19th FIFA World Cup - South Africa 2010
11 June to 11 July 2010
DAY 15 SCORES (FRIDAY/JUNE 25)
- Group G - Brazil 0, Portugal 0
- Group G - Ivory Coast 3, North Korea 0
- Group H - Switzerland 0, Honduras 0
- Group H - Spain 2, Chile 1
The last day of the group stage was on the docket, and there I was drinking beers seven and a half hours before the first kickoffs. Were I in South Africa, this would be nothing to think about, but instead I sat on the west coast of the United States awaiting the final judgment from Groups G and H. I couldn't get the sheer excitement of it all out of my head... the knockout was finally not just a perspective dot on the horizon, but right there before my poor-sighted eyes, close enough for me to view every tangible crevice of its composition. To make things even brighter, I had another day off work to revel in all the action simultaneously and without interruption. It was bound to be a good day, no matter how much sleep I got the night before. As I sat there reading, I came across this passage:
A person has all sorts of lags built into him. One, the most basic, is the sensory lag, the lag between the time your senses receive something and you are able to react. One-thirtieth of a second is the time it takes, if you're the most alert person alive, and most people are a lot slower than that. You can't go any faster than that. You can't through sheer speed overcome the lag. We are all of us doomed to spend our lives watching a movie of our lives -- we are always acting on what has just finished happening. It happened at least 1/30th of a second ago. We think we're in the present, but we aren't. The present we know is only a movie of the past, and we will really never be able to control the present through ordinary means. That lag has to be overcome some other way, through some kind of total breakthrough.
-- Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
Wolfe was rapping about Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters -- specifically a group council meeting high on the hill in La Honda in one of the tents back during the heyday of the LSD movement -- but it is just as apt nearly a half-century later when we look at some of the feats which are accomplished by the stars of the World Cup. The ability to react instinctively, to feed off that surge of adrenaline and take that shot that propels an entire nation to the throes of ecstasy, is that "total breakthrough" across the lag, true living within the moment. For those of us spectators, we are left to watch the movie unfold in real time. All that was left now was to see how the movie unfolded as close to real time as a video feed coursing through the internet and into my aged computer could provide...
- Brazil (2-0-0, 6 pt, 5-2/+3 GD)
- Portugal (1-1-0, 4 pt, 7-0/+7 GD)
- Ivory Coast (0-1-1, 1 pt, 1-3/-2 GD)
- North Korea (0-0-2, 0 pt, 1-9/-8 GD)
Some interesting scenarios were in play as the four contestants in Group G lined up for their final matches. The Ivory Coast still technically had a chance of making it into the second round... though they would need to put a Portugal-like scoreline on North Korea and hope that Brazil found its offensive groove against their former colonizers. In the main match of the group finale, though, it all came down to that battle between the Portuguese and the Brazilians. If it ended in a draw, Brazil would claim top spot in the group; having already sealed a position in the final round based on their wins in the first two contests, coach Dunga could be forgiven for a defensive alignment. Portugal would also assure their spot in the next round with a draw, though a win would allow them to vault top of Group G and avoid the top team from Group H in the next round. (Of course, as we'll see soon enough, that wouldn't necessarily be a blessing...)
So lo and behold, that's how it verily came to pass. The Ivorians did all they could to crack that goal differential deficit, putting three on North Korea and leaving a handful of other chances on the table. Les Elephants turned up the pressure as far as they could, but the Chollima held on strong and prevented any further embarassment of the level they endured against Portugal in their second group game. The scoreline was what it was... the movie script obviously had little place for Didier Drogba and crew in the knockout round of this first-ever African World Cup. There was nothing that they could do, ultimately, except sit back and hope that Brazil could turn the screws on their colonzers' coffin in this World Cup.
The Selecao, though, had different ideas. Knowing that all they needed was a draw, and without suspended attacking maestro Kaka in the lineup, they were content to sit back, frustrate the Portuguese pace and do just enough to preserve their top position in the group. It was a sound position, one that could have easily been expected from coach Dunga. After all, he was the type of no-nonsense defensive midfielder in his playing days who would have relished the challenge not of scoring on a defense like Portugal's but of trying to prevent that offense from reaching Julio Cesar's goal.
