Uruguay vs. South Korea
Team nicknames: La Celeste (The Sky Blue) vs. 붉은 악마 (Red Devils)
Uruguay hold a special place in the heart of football nerds because they were the first World Cup winners, in 1930, and the first to win after the World War II, in 1950. They are by far the smallest nation to have won a World Cup, three and half million live there today, and just over two million people lived there in 1950. It would be unfair to say that Uruguay is nothing but football, but that’s where it’s made its biggest mark. Former Uruguayan national coach Ondino Viera once said: “Other countries have their history. Uruguay has its football.” I’ll admit, it would be heartwarming to see this old champion rise again. It helps that their team is, by a long shot, the best the country has fielded since 1970. There aren’t any glaring weak points on the team, Muslera is a great goalkeeper, defensively they’re sound, their midfield is powerful, and in Diego Forlán and Luis Suárez they may have the best striker pair in South Africa.
South Korea is an interesting team. Before 2002 they had never made it out of the group stage and then, on home soil, they had a magical run to the semifinals where they lost to perennial dreamcrusher Germany. For this feat they’ve been relentlessly patronized by Westerners, who’ve inflated one call that went their way to a conspiracy theory that had FIFA colluding to keep them in the competition. The Korean peninsula has long been a football stronghold in Asia, in fact South Korea won the first two Asian Cups, in 1956 and 1960, though they haven’t managed to claim it since. I’ll fully admit that I fell for the South Korean national team in 2002. I have a weakness for the kind of fast moving, fluid, pressing football that they play. It was disappointing to see them go out in group stages in 2006. This may have helped them this year, however, because in their first game Greece were caught flatfooted by the team’s quality. Their midfield is flowing and is very good at exploiting space left to them by opposing defenses, and can create attacks on either wing or through the middle, and are lethal on the break. Their strikers are quite good. Their main problem is that they have only four good defenders, if they have to substitute any of them, things start to get dangerous. When playing Argentina they didn’t have their regular starting right back Cha Du-Ri and quickly ran into major problems and ended up losing badly.
It should be an interesting game. The two teams play very different
styles, the Uruguayans are patient and want slower games, while the
Koreans are energetic and seek to attack quickly.
Personally I’ll be happy to see either team win, though because I have Korean friends, I’ll be leaning towards South Korea. However, putting on my objective hat, Uruguay should be able to win. Forlán is in rare form and South Korea haven’t had to deal with a defense as tight as the Uruguayan. The biggest worry I would have if I were a Uruguayan fan is that the team underestimates the South Koreans.
USA vs. Ghana
Team nicknames: (The US national team has no popular nickname) vs. The Black Stars
This is another game where I kinda support both teams. I have friends who are fanatical supporters of the US national team, and this is where I live, so it’s hard not to support them. I won’t know for sure, but I think that my heart will beat a little quicker when the US is attacking. But… but but but… Ghana is, as of this writing, the only African country still left in the World Cup. I would love to see them go all the way. They are a very good team and were likeliest to go far of the African teams. Ghana has long history of excellence in football. They are four time African Cup of Nations winners, and many Ghanaians have gone on to prominence in Europe. Ghana plays a slow game, seeking to stifle the opposition and then rely on their excellent forward, Asamoah Gyan, for goals. They were unlucky not to score against Germany, and that their two goals so far have come from penalty kicks should not indicate that they’re unable to score. Though they do win an awful lot of games 1-0.
The US team is a drama factory on the field. They have a long history of last minute rallies to tie or win, and their game against Algeria was a classic of that sort. They seek to attack fast and in numbers and have, in Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, two creative attacking players who can score goals from slim chances. Altidore, up front, is big, strong and fast, and always threatening. Their defense can make mistakes, however.
This could go either way. If Ghana can control the tempo of the match I expect them to be able to grind out a victory, but if the US can play the fast game that works so well for them, they should be able to score goals. This one’s a toss-up. If both teams revert to type, Ghana will score the first goal only for the US to equalize in the last 5 minute. The game would then stay scoreless and go to a penalty shootout. My risks of a heart attack? Elevated.
Germany vs. England
Team nicknames: Die Mannschaft (just means The Team, but please snicker) vs. Three Lions (even though there’s eleven of them)
If you ask the English, they’ll tell you that those two teams are great rivals. The Germans don’t really participate in this rivalry. They consider the Dutch their great rivals. Germany is one of the great teams, three time World Cup winners, and have won the same amount of European Championships. In the post-WWII era they have never failed to be among the last eight teams left standing in the World Cup. They have a reputation for robotic efficiency and dull football. That was true in the 1980s, but has not been true since. Since the 1990 World Cup winning generation retired they have been anything but efficient, fairing poorly by their standards. And since their fluke run to the finals in 2002 they have revamped their style and play full on attacking football. They have to, since their defense is wobbly. There is a lot to love about this current team. They’re fun, unpredictable, and have in Mesut Özil one of the most entertaining players of this World Cup. He’s dainty and creative, supplier of killer passes and capable of ferocious strikes from outside the penalty box.
The English national team, however… well… I just don’t like the English national football team. Since 1990 they’ve been somewhat painful to watch, mostly terrible, but sometimes pretty good, but never pretty. Combine that with ridiculous expectations and it makes for a trainwreck every time. This team is okay, I guess. Their first two games were roughly as entertaining as reading Swedish lamp manufacturing statistics. I have heard that they were better against Slovenia, but since I didn’t see that game I consider that about as likely as the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. But hey, they could surprise me.
Who’s gonna win? I’ll let the great English striker Gary Lineker have the last word: “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.”
Argentina vs. Mexico
Team nicknames: La Albiceleste (White and Sky blue) vs. El Tri (the three-colored)
Other obligations will prevent me from seeing this game, which is a shame, because it promises to be fantastic. Argentina are a crazy attacking bunch with a defense that looks like it will crumble at any minute. They have the air of destiny about them, which probably means they’ll lose ignominiously. But, in Maradona they have this tournament’s coaching personality, and they have Lionel Messi, widely regarded as the World’s best player, who has yet to score this tournament, even though he’s been just as great as promised, but the rest of the team has provided goals just fine. And they better, because Argentinian hearts skip a beat anytime the ball is near their defensive players, because me oh my do they look like a disaster in waiting.
Mexico are fun. They play a slick passing game and often set up beautiful patterns, but they lack a little bit of creativity. Mexico has a history of going out in the second round, and you would suspect that we’re in for a repeat. But they have charm aplenty in Cuauhtémoc Blanco, a 37-year old attacking player who looks every year of these 37, but can still create eyecatching chances out of very little. Giovanni Dos Santos is also fun to watch.
Argentina really should win, but there’s something about that Argentine team that feels like tragedy will strike any minute. Let’s hope not.
Thought for the day
One of these four teams will make it to the semifinals: Uruguay, South Korea, USA, Ghana.
Photo by Chasing Donguri.