into the next stage. The round of 16 begins tomorrow. There are only two real surprises among the remaining 16 — Ghana and Australia. And there’s only one surprise group winner — Switzerland. This means there are clear favorites in nearly all of the upcoming matches. England, in particular, seems to have caught a break by drawing Ecaudor. But there will be one surprise team in the round of eight — the winner of Ukraine vs. Switzerland.
I had thought that Ukraine might be a surprise quarterfinalists but they haven’t looked the part so far. In fact, they’ve looked suspiciously like the Soviet teams they used to populate — elegant world-beaters when given time on the ball and ordinary footballers when under pressure. The Swiss have played outstanding defense so far, so Ukraine will have to take their play to a higher level in order to advance.
The tournament has confirmed the obvious proposition (overlooked by so many coaches, including Everton’s) that if you want to score goals, you need to go with more than one striker. The three teams that produced eight goals all used two: Argentina (usually Crespo and Saviola), Spain (Torres and Villa); Germany (Klose and Podolsky), So did Brazil which scored seven (Ronaldo and Adriano). These teams also had the best goal differential in the tournament, so they weren’t being burned at the other end of the field. Of the other top teams, England (Crouch and Owen or Rooney) and Italy (Toni and Gilardino) scored five goals. Two top teams used only one striker: Portugal (five goals) and Holland (three goals). France scored either zero or one goal (depending on how one views Wiltord’s role in the first half against South Korea) when playing with just one striker and two or three when playing with two.
Interestingly, Portugal and Holland will square off in the round of 16. Neither team can be considered short of attacking options. Both play two outstanding wingers with their lone striker, and one of Holland’s (Van Persie) is as comfortable in the middle as out wide. But I think both teams suffer at times from insufficient fire power in the box. A key to the match will be whether Portugal’s Evertonian left back, Nuno Valente, can cope with Holland’s Robben, the best winger I’ve seen in the tournament. The Portugal eleven, I think, are more talented than the Dutch from top to bottom (and with a deeper bench too), but it may not matter if Robben runs rampant.
Finally, I note that all Everton players and “old boys” are still playing except for the two associated with the U.S. (Brian McBride and Tim Howard, a loaner from Man U). Tim Cahill produced two goals for Australia and Marco Materazzi one for Italy. Here’s hoping that the now-fit Wayne Rooney has a few in him for England.