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The last few World Cup final haven't really shown football at it's finest and this one tried hard to change that. Sadly, one man tried to stop that - the referee who trotted out no less than 12 yellow cards and one red (for a second yellow). Unfortunately, this changed the entire course of the game and the Dutch, in particular, had to alter their play style to cope with this.

Statistically, this game sounds very level but the Spanish almost always seemed to be the more threatening. Yes, the Dutch did threaten at times, Robben again being a particularly potent threat on the wing, his pace causing especial difficulty to the Spanish defence, Puyol having definite issues at times but Casillas was at the top of his game and rarely looked challenged. At the other end, it was different with Stekelenburg being called on to make a number of saves. Momentum near the end of ordinary time rested with the Spanish but, despite the efforts of Iniesta, extra time was needed.

That momentum continued in extra time and the Spanish had a number of shots early on in extra time. When Heitinga was sent off for a crude foul on Iniesta, it just seemed to spur the Spanish on. Hopes of the "10-man miracle" occurring were snuffed out by Iniesta with a goal just minutes later and Spain won the game 1-0, becoming the first Spanish team to ever measure up to their individual promise.
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Third place play-off can be a funny game - in past tournaments it has varied between the dreariest game of the tournament because, after all, who the hell cares and being the most exciting because, after all, who cares? Fortunately, this was one of the latter because both Uruguay and Germany opened up for this game.

Scoring was pretty much turn and turn about so the lead changed just about every time a goal was scored. Both sides featured different line-usp to previous games and those players relished the chance to run. Predictably, it was Forlan who shone for Uruguay (and scored their second goal) whilst Muller and Khedira were both outstanding for Germany. Final result was 3-2 to Germany with the winning goal (from Khedira) only coming 8 minutes from time.

This was a showcase for exciting attacking football and both teams came to do that. It was ironic, in one sense because Germany lost their semifinal because they didn't play like this and if Uruguay would play like this when there was something at stake, they would be a far better team for it.
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It's not that I forgot about the last two games (or that I don't know the results for that matter), it's just that I couldn't watch the games whilst in Melbourne (but I have recorded them) so I will post my comments when I get back home on Thursday after I watch the games. Having watched every one of the past 62 games, I sure as hell wasn't going to fail on those last two!
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Greatest relief: Only one game of the six was decided on penalties and even that game was still a good game
Most surprising result: Argentina losing by 4 goals and, despite that margin, they didn't play that badly!
Continuing relief: no major injuries to anyone, let alone any of the big names
Saddest sight: Messi trudging off after the defeat to Germany - not only was his team out but his own performance had been poor by his standards
Player living up to his reputation: Arjen Robben has tormented every defence he has played against and he is still only at about 90%, I think - certainly, his straight-line speed is still reduced from its peak
Goal of the round: A tie between van Bronckhorst and Forlan, ironically in the same game and within half an hour of each other
Inescapable fact: no matter who wins the Final, it will be a new team carrying off the trophy for the first time since France did in 1998
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This was the second semi-final and and I was sure that we were due a dud, boring game - and we didn't get it yet again. Instead, Spain finally hit their straps and largely dominated Germany, at least in the attacking third of the field, any way. Both teams started brightly and created chances early but eventually it was obvious that Germany had decided not to crowd Spain when Spain had possession, opting instead to defend in depth. This meant that the much-vaunted Spanish passing game finally got going and wonderful it was to see, almost mesmeric at times. Neither team scored in the first half although the Spanish attack looked so much better with Pedro making his first start with the ever-lethargic Torres on the bench this time.

Eventually the breakthrough came from a thundering header, courtesy of Puyol, off an in-swinging corner. The Germans thrashed away at the Spanish defence and came very close to scoring but never quite nailed it. The Germans, with the ghost of 2008 clearly burdening them, looked well beaten with minutes to go and that's how it finished, 1-0 to Spain.

I really was surprised by this result - in fact I though Germany might well have scored another 4 but they let the Spanish play their own game and lost as a result.
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The confrontation between Uruguay and the Netherlands could have been a game of many shapes - fortunately, this turned into another thrilling duel. Two stunning first half goals, one from van Bronckhorst for the Dutch and one from Forlan for the Uruguayans (and both thunderous long-range shots) meant the teams were tied 1-1 at half-time.

