Netherlands 1-0 Japan
Japan and the Netherlands each arrived in Durban with a win in the bag. Things started slowly, however, as the Japanese worked to stifle Dutch creativity in a midfield that sorely lacked the influence of injured playmaker Arjen Robben. A tentative first half ended with just one shot on goal apiece, but the Dutch came out gunning after the break, with Robin van Persie finding ways to come to grips with the Japanese defence. The pressure finally paid off in the 53rd minute when Wesley Sneijder’s strike had enough venom to push past Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima’s hands and into the net. Fighting uphill, Japan were forced to open up their game, but couldn’t engineer a way back into the contest.
Ghana 1-1 Australia
Brett Holman gave the Socceroos the start they needed after an opening-match drubbing by Germany, firing home a lucky rebound in the 11th minute. But the Australians were to prove their own worst enemy once again, as Harry Kewell was sent off for using his arm to block a free kick on the goal line. Asamoah Gyan converted the subsequent penalty to restore parity. Ten-man Australia stayed strong, and the game became a goaltending duel, with Luke Wilkshire stopped by Richard Kingson after 72 minutes, and keeper Mark Schwarzer denying Quincy Owusu Abeyie a Ghanain winner in the closing minutes.
Denmark 2-1 Cameroon
With a loss each in their opening matches, both Denmark and Cameroon had something to prove in this contest. And Cameroon looked like they had the better of the argument early on, as some thoughtless defending gifted Cameroon the ball in a dangerous area, and Samuel Eto’o gratefully slammed it home. Denmark fought back, however, in the 33rd minute when a lightning-quick counterattack ended with a sliding Nicklas Bendtner poking the ball in. The Danes nearly spoiled their progress—another goalmouth giveaway gave Eto’o a chance that slammed into the post—but they eventually sealed their comeback when Dennis Rommdahl streaked through the defence and curled a lovely left-footer around Hamidou Souleymanou.
Denmark left the game with hope that they can still qualify, but Coach Morten Olsen will be furious at the generous defending.
Next: Day 10
Slovakia 0-2 Paraguay
Perhaps still smarting from a draw against New Zealand, Slovakia didn’t show up for this game. The Slovaks registered only one shot on target and failed utterly to get some momentum or bring striker Robert Vittek into the game. Paraguay will be pleased with their dominance, dampening any Slovak threat to the lead Enrique Vera earned by slicing home a brilliant through ball from Lucas Barrios. The inevitable result was sealed four minutes from the whistle when Cristian Rivero found enough room on the edge of the box to drill the ball past the keeper.
New Zealand 1-1 Italy
Shock of the tournament? At least so far, as the defending World Cup champions dropped two vital points against the 87th-ranked team in the world. The defending champs looked aghast at falling behind the Kiwis after Shane Smeltz struck well into the bottom corner after seven minutes. Italy’s luck was improving (if not their play) when they won a (ahem) dubious penalty in the 29th minute, and Vincenzo Iaquinta hammered home. Waves of Italian attacking were held off by dogged New Zealand defending and strong goalkeeping from Mark Paston. Rather than wilting under the pressure, the increasingly confident All-Whites nearly retook the lead from Chris Wood slid a shot just wide in the dying minutes. New Zealand will earn huge respect with this result, while Italy are in complete disarray, with just two points from two games and everything still to do in a group that initially looked easy.
Next: Day 11
Brazil 3-1 Cote D’Ivoire
After an unexpectedly tough match against North Korea, Brazil finally showed some Samba as they met a Cote D’Ivoire side looking to recover from a frustrating draw against Portugal. Luis Fabiano gave Brazil the lead in the 25th minute, skipping through the defence and slamming the ball into the roof of the net. Fabiano stuck again in the second half with a brilliant solo effort (if you ignore the two handballs) that looping the ball over the Ivorian defenders and driving in a shot from 15 yards. The gap in class was confirmed when Elano potted Brazil’s third in the 62nd minute. Didier Drogba pulled one back for his country, but the Ivorians gave in to cynically fouling the Brazilians at every turn, obviously frustrated at South American’s dominance. Brazil was ultimately too good to be handled, but their victory would be tarnished, by Kaka’s sending off for, well, no good reason at all.
