Saturday, June 26, 2010

Why They're Out

Well, the round-robin portion of the World Cup is now behind us, and I had been thinking that it might be fun to take a look at the teams that failed to advance to the knockout stages, and take a stab at analyzing what happened. Then Italy were eliminated. So now I think it would be useful to take a look at the teams that are going home early. So let's do this thing!

Group A

South Africa

Why Are They Out? Sadly, their only thing they really had going for them was home-field advantage. In a combination of bad luck and bad planning, they ended up hosting the tournament at a time when their national team was as weak as it's been in years. Any Positives? They did win a game, if only over the shattered remnants of the French team. And hey, they're hosting the World Cup.


Why Are They Out? Because the Soccer Gods will not be mocked. You may recall that the French qualified for South Africa '10 under highly dubious circumstances, and this tournament was a disaster for them. One of their best players was sent home, their captain was benched, the team refused to practise, and a grand total of one goal was scored. At press time, Ireland was still giggling. Any Positives? Nope.

Group B


Why Are They Out? They were never likely to qualify out of a group that included Argentina and Nigeria, and the only big surprise was that it was South Korea who pipped them for the second spot. They did themselves no favours by coming out flatter than flat against Korea in the opening game. Any Positives? When opportunity presented itself suddenly against Nigeria, the Greeks took full advantage and went on to win the game.


Why Are They Out? Nigeria are usually among the strongest of the African sides, but they were a pale shadow of that this time around - in fact, they were damn lucky to qualify for the finals at all. Then, in their game against Greece, Sani Kaita lashed out petulantly at a Greek player and was justly sent off. Nigeria lost the game, and that was pretty much the end for them. Any Positives? They'll be back - they're still likely favourites to be the first African team to actually win the Cup.

Group C


Why Are They Out?The second half against the United States destroyed them. If they'd held onto their thoroughly deserved 2-0 lead, they'd have won Group C. Any positives? Well, they did get themselves that 2-0 lead against the U.S. The ex-Yugoslavian nations tend to punch above their weight, football-wise, so I doubt we've seen the last of the Slovenians at this level.


Why Are They Out? They were in over their heads in this group, and it showed, as the Algerians scored a grand total of zero goals at South Africa '10. They can probably be filed under "just happy to be at the finals at all." Any Positives? Their defense was excellent; Algeria conceded just two goals, and one of them, against Slovenia, was a muff by the goalkeeper. In addition, they forced a draw against England (it was unquestionably the worst game of the tournament so far, but that's beside the point).

Group D


Why Are They Out? Australia got run over by Germany in their opening game, and, although they rallied somewhat, it wasn't enough. They also had discipline problems, picking up red cards in each of their first two games. Finally, this year's edition of the Australian team was perhaps just a tad long in the tooth. Any Positives? Prior to the qualifying tournaments for this World Cup, Australia made the risky decision leave the Oceania group and try to qualify out of Asia. It's paid off in spades already, and the improved competition will only raise the quality of Australian soccer.


Why Are They Out? They were really very close to progressing, but played terribly in their last game, against Australia. Nerves, in this case, may have been the issue. Any Positives? Sure. This was an independent Serbia's first World Cup, and I'm sure they'll be back (see comments, in the section about Slovenia, on ex-Yugoslav teams). From this tournament, they can at least take away the memory of having beaten Germany.

Group E


Why Are They Out? In a weird way, the Danes are only going home because Japan turned out to be stronger than anyone thought they were. However, Denmark were too often guilty of an inability to create their own scoring chances; their three goals at the tournament came from two defensive errors and a dubious penalty. Any Positives? They took good advantage of Cameroon's defensive frailties, and at least came away from the tournament with a win (and scored a lovely goal, for all that it came out of comedy defending).


Why Are They Out? Cameroon were just awful on defense. Their defenders were caught out badly twice by Denmark, and the goal they gave up against Japan was preventable as well. Cameroon were probably the most disappointing of the African sides, losing all three of their games. Any Positives? Cameroon's poor performance at South Africa '10 was probably just a one-off. They will be back.

Group F

New Zealand

Why Are They Out? On paper, they were the weakest team at this World Cup. They surpassed all expectations for them (and how!), but didn't quite have enough to claim one of the top two group spots. Any Positives? Oh Hell yes! Of all the eliminated teams, the All-Whites can probably hold their heads up the highest. They didn't lose a game at the tournament (Ok, they didn't win one either, but still), and the 1-1 draw with Italy will go down as one of the country's most glorious soccer moments.


Why Are They Out? I could go on at length. In short, though, they were nervous and poorly prepared. The Azzurri far too often looked like they were playing to not lose, rather than to win, and even Gattuso's eventual inclusion in the third game couldn't pull them out of it for all his efforts (* puts away dead horse and whip *). They also never settled tactically; one newspaper report that I read noted that Italy, in three games, used three formations, "each worse than the last." Any Positives? They're hard to see, but they are there. There can surely be no opposition at home to the notion of bidding farewell to what's left of the 2006 team, and there are some useful young guys on the way. Expect to hear the names "Montolivo" and "Balotelli" quite a lot in any future discussions of Italian soccer.

Group G

Ivory Coast

Why Are They Out? Ah, at this point the old "Group of Death" syndrome raises its head. Each World Cup seems to feature a group with three deserving teams, and at South Africa 2010 it was Group G, which featured Brazil and Portugal along with Ivory Coast. It came down to the Ivorians needing Brazil to do them a favour against Portugal, and that simply didn't happen. Any Positives? In any other group, the Ivory Coast would have stood an excellent chance of progressing.

North Korea

Why Are They Out? In that group, they never had a chance. North Korea don't qualify often for the World Cup, and it's pretty easy to see why. They were simply and completely out-classed, losing their last two games by a combined score of 10-0. Any Positives? They hung with Brazilians for an hour before finally going down in one of the tournament's better games. Plus, they produced one of this World Cup's "Awwwww" moments, when one of their players burst into tears during the national anthem before their first game.

Group H


Why Are They Out? Their opening-game win over Spain turned out to be a fluke, not an indication that the Swiss were stronger than they appeared. They failed completely to follow it up, losing to Chile and bowing out of the tournament after a tepid draw with Honduras. Switzerland simply lacked the quality to find a way into the second round. Any Positives? They did earn that famous victory against Spain.


Why Are They Out? Honduras were another team that were in a bit over their heads, particularly when it came to attacking the opponents' half. Like Algeria, they failed to score in the tournament. Any Positives? the Hondurans can take some comfort from the fact that they kept all three of their games close.

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