In addition to the 2002 World Cup official results, here's is how public opinion is rating (at the British bookmakers) the Teams currently playing the last Rounds of the World Cup:
2/5 - Brazil
(8/13 up to Brazil's win over Turkey - pls. see below, too)
7/4 - Germany (10/3 up to South Korea's win over Spain, then 3, then 10/3 once more, till their victory over S.Korea, and 13/8 up to Brazil's win over Turkey)
It will be interesting to see how close (or far) these ratings will turn out to be!...
I'm keeping you updated as I hear that they change.
(No, I'm not into betting! – I've been asked. Just I find it curious to watch how public faith varies, as the competition progresses.)
Notes: Following Brazil's victory over England, Brazil has (temporarily?) become worthless a bet: most bookmakers are reported to be offering in return the very value of the bet, when it is placed on Brazil for the 2002 World Cup Champion. Of course the situation could change, if the Brazilian squad tripped over Turkey, in their next game. It is worth remembering that, till France and Argentina dropped out of the competition, Brazil had not been the favorite at the bookmakers.
Spain had been second, till their defeat to S.Korea.
The German squad has not yet convinced anyone that they deserve a place in the finals. They had held in third (before the elimination of Spain), and are now in second. This, however, is more likely due to  the tradition underlying the German Teams than to their own merits thus far, as well as  to the lack of other traditional candidates.
Now S.Korea emerges as a possible candidate as well. Who would have dreamed of it, at the start of the competition?!... They are the first Asian nation ever to reach the Semi-Finals!
This is likewise the first time for Turkey in the Semi-Finals!
At least in theory, these two first-timers could reach the Finals! Certainly a World Cup Final between N.Korea and Turkey would seem strange...but there surely have been strange outcomes in this World Cup. For example, the underdogs in Group D qualified as far as the Quarter-Finals, and now one of them is in the Semi-Finals. So...we'd better wait and see:)...
Here are the ratings for Teams that have been eliminated so far, right before they dropped out:
13/2 - South Korea (50, up to their win over Italy; 14, up to their win over Spain)
9/1 - Turkey (50, up to S.Korea's win over Italy; 18, up to their win over Senegal, then 10)
14 - Senegal
33 USA (100, up to their win over Mexico)
66 Rep.of Ireland
125 Belgium (had they defeated Brazil, this rating would have improved significantly, as it was with the U.S.A.'s, after they eliminated Mexico)
Teams whose results might suggest a larger dose of fame & self-confidence (pride?) in their luggage than soccer proper...and shockingly miss out the Second Round:
France - current Soccer World Champions!... Have they overlooked refreshing the squad?... overestimated their power?... The French did not manage to score one single goal! See here how sadly low the current champions have ranked among the 32 participants in 2002.
Argentina - a sweeping classifying campaign, but ... a stunning early withdrawal.
Portugal - an arrival overflowing in confidence, players that claim a place among the world's best...but the old brittle nerves and intimidating fouls (ask Pelé, regarding 1966, when he was mercilessly hunted down and finally fouled out of the Brazil X Portugal match, seriously injured).
A real pity that these three teams could not meet the expectations that they had arisen in advance.
Not stunning, yet unexpected absences from the Second Round:
Uruguay - certainly not a World power now, but they have a tradition and always bite. Uruguay was the first ever World Cup winner (1930/Uruguay), and again in 1950/Brazil, when they tipped over in Rio de Janeiro an unfavorable 0x1 into a 2x1 victory, to clench what then looked like a sure first World Cup Title for Brazil
Poland - not only a presence in about half of the World Cups played so far, but also following a strong qualifying campaign (the first European Nation to assure their presence in the 2002 World Cup), the Polish squad was surprisingly out after only two matches
Russia - a traditional World Cup presence, whom we are used to watch playing further than the First Round
Croatia - best qualifying campaign in their group, ahead of Belgium and Scotland
Cameroon - they've been assiduous in the World Cup scenario since 1982, having failed to qualify only in 1986. In 1990, they were a sensation, making it all the way to the Quarter-Finals.