North Korea 0-7 Portugal
If North Korea looked like a dark horse in a stirring 2-1 loss to Brazil, they were more of a lame duck against a resurgent Portugal. After 45 minutes only Raul Meierles’ strike separated the teams, but a second half avalanche – including three goals in eight minutes – buried the North Koreans. Nearly the whole Portuguese team got in on the scoring, including Critstiano Ronaldo, who broke his two-year international goal drought. North Korea were utterly shell-shocked as Thiago potted two and Simao, Hugo Almeida and Leidson added t heir efforts. Eusebio – who personally dismantled North Korea in the 1966 quarterfinals – declared Portugal’s effort “fantastic,” as they moved into a secure-looking second place in Group G.
Chile 1-0 Switzerland
Switzerland entered this match with soaring confidence, having upset the Spanish in their first match. Keeping the same game plan, the defensive Swiss held Chile at bay, even after losing Valon Behrami to a red card after half an hour. It took Chile 75 minutes before Mark Gonzalez found a way through, by which time the Swiss had claimed a defensive record, having kept a clean sheet for 550 minutes of World Cup football. The goal opened up the game, and Chile broke formation in a frenzy to nab a second. In the fray, Switzerland blew a golden chance to equalize through Eren Derdiyok, who shot wide from in from of goal. This result left both teams waiting for their last match to settle their fates.
Spain 2-0 Honduras
Seeming to take the loss to Switzerland as a personal insult, Spain’s David Villa single-handedly dispatched Honduras at Ellis Park. The newly-minted Barcelona striker rattled a cathartic rocket off the bar from 25 yards before scoring the goal of the tournament in the 17th minute – dancing through and around three defenders before sending a sliding shot into the top corner. Honduras was powerless against the European champions in the second half, and Villa doubled Spain’s lead with a searing long-range strike. The final scoreline flattered the South Americans, but make no mistake: Spain is back, and is a force to be reckoned with.
Next: Day 12
Mexico 0-1 Uruguay
Few predicted that these two teams would jointly top Group A when this match kicked off, but both scored a result off of a weakened France. A back-and-forth first half looked like it would end scoreless, but Luis Suarez broke the deadlock two minutes from the break. The Mexicans couldn’t navigate a path through the staunch Uruguayan defence, and nearly lost it all when ‘keeper Oscar Perez was forced into a stunning save by Diego Forlan. Mexico worked to pressure the South Americans late on, but Uruguay finished comfortably and secured first spot. It was hardly comfortable for Mexico, however, who needed a razor-thin goal differential to edge above South Africa and into the next round.
France 1-2 South Africa
France had this one coming. The side completely collapsed after the loss to Mexico, during which Nicholas Anelka said enough nasty words to coach Raymond Domenech to get subbed off – and shipped home. In the hubbub of the next few days the players boycotted training, and the whole French delegation descended into in-fighting and infamy. Given that the squad threatened to refuse to take the field against South Africa, it’s not hard to believe they weren’t really up for this game. South Africa was, though, and got themselves ahead by two before the first half, with goals from Bongani Khumalo (20’) and Katlego Mphela (37’). The South Africans looked capable of squeaking into the next round on goal differential until Florent Malouda rolled one in for France in the 70th minute. The Bafana Bafana became the first host nation to fail to progress past the group stage, but, unlike the French, they can go out with their heads held high.
Nigeria 2-2 South Korea
A rollercoaster ride in Durban was needed to solve second spot in Group B. Nigeria flew to an early dominance, with Kalu Uche slapping in a low cross in the 13th minute, and hitting the post soon after. The South Koreans fought back bravely, evening the score in the 38th minute when Lee Jung Soo headed home. Korea turned the game around just after the break with a scorching strike from Park Chu Young. Nigerian striker Yakubu Ayegbeni had a harrowing 30 seconds, starting with the miss of the tournament, failing to tap into an empty net from six yards. Seconds later he converted a Nigerian penalty kick before being immediately substituted, presumably in a daze at his wildly changeable fortunes. The Africans piled on the pressure in the final 20 minutes, but couldn’t engineer a way through. At the whistle, South Korea was rewarded with a draw that would see them through, and Nigeria was left to lament a squandered lead.
Greece 0-2 Argentina
No big surprise here, with Greece bowing out to the heavily favoured Argentines. Otto Rehagel’s side benefitted from heroic goalkeeping and held out bravely beyond the first half. The Greek even looked like drawing first blood through Glasgow Celtic striker Georgios Samaras, but they couldn’t stop Maradona’s men from seizing the day. Martin Demichelis slammed a rebound off the bar into the net in the 77th minute before Martin Palermo sealed the win in the 88th. All credit to the Greeks, though, for a spirited game that somehow kept a buzzing Lionel Messi off the scoresheet.
