Curate Omnes

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Groups E and F settle out

Today saw the final match day for Groups E and F. At the start of the day in Group E, any of the four teams could theoretically qualify for the next round. Italy was first with four points; the Czechs and Ghanaians each held three points each and the Czechs' +1 goal difference putting them over Ghana's 0. The US was last with a single point and a -3 goal difference. The group's final matches featured Italy facing the Czech Republic, with Ghana and the US facing off in the other match.

Italy had the clearest path to qualification, because they could potentially qualify if they lost, if the US and Ghana tied. The Czechs needed a tie and for Ghana to do no better than a tie with the US. Ghana needed at least a tie and for the Italians to beat the Czechs. The US needed to win, preferably by as many goals as possible, while the Italians had to beat or tie the Czechs. In the case of a tie, the Americans needed to overcome their four goal deficit to the Czechs in goal difference.

As it turned out, Italy put two goals past the Czechs to definitively nail down the top spot with seven points. In the other game, Ghana defeated the US 2-1 to take second with six. The Ghanaian victory will be controversial because the second goal game from a penalty, and the replay showed that the foul was fairly dubious.

However, even if the penalty hadn't been awarded, the group would have ended the same way. Many people expected the US to beat Ghana, but having compared the Ghanaians' performance against the Czechs with the Americans against Italy, I didn't see that happening. It wasn't just the end results; it was how those results were achieved. Ghana played assuredly, with precise passing and cool, collected defending. The US were out of sync and ineffectual and needed an own goal from a ridiculously inept clearance attempt by Zaccardo. To be fair to the US, they did improve quite a bit. They were finally able to score a goal themselves, and were flowing much better. Unfortunately, they didn't have the quality needed to get the necessary result.

Group F was more settled at the start of the day but not by much. Brazil was qualified with their six points but nobody was yet eliminated. Australia held second with three points and a goal difference of zero. Croatia and Japan were tied with one point each, but Croatia's -1 goal difference put them over Japan with their -2. The final match day put Japan up against Brazil and Australia against Croatia. As I've mentioned, Brazil was already qualified, but a point would clinch first place in the group and a match against Ghana instead of Italy. Australia needed at least a tie to secure second, and if Japan beat Brazil, a win could secure first if the margin of victory was great enough. Croatia and Japan needed victory and goals, goals, goals, because in the case where they both won they second place would be decided on goal difference.

The group F table oscillated wildly throughout the two hours. Croatia's second minute goal had them progressing. Japan moved closer with their goal in the 34th minute, with Croatia still edging them on goal difference. However, at the 38th minute, Craig Moore scored a penalty for Australia, putting the Aussies in the second spot on goal difference over Japan. In the 46th minute, the hopes of the Japanese took a blow when Brazil leveled the score at one putting them back in last place. This was how the first half ended.

In the second half, Brazil began to nail the coffin shut as they scored again to put themselves in front. Croatia revived their bid in the 56th minute Niko Kovac scored, giving them the lead over Australia. Brazil sealed Japan's fate with a third goal in the 59th minute. But the group dramatically turned around again when Australia, through Harry Kewell, tied for the second time. They were able to hold on to the tie to secure the second round spot. Brazil added one more goal in the 81st minute to complete their emphatic victory and justified their claim on the top spot.

Looking ahead, Australia will face Italy in the second round with Brazil and Ghana facing off. I think Australia will give Italy some trouble, but I see Italy as having the resources to overcome the Aussies. I think Brazil should be able to take Ghana but the Ghanaians will not just lie down and since both teams favor precision passing and attacking, it should be an excellent game. All in all, the second round is looking like it will be exhilarating.


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