Nigeria and Tunisia - along with the Cameroon - they all had stronger qualifying campaigns than Senegal. However, it was this last African Team that turned out as the exclusive Continent presence in the knock-out phase of the 2002 World Cup.
Finally, it is worth noting that, since 1986, when the current format was inaugurated in the World Cup, Europe had been placing 10 Teams in the Round of Sixteen phase of the competition. This year, however, there are only 9 European Teams among the final 16.
Near misses (for the Second Round), and not necessarily convincing in the First Round:
Now we know that neither of these Teams made it through the Second Round.
Worthy of note is that Belgium exited the World Cup exhibiting a praiseworthy improvement in performance (by comparison to their initial games). Their last match, against Brazil, was an exciting one, with plenty of chances created by both sides. Despite the defeat, the Belgium Squad have plenty justified their presence among the Top 16, as they depart from the World Cup.
Italy, on the other hand, played no differently from the way it started, packing a solid defense once it managed an initial advantage on the score-board. Except for the Italians, of course, I have not heard in the international media any one lamenting Italy's elimination by a brave, determined, and also skilled South Korea. As a soccer lover, what I lament is the system that Italy has become known for: it is a cowardly system, well fit for small teams playing against more resourceful squads, but never for teams gathering players of the high quality found in the Italian Squad! (See here, here, and here, too.) I would have felt sorry if, by an odd twist of fate, the Italians should have won the current World Cup, their system and style thus becoming the informally written models for soccer playing for the next four years.
Germany - though not near-misses in the First Round, as Italy and Belgium, I had both Germany and Brazil on my reserve list for this section. The German squad did not look convincing in their matches, but for the large number of goals they initially scored, I found it prudent to give them a bit of time to justify their presence among the world's best.
But so far, the convincing aspect shown by the German squad comes from their goalkeeper. Thus, I think it is time that they be added to this list. Following the disappointing match against the U.S.A., I was actually under the impression that not even the German coach was convinced that they could take this Title home, except by a real struck of luck.
I feel sorry for the American players, who would have deserved a tie, for their efforts on the field, this Friday. Whether full credit should be attributed to their merits or to the lack of inspiration that this German Squad has so far displayed, I suppose it will become evident in the next match – especially if it is the more experienced Spanish Squad (as compared to the Koreans) to face the Germans in the Semi-Finals. For experience usually plays its part, the closer a team gets to final match. South Korean's Guus Hiddink's boys, however, have shown such an incredible determination that it'd no longer be surprising if they end up playing the final match. Let's see... It would be beyond sensational if a squad that many thought would not make beyond the First Round would end up in the Final Game and, at worse, as second best in the World!
S.Korea has surprised beyond any wild dream or expectation...so, even the logic inherent to the role that experience plays may not hold in their case, as just mentioned... If this South Korean team is a true mirror of the soccer potential in Korea, they are on the road to gaining world recognition and respect: they seem to embody the best of two soccer-cultures – European power and tactical cohesion and discipline, associated with Latin American creative and jolly playing, all welded together by their own South Korean ingredients, which include speed, alertness, and untiring fighting spirit. This combination could eventually render them close to unbeatable. Brazilians, who so far have held the upper edge in World soccer, should keep an eye open (toward South Korea), if they wish to hold on to their supremacy.
Incidentally, the choice of Dutch coach, in my view, could not have been a better catalyzing element for South Korean's success: unfortunately out of this World Cup, the Netherlands is Europe's main home for strong and tactically cohese, yet swift and freely creative, soccer. Their style is just short of the joyful light-hearted spirit that characterizes great players such as Ronaldinho Gaúcho and Garrincha, to cite only two. At any rate, South Korean soccer should be watched beyond this World Cup – or they might surprise again in four years, if they maintain the development that they have invested in so far.
The other candidate I had for this list, the Brazilian squad, has finally escaped from being added, as they showed that they are able to play according to the requirements of different matches. Their defense, the sector of the team that would have been responsible for their addition to this list, has actually shown that, more intelligently than merely defending, as it is usual, they can prevent the other team from attacking! Undoubtedly the most intelligent and creative kind of defense.
