three of the team's games in the group stage, perhaps in part because she's a big fan of Chile's Argentine coach, Marcelo Bielsa. "I think he's attractive, an interesting guy," she said about him in April. "He has that fatal combination for women of being handsome and mysterious."
Chile 1-0 Honduras A rare case of one team decimating another, 1-0. Chile could have had five or six goals against the woeful Hondurans.
Switzerland 1-0 Spain The shock of the tournament so far. Switzerland interrupted 90 minutes of defending for their lives with a goal that sent shockwaves through Spain.
Uruguay 3-0 South Africa Uruguay silenced the vuvuzelas three times as it served up a harsh dose of reality to South Africa.
What Those Mean for the Standings
Chile's victory and Switzerland's upset mean that they both sit tied at the top of Group H, while Spain languishes with Switzerland. It does not mean that Spain, one of the tournament favorites before Wednesday, will not advance. But that runner-up spot in the group is worth avoiding — it probably holds a second-round date with Brazil. In Group A, meanwhile, Uruguay has taken the lead with France and Mexico slugging it out Thursday to see if either of them can join it on four points. A tie would put Uruguay in commanding position to win the group. You can find the full standings here.
World Cup Word of the Day: Favorito. Leading up to the World Cup, the Spanish word for favorite was all over newspapers from Madrid to Buenos Aires. In Madrid Thursday, after the defeat to Switzerland, it comes followed by a question mark. But in Argentina, fans of the men in blue and white are beginning to fancy their chances as they look to become the first team in the tournament with six points by beating South Korea. The question mark they're using after favorito is far more hopeful than Spain's.
And From the Department of British Tabloids Count on the Sun to spice up the intrigue in Group C. After Clint Dempsey called England edgy in its first game, Wayne Rooney fired back and the Sun screams: "Roo: We Should Have Buried You." Thursday's bonus headlines come from the Spanish papers, which are lamenting the defeat by Switzerland. Marca, the sports daily, brought back Spain's reputation as chokers at major tournaments with, "The Spain of Always?" while the newspaper AS lamented the side's toothless attack, calling it a "boxer with both hands damaged." The best headline of the day, however, came from France's L'Equipe: "Switzerland Topples a Mountain!"
Team USA Countdown One more day until the USA takes on Slovenia in a game that will likely determine whether or not it sticks around for the last 16. And Clint Dempsey, who scored the lucky goal against England, is fast turning into the voice of the team. "If we lose this game, potentially we'll be out of the tournament, so we have to go out there and make sure that, yeah, we do take chances going forward but calculated risks," said Dempsey. That game kicks off at 10 a.m. on ESPN. And England's game against Algeria (2:30 p.m. on ESPN2) will be just as important to the Americans' chances.
If You Only Catch One Game Wednesday Make it Spain vs. Switzerland—and it's not for the horribly dull Swiss side. Spain is a popular favorite to win it all and the opening game of its campaign could finally inject some real excitement back into this group stage, much the way Germany did in its thrashing of Australia. Spain, the 3:1 favorite to take home the World Cup, is being offered at 2:7 against Switzerland, with a tie at 4:1 and a Swiss victory at 11:1. Kick off is at 10 a.m. on ESPN.
In Group H's other game, Chile started things off against Honduras at 7:30 a.m. and the hosts are back in action this afternoon against Uruguay at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN.
Celebrity Fan Watch Unlike many government officials who travel to see their country's team at the World Cup—see Joe Biden—Kim Jong-Il was never going to make the trip. In fact, no one from North Korea is allowed to make the trip. Yet, there was a contingent of North Korean fans in the stands yesterday. They were in fact, "volunteer fans" from China. Some of them are even minor celebrities, apparently.
Slovakia 1-1 New Zealand The Kiwis could not have left it any later, scoring an equalizer with what proved to be the very last touch of the game.
Portugal 0-0 Ivory Coast A disappointing, dull affair between two teams that are usually far more entertaining. Cristiano Ronaldo nearly provided the goal of tournament so far when he rattled the post with a shot from a mile out.
