The problem with postmortems are that they invariably require bodies. This World Cup, we’ve had several. But of course without death we have no new life, eh? Eh? Am I right, Italy fans?

Group A & B: La France est mort… vive Maradona!

I predicted three teams over the course of seven months to clear Group A. The one I didn’t topped it without conceding a goal. So much for me.

After gaining a draw despite a late red card from France Uruguay roared out of the gate, their 3-0 win over South Africa not merely putting them first but virtually ensuring that the hosts would not proceed. (Which they duly failed to do, despite a really fiery win over a France both shameless and shameful.) Mexico followed them to no particular surprise.

In Group B Argentina were top with a full nine points – with the Netherlands the only ones to qualify with a perfect record. (In 2006 four of the eight groups had a finisher with three wins.) The performances that got them there were more mercurial – a shaky 1-0 win over a solid Nigeria, a rollicking 4-1 over second place finishers South Korea and a pretty sleepy 2-0 result against Greece, who needed and knew they weren’t going to get three points to sneak forward. South Korea played out an exciting 2-2 draw with Nigeria on the last day, with three more points from Greece enough to carry them forward despite poor goal difference. South Korea have dazzled only in flashes – but when they’ve been on, they really have been.

The clashes it sets up are Uruguay-South Korea and Argentina-Mexico. Uruguay-South Korea have already finished 2-1 for the former; I was going to take a punt on South Korea, so that’s 1 down already.

Argentina-Mexico promises to be a fascinating clash, but the momentum’s really with Maradona’s boys. He had the chance to rest several starters (but not Messi) against Greece and with the sheer weight of attacking power he’s got I don’t see how Mexico can do enough to exploit Argentina’s iffy defense. (Demichaelis in particular should probably not start.) The result depends on what Argentina comes in expecting. If they take it as they did Nigeria, Mexico have a chance. Considering the tantalizing possibility of a dream quarterfinal against either England or Germany, however, it’s not much of one. Argentina.

Groups C & DThe world turn’d upside down…

Lots of misfires in this one. Slovenia did not go through, though it has to be said that they finished second-place finishers before Landon Donovan nailed a rebound against an Algeria team who were mostly useful in exposing how poor were this group. England’s low-scoring finish mean that it’s the USA who finish first on goals scored thanks to the incredible 2-2 draw with Slovenia.

I have to admit I did not cheer for my home country but for about five minutes before and after Donovan’s goal. I wanted Slovenia to win in their match-up, not only to be proved right – I like being right – but because all America turns into Boston when our teams do at all well in international competition. And we know how Boston fans are. (i.e. insufferable.) For a moment of weakness the possibility that the USA might go out on a pair of disallowed goals – on decisions which were each shaky at best – moved me to patriotism. I promise it won’t happen again, but I’ll give USA their due: when they play, shit always seems to go down.

In Group D Germany recovered to finish top despite falling to Serbia. (Inexcusable, 10-men or no.) Thanks to their shellacking against the winenrs, Australia failed to get through, despite nearly pulling off a 10-man win against Ghana and absolutely dominating Serbia. If you consider that in the two games Ghana won both featured sending-offs and penalties, and that Ghana did not score a goal besides, I think I was correct when I suggested that no African team had the quality to get through the group stage. Ghana just had the luck. “But it’s Africa’s World Cup!” No, it’s South Africa’s World Cup and I’m damn sorry they didn’t get through. I’m also sorry Ghana did.

Ghana have already met the USA and booked their place to the quarterfinals thanks to some truly horrific defending. For the record, my money was on USA; and if you asked me again it’d still be. 0-2 now…

Thanks to their profligacy England have a horror meeting with Germany in the round of 16. Ledley King might be back; but Miroslav Klose certainly will. England are still playing Emile Heskey, who’d possibly be good at what he does if his job wasn’t scoring goals, and Fabio Capello just doesn’t appear to be up for it. The hero of England’s campaign has been the fan at the Algeria match who got lost looking for the pisser and wandered into the dressing room, where he promptly gave the team a dressing down for their performance. Winning a World Cup can’t be that easy. The only thing that can save England now is Roy Hodgson. But he’ll come only too late.

I’ll be cheering for England. But Germany will win. England at least can take comfort that they got further than the champions.

Group E & F – A huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge advantage!

