Match 49: Uruguay 2-1 South Korea
My Prediction: Uruguay
South Korea and Uruguay entered today's Round of 16 encounter with little between them and left the field proving pretty much the same; despite a wonderful, curling strike from Uruguay's Luis Suárez in the 80th minute that put the South Americans into the lead for good, South Korea overcame their first half jitters to produce another hustling, scrappy display that might have seen them through, if only they could have sustained their approach in the second half. The Koreans had a great early chance in the 5th minute when Park Chu-Young put in a wicked free kick that went off the post, but it was Uruguay who went ahead in the 8th minute when Diego Forlan chased down a ball on the left flank and cut it back along the ground, across the mouth of goal, behind four South Korea defenders and past goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong, who didn't make a play on the cross. Big mistake; Suárez stayed onside and ran onto Forlan's cross and buried it from a tight angle.
Up 1-0, Uruguay went into their defensive shell, pressing when they could and pulling Forlan back into the midfield to help break up South Korea's attacking play. The Koreans stayed bright, but couldn't get a final ball in until the 68th minute, when Uruguay failed to clear a hig, driven free kick the came into the box and on the ensuing pop-up, Lee Chung-Yong beat Diego Lugano and goalkeeper Fernando Muslera to the ball, nodding it in and tying the game. South Korea were on the front foot and Uruguay were scrambling for answers, but for some reason, South Korea decided to slow their play down and allowed Uruguay back into the game. It was another big mistake; in the 80th minute, Suárez found himself in the corner of the box, and received the ball back into his feet; one touch and Suárez hit a dipping strike with great power into the far corner, winning the match with a tremendous goal and putting Uruguay through 2-1. After all of that worry about Diego Forlan, it turns out my eye was off the ball; all hail Luis Suárez!
The Match Winner (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
It was a tough loss for the South Koreans and a big win for Uruguay, who have faced some criticism for their defensive approach thus far but who have silenced their critics by making it into the Quarter Finals with a winnable match that could put them into the semis. South American teams continue to make their way through the Tournament; if the chips fall the right way, three of the four semi-finalists could be from South America, which would be an amazing accomplishment for their brand of football and a stinging rebuke to those who like to think that UEFA should constantly rule the roost in FIFA; In the 106-year history of FIFA, only once has the organization had a President from outside of UEFA (Brazil's João Havelange, who ran the show from 1974-1998); it may be time to shuffle the deck again and find someone from South America or Asia who can focus on bringing the game into the modern age. But we're getting ahead of ourselves...
A quick note about the stadium and fans in Port Elizabeth; you're hosting a knockout stage match in the World Cup and you can't fill the place? And you allow the pitch to get in that shape? It was an absolute mess out there, with grass coming up in big chunks, making it a near-impossibility to play the ball on the ground. This was a real disappointment to see; the most important international tournament in the world and you can't get the pitch in order and sell some seats? Or maybe I'm just confused; is Port Elizabeth the Florida of South Africa? They can't get anyone to go to the matches? It was a real shame to see such a big and entertaining match played to a less-than-capacity house on the equivalent of a public park surface. There is a Quarter Final being contested there on July 2nd; I hope they have time to get the place in order. Not good.
Match 50: Ghana 2-1 USA
My Prediction: Ghana
You can't go behind and expect to win in football. The odds are so long, the work so difficult, that it takes too much to overcome a deficit. There were no miracles in Rustenburg this time; it was heartbreak again as the USA continued to put themselves in an early hole, and while they were able to draw level in the second half, the decision making of Coach Bob Bradley has to be called into question in a 2-1 extra time defeat to Ghana. For once in this Tournament, luck was not on the side of the USA, who left their guts out on the field but were undone by a shortage of technical ability and the ability to defend up the middle of the park. For all of my complaints about Jonathan Bornstein, he turned in a fine performance as one of three rolls of the dice by Bradley; the decision to play Carlos Bocanegra in the middle against his club teammate Asamoah Gyan was pretty much a decent call as well. But starting Robbie Findley in a 4-4-2 with Jozy Altidore and putting Ricardo Clark in the middle of the park with Bradley as if this were a home CONCACAF qualifier was unforgivable; when Clark turned over the ball in midfield in the 5th minute, Kevin Prince Boateng took the loose ball and ran 35 yards untouched to slide a rolling shot past Tim Howard, who made a mistake by showing too much of the near post. 1-0. After five minutes. Again.
For all of the rah-rah and hoopla, USA! USA!, this team was unable to play technical possession football against a technically astute Ghanian team, who simply sat back and allowed the USA to hoof passes into blind alleys and paint themselves into corners time and again. Luckily for the USA, Ghana were not great finishers on the night, always seeming to lose patience in the final third. In the 30th minute, Bradley finally realized Ricardo Clark was out of his depth against this team and replaced him with Maurice Edu, who did a fine job but who also played a bit loose with his passes. It was an admission of a mistake, Bradley clearly signaling that he had made the wrong call. After the half, another admission; Bradley brought on Benny Feilhaber for Robbie Findley (who wasted another chance one on one with the keeper before the half) and lo and behold, down one and with only 45 minutes to play, the USA came to life. All I could think was that I was in the Twilight Zone, a place where the same insane decision is made over and over again, always leading to an early goal for the opposition, only to be changed the exact same way at halftime, always having the same result. So, the questions stands:
Why would you not start the most important match in the Tournament with your best, most effective lineup against a team that is obviously flooding the midfield against you?
I'm still waiting for an answer. No? Because there is no rational answer. A 4-5-1 was the only way to go in this match. This match was lost by Bob Bradley, who played Findley and Clark instead of Feilhaber and Edu. Period.
In the 62nd minute, the USA finally broke through when Clint Dempsey was brought down in the box by Jonathan Mensah. Landon Donovan stepped up to the spot and blasted the ball off of the inside right post and in to make it 1-1. With Ghana reeling, the USA decided to continue to play it safe; they were spending tremendous amounts of energy chasing the ball as Ghana stroked it around the park and gained back some confidence. The USA never looked like nicking a winner in regular time but as the game wore on, you could tell that all of the ball chasing was having an effect on tired US legs. Once extra time came around, it didn't take long for some good ol' route one straight up the middle football to work; Gyan shrugged off a shoulder challenge by Carlos Bocanegra (who had no idea where the ball was... watch him on the replay) and one time the ball on the bounce over the outstretched arms of Tim Howard and in. A super goal from Gyan and from there, Ghana began time wasting and keeping possession while the USA ran out of gas before our eyes. The ball did not bounce the USA's way and they are knocked out of the 2010 World Cup.
So, after a miracle goal against Algeria we're back to square one; where do we go from here? It is clear that player development in the USA still has a long way to go and the inability of the team to play technical, possession football came back to haunt them tonight; for long stretches, we made Ghana look like Spain, with huge swaths of territory available for players to run into, and calm, patient balls played well between players running into space. Of course, chasing a goal after five minutes will do that to you and playing a 4-4-2 with Ricardo Clark and Robbie Findley can get you down 1-0 in a hurry. Bradley's gamble failed to pay off and the USA were finally undone by their own mistakes. I am sad, but it's just about what I expected. There's always next time. Again.
Asamoah Gyan Ends It (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Up Next: Day Seventeen: Round Of 16