Brazil 2-1 North Korea Brazil grit their teeth and ground out a victory against a surprisingly robust North Korean side out to prove it isn't just in South Africa to make up the numbers. But they have yet to accuse Brazil of turning the game into "a theater of plot-breeding and swindling," as the North Koreans did when they lost a qualifying match to South Korea last year.
What Those Mean for the Standings Brazil now has a firm grip on the Group of Death with three points ahead of its games with Portugal and the Ivory Coast—whose tie on Tuesday didn't much help either of their causes. Slovakia and New Zealand's draw, meanwhile, means Group F (also featuring Italy and Paraguay) is all tied up with a point for everyone. You can find the full standings here.
World Cup Word of the Day: Draw Nearly a week into the World Cup, it seems that the prevalence of draws and bitterly dull games isn't just a fluke now. Six of the 14 games before Wednesday have been ties and only four teams have scored more than one goal. What's going on? One theory says that teams have been especially cagey in their opening games because they've been preparing for that particular one for six months. Another is that attacking players, rather than goalkeepers, are being undone by the new lighter World Cup balls.
And From the Department of British Tabloids After the United States' Clint Dempsey said yesterday that England looked "edgy" in the opening game, it's all fear and loathing in the tabloids this morning. While the Sun leads with, " Full of Fear" the Mirror answers with Wayne Rooney and the headline, " We Fear Nobody." As usual, not much gets settled on the back pages.
Team USA Countdown Two days to go and things are looking up for the Americans. Goalkeeper Tim Howard has officially been passed fit to face Slovenia after sustaining a rib injury in the England game.
If You Only Catch One Game Tuesday You may be spoiled for choice on Tuesday with both Brazil and Portugal springing into action. But, if you have to choose, Portugal vs. Ivory Coast has to be the one to watch ( kickoff is 10 a.m. EST on ESPN). On one side, there are the Portuguese, who could very well catch fire in this tournament, and on the other is the best African team in the World Cup. The two names you need to know are Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal and Real Madrid's pretty-boy winger with the dazzling feet, and Didier Drogba, the Ivory Coast and Chelsea's no-nonsense cannonball of a striker, who will be playing with a broken arm. On paper, this is one of the best games of the first round and the loser will face an uphill battle to survive the group stage as Brazil awaits both of them.
Tuesday's Betting Odds Ivory Coast is a slight underdog at 13:5. Portugal is at 13:10 and a tie is 23:10. In the wildly mismatched game ( 2:30 p.m. on ESPN) between five-time winner Brazil and one of the lowest-ranked teams in the tournament, North Korea, the Seleçao, as Brazil is known, is a 1:9 favorite. North Korea is a 33:1 underdog and even a draw seems unlikely at 10:1.
Celebrity Fan Watch The stars of the soccer world turned out to see the Netherlands play on Monday, led by a pair of French legends: Zinedine Zidane and Michel Platini. Zidane is famous for providing both the greatest and the most ignominious moments in French World Cup history. He scored twice in the 1998 final as Les Bleus upset Brazil on home soil. And eight years later, he was sent off for a shocking head butt in the final against Italy. Platini, meanwhile, is in the unfortunate class of brilliant players who never won a World Cup. Long retired after an excellent career in the 1980s, he is now president of UEFA, European soccer's governing body. In case any one forgot, the letters UEFA were sewn into the breast pocket of his suit. Zidane, ever the class act, stood next to Platini, chatting in a tracksuit.
Netherlands 2, Denmark 0 The Dutch are in for the long haul. With some scintillating play, Die Oranje backed up their standing as dark horses for the tournament. Goals were hard to come by—they benefited from an own goal from Denmark—but the quick passing and organized command of the game were certainly there.
Japan 1, Cameroon 0 Though the game was thoroughly dull, it was one of the bigger upsets of the tournament so far. Cameroon, heavily favored on African soil against a Japanese team that had never won a World Cup game outside of Japan, gave an uninspired account of itself and now faces an uphill battle to progress. But Japan will be encouraged by its resolute defending as it prepares to deal with the Netherlands next.