Next: Day 13
Slovenia 0-1 England
England entered this match needing a win to advance, and an improved performance to silence the growing army of critics back home. Luckily for them, they got both. Jermaine Defoe put the Three Lions ahead after 23 minutes, volleying in a perfect cross from James Milner. England went on to dominate the game, but couldn’t manage another goal. John Terry saw his header saved at back post from a corner, and the increasingly frustrated Wayne Rooney had a low drive brushed onto the post by keeper’s fingertips. Against the run of play, Slovenia had a flurry denied by the combined blocking efforts of Matthew Upson and Glen Johnson. But it was England’s day, as they snuck through in second place.
USA 1-0 Algeria
It’s one of soccer’s great glories that 91 minutes of scoreless play can ultimately be remembered as a classic match. All that’s needed is a goal in the 92nd minute to send the winner to the World Cup round of 16.
This dramatic affair could have been so different had Rafik Djebbour not slammed his volley into the American crossbar in the first half, or had Clint Dempsey not hit the Algerian post in the second. Or, for that matter, had Clint Dempsey not been wrongly called offside as he scored in the first half – another unfairly disallowed goal for the Americans to lament. In the end, this match needed a Hollywood ending, and who better to provide it than L.A. Galaxy forward Landon Donovan, who slammed a loose rebound into the net in injury time. With the U.S. topping the group, they’ve already exceeded expectations – now who knows how far they’ll go?
Ghana 0-1 Germany
Germany came into Soccer City needing to recover their collective mojo after dropping a shock loss to Serbia. Ghana, meanwhile, had African hopes on its shoulders, being the continent’s only team with a shot at advancing. The first 45 was all about missed chances, though, with Mesut Ozil failing to put Germany ahead after being stopped cold on a breakaway, and Ghana seeing a ball come back off the line from Bastian Schweinsteiger (was it a handball?). It took until the 60th minute for Ozil to make up for his early miscue, as he launched a curling wonderstrike in from range. The goal gave Germany a somewhat unconvincing win, but put them top of the group and in line for a renewal of their bitter rivalry with England. The Ghanaians wouldn’t leave empty handed, as the Australia v Serbia scoreline edged them in as Africa’s sole representatives in the final 16.
Australia 2-1 Serbia
The Australians hadn’t shown much poise, promise or punch in either of their previous matches, but they managed to maintain a glimmer of hope that they could move on: they would need a Ghanaian loss and a big Aussie win that covered the goal difference. The first half was nervy and indecisive, with Serbia getting the better of the action. But a second-half goal from Tim Cahill (69’) and a long-range drive from Brett Holman (74’) gave the buzzing Aussies real hope of a miracle. But Serbia scuttled Soccerroo dreams through Marko Pantelic’s poked-in rebound in the 84th minute. Serbia will be frustrated, being denied a clear penalty when Cahill handled the ball in the Australia area, and having wasted their remaining chances for the tying goal that would see them leapfrog Ghana into second. In the end, this thrilling contest was for naught, and both teams are headed home.
Next: Day 14
Slovakia 3-2 Italy
The game of the tournament, hands down. Feel free to stop watching, everyone, because it won’t get any better than this.
This is the stuff of legend for underdogs Slovakia, who controlled the majority of the game, only to see Italy storm back – through Antonio DiNatale (81’) and Fabio Quagliarella, with a sweet strike in injury time – to get within a goal of salvation. It wasn’t to be for the Azzuri, and the shocked defending champs find themselves ousted from the tournament at the group stage. Slovakia can be immensely proud of this game, probably the biggest in their soccer history. And two men need never bring their wallets to the bar in Bratislava ever again: Robert Vittek, who potted a goal in each half; and Kamil Kopunek, whose sublime chip in the 89th minute proved to be the goal that would send Slovakia into the next round.
Paraguay 0-0 New Zealand
The Kiwis entered this match in the unexpected position of having something to play for – their successive draws meant that a win would see them through. However, with Paraguay already through and happy to play out a draw, and the naturally defensive New Zealanders unable to conjure up a breakthrough, the game was a plodding affair. Paraguay began to push as the clock wound down, but were denied by All White keeper Mark Paston, who showed his quality to deny Edgar Benitez and Roque Santa Cruz – twice – in quick succession.
Still, New Zealand will see this World Cup as a victory, for certain, as they finish with a three ties and in third place. Though they were just a cheeky goal away from from the knockout round, they’ll count with pride the fact that they finished above defending champions Italy.
