Time To Exceed Expectations

June 25, 2010
By K. Becks

Two weeks ago when the World Cup began, the United States advancing to the knockout round and keeping it close against predicted Group D winner Germany would have been enough to satisfy both hardcore and casual fans in the States. Those set of expectations have been wiped right off the board, however, as the United States looks at a game against Ghana and a potential quarterfinal match against either Uruguay or South Korea. When you think of soccer powerhouses, none of those names come to mind (unless you want to go back to the 1930′s, in which case Uruguay would probably be on your short list). So, does that mean that the United States should be the favorite to advance to the semi-finals? Well, let’s see.

Uruguay

This team looked very good in the group stage, getting a tie against France and then dispatching both South Africa and Mexico. What is scary about this team is that not only can they score (they had three goals against South Africa), but they didn’t allow even one goal throughout the entire group stage. Teams that can score are the ones that do well in the knockout stage, but it also helps to have a stifling defense in case of an off day offensively. Also, Diego Forlan is the best player on any of the four teams in this section of the knockout stage.

South Korea

Of the teams in this section, South Korea is the only team with recent experience playing in a game beyond the Round of 16. With that being said, it is obvious that South Korea will not be intimidated by any of the teams that they may have to play. The Koreans did not look good against Argentina, and unfortunately, they have to play another South American team in their first knockout round game. Uruguay plays a similar style of soccer that Argentina plays, so South Korea will need to be more sound defensively if they want another shot at the semi-finals.

Ghana

Quite honestly, I would have expected Ghana to look a little better in group play than they did. Other than a penalty kick goal against Serbia, Ghana did not do much on the offensive end. Talent wise, Ghana has a slight edge on the United States. However, Ghana is a young team, and will be going up against a squad that remembers the loss they suffered in group play in 2006 that sent them home early. The key for this team will be to capitalize on their scoring opportunities, and try to create those opportunities often.

United States

There is no doubt that they like to keep things interesting for the entire game, scoring late goals that make us all breathe a sigh of relief. Based on FIFA’s rankings, the U.S. is the best team in this section. However, as I mentioned earlier, rankings mean little when you actually put the men on the field to play. The United States has looked much more capable of scoring goals than Ghana, and although not all of them have counted, I see the U.S. having the edge offensively. However, other than Tim Howard, I am still a little uneasy about the defense, especially early on in the match. This is really true of every team from here on out, but the United States truly needs a complete game on both ends if they want to make it to the semi-finals.

So, who is moving on and who is going home? Well, take a look at my Knockout Round Predictions: Version 2 to find out what I think will happen.

Round of 16

Uruguay vs. South Korea
Winner: Uruguay
United States vs. Ghana
Winner: United States
Netherlands vs. Slovakia
Winner: Netherlands
Brazil vs. Chile
Winner: Brazil
England vs. Germany
Winner: Germany
Argentina vs. Mexico
Winner: Argentina
Paraguay vs. Japan
Winner: Paraguay
Spain vs. Portugal
Winner: Spain

Quarterfinals

Uruguay vs. United States
Winner: Uruguay

Am I anti-American? No. I will be cheering for the United States and I absolutely hope that the Americans pull off the win and prove me wrong. However, from a neutral standpoint, I see Uruguay as the better team. The U.S. hasn’t seen anyone like Diego Forlan, and yes, I am aware that they have already faced Wayne Rooney. However, unlike Rooney, Forlan is playing well in this tournament, and will be a handful for the U.S. defense. My heart is with the Americans, but my head tells me Uruguay.

Netherlands vs. Brazil
Winner: Brazil
Germany vs. Argentina
Winner: Argentina
Paraguay vs. Spain
Winner: Spain

Semi-Finals

Uruguay vs. Brazil
Winner: Brazil
Argentina vs. Spain
Winner: Spain

Third Place Game

Uruguay vs. Argentina
Winner: Argentina

Final

Brazil vs. Spain
Winner: Spain

So, there are my updated predictions. South America has proven, both in this World Cup and in past ones, that they travel extremely well, and I believe that in the knockout round, they will continue to play outstanding soccer. However, when all is said and done, I still believe that Spain will be hoisting the trophy. Now all that’s left is for the games to begin. Tomorrow at around 2:30 p.m. Eastern time, we will see if the United States will in fact exceed expectations.

- K. Becks

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