In the second half, the Dutch really stepped it up, with Robben causing his usual mayhem down the right and both Sneijder and van Persie making darting runs into to the penalty area to torment the Uruguayan defence. Sneijder broke the deadlock with a delicately glanced shot past the keeper. The Uruguayans had to come out and attack now and, within 3 minutes, Robben had sealed it with the third Dutch goal, a pin-point header that left Muslera stranded. The Uruguayans didn't give up and kept attacking, getting a second goal in injury time with a well-worked set-piece that was finished off with a wonderfully precise shot. It was too late though and, despite a chaotic last few minutes, the Dutch held out for the 3-2 win.
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Neither Paraguay nor Spain have hit their top form yet so I wasn't quite sure what this game was going to bring. Regardless of final result, what it did bring, most important of all, was a pulsating vibrant game of attacking football from both sides. Spain's attack barely got going in the first half because Paraguay's midfield press was so effective that no-one really found space or time often but then again Paraguay's own passing game was too wayward too often so they never really got going either. Having said that, this was no dour ugly struggle but rather a thrilling game of feint and counter-feint. The Paraguayans did get the ball in the net just before the break but it was rightly ruled off-side.

In the second half, the excitement notched up to near-overload as both side's attacks found their rhythm and both goalkeepers were called on to save penalties. First Casillas saved from the spot and held onto the rebound and then, within a minute, Villar let one in from the spot only for the referee to rule that it had to be taken again due to early Spanish encroachment into the Paraguayan penalty area. Alonso inexplicably shot in exactly the same spot again and Villar saved this time. Later replays showed that Villar was extremely lucky to have avoided giving away another penalty dealing with the rebound but in the heat of the moment, no-one noticed.

Spain finally took off the impotent Torres, bringing on Fabregas, and immediately, their attack came alive, firing in several shots, eventually resulting in Villa scoring, having seen Pedro's shot bounce off the post, and then his own shot hit the same post only to travel across the mouth of the goal behind a stranded Paraguayan defender before the ball hit the other post and finally went in! The Paraguayans threw everything at Spain and came agonizingly close to equalizing, only to see Casillas pull off a wonderful double save at near point-blank range. There was one more Spanish attack which came very close to succeeding and then it was over - victory to Spain by Villa's solitary goal.
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I really wasn't sure what a game between Germany and Argentina would turn out like - both teams are capable of thrilling, exciting and expansive games and both are equally capable of ugly, dour and defensive games. Fortunately, this turned out to be a wonderful example of the former. The Germans were a very different side from past German sides - this defence can be porous and vulnerable but they are also willing to attack in thrillingly inventive ways that are sometimes risky too. Similarly, the Argentinian defence was not as stable as in past teams but then their attack could move in great sweeping leaps that covered vast areas of the field very quickly.

In the end, the German finishing was just sharper than the Argentinians and their defence just that little bit more stable. Even though he didn't get onto the score sheet, the dominant player on the field was Schweinsteiger, not just because he provided the pass for the first (and very early goal) but because his accurate passes and devastating runs ripped the Argentinian defence to shreds. All four goals (and yes, you read that right, Germany won this game 4-0) looked easy because the the Argentinian defence had no idea where to go - if they stood off, the German long-range shooting was dangerous, if they ran in, inch-perfect passing put German forwards behind them and if they tried to tackle, nimble dribbling skills got the Germans closer to goal. After the third goal, there was no effective Argentinian defence, just individual defenders trying to stem the tide of attacks.

This was one of the all-time great games, exciting to the end, because, for all the German superiority, the Argentinians never really gave up, until maybe the last ten minutes. After that they were just trying to get of the field as soon as they could. Messi finished a miserable World Cup, goalless and utterly dispirited.
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With both of these teams not really expected to to do this well, this game was a bonus for both of them but sadly it didn't really turn out like that. Even though both sides attacked at times, it wasn't quite as exciting as it could have been. The goals were good and Kingson, the Ghanaian keeper just about kept Ghana in the game all on his own at times. At full-time it was 1-1 and so extra time came into play. In extra time, Ghana certainly woke up and launched a number of attacks, none of which scored. In the final minute, Suarez blocked a header from Adiyiah with his hand giving Ghana an enormous chance to win the game. Sadly, Gyan missed and so it was onto penalties. Gyan's miss seemed to have rattled a number of the Ghanaian penalty takers because there were some miserably tentative shots, meaning that Uruguay won the shoot-out 4-2, the sealing Uruguayan kick being a wonderfully cheeky chip from Abreu.
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I thought that I was going to write about the beautiful game reappearing and, for while it did. Brazil were utterly devastating in attack and ran riot for about the first 15-20 minutes but only scored once in that time. The Dutch eventually got back into the game and began winning a good proportion of the midfield tussles. This resulted in the Dutch equaliser just after the restart after a terrible mistake from Julio Cesar, the Brazilian keeper. So far so good although Robinho and Dani Alves seemed to want to protest every decision the referee made. Robben started tearing up the Brazilian left wing and Bastos was having increasing trouble exercising any degree of control over him, eventually being substituted in the 63rd minute to avoid being sent off. Again, so far so good for the beautiful game.