Italy 1, Paraguay 1 It took a mistake by the Paraguayan goalkeeper to spare Italy's embarrassment after Paraguay went ahead in the first half. The Azzurri, looking sluggish and uninventive, struggled mightily to build any kind of rhythm against a hard-working Paraguay side and the underdogs deserved their lead. But Italy is known to grow into tournaments, improving as the stakes get higher. When they won it four years ago, their World Cup campaign was nearly derailed in the second round by Australia.
What That Means for the Standings The Netherlands and Japan are now sitting pretty at the top of Group E with three points apiece, while Denmark and Cameroon are stuck with none. In the World Cup, six points is enough to guarantee qualification for the next round, so whoever wins the match between the Netherlands and Japan on Saturday will book a spot in the Round of 16. But whoever loses when Cameroon plays Denmark will almost certainly be sure they are going home, before even playing their third game.
And in Group F, the draw between Italy and Paraguay means that Tuesday morning New Zealand or Slovakia will have a chance to take a shock lead in the group. If either of those teams has a real chance to advance, it will need a win in the first game with two far more difficult games lying ahead.
You can find the full standings here.
World Cup Word of the Day: Group of Death Every four years, one group earns this label because it usually features at least three good teams, meaning one of them will go home early. In 2002, the England, Argentina, and Sweden group earned the name. And in 2006, the USA was the unlucky fourth member of the Italy, Czech Republic, and Ghana Group of Death. This time around, it's Group G with Brazil, Portugal, the Ivory Cost, and North Korea. The draw really couldn't have been much worse for the North Koreans, who will be lucky to even score a goal before they are sent packing. And though conventional wisdom would suggest Brazil and Portugal will emerge into the Round of 16, the Ivory Coast sneaking through ahead of one of them would not be a huge surprise.
And From the Department of British Tabloids A relatively tame day by the tabloids' own savage standards. Rob Green, England's unfortunate goalkeeper, still inhabits the back pages. But in much bigger news, German legend Franz Beckenbauer criticized the English style of play, saying it had "gone backward." The Sun took great offense and printed the headline, "Kaiser Sticks Das Boot In." Meanwhile, the Mirror brings the annoying news that the vuvuzelas, the South African horns responsible for the incessant buzzing during games (no, it wasn't just your television set), are here to stay, with the headline "Vuvu Vote."
Team USA Countdown Three days until the U.S. takes the field again to face Slovenia in the game that could make or break their chances of qualifying. And the biggest boost to their chances was the news yesterday that goalkeeper Tim Howard was on track to play after sustaining a rib injury against England. Howard is widely considered one of the best goalkeepers in the world. And, since decent goalkeeping seems so hard to come by in this World Cup, the U.S. is all the more grateful to have him between the sticks.
If You Only Catch One Game Today Make sure to tune in for Italy vs. Paraguay at 2:30 p.m. as the world champion Azzurri begin their title defense. Four years after winning the Cup in a dramatic penalty shootout—and drawing the immediately infamous headbutt from Zinedine Zidane in the final—the Italians are far from favorites. But then again, they have a tendency to suddenly improve on the big stage.
Celebrity Fan Watch ESPN brought in German legend Jürgen Klinsmann as a studio analyst, but no one seemed more pleased than he did during Germany's manhandling of Australia. Klinsmann won the World Cup as a player in 1990 and then coached his country to third place in 2006. Later that year, he turned down the chance to coach the U.S. This time around, the second most famous German-speaker in California just looks happy to be watching, stress-free, as a fan.
Slovenia 1-0 Algeria Another day, another goalkeeping blunder. With half the team bizarrely sporting bleach-blond dye jobs, Algeria's campaign got off to a disastrous start as its goalkeeper handed Slovenia a freebie when he fluffed what should have been a routine save. It means that Slovenia, riding its luck ever since it qualified for the World Cup at Russia's expense, now sits at the top of the United States and England group in prime position to cost one of them a trip to the Round of 16.
Ghana 1-0 Serbia It took a late penalty-kick for Ghana to record the first victory for an African nation on the home continent at this World Cup, and it was not undeserved. Through a cagey match, Ghana showed in flashes that it is capable of some highly entertaining stuff. But Serbia, which excelled in qualifying, also proved that it wouldn't be a pushover when the time comes to play Germany.