Quite impressive that the strong English Team, with Beckham and co., managed only four shots on goal during the Brazil x England match, against 10 shots on target (in addition to the goals, themselves) from a Brazilian squad that had suddenly found themselves unfairly undermanned in the field – and therefore, for most of the second half, Brazil was far more interested in keeping possession of the ball than in risking losing it due to a possible shot on goal.
The Brazilian squad deserves a word of praise here: in the match against England, after Ronaldinho Gaúcho (#11) was sent out for a match incident that should have earned him either a verbal admonition or a yellow card (he is an artist in soccer-playing, far from a violent or physical player!), it could be hastily said that the Brazilian Squad then modeled the Italian style. But please read on, and a fundamental difference will emerge.
They knew they were playing against a strong opponent, who had skillful players, among whom unforgiving strikers – such as demonstrated by Owen's goal. Had they not been undermanned, Ronaldinho would have probably caused havoc in the English defense, and be turned into one of the sensations of this World Cup. For the English just did not seem ready to play against his light, swift, creative style.
(Here's one example of far more serious than Ronaldinho's foul, which did not even get a verbal admonition: within the first 10 minutes of the match Turkey x Senegal, Senegal's defender Papa Malick Diop (#4), with the sole of his shoe upright, waits for the leg of Turkey's forward Hasan Gokhan Sas (#10). It was a mere foul kick, though the Turkish player not only felt the blow, but had to reposition the protection on his leg, which had come off at the impact against the Senegalese player's shoe. Quite a different criteria from the one used in regard to Brazil's young forward.)
Curiously, after the match, neither the English players nor their Swedish coach could accept the fact that Ronaldinho did intend to shoot at the goal, and not merely cross the ball, as most European players would do and would expect in that situation! This is why the excellent Seaman had to let that ball in: as an European player, he expected the cross. Ronaldinho, noticing that the goalkeeper had placed himself ready to defend a ball crossed over, then tried to cover the goalkeeper. Just as simple as this: a cultural difference made the difference, made the goal possible.
If the English players and their coach wish to insist on luck, this can only be conceded in the sense that Ronaldinho's kick was masterfully precise! He could have missed the goal by a few centimeters; but luckily for Brazil, and unfortunately for England, he did not.
So, the English, and other Europeans who douby it, had better accept that the goal was intentional, and not a product of luck, or they risk suffering other such goals!
Because of the difference in styles, European goalkeepers play differently from Brazilian goalkeepers, the former venturing much more out of the goal area, and also positioning themselves more advanced. Brazilian players, being aware of this, have historically taken advantage of it.
Who can forget the ball that Pelé kicked in Mexico (1970), all the way from the very middle of the field, only because he spotted the Czech goalkeeper a bit advanced? The image of that excellent goalkeeper running back toward his goal while watching the ball overhead moving toward his goal is just unforgettable. What a pity Pelé's kick missed the goal by a meter or less! After this, we have now and then seen players attempt similar kicks, though none have so far succeed. That I recall, there have been two such situations in this World Cup, the last of which today, when U.S. Captain Claudio Reyna tried to surprise the excellent German goalkeeper.)
Anyway, undermanned as the Brazilians were, it seems that the Brazilian Team favored ensuring the tight but sufficient score than trying any further glory over the English Team. No doubt a dangerous choice, at a 2x1 advantage over a Team that has skilled and highly motivated strikers.
But can anyone say that Brazil played the remaining of the second half in the Italian style? No ways. There was one fundamental difference: the team played the ball, rolled the ball, and all of it within the English half of the field. In other words, though it was evident that Rivaldo and co. were favoring passing the ball, even when they had clear opportunities to venture enlarging that 2x1 score, they remained a threat to the English squad till the very final whistle. After all, no English player could predict if or when a Brazilian player would suddenly have one of their genial insights and kick the ball to threaten the excellent English goalkeeper or to score another goal.
