The last three groups to be decided have been fascinating to watch. With the Serbs making a comeback against Australia and the Ghanaians making Germany work for a 1-0 win, Group D was finely balanced all through.
Mind you, as much as it would be funny to have seen Ghana get an equaliser (or even a winner) against the Germany, the end result has set up a mouth-watering encounter for England. It’s one of those games that neither side would be too disappointed to lose due to the status of the opponent, but would really relish winning. Germany are a young and fit side, so will be hard to defend against. On the other hand the keeper and defence are there to be breached and if Milner and Gerrard can put decent balls into the box there are chances to force an error.
In Group F, Italy slumped to defeat against the Slovaks, making them the second defending champions to be knocked out in the first round (after France in 2002). Paraguay ground out a draw with New Zealand to top the group (while the All Whites finished unbeaten and a place above Italy to round off a very successful campaign). Yet again, England’s poor start is certainly being put into perspective by some of the big teams.
Holland strode to the top of group E, and Cameroon were another African team that ended up disappointing the home fans. Before the game I thought Denmark would be able to take on Japan and win through, but they were totally outclassed this evening. Inamoto didn’t really make much difference (coming on for the last few minutes when the game was already won), but there’s another Fulham connection still into the second round, to join John Pantsil of Ghana and the Americans Clint Dempsey and Carlos Bocanegra.
Tomorrow Brazil face the old colonial masters of Portugal to decide who tops that group – chances are that Brazil will win that one, but in this World Cup there are no certainties. Ivory Coast can only qualify if they beat North Korea and Brazil win with the combined margins of the games being over 11 goals. Barring a miracle, it will only be Ghana left as the hope for the African continent. Spain need to win to ensure that they won’t be the next high-profile European casualty. I’d like to see Chile ge through, as they have played good football so far and are not coming across as complacent. A 2-0 win by the Swiss over Honduras could put them to the top of the group, and Group H is really one that could see an odd goal drastically change the final table.