Denmark 1-3 Japan
A tale of two strikes: Two outstanding free kicks from Keisuke Honda (17’) and Yasuhito Endo (30’) gave Japan a first-half lead that the Danes simply couldn’t overcome (and gave the designers of the much-maligned Jabulani ball something to smile about). Jon Dahl Thomasson – who had missed some glorious chances earlier on – was lucky to knock in the rebound of his saved penalty kick in the 81st minute to give the Danes a chance. But the Blue Samurais would not be denied: Shinji Okazaki slotted home after Honda danced through the Danish defence in the 87th minute. Japan goes on; Denmark goes home.
Cameroon 1-2 Netherlands
This was game with no huge stakes – Cameroon was already out, and the Dutch already assured of advancement. After a listless start, Robin van Persie benefitted from some slick three-way passing with Dirk Kuyt and Raphael van der Vaart to grab the opener in the 36th minute. It would take until just after the hour mark before Cameroon’s leading striker, Samuel Eto’o, levelled things from the penalty spot. But the Dutch would keep their perfect record as Klaas Jan Huntelaar secured a win for the Oranje when a lucky rebound fell to his feet. The Dutch can also be pleased with the successful return to action of the creative Arjen Robben ahead of their round of 16.
Next: Day 15
North Korea 0-3 Cote D’Ivoire
An interesting match, with North Korea playing only for pride, but Cote D’Ivoire hungry to make up a nine-goal deficit to have a shot at overtaking Portugal. And in the early going, it looked like the Cote D’Ivoire might just do it. Yaya Toure made good on the insistent Ivoiran pressure, curling in a low strike in the 14th minute. North Korea’s defence quickly fell to pieces, and Romaric nodded home off the crossbar after 20 minutes. North Korea fought back with an oh-so-close free kick from Hong Yong Jo, but the half belonged to Cote D’Ivoire, who came close to widening the gap through Gervinho. Things slowed down in the second half, with the Cote D’Ivoire frustrated going forward: Didier Drogba’s two missed headers a sign that the task was always too much for the Ivorians. A headed goal from Solomon Kalou in the 82nd minute was mere consolation as Les Elephants wind up in a disappointing third place.
Portugal 0-0 Brazil
This looked like the match of the group stage when it was first announced, but with little at stake it ultimately disappointed. Brazil had the better of a testy first half – the teams split seven yellow cards before the break – but couldn’t solve Portugal’s defensive arrangement. The game opened up in the second half as Cristiano Ronaldo ran through the Brazilians in the 65th minute, and the ball taken off his feet was nearly turned in by Raul Meireles. But a need for Ronaldo to avoid getting a yellow card, which would rule him out of the round of 16, tempered his play throughout. In the end, there was more spite than samba in this match, with both teams eventually happy to play out a draw, but eager to give each other a good kicking in the process.
Switzerland 0-0 Honduras
Both teams entered this match needing to take charge to capitalize on their remaining chances of advancing, but a dour first half didn’t show it. The defensive Swiss had the best of the opening 45, but couldn’t find their feet in front of goal, as both Tranquillo Barnetta and Blaise Nkufo blew golden chances. The game opened up in the second half, but the football gods were against it: Switzerland’s all-time leading scorer Alexander Frei ballooned a shot from fifteen yards out, and Honduras saw David Suazo and Frankie Welcome fail to put away point-blank efforts. At the final whistle, the exhausted and frustrated Swiss could only collapse on the pitch and rue their missed chance to advance after such a glorious start to the campaign.
Chile 1-2 Spain
The two favourites from Group H got off to a spiky start to a match that both were looking to win, with early yellow cards setting the tone. The breakthrough for Spain came in the 24th minute, when Chilean keeper Claudio Bravo sprinted out of his area to dispossess Fernando Torres. The ball fell to David Villa, and, true to form, Villa lofted it over the prostrate keeper from 40 yards. It was Spain’s half from then on, as Andres Iniesta increased the lead thirteen minutes later. The strike was a double blow for Chile, who lost Marco Estrada to a needless red card just as Iniesta scored. Chile would reinvent their approach for the second half, and got back into the match with a wildly deflected shot that found the net in the 47th minute. But it was all too little, too late. Spain would see out the match, and claim top spot. Chile’s efforts earned them second place and a spot in the next round.
James Doyle writes for Some Canadian Guys Writing About Soccer, which takes a passionate (and often irreverent) look at the Canadian soccer scene, major international tournaments and all sorts of odds and ends related to the beautiful game.