So, the English players were forced to keep their defensive concerns, however undermanned, for Brazil kept the ball rolling, from foot to foot, in the English half of the field, and remained a threat throughout.
This is totally different from the heavily defensive style that Italy showed in this World Cup (defending in their half of the field) and counter-attacking with long balls, when possible, for a lonely Vieri to try to make the miracles they needed.
Merits to the Brazilian squad, who did not allow that an unfortunate judgement on the part of the referee interfered in the result of the match, even if the referee just about killed the team then, by sacking the best man on the field. But the Brazilian squad played above every obstacle this Friday.
This ability to remain above the unexpected, even the unfair, however damaging, makes me suspicious that this Brazilian Squad is ripe for the Title like no other in this World Cup. But, as life – soccer no differently – is a box of surprises, let's keep watching how the final stages of the competition will unfold. If they do not get the Cup, let us hope that the Team that does will beat them fair and square, and show their own merit for the Title.
Brazil and Germany: they are both heading for their tenth Semi-Final match in 17 World Cup Tournaments.
Brazil: 1938, 1950, 1958, 1962, 1970, 1974, 1978, 1994, 1998, and now, 2002, out of which, only three times Brazil has been defeated (1938, when Brazil finished third; 1974, Brazil finishing fourth; and 1978, finishing third).
Germany: 1934, 1954, 1958, 1966, 1970, 1974, 1982, 1986, 1990, and now 2002. Though 12 years have gone since Germany was last in a World Cup Semi-Final, like Brazil, Germany has been defeated only three times, in Semi-Final matches (1934, when Germany finished third; 1958, Germany finishing fourth; and 1970, once more finishing fourth).
Brazil, however, has long held the upper edge in World Soccer: not only it is the single country that has been part of every one of the 17 World Cup Tournaments, but also the only country that has won it four times (see here). Additionally, in 1970 (Mexico), Brazil won the honor of becoming the permanent holder of the Jules Rimet Cup – FIFA's World Cup Tournament until then – when the Brazilian squad became the first to win the Jules Rimet Cup three times (Italy and Uruguay had each two Jules Rimet Cup wins then, whereas West Germany and England, one win each).
My favorites for the final?
S.Korea, Spain, and Brazil, so we can delight our eyes with inspired and creatively played soccer, and many goals and other exciting plays!
Certainly all teams among the final eight are strong and have their merits! Or they would not have come thus far.
But as a soccer lover, I will always favor Teams that play for the goal, the ultimate objective in soccer, and do so creatively, unexpectedly, beyond what schemes and tactics can predict or allow, by themselves. Too bad, Spain or South Korea will have to drop out of the competition this Saturday!...
Pleasant surprises in the First Round:
Japan - first in their group, in only their second World Cup ever! It is worth noting that Japan, alongside Denmark, had the fourth best campaign of all in the First Round of this World Cup (Check MieNet's 2002 World Cup Statistics)!
South Korea - a feat to match their co-host's! It is likewise worth noting that South Korea's campaign, in the First Round of this World Cup, was the fifth best of all, following Japan and Denmark very closely (Check MieNet's 2002 World Cup Statistics)!
Denmark - first in their group - taking no notice of France, the favorites! A real shame that a sequence of mistakes (unnecessary corner + goalkeeper failure), plus the loss of a key player, all in the first five minutes of their Second Round match, did not allow the Danes to find their own game against a once more determined English squad. The Danes had had the fourth best campaign of all, alongside the Japanese, in the First Round of this World Cup (Check MieNet's 2002 World Cup Statistics)!
Mexico - the next best First Round campaign after South Korea's, not to mention the Mexican's first place in a group where Italy was the absolute favorite! (Check MieNet's 2002 World Cup Statistics) And it all looks like we may see the Mexican Squad in the Quarter-Finals! (See right below.)
USA - made the second round, even if aided by Korea. And what a victory over Portugal (3x2)!
