While some (admittedly much more widely read) writers have put a cap on their World Cup (looking at you Sports Guy) coverage now that the USA is eliminated, the WHAS 11 Fan Blog keeps right on ticking.
The tournament has reached the quarterfinals. To me, the World Cup always falls into two parts. Everything before the round of 8, and the rest of the tournament. A team can control getting here, there are match-up advantageous, over-matched teams, etc. in the tournament to this point, but no more faking it. You keep winning now, you are beating some real good teams. To some degree, advancement from here out is a roll of the dice, as a silly hop here, or an offside call there can be the only difference between these teams.
So let's take a look at the final 8.
Best Team: Brazil. Dunga gets a lot of guff for being a defensive coach for the side that spent a long time billing itself as the perveyors of "the beautiful game", but the defense has been top notch, to go along with some of the best scorers in the world up front.
Worst Team: Paraguay. I know, it's difficult to disparage any of these South American teams, but Paraguay has scored just 3 goals on their way to this stage of the tournament. That said, they have only allowed one.
Biggest Surprise Team Left: Ghana. When Essien went down prior to the Cup, many dismissed Ghana as an also ran even in their own group. Ghana though has proven throughout the tourney to be stout defensively and opportunistic offensively, even if they benefited by playing USA in the round of 16.
Biggest Surprise not Here: Italy. England deserves some mention here, but the holders of the Cup (for one more week at least) have consistently ran late into the tournament historicly.
Best Player Left: Well there is certainly an all star team remaining. The tempataion to go with Suarez, David Villa, or Kaka is strong, but I will stick with Messi. The Argentine has done everything for his team in this tournament except score a goal. He has been wonderful on the ball and off and really opened up the options for strikers Tevez and Higuain (6 combined goals) as well as being among the leaders in shots at the tourney.
A preview of Friday's matches:
The Netherlands vs. Brazil, 10:00AM EST. The first of two Super-matchups this weekend. This is what I am talking about, quality teams are guarenteed to start meeting in this round.
Offense: Both teams sport outstanding attacking sides, particularly good passers in the midfield. Brazil has become more defensive this cycle than in past, but the skill of Fabiano, Kaka and company rivals any. The Netherlands has become known for a flowing, attacking style pleasing to watch, but will need Kuyt and Robben to be proficient on the final touch to get over on Brazil. Slight edge Brazil due to Fabiano over Dutch strikers.
Defense: Both teams have top notch keepers. Both teams have stout backlines. Both goals Brazil has conceeded have come late on in games they had well under control. The Dutch haven't given a goal in live action yet in the tournament, only conceeding two penalties, one nearly five minutes into injury time. No edge given here, Even.
Intangibles: An intangible can be a thing as depth on the bench, or ability win on PKs. This match could come down to a shootout. The teams are playing so well defensively, and are very evenly matched. If it does come to PKs, I like the Dutch, they have a depth of players able to take them and the goalkeeping is a wash to me.
So, while I think Brazil have a slight edge due to individual talent among the forwards, I can easilty see this going the distance to penalties.
My prediction: 2:0 Brazil. They add a goal late on for the final margin and one of the most talented teams in the world heads home.
Ghana vs. Uruguay, 2:30PM EST. The lone African team remaining takes on upstart Uruguay who has been as good as any team so far in the 2010 World Cup.
Offense: Everyone knew about Diego Forlon coming into the cup, but striker Luis Suarez has shown why he scored more than a goal a game for Ajax this past season. The striker has hit two of the prettiest goals in the tournament and added another. Ghana kills with speed and Gyan, who scored the game-winner against the USA, is always a danger to make a killer run and put you down a goal. Edge to Uruguay, but that couterattack of Ghana can be deadly.
Defense: Uruguay has given just the one goal, that coming in the second half against South Korea last Saturday. They put a lot of pressure on teams up front, and teams have had to spend a lot of time worrying about that. Ghana has palyed in four tight games, and have never given more than one goal yet in a game. Ghana has made their way in this tournament with tight defending and quick counters. I give Ghana the edge as I think Uruguay has yet to be tested truly defensively, meanwhile Ghana has had back-to-back tough challenges in Germany and USA.
Intangibles: Ghana's speed is certainly an intangible, as is being the last of the African teams. Uruguay is speedy as well though and is so very strong up front. If it goes to PK, I like Uruguay.
My Prediction: 1:0 Uruguay. I just think they are too talented to lose to Ghana eventhough Ghana is playing a very solid team game at this point.
i know in my last blog I promised something on Lebron James, and I still have that planned. Too much soccer today though. I plan on giving my take on what everyone is talking about sometime over the weekend.