BLOEMFONTEIN, SOUTH AFRICA - Will anyone but the Azzurri faithful be surprised to see La Albirroja take first in the group? (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Everyone celebrate! USA took their group! They're going through! They'll face Ghana on Saturday, who looked quite sharp against the winners of Group D, Germany. And a big cheer for the Socceroos, who defeated Serbia (YAY) but just couldn't get enough goals to overcome goal difference and take second in the group.
Aaron should be writing up a post about the glory that is the USA--yeah, it's up. I'm just glad England went through so that I can feel genuinely glad for the US, because wow, that last minute goal was the stuff of movies.
Let's go on to tomorrow's matches, shall we?
***NOTE: GROUP E AND GROUP F TIMES ARE REVERSED TOMORROW. GROUP F PLAYS FIRST***
This is the first group in which we've already had a nation grab a slot in the Round of 16--The Netherlands--and a team lose out on the next round--Cameroon. The Indomitable Lions have nothing to play for but their pride (hehe) (I like animal group humor) but Holland could find themselves second in the group should Denmark beat Japan. Which would be absurd. Not Denmark beating Japan but the Oranje finishing second. But it seems that the purveyors of total football have realized that giving it all in the group stages hasn't worked so far, and are trying a new strategy. Tomorrow, though, we'll see a flash of brilliant orange and Netherlands will take nine points. Hup Holland Hup!
Denmark v Japan (ESPN, 2:30PM ET, 11:30AM PT)
I am utterly confused as to why this game is on the main ESPN channel--I guess it's because it's the result that matters. A draw puts Japan through. Can their defense hold on against Denmark? It may depend on Nicholas Bendtner managing to drive in a few of those sitters that he so predictably misses. The not-so-blonde Danes played some icy-cool footy against Cameroon and should be able to break through the Japan's back line. But I don't profess to be an expert on either Japan or Denmark so I'll leave it at that.
Group F (remember they play first tomorrow!) after the jump.
Oh, Slovakia, my little repre who I had such high hopes for. You mucked around with formation changes and it caught you on the wrong foot, and here you are, with just one point at the bottom of Group F. New Zealand has more points than you, for goodness sake.
But here it is, Slovakia's ultimate chance--beat Italy and hope that the Kiwis falter, and they're on to the next round. Impossible? Not so much, as the defending champions have only eked out draws in their two matches. Pitting the aging legs of Italy with the youngsters of Slovakia could make for an interesting match, assuming the repre buckle down and play like they did in qualification, with creative midfield work and a Marek Hamsik who actually looks in control on the pitch. Perhaps the Azzuri will join Les Bleus on the plane back to Europe.
Paraguay v New Zealand (ESPN 2, 10am ET, 7am PT)
New Zealand have been the poster child for reasons to get up early and back the underdog. Last Sunday, I screamed myself hoarse, jumping up and down in celebration of Shane Smeltz's early goal against Italy. Unfortunately the All-Whites couldn't keep the lead, but a draw was sufficient to keep them in the running for a chance at the next round. Should they beat Paraguay, they will truly be the stuff movie-makers dream about.
But Paraguay have proved themselves to be a danger, showing that they are truly able to both defend and press forward, when previously they were known as a team who were primarily good on defense. In fact it was a defender, Antolin Alcaraz, that scored against Italy, with Enrique Vera and Cristian Riveros putting it in the net against Slovakia. That means strikers Roque Santa Cruz, Oscar Cardozo, and Lucas Barrios will be itching for a goal, and with Paraguay only having one goal against their side, it is unlikely that they'll let in one from the Kiwis. Sorry, New Zealand, but your time in South Africa probably ends here.