Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Who can beat the South Americans?
How long will this unbeaten run last? There have now been 12 matches involving South American teams at the World Cup and still the five teams remain unbeaten. It's still early days but 10 wins and 2 draws with 21 goals scored and only 4 conceded is some start to the tournament.
But more than the victories, it's the style of play they have all employed that has been so heartening to watch. Whereas the European teams have been cautious, uninspiring and riddled with in-fighting, the teams from Latin America have let the football do the talking and some of the stand-out performers thus far have come from the continent. The emphasis is on attack and the likes of Sanchez, Messi, Kaka, Fabiano, Forlan and Suarez have all lit up the tournament at various stages while hinting that there is a lot more to come.
So where do we stand?
Brazil are already into the next round and if they can avoid defeat to Portugual on Friday they will be through as group winners. Kaka will miss that game after his unfortunate sending-off against Ivory Coast and Dunga will need to find a way to restrict Ronaldo and the free-scoring Portuguese. With Fabiano finding his shooting boots in the last game there could be a few goals in that one.
Uruguay has simply gone from strength to strength and after another win, this time against Mexico, Forlan and company top the group and cruise into the next round. Not only has Uruguay knocked out the 2006 finalists, France, but also the hosts, South Africa. This is the first time in World Cup history that the hosts have failed to qualify for the second round. No mean feat and now Tabarez can look forward to an encounter with South Korea rather than Argentina. Clearly a less daunting task but it´s unlikely that Tabarez will be underestimating anyone.
Maradona's men, meanwhile, have swept into the Round of 16, scoring 7 goals in the process. They too are group winners and they'll be playing Mexico on Saturday. Messi has still to register his first goal of these finals which must be a cause of concern for the Mexicans. He deserved better against Greece but after ghosting past a couple of defenders he was denied by the woodwork. It´s going to come soon.
Paragauy surely has one foot in the next round with only a game against New Zealand to come. Another win will see Martino's men beat Italy to the top of the table and a likely face-off with Japan or Denmark.
And then there is Chile. Ah Chile. La Roja has played some of the most attractive football in the tournament but, ironically with 6 points secured already, it finds itself in the most vulnerable position due to the combination of results thus far. Avoid defeat to Spain and they will head the group but a defeat and a win for Switzerland against Honduras will see the group decided on goal difference. Let's hope there's no last minute heartache come Friday afternoon.
The good news is that Biesla´s men are unlikely to sit back and hope for a draw. They only know one way to play and if they can start to take the opportunites they are creating, Spain will be under pressure. There´s certainly a big incentive to winning the group as this looks to be the best way to avoid a meeting with Brazil. While the neutrals might welcome this game, Biesla would probably prefer to give it a miss.
South America? Still dreaming...
Results so far:
Uruguay 0 France 0
Argentina 1 Nigeria 0
Paraguay 1 Italy 1
Brazil 2 North Korea 1
Chile 1 Honduras 0
Uruguay 3 South Africa 0
Argentina 4 South Korea 1
Paraguay 2 Slovakia 0
Brazil 3 Ivory Coast 1
Chile 1 Switzerland 0
Uruguay 1 Mexico 0
Argentina 2 Greece 0
Group fixtures still to be played:
Paraguay v New Zealand
Brazil v Portugal
Chile v Spain