The 2006 World Cup in Germany has had its share of exciting moments and intrigue, but so far the outcome has been painfully predictable.
The U.S., yet again, could not play its way out of the opening round. Brazil and Germany have been dominant and six of the eight teams in the quarterfinals are from Europe.
Team USA, with high hopes and higher expectations, was unable to get anything going offensively. In their opening game against Czech Republic, the U.S. was held scoreless while allowing three goals.
In their second game against Italy, the Americans looked like a different team. They were aggressively attacking and creating goal-scoring opportunities. U.S. didn’t score, however an Italian defender scored an own-goal to give them a 1-1 draw.
The tie gave the Americans hope. If they won their final game against unheralded Ghana, and Italy defeated Czech Republic, they would qualify for the second round. The Italians held up their end of the bargain, but Ghana’s athleticism was too much for the Americans. Despite a dazzling goal by striker Clint Dempsey, the U.S. lost 2-1 and was eliminated.
The failure of the Americans was as standard as the success of the soccer juggernauts. Top-ranked Brazil breezed through their group, surrendering just one goal and humiliated Ghana in the second round 3-0. At times, it looked as if they weren’t even trying. It caught up to them in the first round- giving up a bonehead goal to Japan. The Brazilians responded by firing in four straight scores. Brazil will meet France in the quarterfinals in a rematch of the 1998 World Cup final.
Perennial powers-Germany and Argentina-showed their usual brilliance by scoring a tournament-high eight goals each in their first three games. Germany won all three matches while Argentina tied with the Netherlands.
The quarterfinals of this year’s World Cup looks more like the quarterfinals of the European Championship. Six of the eight teams left in the tournament are from Europe despite strong showings by Mexico, Australia and Ghana.
Save the two South American powerhouses Brazil and Argentina, European soccer is still dominant over the rest of the world.
One aspect of this year’s cup that has not been predictable is the astounding number of yellow and red cards handed out. In years past, teams were given much more leniency for fouls. This year has seen the most penalties and ejections in World Cup history. There have been more cards dealt out in this year’s cup than in the 2005 World Series of Poker.
The Portugal-Netherlands match saw a record 16 yellow cards and four red cards. With two ejected players apiece, the teams were forced to run around the wide-open field with nine players.
The U.S. was also a victim of the card-Blitzkrieg. In their match versus Italy, two Americans were ejected with red cards and in their last match against Ghana, American defender Oguchi Onyewu received a questionable foul-call to give the Ghanaians the winning penalty kick.
FIFA claimed they instructed the referees to be stricter on reckless play and hand out more cards for rough penalties. This is fine if the aim is to protect the players, but it’s gone too far. Referees are making themselves more a part of the game than the players. It slows down the matches and makes players leery of playing aggressive.
The eight teams that remain in the World Cup are probably the ones most people would have picked: England, Portugal, Brazil, France, Italy, Ukraine, Argentina and Germany. Ukraine is the only semi-surprise. There are six past champions, including defending-champion Brazil, 1998-champion France, and three-time champ and host-country Germany.
If everything goes according to plan, Brazil will face Germany in the final match with Brazil narrowly triumphing- a predictable end to a predictable tournament.
Hopefully, the next few matches can provide the cup with the parity it is lacking.