Uruguay 1-0 Mexico
South Africa 2-1 France
1. Uruguay 7 Points +4
2. Mexico 4 Points +1
3. South Africa 4 Points -2
4. France 1 Points -3
My Prediction For Qualification: France and Mexico
It's all over in Group A and France, the favorites coming in, the team whose controversial winner in a qualifying playoff with The Republic of Ireland sent tremors through international football, the 1998 World Champions and 2006 finalists, have finished their Tournament in the bottom of the Group, absolutely imploding on the biggest stage of them all. Raymond Domenech made several changes to his team for today's final Group match against South Africa, the most dramatic of which was to bench his Captain, Patrice Evra. After the French players protested the dismissal of Nicolas Anelka by skipping training on Saturday, after all of the scandals and outrage, after all of the bluster off the pitch and wasted talent on it, France have two years to look in the mirror and right the ship. Obviously, this is a new low for French football, a group that has gone from being a feared side to an absolute joke in four years. I hope the players hang their heads in shame and that the manager swallows his pride and owns this disaster. Lauent Blanc, due to take over the French team in the wake of this almighty mess, must be shaking his head at the prospects he faces to restore France to a functional, quality football side. I am not sure how much more boot I can give to France, but after this display, all I can say is good riddance and maybe we'll see you at Euro 2012. We'll be waiting...
The Streets Of Budapest Will Be Washed In The Anguish Of France's Defeat
The real story of Group A turns out to be Uruguay, who didn't allow a single goal in Group play and who look incredibly dangerous with Diego Forlan and Luis Suárez in attack. Uruguay were everything their qualification campaign promised; sharp, punishing and not afraid to attack. They entered today's match against Mexico needing a draw to win the Group, the prize for which was the likelihood of avoiding Argentina in the knockout stages. Instead, they pulled off a nifty 1-0 victory over a scrappy Mexico team on the back of another fine defensive display and another great counterattacking goal. Mexico, whose 2-0 hammering of France put them in the pole position to qualify for the next round, did a nice job of playing defense as well, making sure that they were in damage limitation mode after spending the first half of the game chasing a winner in the hopes of surpassing Uruguay and winning the Group; while a draw was all either team needed, they didn't play like it until later in match and that allowed Uruguay to score on a nifty counter; with Uruguay's Edinson Cavani making a great run n the right wing, Suárez made a run into the box, feinting to cut to the near post and turning his defender before making a dash to the far post and heading in Cavani's inch-perfect cross to put Uruguay up 1-0. It was all they would need as Mexico pressed for a goal and Uruguay constantly threatened going the other way, chastening the Mexican offense into playing safety first in the later stages of the match. When the final whistle blew, relief filled the air as, for a couple of minutes, Mexico were forced to wait to confirm a place in the knockout stages.
Suárez Scores (Photo by Abbey Sebetha/Getty Images)
Mexico's fate was in the hands of France and South Africa; with the Bafana Bafana needing to make up a 5 goal margin in goal differential and hoping for a Uruguayan win, this game was poised to be a wide open affair. France, for their part, need to make up a four goal differential and hope for a Uruguay win and they came on the pitch hoping to save a little face in the wake of their team crisis. It didn't take long for France's hopes to be shattered; In the 20th minute, South Africa's Siphiwe Tshabalala whipped a dangerous corner into the box, where Bongani Khumalo lept over Abou Diaby of France to score on a sweet header. It was 1-0 to the hosts when, five minutes later, Yohann Gourcuff tried to make a play in the South African box and lept in for his own header; Gourcuff's elbow connected squarely with the jaw of MacBeth Sibaya, sending the South African midfielder to the ground. Referee Oscar Ruiz wasted no time in showing Gourcuff the red card, but on the replay that seemed harsh; while Gourcuff was clearly leading with his elbow, his intent was never to hit Sibaya, but to enhance his own elevation. Yellow might have been more appropriate, but it didn't matter; Gourcuff walked languidly off the pitch, his team reduced to 10. South Africa was now in a race for goals and they wasted little time in getting one back when Katlego Mphela bundled in a low cross in the 37th minute to make it 2-0. Mphela was a threat from there, putting a wide open shot off the post and staying on his feet when he might have drawn a penalty form Gael Clichy later in the match, but south Africa could not add to their lead. Instead, it was 10-man France, inspired by the string play of Flourent Malouda and the hustle of Franck Ribery, who pegged one back on a counter attack; Ribery made a great run onto a pass from Bacary Sagna and squared the ball for Florent Malouda (how is he not starting?!?) who ran onto it unmarked from five yards and scored. South Africa tried from there, but the writing was on the wall; with Mexico holding Uruguay to a single goal, the host nation were out on goal differential, making them the first ever hosts of the World Cup not to qualify for the knockout stages. They can be proud, however, of their performance in the Tournament, on the day and of their role as hosts; so far, so good and great to see this proud nation leave it all on the pitch. Bravo.
