Saturday, June 24, 2006

Round of 16, Day 2: Predictions and Analysis

Two games, one a classic David and Goliath match-up, another a classic of two great European teams that tend to disappoint their fans in the World Cup.

England vs. Ecuador Goliath seems a bit sluggish, still, and a bit banged up, and kind of pasty looking these days. England hasn't blown anyone out of the water this tournament, not even soccer Meccas like Trinidad & Tobago, or Paraguay. They probably looked their best against Sweden, another team that frankly limped into the 2nd round, and are already pining for the fjords. (which is to say, "dead". I'm throwing a lot of Monty Python references around lately. I don't know why). This game is being played on the hottest day predicted thus far, and their have been plenty of commentators who have suggested that England's sluggish play could be blamed on the heat. It could also be that this is an aging team, with their top skill players coming back from injury, or a tad young, or a tad one-dimensional. I've warned my england loving friends that they were going to get their hearts broken. And this could be the match. Because if heat is a factor, it surely favors the Ecuadorians, who have looked great, aside from some missteps against a very technically sound and dangerous German team. Klose has almost outscored England all by himself, by the by. The Ecuadorians, simply by training at home have a huge fitness advantage over the injured and fatigued British side. Their defense has looked tough, and their offense opportunistic. I thought France was going to be the first #1 seed to depart early, but this match up presents serious problems for England. And no matter how many times I'm wrong, I'm not scared to predict an upset.

Prediction: Ecuador 2, England 1.

Portugal vs. The Netherlands This is a battle of teams with tendencies to self destruct. Portugal, for all their talented players throughout the years has only once lived up to its potential, back in the days of Eusebio. The Dutch have managed to use infighting to implode some of the most talented teams ever seen. This team is nowhere near the talent level of Cruyff era, or the Van Basten/Gullit era, or even the Kluivert/Bergkamp era sides. And yet, the infighting continues. Arjen Robben is gaining a reputation for being a bit of a black hole on the pitch (Balls go into him, and never come out). Some of that criticism is fair, some of it not. A guy who runs at defenses isn't successful 100% of the time--it's the couple of times that he is that breaks games. Robben broke Serbia, but looked greedy against The Mighty Elephants of Cote de'Ivoire.

So this should be a great game. One question each team faces is how well they shut down the scary creative winger--Robben for the Netherlands, Christiano Ronaldo for Portugal. Both teams have some veteran savvy players (Figo, Cocu). I think both teams have some questions on defense. I give the nod to the Netherlands when it comes to goalkeeping playing, though. Van der Saar looked awesome throughout group play, and was tested a good deal more than Ricardo has.

I think this game will be very close, and I think it may come down to which goalkeeper makes the kind of saves that makes the striker who shot the ball cover his face and drop to his knees in agony. My heart is with The Netherlands, though, despite the fact that I dislike Ruud Van Nistelroy a lot. I'm picking the Netherlands because I couldn't live with myself if I went against them and they won. So this is a borderline 100% emotional pick, no matter how much I can dress it up with analysis.

Prediction: Portugal 2, The Netherlands 3. (This result may occur in PK's)

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