For what it was worth, it wasn't as though Portugal were doing their damnedest either to get that goal. Realizing that they could just as easily avoid Spain in the second spot in Group G as the top spot, Cristiano Ronaldo and company certainly tried to press forward and get a goal... but they won't be crying tonight knowing that they could only muster a scoreless draw with the Brazilians. There was no Eusebio moment for the Portuguese, no Brazilian brilliance a la Pele and Garrincha. Instead, we were treated to two teams who largely looked like they were going through the motions for ninety minutes so that they could get off the pitch and watch the later matches with rapt attention. It was anything BUT joga bonito, but it was damn effective in getting both sides to the next round...
- Chile (2-0-0, 6 pt, 2-0/+2 GD)
- Spain (1-0-1, 3 pt, 2-1/+1 GD)
- Switzerland (1-0-1, 3 pt, 1-1/+0 GD)
- Honduras (0-0-2, 0 pt, 0-3/-3 GD)
Three teams were still harboring hopes of the knockout stage as the final day of group play began. Chile and Spain would duel with the group title on the line. Improbably given their loss to Switzerland in the opener, all the European champions would have to do is defeat Chile and -- no matter the scoreline -- vault to the top of Group H. Chile, though, would prove no easy out... their defense had proven solid and despite the scoreline their offense was a blistering whirl of motion and speed to rival anything the Spaniards could throw on the pitch. Honduras, squaring off against Switzerland, could only play for pride and to fulfill the role of spoiler on their final day. The Swiss, after that win over Spain, fell to the Chileans to fall back a goal on the differential. A win by the South Americans would mean all Switzerland would have to do is draw; a 1-0 win by Spain and a 1-0 Swiss win would leave lots to be drawn between Switzerland and Chile; a draw in the other match would mean they'd have to win to beat the goal differential tiebreaker. Everything was seemingly wide open as the four teams prepared for their prime-time encounters...
And then Switzerland and Honduras played their way to a dour draw, leaving everything to come down to Chile and Spain. If Chile won the match, Switzerland would be through. If Spain won or the teams drew in the other Group H contest, all the amazing vibrations surrounding the Swiss upset of the Spanish in the opener would be lost. So what did Spain do? They came right out with some mesmeric passing, slick timing and plenty of attacking flair from the opening whistle. It all paid off for them 25 minutes into the match, when Chilean keeper Claudio Bravo played far off his line to cut down the angle and paid dearly for it. David Villa, the Spanish speedster, saw Bravo drifting and launched a floating fifty-yard shot right into the net to put the Iberians ahead 1-0.
Twelve minutes later, they would get a second. Villa, once again playing the role of agitator, ran down the left side toward the box. He feinted one way, then squared up into the middle for a surging Andres Iniesta -- only just returned from injury and making his first appearance for the Spaniards -- to strike it from eighteen yards out past Bravo. The goal was deflating, but the second yellow card handed out to Marco Estrada right after the goal was a momentum-changer on par with the worst officiating decisions so far in this World Cup.
What happened? Fernando Torres fancied himself an Oscar-worthy actor, that's what, and the referee ended up capitulating with his assessment. Going forward as the attack formulated, Torres ran past Estrada. Replays show that absolutely no contact was made. Whether it was Torres sticking a cleat in the turf or a more malevolent sales job, nobody will know. But there Torres was, flailing away on the ground in seeming agony, and the referee -- having had his back to the action, much like we saw when Kaka was red-carded in Brazil's second match against the Ivory Coast -- bought the fake. It was sad, really... that one missed call seemed to set the tone for Spain all night, as La Furia Roja crumpled to the turf looking for another call at the mere hint of contact.
Chile, despite playing more than half the match with just ten men, would continue to fight and scratch to keep themselves from being overtaken on goal differential by the Swiss, who at any moment could still threaten to take the second spot away. Coming out after halftime, the South Americans netted a quick goal to halve the deficit thanks to substitute Rodrigo Millar's spectacular strike less than two minutes into the second half. Chile would press forward, both sides running end-to-end and playing for goals. It was the antithesis to the droll Portugal-Brazil tilt earlier in the day...
And now, with the conclusion of day fifteen at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the sweet sixteen is fully set... here they are!: