After all 32 teams have had a chance to show what they've got, or what they haven't got, there is mighty little to cheer about. Play has been disappointing in most matches. Many of the favorites have failed to impress, with a couple of exceptions, Argentina and Germany, who have had the good fortune of playing against some of the weakest teams around (South Korea and Australia).
England, France and Italy have scraped together unimpressive ties. While it was legitimate to expect that both France and Italy would fail to impress in their first game, England played rather disappointingly against the U.S.A., though Howard, the American goalkeeper, was the man of the match. Holland and Brazil did little better, managing two rather belabored wins against Denmark, a solid but unimaginative opponent, and North Korea respectively. Serbia, another team that some saw as a possible surprise, managed to lose their opener to Ghana, greatly endangering their chances to advance to the second round.
Worst of all did Spain, which also managed to lose their opener against humble Switzerland. As I said in my previous post about the World Cup, I think Spain's chances of winning the World Cup are greatly exaggerated. They can still advance, but it won't be easy, particularly if they get to the last group match having to beat Chile to advance. Even if they do, they would be up against history: no team has lost its World Cup opener and gone on to win the Cup.
African teams continue to produce mixed results, with host nation South Africa virtually eliminated after two games, Nigeria needing lots of help to stay alive after their harakiri against Greece, and Algeria beaten by Slovenia. Ivory Coast and Ghana have a fighting chance, but they former plays Brazil next, and its chances to advance are almost inextricably linked to their ability not to lose against the Brazilians. Ghana can virtually clinch a spot in the second round by beating Australia, which after seeing Australia against Germany last Sunday might induce some to think that Ghana will go on to win easily. Not so fast. The real surprise so far, aside from Switzerland's win over Spain, has been Japan's victory over Cameroon. Japan is by far the best Asian team, better than the overrated South Koreans which were helped by incredibly helpful refereeing when they reached the semis in 2002, when the co-hosted the tournament with Japan. But they play Holland next, and will have to play their defensive best to hold the Dutch scoreless, since Japan's firepower is not too awesome.
In a few minutes, France will play for its World Cup life against Mexico. If it's up les Bleus it won't be an entertaining match, but the Mexicans have all they need to pull off what would be a stunner to many. A win over France would all but oust the 2006 runner-ups, because a tie in the next match between Uruguay and Mexico would result in both teams advancing, leaving the French nation to wonder why coach Domenech was allowed to lead his team to defeat in spite of almost failing to qualify for South Africa. That would be poetic justice to the Irish, who were eliminated by France six months ago when Henry handled the ball--not once, but twice--to produce the assist which cost Ireland a chance to advance to the World Cup Finals.