Now I have no problem being wrong here. In Group E Netherlands came first after three relatively grinding performances against three solid teams. (Still too much pretty passing though.) But in a decisive and extremely impressive performance Japan absolutely shut Denmark down. They needed less shutting than I’d have hoped, sadly, since a good half of their starting XI were missing or playing at less than full fitness. I’ve got an article about what went wrong for Denmark in the works – but suffice it to say unfavored Japan richly deserve their place in the 16.

Group F was fucked up. There’s no other way to put it. Italy turned in the second-worst performance by a defending champion in history (behind, of course, France in 2002), coming last in the group after two draws and a nail-biter 3-2 defeat against Slovakia. Slovakia! Paraguay, over whom I was too embarrassed at my naivete to tell a real newspaper I thought they’d beat Italy, didn’t but ran off with the group anyway. Final-day last-placers Slovakia took the second spot over Italy’s dead body.

Paraguay and Japan now meet in the next round. I’m excited for this match-up, maybe moreso than any other in this round, because I really don’t know what to expect. Based on the Japan I saw against Denmark, however, I’m going to take a shot on them to win. They were really good, and if we’ve seen the best of Paraguay so far I don’t think it’s enough. (Hint to Paraguay: try not to give away free kicks.)

Netherlands-Slovakia I don’t expect to be much of a contest. You’d like this Dutch team to make the quarterfinals against pretty much any opposition – Slovakia were scrappy against Italy, but then Italy were just bad. I don’t know if the Dutch have the juice necessary to go all the way, but I see no more Eastern European giant-killing in this World Cup.

Groups G & H – Mas que nada

Yesterday Brazil and Portugal passed the ball and forth for about 90 minutes while Ivory Coast desperately tried to replicate the latter’s 7-0 demolition of North Korea. It didn’t work. As a whole I thought the group was pretty unspectacular – the most exciting moments were North Korea’s real threat to Brazil in the first match and the bizarre sending off of Kaka for being run into by an Ivorian. (Fabiano’s handball, on the other hand, was just eh. He had no flair.) So Brazil first on 7, Portugal following on 5.

In Group H, despite the difficulty of the occasion, best result was acheived when a very negative Swiss side was put out after a goalless draw with Honduras while Chile, despite being reduced to ten men and two goals down, pulled one back to finish behind Spain on goal difference, each with 6 points. Frankly I don’t know many neutral fans who didn’t want these to be the two teams who went through – they earned it. Especially Chile. They have the second best ten-man performance of a World Cup with a lot of them, only behind Australia – and Australia didn’t claw a goal back after they were reduced.

Two very exciting match-ups in the round of 16, then: Spain-Portugal and Brazil-Chile. I think one of the second place teams will upset. Now, Portugal are certainly a strong team and Spain have displayed very worrying behavior – Del Bosque is still playing two holding midfielders rather than sending one up in attack, and when he does it doesn’t seem to matter much. (Perhaps because it’s Fabregas, who hasn’t been great so far.) But in the end Portugal live and die by Cristiano Ronaldo – like it or not he is this generation’s Eusebio. He was good for the semifinals last time around; he might be this time. But Spain have a half-dozen Ronaldos to call upon – they might almost being playing a World XI. It is Spain’s to lose.

Chile, however, have really shown a phenomenal spirit and we know they can beat Brazil – they did it during qualification. Against Spain they really were magnificent and dominated large portions of the game despite being a man down. They’re not perfect and certainly neither were Spain, but I most doubt Brazil. There’s a strangeness to them right now, a certain emptiness. They play but – I don’t know. It’s probably some bullshit marginally-racist construction I have in my head, but I expect Brazil to show just that bit more feeling than all the rest, not grind out wins by hook or by crook. Chile have shown that feeling, and if they can just hit the target a little bit more I think they can upset. What’s more, I think they will.

Also, Dunga dresses like I do. Never a good sign.

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Et'whoa

This weekend the tiny (tiny?  I don’t really have much point of reference) African nation of Cameroon completed its World Cup qualifying run, thanks in large part to the efforts of world-class player Samuel Eto’o.  But the team-spirited Eto’o didn’t want his team to feel overshadowed.  So he bought them watches.

$50,000 watches.

From his own line of specialty watches.

I think the world here is – baller.