Today begins the last set of games of the first round, and teams will be playing simultaneously, so they won't know the result of the other game before they take the field. This process was instituted after their were a few games that felt more like lazy friendlies than World Cup games. The last thing you want is two teams that both know they'll get through with a 0-0 tie. So, we've got four games on tomorrow, but ye can only watch 1 at a time, or do some serious channel flipping. Of course, some games are more important than others. Today, it is pretty easy. Keep your TV on ESPN, unless someone is getting blown out. The Games on the Deuce might be entertaining (though I doubt it) but they will have no importance going forward.
Game 33 Ecuador vs. Germany. Ecuador has looked the better of these two teams thus far, but Germany definitely seems to be a getting a bit better as time goes on. Lahm is an absolute terror coming up on the left side. However, Ecuador has the speed and the willingness to exploit the gaps invariably left behind by a defender moving forward. Their counter-attack has been impressive, as has their ability to run at defenses that are back. The German defense, while tall and strong, has not really been tested against speed, especially down the middle. The Ecuadorians have speed to burn at the striker position. I don't know who is going to win this game. It could really come down to one bad mistake. Obviously, the Germans have the home field advantage, but goodness, every non-German fan in the crowd is going to be going crazy for Ecuador, who have looked too good to be considered underdogs, but they were underdogs coming into this thing, and they should still be thought of as such.
These teams are playing for position. The conventional theory is that the first place team here avoids having to play England in the next round. However, there is no guarantee that England will take first in Group B, and so far, they haven't shown much reason to be avoided. I think Sweden has actually looked the more dangerous of the underwhelming B Group thus far. I think Ecuador may want to win this game a bit more than Germany--they still have lots to prove, and this would be a huge win for them. That's my somewhat illogical reasoning for my Prediction:
Prediction: Ecuador 2, Germany 1
Game 34 Costa Rica vs. Poland I've been impressed with the work Costa Rica has put in, and I'm just angry at the way Poland has played. Screw you, Poland. Go invent a submarine with screen doors, and so on. These teams are going home no matter what, and this is for pride. Since the Polish team has no discernable pride, I'm picking Costa Rica.
Prediction: Costa Rica 3, Poland 0
Game 35 Sweden vs. England These two teams will know what they have to do to either avoid Germany or Ecuador, depending on their thinking. I'm guessing they will want to avoid Germany. But Sweden's ticket isn't punched yet. They need to tie or win this game to guarantee passage. I don't want to spend too much time getting into the various scenarios. But, England is guaranteed in, but whether as the first team or the second depends on them not losing this game. Both Sweden has four points. A tie guarantees them second, a win first. Now, for the game itself, I have to say that Sweden has looked more aggressive and just not very good on their finishes. Ljungberg has been having his best big tournament of his life for Sweden, and I don't know if the English midfield can contain him. No one else has thus far. I'm still waiting to see Lampard and Gerrard lock down the middle of the field like I thought they would. I'm still waiting to see Michael Owen look effective. Will Rooney play in this game? Three schools of thought here. 1) No, not at all. Don't risk him 2) Play him, make him run 90 minutes. He needs the game shape, he needs to be ready for the next round 3) (and what I believe to be the right call) Play him for at least 45 minutes, no more than 70. Partner him up with Owen for at least 30 minutes of that time.
The big question of this game is whether Sweden will be playing for the tie from the outset. I don't believe so, but you never know.
Predction: Sweden 1, England 1
Game 36: Trinidad & Tobago vs. Paraguay
This game could be extremely wide open. T&T still have an outside shot an getting into the next round, but they need for Sweden to lose, and they need to score as many goals as they possibly can. I see no reason why they won't try to pile on what has to be a demoralized Paraguay squad. Of course, going for a lot of goals leaves you vulnerable, and Paraguay isn't going to be so down that they don't take a stab at net every once in a while. Dwight Yorke has be the best old guy who denies rightful paternity claims in the tournament. I've been very impressed with his play.
Prediction: in a heartbreaking win (those do happen in this format) T&T 2, Paraguay 0
If my predictions hold true to from (which they haven't yet, for the most part) we'll have Germany vs. England and Ecuador vs. Sweden as our first games in the next round. Both of those would be fuckin' awesome.