Germany 4-0 Australia With a stunning display of power, Germany steamrolled Australia to rack up the highest score of the tournament so far. Brutally efficient, the Germans opened their campaign with a statement—write them off at your peril. Die Mannschaft, as the team is known, made a surprising run to the semi-finals on home soil four years ago and now seems set to defy its critics again. Watch out for the Germans' deadly tandem of strikers: Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose. Speaking of which…
World Cup Word of the Day Torjäger. Pronounced TOR-yeyger, this one's borrowed from the what-you-see-is-what-you-get world of German soccer jargon. After Miroslav Klose's brilliant showing against the Aussies, the word Torjäger came attached to his name in all the German papers Monday morning. Quite literally, it is the combination of Tor, the word for goal, and Jäger, which means hunter. Goal-hunter. Now doesn't that sound so much better than striker?
And From the Department of British Tabloids Across the tabloids' back pages this morning, it was like no one played on Sunday. All of them were still hung up on the result of the England-USA game and the goalkeeping gaffe that resulted in the American goal. With a photograph of goalkeeper Robert Green on the England team's golf outing, the Sun screamed the headline, " PUTTER FINGERS." Others simply called for Green to be benched, while the Mirror's back page spun the story forward. The headline, "England Keeper's Agony Over Love Split" revealed that the real reason poor Robert Green played so badly was his breakup with a 23-year-old lingerie model just before the World Cup. Life's tough for professional athletes. And as a special bonus from the Department of German Tabloids, the always-entertaining Bild led with, "Our Boys Captivate the World." Below it added, "This new Germany plays soccer with violins" in praise of the team's artistry—probably not for its musical talents.
In Case You Were Wondering what everyone means when they refer to the Group Stage. For the uninitiated, the group stage is the first portion of the tournament when all 32 teams are divided into eight groups of four—the draw to determine the groups was conducted six months ago. Within those groups, every team plays every other team in a round-robin with three points being awarded for a victory, one to each team in a tie, and none for a loss (regardless of how many goals are scored). Once each team has played its initial three games, the two teams with the most points in their group advance to the Round of 16, where the World Cup becomes a straight knockout just like the NCAA Tournament. The bottom two go home. The advantage to finishing top of a group, rather than coming second, is that group winners get to play presumably weaker group runners-up in the next round. You can see all the group standings at a glance here.
If You Only Catch One Game Today Make it Germany vs. Australia. Admittedly, today's trio of games isn't the most exciting selection, but getting a first look at an unpredictable German side should make it worthwhile. Few people are considering Germany as a serious contender in this tournament. But then again, no one expected much from them four years ago when they finished third on home soil. Plus, if nothing else, Bastian Schweinsteiger is generally considered to be top of the WAG standings. Expect plenty of cuts to his gorgeous girlfriend, Sarah Brandner, while her sweetheart takes on the Socceroos.
Celebrity Fan Watch Officially, David Beckham is a special adviser to England manager Fabio Capello at the World Cup. In reality, Beckham is England's cheerleader in chief. The former England captain will not play in the World Cup because of an Achilles tendon injury, but was still on the sidelines Saturday. Wearing a dapper three-piece suit with an England crest on the gray jacket, Beckham was seen chuckling in the dugout. That is, until England's goalkeeper allowed the U.S. to tie things up with a devastating mistake—more on that later. The World Cup feed cut to him looking very upset on at least two separate occasions.
South Korea Tops Greece 2-0 With an absolutely dire performance, Greece showed the world it wouldn't be in South Africa for long. But the plucky, organized South Koreans, on the other hand, showed they might have what it takes to stick around past the group stage. Could they have another surprising run in them? When they hosted the tournament in 2002, the South Koreans rode their luck all the way to the semifinals.
Argentina Beats Nigeria 1-0 Only a sterling performance from the Nigerian goalkeeper stopped Argentina's sexy footballers from turning the game into a rout. With the legendary, but also crazy, Diego Maradona as their coach, no one knew quite what to expect from Argentina at this tournament. Maradona spent much of the game frantically gesticulating and clutching his rosary. But who needs divine inspiration when you've got Leo Messi on your team? The 23-year-old is widely considered the best player in the world—you'll want to keep an eye on him.