The Dutch scored their second goal off a well-worked corner and suddenly it turned ugly. The Brazilians utterly lost focus and cohesion and Robinho, Dani Alves and Luis Fabiano alternately scythed and then whined. Robben continued to cause utter mayhem and Felipe Melos earned himself a red card for stomping on Robben after being utterly frustrated by Robben's many jinking, twisting runs. The beautiful game was completely gone by this time with only a handful of Brazilians, Kaka and Maicon chief amongst them with eyes for the ball. The rest of the team dived and whined and and hacked and kicked, Robinho being a prime suspect. It was very disappointing and not a little sad to see such rapid degeneration from such a great side. The Dutch to their credit did keep their eyes on the ball and kept calm and coherent, eventually running out 2-1 winners.
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Least surprising result - England lost to Germany by a large margin. No, really?
Most disappointing player - Wayne Rooney - see above! (but Fernando Torres is not too far behind)
Greatest sigh of relief - only one game of the eight finished with penalties
Punching above their weight - Ghana, probably the weakest (on paper) of all the African teams and yet they are into the quarter-finals as Africa's sole representatives
Best performing region - South America, with 4 of their five teams into the quarter-finals, has a team in every single game and only Chile (knocked out buy another South American team, Brazil) has failed to progress
Best return from injury - Arjen Robben, whose first full game for Netherlands saw him score a wonderful (and, for him, very typical) goal
Most disconcerting feeling - having no new game to watch for two consecutive nights has left me feeling aimless and listless (and no, that isn't a pun as I write this list!)
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Spain vs Portugal had all the promise of being a real attacking extravaganza and it was certainly that early in the game. However the Spanish ability to keep possession meant that they could exert more consistent pressure whereas the Portuguese were more erratic here - indeed, overall possession for the game was about 60:40 in Spain's favour. Torres for Spain and Ronaldo for Portugal both had largely forgettable nights and it was noticeable that the sole goal of this game came after Torres finally got substituted and Villa was far more ably supported by Llorente. After that, it turned into the David Villa Show as he attacked again and again and generally caused utter mayhem in the Portuguese defence. He didn't score again and was substituted off just before the end of the game but he had already made the difference he needed to - that solitary goal which was all that divided the two teams.
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At least it took until the 7th game of this round before we had to go to a penalty shoot-out. Paraguay, who were marginally the better and definitely the more adventurous team, eventually won 5-3 on penalties after neither side could score a goal in the first 90 minutes or the added 30. Japan relied on a pure counter-attack strategy which, admittedly, they did repeatedly trouble Paraguay whilst Paraguay tried a build a little more although it was their fast counterattacks which troubled Japan the most. Both sides had real trouble keeping possession of the ball in the midfield which turned parts of the game into fairly erratic dreary games of foot ping-pong with the occasional decisive burst by one team or the other. In the end Paraguay deserved to go through because they were marginally better.
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Every time I see Brazil play in this tournament, they get better, playing with more confidence and assurance but, above all else, with more rhythm. This time it was Chile on the receiving end and the game ended 3-0 to Brazil - but it could have been 6 or 7 easily. The Chileans tried hard to hold out, playing a fairly defensive start to the game but Brazil attacked from the word go. It took half an hour or so for Brazil's first go but once that happened, the sting had gone from Chile. By the time Robinho scored the third from a beautifully curling shot, it was all over. There was a brief flurry from Chile in the last twenty minutes or so but it was too little too late.
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As results go, I was happy to see Netherlands beat Slovakia 2-1, not because I have anything against Slovakia but because I think that the Dutch, on their day, can produce as exciting football as anyone can. As a bonus, my pick for player of the tournament, Arjen Robben, scored a beauty of a goal with a precisely hit shot in the bottom right corner of the goal, having worked his way past a couple of tackles. He didn't score again and eventually came off after about 70 minutes, looking a little sore and slow. While he was on the pitch, though, he had done what he was supposed to - tear up the Slovak left wing and pull their defence out of shape. Sadly, no other Dutch forward really stepped up and van Persie looked out of sorts in front of goal again. Eventually Sneijder scored the second goal. The Slovaks, for all their efforts, really didn't threaten the Dutch goal often and only scored from an undeserved penalty in the 90+4th minute of the game.
