Today featured the best game of the Cup -- the Swiss upset of Spain -- though if you've been reading the blog, you shouldn't have been too surprised. Anyway, on to the games:
HONDURAS - CHILE
There has been a lot of hype about Chile's eccentric manager, Marcelo Bielsa, the man who apparently forces players in different positions to train miles apart and frequently visits zoos for tactical inspiration. He didn't disappoint, fielding by far the most offensive formation of a so far defensive tournament, with a playmaker sitting behind three forwards. As a result, Chile looked dangerous throughout the match and comfortably out-passed a mediocre Honduras, playing very fluid, attacking soccer. Thanks to wasteful finishing, the score stayed at 1-0, but in truth it should have have been much higher. The next match against giant-killers Switzerland should be a good one.
The shock of the tournament, by far. Many were expecting Spain to run up the score against the Swiss, with a mouth-watering attack led by David Villa, Xavi, and Andres Iniesta. But we warned that the Swiss would pose a greater challenge than most thought - after all, they didn't concede a goal at the last tournament. Otmar Hitzfeld has these guys superbly organized; against a Spanish side that dominated possession (80-20 in the first 25 minutes) Switzerland kept its shape superbly, allowing Spain to work its passing magic but rarely looking threatened. The result was that Spain registered 28 shots, but none looked like going in other than Xabi Alonso's belter which struck the bar. In the Swiss net, Diego Benaglio was superb in organizing the defense, and the Swiss did well to utilize the speed and trickery of Eren Derdiyok on the counter-attack. Although its goal was somewhat lucky, the Swiss stifled a Spanish side than many pundits had billed as unstoppable. Other opponents should study the way Switzerland sat back and held its defensive shape despite not seeing the ball for large portions of the game. Hitzfeld clearly studied Jose Mourinho's Inter, who frustrated Barcelona similarly earlier this year, and the result was a thoroughly deserved 1-0 victory. Will we see the "dream final" of Spain vs. Brazil in the round of 16? Thanks to the Swiss, it's a real possibility.
Despite the apparently large 3-0 scoreline, this was a poor game. Much of the match was spent seeing a very physical battle unfold in midfield, and it was only thanks to Diego Forlan's wonder-goal that Uruguay took the lead. This team's tactic - sit back and boot the ball up to Forlan and Luis Suarez - finally paid off, although the latter had a frustrating day where he looked to lose a tooth in a scramble. (We think it's an improvement.) South Africa rarely looked like scoring, but a tight match was effectively ended when the referee dismissed Itumeleng Khune for bringing down Suarez in the box. Although there was slight contact, the call was harsh, and seeing as Khune kept Bafana Bafana in the match against Mexico, the decision could have dire repercussions in Bafana Bafana's third game against France. Forlan's penalty doubled the score, and the Uruguayans added a third in injury time against an emotionally ruined South Africa, who must win against France to emerge. The group is in Uruguay's hands, but it hardly looked spectacular either. A disappointing game and barring the unexpected, South Africa will be the first home team to fail to advance. Looks like those vazuvelas didn't help them.