Here we go again, then. I haven’t checked my predictions from the first round, but I’m going to do this later. I don’t think I did too badly. Obviously, it gets more difficult from now on: all the drama is to be packed into just ninety minutes (okay, okay, it could be 120 – or more with penalties), but I’ll put my objective hat on, and see what I can come up with. I would strongly advise against betting on anything I say.
Germany v Sweden: What has gone wrong with Sweden in this tournament? Okay, they’re unbeaten, and should really have beaten England in their last group match. That said, though, their finishing has been profligate and they can’t afford to waste a single chance against a German team which has been a complete contradiction in terms so far. The Germans were poor defensively against Costa Rica, and poor full stop for seventy minutes against Poland. They were fortunate to win that game. It’s difficult to judge their match against Ecuador, because the Ecuadorians dropped five players. Personally, I think that zer Germans are on a roll at the moment, but this could well be tighter than a lot of people seem to think. Germany, by an odd goal, in normal time.
Argentina v Mexico: Argentina have been, by common consensus, the team of the tournament so far, but the lunatic Mexicans are capable of causing a surprise here. Sounds stupid, and it probably is stupid of me to say so. But: Mexico have been tremendous to watch going forward so far, and, as I have mentioned on here before, are one of the few completely unknown quantities left in the tournament. Still, though, the chances are that Mexico could turn up on a bad day. You’d be a fool to go against Argentina at this stage.
England vs Ecuador: England can’t play much worse than they did in the opening two matches of the group phase, but the first half against Sweden proved that they are capable of being a perfectly able team. Ecuador’s achievement has, I feel, been over-stated. Costa Rica and Poland were both dismal against them, but their confidence will have grown (even though the Germans walked all over them in the final group match), and they’ll feel that the pressure is all on England. If Wayne Rooney is anywhere near his best and the new, enforced 4-5-1 formation is anything like successful, England should win this, but there’s no guarantee of either of the above. Don’t expect too many goals. My head says extra-time in this one, and possibly penalties. If it does go all the way, we should at least find some solace in the fact that England have, for the first time, a goalkeeper that is capable of saving penalties. Whether they have players capable of scoring them, however, is a totally different matter.
Portugal vs Holland: The Portuguese have been poor so far, but they have so many attacking options that it would be impossible to discount them entirely. The Dutch played well against the Ivory Coast, but hung on for dear life against an Argentina team playing at walking pace, and were also disappointing against the Serbs. If Portugal can find any inspiration, I’d fancy them to cause a minor surprise and beat the Dutch here, but I’m not certain that they will. This one could be another one for extra-time and penalties. I’d go for the Dutch if it goes to extra-time, but the Portuguese if it goes to a shoot-out.
Italy vs Australia: The Italians will, at least, have stopped moping after they beat the Czechs last week, but one still wonders about the match-fixing scandal that is hanging over their team. The Australians have looked god going forward, but there are question marks hanging over their defence, and many people appear to have forgotten how late they left it to beat a very poor Japan team. That said, the wind of momentum is with them, and I’m going for them to beat the Italians here. Could go either way, though.
Switzerland vs Ukraine: The Swiss have probably been the most impressive defensively of the whole tournament so far. Three matches, three clean sheets. On top of that, Sebastien Frei is starting to look like the real deal up front. Ukraine… well, they were atrocious against Spain and, although Shevchenko has scored two in two, these have come against Saudi Arabia and from the penalty spot against Tunisia. The Swiss defence is likely to be an altogether more attractive proposition. I’m going for the Swiss to continue their roll here (geddit?), and with a bit to spare.
Brazils vs Ghana: Ghana getting through to the second round of the World Cup was great for the tournament, certainly, but… It was also good for Brazil. I remain unconvinced over Ronaldo. Unless he’s got himself bulimic over the last few days, he’s not going to cut it against better opposition than Japan. I’m not entirely convinced that Ghana are much better than Japan, though. Still some of their attacking play has been thrilling, and the creaking Brazilian defence can expect something of a test. You’ve got to back Brazil, though. 4-2 has a nice ring about it.
Spain vs France: Spain have been great so far. Even their reserves went out and beat Saudi Arabia. The biggest problem with France so far has been that, certainly in their first two matches, they didn’t even seem interested. However, they hauled themselves up and ground out a result when they really needed to, and it’s impossible to discount a team containing Vieira and Terry Henry (as he’s known in north London). This match seems likely to be something of a psychological battle. Have the Spanish really over come the psychological block that has held them back for so long? Have the French overcome their demons in beating Togo? Its an intriguing one, to be sure. If Spain start well, they should win this, but the longer the match goes on the more France’s experience will kick in. I’m going to upset the apple-cart and go for France here, but it might require extra-time.
So, there we go. On the basis of my predictions, the quarter-finals would look like this: Germany vs Argentina, England/Ecuador (too close to call!) vs Holland, Brazil vs France and Switzerland vs Australia/Italy. An interesting mix. More later, after we’ve had another look at zer Germans.