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Thursday, June 22, 2006

6/22 World Cup of Coffee

Yesterday, we saw the superpowers play it safe and Mexico prove that it's not a superpower. The Netherlands and Argentina had already advanced, so the key for both was to avoid injuries and cards. Thus we saw a tentative and less than thrilling performance. Mexico loses to Portugal but still gets through despite failing to impress. They will face Argentina in the Rd. of 16. Sorry Mexico, this isn't the year you break through to the semis. Never count out the coaching mojo of Portugal's Big Phil Scolari. They will be ready for the Dutch in what should be an intriguing Rd. of 16 match. Let's also say goodbye, sadly, to the very talented and entertaining Ivory Coast. Their misfortune was to be put in the same group as Argentina and the Netherlands. But a nice send-off today with a thrilling 3-2 win after trailing 2-0. Finally, Angola leaves the World Cup with two points and their dignity. Nice effort, fellas.

Today is the day US fans have been waiting for in what truly has become the Group of Death. Forget the goal differential scenarios in which we'd need to beat Ghana by 4-5 goals if Italy ties the Czechs. Impossible. What needs to happen is an Italy win and a US win. End of discussion. Can it happen?

ITALY vs. CZECH REPUBLIC
Wow, after sparkling in their first match and looking like a contender, the Czechs must be shellshocked after the drilling Ghana gave them. The bottom line is injuries and age caught up with the Czechs that day. There is a chance that strikers Milan Baros and Jan Koller will return today, but I wouldn't count on getting much out of them. I think both teams will go for the win. A draw could doom the Czechs while it could also lead to a second place finish and date with Brazil for Italy. Both have reason to want victory. The good thing for American fans is that the Czechs will be attacking and Italy looking to counter. I think Italy will win this because of their stout defending and ability to punish on the counterattack. Italy 2 Czech Republic 1.

GHANA vs. UNITED STATES
Ghana could have scored five against the Czechs. It was frightening to behold. Something tells me they may be underestimating the United States. It's very important that we do not do the same. Ghana is seriously talented--some of the players won Ghana world championships at the youth level. Midfielder Michael Essien is an elite, world-class player who can control a game with his tackles and midfield defense while at the same time remaining a threat to go forward. They will be missing their two goalscorers, just as the US will not have Mastroeni or Pope due to cards. The loss of Pope isn't that significant, in my opinion. He has been a wonderful player in the past for the US, but he's slipping and hasn't had a great Cup. Mastroeni will be sorely missed, I believe, because he would have been very focused on Essien. Ghana likes to attack and utilize their speed. The US likes this kind of opponent because they can use their speed in the counter. My biggest concern: our inability to finish. It's a problem that precedes the World Cup by a long while and may be our doom. We can win this match. We need to avoid the onslaught early and a first goal will be critical. Our vaunted fitness will be vital after such a draining match against Italy. In the end, I'm afraid I have: Ghana 1 US 1.

BRAZIL vs. JAPAN
Brazil hasn't played well yet and still have two wins. Japan is desperate to get a win here but I don't see it. Brazil will get rolling despite having this group virtually locked. Will Ronaldo start? Probably. Japan, thanks for stopping by. Brazil 3 Japan 0.

AUSTRALIA vs. CROATIA
This is the crucial match in Group F. Second place rides on it. If Croatia wins, they move on to the second round barring a Japan rout of Brazil. Australia only needs a draw. This will be a physical, intense match. I picked Australia to surprise in this group and I'm going to stay with it. They gave Brazil a match but couldn't finish. 2-0 was a harsh scoreline. But Guus Hiddink will have the Socceroos prepared and ready to seize the opportunity. Croatia could easily win this match. I'm still having trouble, though, figuring out how a team that played Brazil fairly even could draw an average Japan. That result may prove very costly. Australia 1 Croatia 1.


DAILY DIGEST

Want to see how the knock-out round is shaping up? Here's your bracket. Want to keep updated on the TV schedule (for readers in the United States? Click here.

US-Ghana Round-up: How can the US win? Score goals. Check these statistics to see just how offensive our offense is. Never mind Italy, all the US can do is focus on winning. Beyond a berth in the second round, what's at stake for the US? Meanwhile, is Ghana already thinking about Brazil?

Behind enemy lines: Here are some tips from the Ghana web page on how to beat the United States. My favorite part is the frequent use of capital letters for emphasis. And then there are things like: Make sure Reyna does not have the chance to pass or shoot. I guess that would improve anybody's odds...

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