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Every other team still in this competition should be worried by this result - Argentina look better in each game they play and this one was no exception. Messi was quiet again but Tevez stepped up to the plate this time. Not only did he score two goals but his runs out of midfield and into the penalty area tore Mexico apart time and again. The shot he made for his second goal was just brilliant, that goal being one of the best scored so far in this round. After Higuain was gifted a goal (along with with Tevez' pair), it was all over, bar the shouting. Mexico didn't give up and gamely hammered away but it was too little too late, finishing 3-1 to Argentina over Mexico.
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The 4-1 scoreline in Germany's favour over England was about right for this game, I felt. All the talk will be about the disallowed goal but the fact is that Germany were devastating on the counter-attack whilst England were flat, Rooney still napping away. The English defence was caught napping so many times that it just became painful to watch and it could well have been 6-1 by the end. The impotence of the English attack just embarrassed me after a while. At the final whistle it felt like someone had removed a pain, so agonizing was it to watch England's stumbling fumbling shuffle.
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The game had barely begun when Boateng scored a brilliant individual goal to put Ghana 1-0 up. The US, although clearly rocked, took the game to Ghana but lacked a real finisher for a lot of the moves. Ghana, to their credit didn't put up shop either, and so the game turned into an exciting contest for long periods of time. The US eventually drew level to a Donovan penalty but apart from that, Kingson, the Ghanaian keeper, saved everything the Americans fired at him, long range or short. This meant it was 1-1 at full-time so extra time was needed. In an almost exact copy of the opening minutes, the Ghanaians scored through another wonderful individual effort, this time from Gyan. The US hammered forward after this and put the Ghanaians under immense pressure but Kingson saved everything that came near him. The game finished 2-1 to Ghana at the end of extra time, putting Ghana through to a quarter final against Uruguay.
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This game between Korea Republic and Uruguay showed both teams in a classical light - Uruguay scored on an early break and the then stood back, satisfied, it seemed to spend the next 82 minutes defending that one goal lead. Korea, on the other hand, ran and passed and then ran some more and passed some more and then ran even more and then ..... well, you get the picture! Eventually, the Koreans were successful after a bad mix-up between Muslera the keeper and Lugano meant thet both went for the same ball, giving the Koreans an easy header in. They took a while but the Uruguayans eventually took back the lead off a glorious Suarez shot, giving him his second goal for the game. The Koreans cane desperately close to getting an equaliser but Lugano redeemed himself by clearing off the line and so the Urguayns won 2-1, being the first team into the quarter finals.
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Best Goal - Maicon's goal in Brazil's game against Korea DPR
Worst missed goal - Podolski's penalty miss for Germany against Serbia
Most sentimental goal - Beausejour's goal against Honduras ended Chile's 48 year drought
Funniest goal - Ronaldo's goal for Portugal against Korea DPR - even one of the supreme egotists of the current game had the decency to look embarrassed after this one
Outstanding player - no-one because there hasn't been any player who could show more than erratic flashes of brilliance
Most disappointing player - Wayne Rooney - in every game, in every way
Dullest game - Brazil vs Portugal (of all games!)
Most surprising - NZ vs Italy - for an utter minnow to hold out against a World Champion has to be a lasting memory
Flattest team - It's a close call between Italy and France but I think Italy just edges the French out because at least the French provided the spectacle of team implosion where as the Italians just surrendered without a whimper
Punching above their weight - a number of teams fall into this category but NZ finishing undefeated and effectively eliminating Italy has to be a strong contender but then again, Korea DPR holding Brazil to a 2-1 margin is pretty damned good too.


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