19th FIFA World Cup - South Africa 2010
11 June to 11 July 2010
ROUND OF 16
The Round of 16 concluded today with the final two matches of the second round. It would also conclude our nineteen-day run of uninterrupted soccer coverage, multiple games a day gracing the schedule of events. Now we get a two-day respite before we return for quarterfinal action on Friday. It was a suspenseful Tuesday in South Africa, the last four in this knockout stage deciding who would go on and who would go home. There would be room for just two more in the elite eight, and Pretoria and Cape Town provided the settings for the settling...
1F/PARAGUAY 0, 2E/JAPAN 0 (PARAGUAY advance 5-3 on PKs after 120 min.)
Loftus Versfeld Stadium - Pretoria
It was one of those outcomes that you knew was going to happen at some point in the tournament, but I'm still never going to be fully ready to watch a penalty shootout decide who goes on and who goes home in the World Cup. But as Japan and Paraguay played out the first half to a scoreless tie, each team getting just one shot on goal in the first 45 minutes, it felt like one of those games that would be determined by that crapshoot of chance.
Paraguay would get two more chances, Japan one more, as goalkeepers Kawashima and Villar both proved game to the few challenges on their goalmouth. As the match neared the finish of regulation, the Japanese clamped down defensively. Keisuke Honda was getting forward on long runs, but it was yielding little if anything in terms of quality opportunities. The South Americans appeared to get stronger as the match went on, especially 60th-minute substitute Nelson Haedo Valdez along the left flank. But as Belgian referee Frank De Bleeckere blew the whistle on the first 90 minutes, two 15-minute periods of overtime became a reality.
In the extra frames, Paraguay was pouring all their efforts into threatening Kawashima's net. They would get more shots on goal in the first fifteen than they had the entire match previously, Valdez and Lucas Barrios and Edgar Barreto all getting good looks that just couldn't beat the Japanese stonewaller. We would see a couple of tired, incidental-looking handballs handed yellow cards as De Bleeckere became more involved after rarely hitting his whistle in the first half. So things ended scoreless... and penalty kicks became an inevitability.
Anyone who has read my writing before knows that shootouts really aren't my thing. Whether it is in hockey or in soccer, I just can't stomach the idea of a skills competition and the luck of the goalkeeper determining which team goes through. Perhaps it would be more palatable if I knew the "Golden Goal" (sudden-death) overtime was in play. But with a straight half-hour being played, it seems illogical -- if one team scores -- to allow a team to equalize and force a carnival sideshow to decide advancement. But alas, the shootout is here, and it was in effect today for the first time in the 2010 World Cup.
Would it be Kawashima or Villar who came up the hero? Barreto stepped up first for Paraguay, shooting low under the correct-guessing Kawashima to put his side up 1-0. Free-kick specialist Yasuhito Endo would step up first for Japan, leveling things as he put the Jabulani past Villar. On Paraguay's second, Kawashima guessed correctly again, but Lucas Barrios beat him just as Barreto had to regain the upper hand. Makoto Hasebe leveled once again for Japan at 2-2, the keepers failing to get to anything. Cristian Riveros got the third for the South Americans, and it fell to right back Yuichi Komano to keep Japan in the hunt. But as the defender stepped into his kick, the blast rose and ricocheted off the crossbar and out -- Paraguay now needed just to keep scoring and the quarterfinal was theirs.
Valdez, looking as cool as though he'd just come into the match, ran on the ball and beat Kawashima for the 4-2 lead. The shot put the pressure on Japan, who sent out its hero, Keisuke Honda, to take the pressure-packed fourth. Honda pulled the Japanese within one, 4-3, and put the pressure back on Paraguay. Score and they were on to the next round; miss and Japan was right back in the match. Oscar Cardozo stepped to the spot. Loping toward the ball, slowly advancing, he mesmerized Kawashima before wrong-footing him and sending the ball low into the corner. The fifth goal of the 5-3 penalty shootout victory would, in the process, put Paraguay into the quarters for the first time in their long soccer-loving history... and it gave South America a representative in every one of the four quarterfinal matches...
1H/SPAIN v. 2G/PORTUGAL
Green Point Stadium - Cape Town
Spain seemed to have much of the early run of play, both Fernando Torres and David Villa getting good looks on goal in the first five minutes of play. Working the ball around forward, they were dominating the right side of Portugal's defenses and finding space to operate on the attack. It was only Portuguese goalkeeper Eduardo who kept his team in the match with several stellar saves in the early going.
