It’s time for the Sweet 16.
No, not the NCAA Tournament, the final 16 first-round matches of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
If you like upsets and upstarts, the next four days could be especially sweet.
Here’s a look at the final days of the group stage:
France went to the final in 2006. A repeat looks unlikely, but stranger things have happened. Should France beat South Africa today – and with all the problems in the French camp that appears less than a given – it would still need help from either Uruguay or Mexico to advance. If Uruguay and Mexico draw, France is done. Fortunately for France, the winner of that game will avoid playing Argentina in the next round – that’s enough to guarantee the teams won’t play just to draw and advance. France is a –2 in goal differential; Mexico is +2 and Uruguay +3. Overcoming that deficit makes it even more unlikely that France will advance.
Argentina is almost guaranteed of qualifying. Diego Maradona’s team is +4 in goal differential and 2-0. South Korea and Greece are tied with three points and a goal differential of –1. Unfortunately for Greece, it gets to play Argentina while South Korea faces Nigeria. Advantage: South Korea. That should be enough for South Korea to advance, but Nigeria is good enough to pull the upset and make things interesting.
Two draws have the United States in position to advance with a win over Algeria Wednesday morning. Those draws, however, leave little room for error for the States. A loss eliminates the U.S. Should the teams tie, the U.S. future would hinge on the Slovenia-England matchup. An England win knocks the U.S. out. An England tie and tiebreakers come into play. Both teams are even in goal differential, but the U.S. has outscored England 3-1. Taking care of business against Algeria is vital.
Serbia made a mess of things with a 1-0 win over Germany. The bigger mess is all the cards that were shown in that match, including a questionable red to Miroslav Klose in the 36th minute that will force him to miss Germany’s matchup with Ghana. With Lukas Podolski’s confidence probably out of kilter following a penalty kick miss vs. Serbia, Germany has to find a way to score. Ghana advances with a draw or win as it sits on top of the group with four points. Serbia faces Australia. Honestly, who knows what will happen Wednesday in these two games. Australia is alive and will advance with a win and a Ghana win. I wouldn’t be shocked if Germany didn’t advance.
Netherlands is through and faces Cameroon. Japan and Denmark are tied at three points and meet to decide who will join the Dutch in the next round. A draw goes to Japan, which has a zero goal differential, while the Danes are at –1.
All four teams remain alive with Paraguay in the driver’s seat with four points and a goal differential of +2. Italy is the disappointment in this group and despite dominating New Zealand is tied with the All Whites with two points and a goal differential of zero. Fortunately for Azzurri, they face Slovakia while New Zealand faces Paraguay. That should be enough to get them through, though they’ll be in trouble in the next round. Of course, people were saying the same thing about the defending champs four years ago.
Brazil and Portugal are through. Portugal stomped North Korea 7-0 Monday. Again, that’s 7-0. Ivory Coast had a chance until Portugal kept scoring. Now, Didier Drogba and Co. would have to overcome a goal differential of NINE (9) to advance. And that’s assuming Brazil beats Portugal. Obviously, the North Korea defense can be shredded and Drogba and Jeremy are dangerous enough to do it. Ivory Coast will come up short, though, and not starting Drogba vs. Portugal will prove to have been the wrong decision.
Chile is on top of the group with two wins. Switzerland, which upset Spain, and Spain are tied with three points apiece. The Swiss get Honduras, while Spain faces Chile. Won’t matter. Switzerland blew its chance with a loss to Chile Monday. Now, Spain is clicking and David Villa, despite scoring two goals to beat Honduras, is probably angry. He pushed a penalty kick wide in that match and should have had a hat trick. Look for Spain to prove its among the best in the field with a win over Chile that sends both teams through.