The five things you need to know about Saturday’s World Cup action.
1. Once again, refs decide a match. This World Cup has already been somewhat marred by bad officiating. The decision against Edin Dzeko in the Bosnia vs. Nigeria game joins a list of other questionable calls in the “Big Mistakes of the Cup” sweepstakes. Bad decisions have been part of the game for as long as there have been referees, but newer television technology means that audiences (including audiences at the game) can watch a replay in an instant and see that it was a bad call. Refs don’t have this luxury, as they are expressly forbidden from viewing the replay on the monitor. FIFA’s battle to keep soccer from becoming “An American Television Sport” is losing the support of the fans. Unless they can invent perfect refs, FIFA officials are going to have to consider video technology or risk the wrath of the fans. Here’s the goal that should have put Bosnia ahead:
2. The Argentines need Messi. At the beginning of this tournament, much of the talk about this Argentina team focused on how they were so much more than just Lionel Messi. Historically, “Little Lionel” has been a better player for his club than country, and Argentina has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to strikers. So far at least Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi have all failed to impress, while Messi has managed to pull his country to two victories in games in which they didn’t play well. Of the other Argentines, only di Maria (and Sergio Romero) can hold their heads high, but as long as Messi can keep producing moments of magic like this, who cares.
3. Germany’s result puts Group G in perspective. After the first round of games, the conventional wisdom for Group G was something like this: The U.S. and Ghana were the two evenly matched underdogs and Germany was an unstoppable force that crushed even mighty Portugal beneath them. Now, following the heart-racing (well, the second half anyway) 2-2 draw with Ghana, perhaps that needs to be reevaluated. Is Ghana better than given credit? And if so, what does it say that the U.S. beat them? Were the Germans having an off day? Or are they more vulnerable than previously thought? And if the Germans aren’t all that…how bad were the Portuguese? There was also this moment of panic from the normally unflappable Manuel Neuer.
4. Klose gets closer to the record. With his equalizer for Germany, Miroslav Klose ties Ronaldo (the fat Brazilian, not the pretty-boy) for most World Cup goals with 15. At 36 years old, this almost certainly has to be Klose’s final World Cup, but don’t rule him out to break the record. Just hope it’s not against the U.S.
5. A rough Cup for favorites. Brazil needed the refs help to beat Croatia and drew with Mexico. Argentina has played badly twice but won both times thanks to Messi. Spain and England are already gone. Italy could join them after being beaten by Costa Rica. After today’s round of games, we’ve seen most of the favorites play twice and few have convinced. France (if it can be considered among the favorites after the debacle of the last World Cup) plays in a relatively weak group, and the Dutch have a history of starting brightly before imploding. Could the underdogs be catching up to the traditional powerhouses? Is the Brazilian heat weighing down the European teams? And if so, what’s the Brazilians’ excuse?
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