The first round of soccer matches ended with two giants packing their bags for the return journey. The disturbances in the French camp and hollow performances by the Italians made the world realize South American football is here to stay with 5 teams from South America making it to the round of 16.
Uruguay opened their round against South Korea with an early Suarez goal. South Koreans came back into the game with a Lee Chung-Yong equalizer and were in the driving seat in the second half, until Suarez curled the ball beautifully into the top corner to end the South Korean dream. Ghana, the sole African representative, started brightly in their game against USA and took an early lead due to a defensive lapse. In the second half, the much required midfield substitutions triggered a USA comeback. A defensive lapse in extra time broke the American dream as Gyan’s goal took Ghana to quarterfinals ( to meet Uruguay).
Netherlands did not hit their top gear but still managed a 2-1 win over Slovakia, thanks to their goalkeeper- Stekelenburg. Brazil cruised against Chile with Juan, Fabiano and Robihno getting onto the goal sheet. The catalyst to their win was a sturdy defensive midfield, providing them an astounding 60% ball possession.
Argentina had been convincing throughout their group stage and now faced Mexico in the round of sixteen. They were helped by poor refereeing as Tevez headed in the ball from a clear offside position. The subsequent replays in the stadium did not help FIFA ( who still refuse to incorporate television replays in the game ) and the referees as the Mexicans swarmed the referee with justified anger. Argentina wrapped up the game with a defensive lapse and a stunner from Tevez (3-0). The much awaited game, Germany vs England, had a similar flavor of defensive lapse and poor referring. While England were outplayed by Germans 4-1, the highlight of the game was Lampard’s disallowed goal, which should have stood as the ball had clearly passed the line .
Paraguay and Japan gave it their all and the game had a few clear cut chances but neither team could find the net resulting in a 0-0 score line after extra time. Japanese hearts were broken as Paraguay won the match on penalties (5-3). The Battle of Iberia, Spain vs. Portugal, was a tight game in the first half with Torres still trying to make an impact on the World Cup. Portuguese were undone by a Iniesta-Xavi-Villa combination halfway through the second half and after scoring Spain did what they do best- keeping the ball (Spain 1 Portugal 0).
Netherlands Vs Germany: Brazil controlled the game in the early stages and took the lead through Robinho. Stekelenburg kept the Dutch in the game with a fantastic save. Felipe Melo was the villain as he first blocked his onrushing goalkeeper to score a own goal with and then, was sent off for kicking Robben. The Brazilians lost their confidence and were deflated and this paved the path for a Dutch comeback, with Sneijder’s goal taking them into the semi-finals.
Ghana Vs Uruguay: Muntari’s cluttered shot ignited the African hopes as they took the lead but Forlan’s got Uruguay back into the game with a viciously swerving free kick. In extra time, the stage looked set for a Ghana win when Suarez was rightly sent off for a handball. Gyan’s kick hit the crossbar and the drama continued into the penalty shoot out with Ghana missing 2 penalties sending Uruguay through to the semifinals.
Argentina Vs Germany: Maradona’s men were up against their first tough test and they failed miserably which was quite evident from the 4-0 score line. It was a German show for majority of the game and their counter-attacking style proved to be too much for the South Americans. Messi’s spark was not enough and the German youngsters looked ready to win it all.
Paraguay Vs Spain: This game too had its controversies with offsides and penalty’s being handed to both sides. The Spanish looked in control with their usual overwhelming possession share but could not get that decisive goal until the 82nd minute when Villa slotted it past Villar to give Spain the victory.
Netherlands Vs Uruguay: On an absorbing night in Cape Town, the Dutch showed us something more, and as a result, the Dutch were back in the World Cup final, 32 years since their latest appearance beating Uruguay 3-2. The win over Uruguay was a triumph of mental strength and a measured approach, areas in which this team has typically come up short. As a cluster of orange jerseys bounced up and down in celebration before fans who have suffered more disappointment than most in this tournament, it was as if a great sigh of relief was being sent into the night sky above Green Point Stadium.
Germany Vs Spain:
Carles Puyol soared high to head in the goal that sent Spain into the World Cup final for the first time with a 1-0 win over Germany in the second semifinal.
In a rematch of the 2008 European Championship final that Spain won by the same score, Puyol leaped in the centre of the area in the 73rd minute to score from Xavi Hernandez’s corner kick, finally giving Spain the lead after having dominated from the opening whistle.
Spain’s best previous World Cup finish was fourth in 1950, when the final round consisted of a four-team group.
Netherlands Vs Spain:
The most anticipated game on the planet was played at Soccer City, Johannesburg. Spaniards started with a dangerous Xavi free kick and quickly settled into their passing mode, but not for long. The Dutch midfield made the game physical with some strong and often dirty tackles. Both teams failed to find any rhythm and Howard Webb, the referee, gave out 11 yellow cards- setting a new record for a World Cup Final. Arjen Robben missed a golden one-on-one chance in the second half and the game ended 0-0 in regular time. In extra time, Spain started to press more with the substitutions providing the much needed spark. The Dutch were a man short as Heitinga was sent off for bringing down Iniesta. It was Iniesta who won the match in the 116thminute for Spain. Spain wrote their name in the history books with their first World Cup Victory. The golden era of Spain football started with them lifting the Euro Cup in 2008 and continuing with them winning it all in South Africa. The FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa showed us how much the African people love the game and also gave us a glimpse of their warm hospitality. As for me, I learnt to put my money, where Paul’s mouth is.