Khumalo Scores, But It Wasn't Enough (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Argentina 2-0 Greece
South Korea 2-2 Nigeria
Argentina 9 Points +6
South Korea 4 Points -1
Greece 3 Points -2
Nigeria 1 Point -2
Qualified: South Korea
My Prediction For Qualification: Argentina and South Korea
Diego Maradona was back to his crazy ways; with qualification for the knockout stages all but guaranteed and first place well in hand prior to kick-off, the Argentina manager gave a large section of his second string a run out against a defensive minded Greece side. Every time Argentina play, I marvel at how deep Lionel Messi is forced to play and what a giant waste of space Juan Sebastian Veron is. I'll say it again; Veron is not fit to be in this team. His negative balls and inability to make any sort of dangerous run constantly stamped out Argentina's threat in the first half of the match and only a wicked shot from 35 yards, which was well saved by Greek goalkeeper Alexandros Tzorvas, redeemed Veron's presence on the pitch. It was not enough to negate the impact Veron's presence has on Messi, who is forced to play very deep in the midfield and off to the right in order to clear space for Veron to try and launch attacks from the holding midfield position. Messi was constantly being forced out of the danger areas where he excels and forced to go pick up balls further back in the formation which, upon his receipt of the ball, would allow Greece to foul him immediately before he could get a head of steam going. It is brutal to see Messi being wasted like this, and while Argentina forced a couple of fine stops on dangerous shots from Maxi Rodriguez and Kun Aguero, if Maradona plans on this team advancing, Veron must go. In their last match, a 4-1 dismantling of South Korea, Veron was out "injured" and Messi ran wild; he set up Higuain at will and almost bagged a couple for himself. in the first half of today's match, he barely flickered. We have Veron and Maradona to thank for that.
IN the second half it was pretty much more of the same, with all of the adventure saved for the final 15 minutes, when finally Messi was set free when Sergio Aguero was replaced by the substitute Javier Pastore; Pastore played in front of Veron and Messi moved up the pitch, immediately threatening the goal with his runs. in the 77th minute, a Messi corner kick led to a free header for Martín Demichelis, who put it right into Diego Milito's stomach before pouncing on the rebound and blasting the ball into the roof of the net. Greece, who had played far too conservatively on the night for needing a win to ensure qualification, continued to sit back, and Messi almost punished them again, blasting a shot off of the post; he simply can't buy one for Argentina right now. Pastore was making it his personal mission to get Messi a goal, constantly feeding him the ball in dangerous areas; in the 89th minute, it finally paid off as Messi blasted a shot that Tzorvas parried right to the feet of an unmarked
Martin Palermo, who banged the ball back across the keeper and into the net. Argentina walked out 2-0 winners, but there are still a lot of questions to be answered about how best to utilize their struggling genius.
The Tactics Shall Set Him Free: Messi Is Scythed Down Again (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Meanwhile, the real drama on the day was in Durban, where Nigeria and South Korea played to a 2-2 draw which, coupled with Greece's loss against Argentina, put South Korea into the knockout stages. The game was on a knife's edge for the full 90 minutes; South Korea fell behind in the 12th minute when Kalu Uche scored his second goal of the Tournament by sneaking around the back of an inattentive Cha Du-Ri and slotting home from five yards. It was just what the game needed, and South Korea immediately picked it up a gear; in the 38th minute, Ki Sung-yong sailed a perfect free kick to the far post for defender Lee Jung-Soo to flick past Vincent Enyeama and into the net. At 1-1, South Korea kept pressing and after the halftime interval, the game saw another in a series of physical fouls by Nigeria. On the ensuing free kick, Park Chu-Young curled the ball around the wall and past a wrong footed Enyeama to put South Korea up 2-1. Nigeria, knowing a win would be the only possible path into the knockout round, played with fire and determination, and when a beautiful move ended with Yakubu standing six feet from the mouth of the goal, alone and with ball at his feet, almost impossibly, the striker found a way to miss, pushing the ball wide of the post.
Unbelievably, Yakubu Missed From There
It was a surreal moment, but Yakubu was given another chance in the 69th minute when Kim Nam-il brought down Chinedu Obasi in the box, conceding a penalty to Nigeria. Yakubu stepped up to the spot and tied the match at 2-2, and despite some furious play at both ends, the match would end in heartbreak for Nigeria with South Korea heading to the knockout phase.
What It All Means
Group A winner Uruguay will play Group B runner-up South Korea on Saturday, June 26th in Port Elizabeth in the first match of the Round of 16.
Group B winner Argentina faces Group A runner-up Mexico in what should be a barnstorming and physical match on Sunday June 27th in Johannesburg,
Up Next: Can Team USA Overcome The Third Match Jinx To Beat Algeria and Escape Group C? A Sleepless Night Awaits...