England-U.S. Tie 1-1 The sporting test of the special relationship ended in a diplomatic tie after England generously gifted a goal to the Americans. After going behind early on, the U.S. pulled level courtesy of an awful mistake by England goalkeeper Robert Green. The result was greeted like a victory for the U.S., which now has an excellent chance of advancing to the knockout rounds.
World Cup Word of the Day Clanger. That's British-speak for a horrendous mistake by a goalkeeper resulting in a goal. Rob Green gave an excellent demonstration when he let Clint Dempsey's 40th-minute shot trickle in. After trying to claw it out and failing, he buried his face in the grass. Then, he offered a sorry-my-bad wave of the hand to his teammates. Which is about all he could do short of scoring a goal himself.
And From the Department of British Tabloids Rob Green should be grateful he is several thousand miles away from his local newsstand. He was plastered all over the front and back pages this morning, as the papers also tried to remind fans that everything will still be fine. The Daily Star made it personal with the one-word headline,"ROB-BISH!" on the back page. Page one featured the words " Don't Panic" printed in large, friendly letters. The News of the World and the Mirror both went with the punnier, " Hand of Clod." But The Sun was a little gentler, going instead with a reassuring picture of the manager Fabio Capello and the headline, "We'll Still be Fab." Get it?
Click Image to View Our Gallery of U.S. and U.K. Tabloid Covers
England and U.S. Tied Goal! Both England and the U.S. have scored one goal each in the highly anticipated World Cup faceoff. In a group full of leaders (nine of the 23 players on the English team have been team captains at some point), England's captain Steven Gerrard led his team to an early advance by scoring the first goal in Saturday's World Cup game against the U.S. He's shown remarkable humility, though—"I am the captain, but I am surrounded by other captains," Gerrard said. But a few minutes later, England's goalie let a U.S. kick slip by, resulting in a 1-1 game. (The game began at 2:30 p.m. EST on ABC.) Sixty years ago, the Americans pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in World Cup history by beating England 1-0. Repeating the feat will be slightly more likely—though still a tall order—against an injury-riddled England side. The names you need to know are Wayne Rooney (the bullish, deadly England striker) and Landon Donovan (the American playmaker with the big forehead). Meanwhile, the rivalry threatens to become a diplomatic incident: The respective ambassadors have done their fair share of trash-talking.
And From the Department of British Tabloids You can always count on The Sun to deliver during the World Cup, especially before the game the tabs are dubbing, "U.S.A. vs. Us." Saturday's front page features the gigantic headline: "Here's Hopin' that England United shoot some totally awesome strikes past the goaltender in the soccerball world series." Gets the point across. Others, like The Mirror, have gone with the more historic "England Expects"—a reference to a famous letter by Admiral Horatio Nelson.
Celebrity Fan Watch Vice President Joe Biden was at the opening game, but clearly did not think it was a big bleeping deal. When the cameras cut to him, he seemed less involved in the stands than with his blanket—it was around 55 degrees during the game—and his bright yellow earplugs. In stark contrast, Bishop Desmond Tutu was seen dancing around the VIP area during the Opening Ceremony.
World Cup Word of the Day Vuvuzela. That buzzing sound you've been hearing during every game so far comes courtesy of the vuvuzelas, the three-foot plastic trumpets from South Africa. Despite calls to ban them because they're just so annoying, FIFA, soccer's world governing body, has decided they should stay.
South Africa 1-1 Mexico No host nation had ever lost when playing in the World Cup's opening game and South Africa made sure that stayed true Friday. Against the heavily favored Mexicans, the bafana bafana, as the South African team is known, took a shocking lead before Mexico fought back to earn a tie.
Uruguay 0-0 France France came into the tournament a team in turmoil. The manager is reviled, the players are sputtering, and the team is lucky to be in the tournament at all—a goal scored off a handball in the final qualifying game earned France its spot in South Africa. And in its opener, little seemed to improve as it played out a dull, frustrating tie with an uninspiring Uruguay side.
Joshua Robinson is a freelance writer based in Manhattan. He graduated from Columbia in 2008 and has covered everything from the London stock exchange to the World Series.
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