Portugal were getting their chances as well, though. A corner kick in the first ten minutes nearly have them the go-ahead goal against the run of play. It seemed to bolster their confidence, as the two teams traded speed for speed and chance for chance. Both Iberian sides were throwing caution to the wind, pressing up and playing fluid, attacking
football that was a delight for fans even as the goals had yet to come.
Fernando Torres almost got the opener in the thirteenth minute, taking a low, short corner kick and turning it just over the crossbar with a dipping shot that landed atop the goal netting. Portugal, for all their counterattacking prowess, were looking disorganized on defense. It felt like it was but a matter of time before the defending European champions would take the lead.
Yet Portugal were also hanging in there, getting their chances and keeping things just tight enough on defense to maintain the scoreless draw through the first half hour. Cristiano Ronaldo, standing over a free kick in the 28th minute, unleashed a screamer of a right-footed shot on Casillas. The Real Madrid keeper bobbled the save, coughing up a rebound to his left as he fell right. Several Portuguese players pressed forward, but no one was in the correct spot as the ball came loose; otherwise, it would have been a 1-0 lead for the second-place team in Group G.
Spain kept playing it around, looking a lot like the fictional match on The Simpsons: "Center passes to halfback... out to the wing... back to center... center holds it... holds it... holds it!" And Portugal, every chance they got to take back the ball, were racing downfield and countering with lots of space to run. There was a definite Spanish lead in the possession on the cusp of halftime, but as far as chances went both teams were unlucky not to be on the scoreboard yet. Portugal needed less time based on the speed and numbers they were getting into the attack, valiantly seeking that opener even as the locker room loomed. It would stay scoreless as the whistle ended the first half, but it wasn't for lack of trying.
Coming out for the second half, there was still nothing to separate the two Iberian powerhouses. Portugal seemed to have the greater number of chances in the first fifteen minutes, creative play starting to expose the Spanish defenses. Casillas would continue to maintain his clean sheet, but he would continue to have to work to retain the honors.
And then, on their own counterattack, recent substitute Fernando Llorente took a header that went right at Eduardo but surprised the Portuguese keeper. David Villa curled a shot right after that which edged just around the outside of the far post. Everything continued to be wide open, but Spain were regaining the upper hand. It was confirmed in the 63rd minute, when some nifty passing in tight space saw Villa get the ball onside and shoot at Eduardo. The keeper blocked the first, but the rebound came right back to Villa. This time the attacker lifted over the goalie and into the back of the net, giving the Spaniards the 1-0 lead.
Now Portugal was playing from behind -- and Spain were content to maintain possession, tighten up on defense and smartly seek out some padding for their lead. Sergio Ramos, coming up the left side in the 70th minute, took the pass from midfield and ran in toward the box. Letting off a strong left-footed shot, he forced Eduardo into giving up a corner kick after an amazing save. That would be saved, but Spain was still in the attacking third. A second corner lofted over everyone's head, and Portugal started subbing in more attack. Pepe and Simao came off for Mendes and Liedson, the Portuguese getting more desperate for the equalizer.
The lead was hovering at one goal and the minutes melted off the clock. Portugal continued trying, seemingly everyone forward waiting for their opportunity to be a hero in Lisbon, Porto and all other points around their homeland. With three minutes left before stoppage time, David Villa substituted out of the match for Pedro, Spain content to just lock down in the defensive third of the field. The Portuguese poured it all on, chances flying far and wide. But then they got a little too exuberant, Ricardo Costa earning a direct red card after smacking Capdevila with an elbow in the face... or did he? The referee would call it that way, but replays had this looking almost like Kaka's send-off when Brazil played against the Ivory Coast in their group-stage showdown. It was just another instance of a card-happy official in this card-happy World Cup.
Five minutes left and a man down now, Portugal were all but eliminated, going down while still fighting until the end. But fight and failure were both clinging to Carlos Quieroz's side as time ran down to the final whistle. A couple strong chances were still being earned, but chances were failing to turn into conversions. A final surge staved off, Spain -- after looking so vulnerable in their opening loss against Switzerland -- had played another strong match to advance against Paraguay in the quarters...