How about the repre, eh? Slovakia sent Italy home, heads in hands, with a 3-2 defeat, while a scoreless, boring draw allowed Paraguay to take first in the group. Whose bracket isn't shot now? Kudos to the Kiwis who still have many of us in a kerfuffle, as they ended up with no defeats in the tournament and, although they're not moving on to the next round, managed more points than Italy.
Japan absolutely trounced Denmark with precise free kicks and hard shots. Denmark only pulled one back through a poor penalty, which the keeper blocked but couldn't quite control, allowing Jon Dahl Tomasson to slip it past and take the lead in all-time goals scored for Denmark. Japan win 3-1 but take second in the group, so they'll face Paraguay next week. The Dutch played a magnificent match against Cameroon, who, although they had nothing left to fight for, obviously wanted to win and managed to shut down Holland for much of the game, with Samuel Eto'o converting a well-taken penalty. The Oranje faithful were ecstatic to see Arjen Robben make his first cup appearance, and rightly so: the game-winning goal was largely the work of the forward, who grabbed a Wesley Sneijder shot and ran with it, beating a defender and sending the ball off the post, where Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was waiting to push it in. The Netherlands took all nine points with their 2-1 lead and will face Slovakia on Monday.
And now we come to the last eight matches in the group stage, with plenty of potential craziness left. Group G goes first tomorrow:
North Korea v Ivory Coast (ESPN2, 10AM ET, 7AM PT)
With their 7-0 defeat against Portugal, North Korea took their leave from the World Cup. While they played well against Brazil, the North Koreans fell apart under the onslaught of Portuguese goals, much like a certain squad did when faced with Chelsea blue (sadly enough). But while Villa faced nothing back in Birmingham besides jeers and utterly absurd demands for the firing of Martin O'Neill, the biggest question surrounding the North Korean squad is what will happen when they return home. Questions for a different blog, as this one does not profess to have expertise in Asian politics.
Ivory Coast is about as near to being out as a squad can be without being officially eliminated. They'd either have to score seven goals against North Korea themselves, and hope that Portugal score none, or they'd need to score six and cheer for four goals by Brazil. After seeing the pure joy and relief on Didier Drogba's face after he scored on Sunday, my main desire is to see Drogs put at least one more in the net. He may be a dramatic diva, but he's clearly revered in his country. And the man is playing with a cast on his arm, for goodness sake.
Portugal v Brazil (ESPN, 10AM ET, 7AM PT)
The clash of the Portuguese-speaking titans. Portugal looked fairly stiff in their scoreless draw against Ivory Coast, but they made up for it against North Korea, scoring six of their seven goals in the second half. Cristiano Ronaldo finally scored himself a goal, bringing scowls to anyone who doesn't swoon when presented with a snively sneer.
Whoever wins this match takes the top of the group, and whoever doesn't is almost certain to take second. While Brazil could play to a draw, it's not their style, and it's unlikely we'll see a stodgy, defensive match. The Brazilians will bring their dancing moves to the pitch but they won't bring Kaka, who picked up a second yellow for a supposed elbow to Abdul-Kader Keita's face. While Kaka may not have actually elbowed Keita's face, it's tough to find sympathy for someone who, minutes before, had been writhing in agony for no good reason. Still, when it comes to a team of dancing divers facing one egotistical diver, I'm going to pick the Brazilians. Unless Deco is playing and then I just root for him not to cry. Aw, Deco.
Group H after the jump for the final recap.
Switzerland v Honduras (ESPN2, 2:30PM ET, 11:30AM PT)
The Swiss take on Honduras, who have yet to get a point but have yet to be eliminated due to FIFA enjoying keeping dreams alive as long as possible. Should they beat the Swiss by two goals, though, they can move into third, whereas a 3-0 victory, with Spain scoring not at all, is what it takes to get them into the next round. It's probably safe to say that we're going to say adios to the Hondurans. Who takes second is certainly up in the air, however, with the Swiss needing the Spanish defense to be air-tight--and even then, the Swiss need to score twice or hope that a coin-flip goes their way (I think. It's hard for me to do the maths sometimes, when it gets past 2+2).
Chile v Spain (ESPN, 2:30PM ET, 11:30AM PT)
La Roja v La Roja. Chile has dressed to impress this cup and are leading the group, much to the dismay of many bracket-fillers, who saw Spain going all the way. Instead they will be scrambling for the win, as even a draw sees them facing Brazil--but a draw combined with a Swiss win sees them joining France and Italy on their way home. I don't feel the same rage against Spain as I do against the other early-exiters, mainly because I love to watch them play. It's almost impossible to count the number of passes the side can string together. They have the highest concentration of world-class players of any nation at the tournament, and I just can't imagine them not moving to the next round.
But then there's Chile. Spicy, to make a bad pun that I'm sure thousands have already used. But honestly, Alexis Sanchez is hot hot hot, and if he scores tomorrow I will track down a Chile kit and put his name on the back. The kid is so much fun to watch, dribbling past the opposition and tearing off down the pitch. Truly El Niño Maravilla. I hope that this match stays as tight as possible, so that both these teams move on.