And Then There Were Eight
Tomorrow, June 30th, will be the first day since the World Cup began over two and a half weeks ago that there won’t be any live football on. The group stages have been and gone, and with Spain’s victory over their Iberian neighbours Portugal tonight, the last 16 has been whittled down to 8. Time for the serious stuff to start, for the remaining sides to step up to the plate and strive to claim their place in history. And you can keep up to date with all the action on the go with the AP 2010 World Cup from Nokia’s Application Store, The Ovi Store. By way of a guide to the eight contenders left standing in World Cup 2010 here’s a run down on the current star in each line up.
Holland – Arjen Robben: Injured for the first two games, Robben made an immediate impact when introduced as a sub during Holland’s 2-1 win over Cameroon in their final group match. He followed up on that favourable impression by starting the 2nd round encounter v Slovakia, and opening the scoring with an impressive run and shot following a great pass from Wesley Sneijder. Robben is the kind of player who can be quiet for long periods and then explode into life, turning a contest on its head in the process. More than likely to line up on the right in the quarter-final v Brazil, he could very well give the Selecao’s left-back Michel Bastos a torrid afternoon. If he does, expect the Dutch to make it into the last four.
Brazil – Luis Fabiano: Dunga’s men have been quite impressive thus far, without ever really turning on their renowned Samba magic. Perhaps it’s just not in them – any side with Gilberto Silva as its anchor is bound to be more practical than playful after all. Nevertheless, Luis Fabiano has been a constant menace up front for a side that strolled through the group stages, and hardly broke a sweat in beating continental rivals Chile in the 2nd round. Fabiano has three goals to his name already, each one taken with the confidence of an in form striker. And although his support cast of Kaka and Robinho have been rather more mercurial in the competition, Fabiano can still rely on his team mates to provide him with plenty of ammunition. Holland will need to be on high-alert to ensure some of the Sevilla man’s bullets don’t hit the target in what I consider to be the tie of the last 8.
Uruguay – Diego Forlan: Uruguay have been a revelation at World Cup 2010, and in Diego Forlan they have one of the players of the tournament so far. The former Manchester Utd misfit is the conductor of the orchestra as far as his team is concerned, taking the vast majority of their offensive free-kicks, burying a marvelous penalty v South Africa, and providing his strike partner Luis Suarez with numerous assists to allow the Ajax striker notch three goals of his own. Forlan is full of confidence, and clearly enjoys the responsibility of being the main man for his country. Ghana will be no pushovers next Friday evening in Johannesburg, but I’m backing the South Americans to make it through to the final four, and that prediction is based largely on the form of Forlan.
Ghana – Asamoah Gyan: As the only African team to make it to the last 8 Ghana will have the best wishes of the continent with them. Their top man so far has been Asamoah Gyan, scorer of three of their four goals in the tournament, and a player that has become one of the shining stars of a Ghanaian squad many wrote off as serious challengers once Michael Essien was ruled out through injury. An opening victory over Serbia in Group D was celebrated by the White Elephants as if they’s won the cup itself, a Gyan penalty seeing them through, and he repeated the trick from the spot against Australia to secure the point that saw them qualify for the Last 16 as runners-up to Germany. The best was yet to come from Gyan who showed great strength and composure to score the winner v the USA in the first knockout phase. If the Stade Rennes forward can repeat the trick in the quarters Africa could well be cheering one of its own into the semi-finals.
Argentina – Lionel Messi: Hard to believe this guy hasn’t scored so far, but you get the feeling he won’t be overly perturbed by this fact as long as his team keep on winning. While Gonzalo Higuain (4) and Carlos Tevez (2) have notched for Maradona’s men, indeed even the old workhorse Martin Palermo has a goal to his name, Messi is still drawing a blank but La Pulga is pulling the strings quite delightfully for his side. I believe that the team functions best when Juan Sebastian Veron lies ahead of Javier Mascherano in the midfield, he is the one player able to spot a killer pass to Messi, and from there all hell will break loose in the opposition defence. Of course there will be no chance of Germany giving Messi and co. the space they’ve enjoyed in their opening four matches. But spurred on by the bitter memories of their exit at the hands of the Germans in 2006 the Argentines, and Messi in particular, will be going all out to exact revenge on Saturday afternoon.
Germany – Mezut Ozil: There was a lot of fuss made of Ozil following his performances in Germany’s Under-21 success in the European Championships last summer, with many wondering could he translate his silky touch, killer eye for a pass and deceptive pace onto the biggest stage of them all. Well the answer is an emphatic yes. Ozil was England’s tormentor in chief last Sunday, playing an instrumental role in sending Fabio Capello’s boys crashing out, and no doubt Argentina will be working all week on a game plan to try to combat the diminutive maestro who plays his club football at Werder Bremen. Ozil seems to get better as each game passes and if this trend continues there is a wondrous contest in store between him and Leo Messi in what promises to be a match to remember.
Paraguay – Antolin Alcaraz: Paraguay came into the tournament with a much vaunted forward line featuring well-known faces like Roque Santa Cruz, Oscar Cardozo and Nelson Valdez. The three have combined for a total of zero goals so far so it stands to reason that it’s been their defence that’s brought them this far and Antolin Alcaraz as been a key figure in their rearguard. Signed by Wigan in May from Club Brugges Alcaraz looks like being a shrewd acquisition by Roberto Martinez. Strong in the air, capable on the deck, and with a keen eye for a goal as he showed against the Italians in the Group F opener, Alcaraz and his defensive cohorts will need to be at their best to stem the Spanish tide in the last of the quarter-finals. The signs to date are that this guy is up to the task.
Spain – David Villa: What a pleasure it was to watch David Villa in action tonight in Spain’s win over Portugal. The newly signed Barcelona forward once again showed why he is so highly rated, with a display that was full of endeavour, skill and no little composure as he slotted in the game’s only goal, after having his initial effort saved. Were it not for Portugal’s keeper Eduardo being in sparkling form Villa would have had a couple more, as a few of his long-range attempts on goal were splendidly saved by Portugal’s best player on the night. As far as Spain are concerned though, and as good as Andres Iniesta was this evening, Villa was the best player on show by a distance. Already the joint top scorer in the World Cup with four strikes to his name, the man from Asturias will fancy his chances of adding to this haul against Paraguay, in what looks like the kindest draw Spain could have hoped for in the last 8. If he keeps his current level of form up David Villa will be named player of the tournament, and could very well have a World Cup medal to go alongside the European Championship one he claimed in Vienna in 2008.