Though logic does not necessarily prevail in soccer, this might be as far as the American Squad can go in the current World Cup: their performance, which started on a high note, seems to be declining; moreover, they next face the Mexicans, who had a much better First Round campaign than their American neighbours (along with Costa Rica, the U.S.A. had the weakest First Round campaign among the Squads that made it to the Second and Knock-out Round of the 2002 World Cup – Check MieNet's 2002 World Cup Statistics.)
The Americans will need to exhibit the level of soccer that they started their 2002 campaign with, to beat their rivals South of the border, in a match that has all the flavor of a regional classic.
June 17: And, yes, they've done it! Not with the same great play as exhibited against Portugal (would they be saving it for Germany?...), but with a determination resembling the English against Argentina, a clever tactical system that proved frustrating for the Mexicans, and an incredible physical fitness. In addition, the U.S. squad had the merit of shooting precisely (except for Donovan at the end, probably worn out), so they took advantage of the few real chances they've had. And so Mexico goes home, frustrated. Certainly a more skilled team. But the Mexicans did not find the way to convert their skill into results – basically because they did not find a way out of the trap the U.S. got their neighbors in (merits to the Americans!), nor did the Mexicans shoot on goal with the same accuracy as the Americans. May this serve as good warning to the Brazilian squad, playing later on.
A word on the Portuguese referee (and line-referees): though excellent in keeping discipline under control from the start, the referee played a significant role in the result of this match. He and the line referees failed to see that stunning penalty committed by one of the American defense players, punching the ball with his raised fist (Statue of Liberty style), instead of heading it! The Mexican coach, from further away, saw it, and protested immediately – to no effect, lamentably, for those paid to see such details had missed it completely. At that time, the result was 1x0. In other words: the out come of the match could have been different, had the Mexicans tied the game then. Too bad for the Mexicans and lucky for the Americans that the referee had that one crucial slip.
Let us hope that the referee level from the Quarter-Finals on will fully correspond to the relevance of these matches, without any direct interference on the results.
At any rate, the Americans played with more heart and determination than the Mexicans and, for what the U.S. squad showed this Monday, they deserved the win – even if clearly defended by the hand of Liberty (allusion to Maradona's by now notorious hand of God).
Personally, I do not like the American style, especially as shown against Mexico: prevent the game from flowing, whether in the attack or the defense, and counter-attack as possible (see here, and here, and here, as well). But I concede that the U.S. squad made the most of their system and efficiently produced the intended result, in part due to their exceptional physical fitness, in part to their tactical discipline.
(Can you imagine, though, a match between the U.S.A. and Italy? I'd envision a dull match, some sort of antithesis of the jolly and entertaining 90 minutes produced by Costa Rica x Brazil – which generously offered the public seven goals, lovely soccer playing and skill, and few fouls.)
Whether or not the determined American squad can repeat the dose against a Germany that, despite having the second most productive attack so far (after Brazil), has not yet played up to its tradition, we'll find out on Friday, the 21st. It will surely be a feat if the Americans make it to the semi-finals.
Result-efficient?...possibly. But worthy of a future champion?... At any rate, a game with questionable appeal for the soccer-loving public:
Senegal - style & biotypes perhaps more akin to rugby or American football, fueled by quite volatile tempers... Force & tough physical playing, though, have often eclipsed, when not crushed, talent & skill - albeit qualities no doubt inherent to many of the Senegalese players, their matches are not quite remembered for these.
Italy - a system hardly honoring the category of some of their players, in the way it has so far been put to practice: defend and defend, long balls forward, busy elbows, press the referee, etc... The Italian squad is certainly greater than that.
In the First Round of the 2002 World Cup, 130 goals were scored among the 48 group matches.
In the previous World Cup (France, 1998), which ended up setting the record of 171 goals scored in all matches, the number of goals scored in the First Round was 127.
In other words, yes, the current World Cup may well be on the way to setting a new record for goals scored.
June 30: It looked good, right when the knock out phase started, as the numbers above reveal. However, during this second phase of the 2002 World Cup, relatively far fewer goals were scored. The end result is a rather disappointing low average, the second lowest of the past six World Cups.
Here are the results of a recent poll ran by FIFA, for an All-Time World Cup Dream Team: