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(June 14, 2002)

the end of the beginning

Today was the last day of the group phase, and what a day it was. In Group H, Japan beat Tunisia fairly comfortably (2-0), to win the group, while Belgium beat Russia (3-2) in another of those rollercoaster rides I like to go on about. Belgium had to beat Russia to go through, so they were pleased to take the lead, and less pleased to lose it again. 15 minutes from the end, they scored twice quickly, to great rejoicing, and then had a nail-biting last 5 minutes after Russia scored again to close the gap to one goal.

I hate injury time before a one-goal victory more than I hate dentistry, so I empathise with the Belgians, although considering their next game is against Brazil it's hard to see what they were getting so worked up about.

In Group D, Poland did the other teams a favour by beating the USA 3-1. Portugal then turned their nose up at this generosity by losing to 1-0 South Korea, thus letting the USA through. It was an unlikely result, but then it was an unlikely game. Portugal had 2 players sent off after Jao Pinto scythed into a South Korean defender with what appeared to be at least 3 feet and Beto got 2 yellow cards for 2 dodgy tackles. Korea scored and it seemed all over.

Then the Portuguese, who knew they needed a draw, roused themselves from their 75-minute catnap and hurled themselves at the Koreans in the most outrageous show of defiance I've ever seen from 9 men on a football field (most of the time they were playing the little known 1-1-6 formation). They hit the post, they fluffed a few good chances, so did the Koreans, and then that was that. Another top team gone.

So how did my predictions after 2 games each go? Well, I guessed 10 of the 14 teams to go through (not including the certainties at that point), but only 9 out of 16 concrete predictions went the way I said they would, and some of those weren't a great surprise.

From now on, it's knockout all the way, 16 games including the 3rd place playoff, and it's a whole new ball game - extra time, penalties, golden goals (like golden showers, but without the urine and the erections - actually there might sometimes be erections).

Here are the knockout predictions I predicted I would make (one-nil).

Germany to beat Paraguay
England to beat Denmark
Sweden to beat Senegal
Spain to beat Ireland (sorry, Sean, my heart says Ireland but my head says Spain)
Mexico to beat the USA (head and heart in perfect harmony here)
Brazil to beat Belgium
Japan to beat Turkey
Italy to beat South Korea

and, eventually, Brazil to beat Spain in the final.

Italy v South Korea is an interesting one historically. In the World Cup in England in 1966, North Korea beat Italy and put them out, and then came up against Portugal. They took a 3-0 lead against the tournament favourites before being beaten 5-3 after the great Eusebio woke up and started playing.

South Korea have now beaten Portugal, the team that beat North Korea. If they beat Italy as well, the South Koreans will feel that they have eclipsed the most famous Korean performance.

Mexico v the USA should be a bit of a grudge match. The Americans may feel that they should be given a 2-goal headstart under the North American Free Trade Agreement, but just for once it will be a level playing field.

posted by Jon 23:58
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