FIFA World Cup 2010: Shock & Draw

June 26, 2010
Kaushik Chatterji
(also read Part I here)
Just when everyone was convinced that most of the players had left their skills back in the locker rooms of their respective clubs, Spain took the field. Perennial under-performers on the biggest stage of 'em all, the team full of household big names from the choicest clubs of La Liga and other leading European leagues started off with an almost-complete display that was also, unlike many of their counterparts, clean. And yet, it was just that - an almost-complete display, and it cost them. Against the run of play, the Swiss got one into the back of the net, and we had the first of the shocks that have been hitting us with amazing regularity ever since.

Last edition's runners-up France started repeating their performance in '02 at Korea-Japan when they failed to take the defense of their '98 crown beyond the group stage by losing 2-0 to Mexico; Germany, coming from the back of a 4-0 annihilation of the Aussies, succumbed to a combination of poor refereeing (Klose was sent off after receiving a 2nd yellow after just about 30 minutes of play) and poorer finishing esp. by Podolski; Oranje failed to impress once more, and were lucky to win - the solitary goal came when Sneijder's attempt was grossly misjudged by the Japanese goalie; Italy had to come back from behind to draw level against lowly New Zealand (All Whites as opposed to their rugby union team) - they failed to score again, and hand to settle for a point. Latin America continued to impress, all 5 of their representatives recording wins. Higuain scored the first hat-trick of this World Cup as Maradona's boys beat the South Koreans 4-1, while Chile converted one of their twenty-odd chances against the Swiss. Their Iberian colonizers improved by leaps and bounds - Portugal took advantage of a hapless North Korean defense to put 6 past them in the 2nd half (plus 1 in the 1st), while La Roja who could have put at least 10 past Honduras had to settle for a solid 2-0 scoreline.

Africa's dreams were fading away real fast - the hosts were thrashed 3-0 by La Celeste courtesy Forlan. One Nigerian player brought shame upon the entire host continent - Kaita's unprovoked challenge after the ball had gone out of play meant that the 10 Super Eagles were unable to maintain their lead, ultimately losing 2-1; Algeria played out the most boring match of the tournament thus far vs. England (brief glimpses of creativity by Gareth Barry weren't enough); Cote D'Ivoire failed to pose a serious challenge to 5-time champs Brazil, Drogba's late goal and Kaka's unfair sending off coming too late in the day for them. Ghana could have become the first African nation to secure their place in the next round but were unable to take advantage of being a man-up against Australia. The men from Down Under were reduced to ten for the second match in a row - if it was Tim Cahill vs. the Germans, it was Harry Kewell this time who got a straight red for handling the ball on the goal line - and Group D's record of one expulsion per match was maintained. Among other matches, Slovenia failed to capitalize on their 2-0 half time and were lucky to escape with a point against the USA; atrocious defending and hilarious finishing meant that the Cameroon-Denmark match was one of the most entertaining of the tournament till then.

And just like that, we were 11 days into the tournament. Some had progressed, some had already booked their flights back home, but the fates of most of the others were undecided as on 21st June. The final round of group matches brought even more excitement and heartbreak - tune into part 3 of this recap series in a few hours' time, just in time for the knockouts.
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