World Cup 2010 (Day 18): Class Wins Out …

… Other than the whole FIFA thing regarding replays in stadiums, and Aaron’s goal to shove Jürgen Klinsmann into a broom closet at Soccer House and keep him as far from coaching the US Men’s National Team as possible , there really wasn’t much out of the ordinary today. Two games at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, and two deserved and expected winners.

Brazil ousted Chile, 3-0, in the afternoon match today, a performance that did nothing to quell the thoughts of those now sure that Brazil are going to stroll to their sixth World Cup title when this whole thing is over. While Germany were impressive against England, and no one has gotten so much as a draw against Argentina and the Netherlands yet, I can see where those folks are coming from.

Brazil may not flick the ball around with no regard for humanity like they did in the old days. Their play may be a bit more controlled now. But once on the break, Brazil is on the jazz. Any opening, any chance to get bust out 4-on-3 or something similar, and to put the attack in overdrive, and they’re gone. Their third goal today was a beauty, featuring a wonderful run forward on the ball by Ramires, beating three Chilean defenders in the process. Ramires then laid off an easy pass to his left which Robinho absurdly tucked away to produce the final margin of victory.

However, the flash isn’t the only impressive thing to me about Brazil. Their defense has been something to watch. It’s not that it’s always perfect. There are openings and sometimes players aren’t marked as tightly as they should be. But they really are putting a team effort into it. Numerous times during this tournament, I’ve seen opposing teams work to get somebody open around the 18, thinking they were going to have a clear shot. They are interrupted, however, by a Brazilian midfielder dropping back to defend, putting extra pressure on the ball from a different angle, and usually, taking it away. Traditionally, it’s not something you’d usually associate with Brazil, but if they are going to put in that kind of effort in their own end of the field, combined with what we know they are capable of at the other, then the machine might not be stopped.

Which would be bad news, of course, for my pick to win this tournament, the Netherlands. They earned a 2-1 win today over Slovakia, the final margin coming only when Slovakia’s Robert Vittek slotted home a penalty kick on what literally was the last action of the match. The Dutch still have some work to do to reach top form. At times, Slovakia seemed somewhat comfortable on the ball and while they rarely threatened, such a strategy won’t serve the Netherlands well in their upcoming quarterfinal vs. Brazil.

Some may even argue that it doesn’t really matter how the Dutch are playing right now, because Brazil is just going to be too good. That may end up being true – but for once in a major tournament, where I usually root for chaos once my team is eliminated, I was actually happy both favorites lived up to their billing today. Two of the four quarterfinals have the potential to be absolute classics, when you throw in the Argentina-Germany matchup. And the other two, Uruguay-Ghana and the pending battle between tomorrow’s winners (Spain/Portugal vs. Japan/Paraguay) hold interest on a number of levels, as well.

There is still a hope that some top-class soccer will win out in this tournament, over the officiating and other issues that have gotten in the way so far. I know for me personally, Netherlands-Brazil is a match that will be appointment viewing on Friday.

TUESDAY’S PREDICTIONS:
Spain 2-1 Portugal
Japan* 1-1 Paraguay

* This is the first game of the tournament where I can honestly say I have no feel for how it’s going to turn out. So, I’ll go out on a limb, and predict the first penalty shootout of this World Cup, with Japan prevailing.

Today’s Record: 2-0.
Tournament Record: 30-24.

PS: Aaron and I have posted a good bit over the last 24 hours, but if you haven’t tired of reading our thoughts, make sure you check out Aaron’s roundup of his favorite international goals of the past 20 years or so, and jump into the conversation to have your say.

I promise, I’m done writing for the day. … Thanks for taking the time to read.

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