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World Cup redux (part 2)

Following up on my World Cup preview piece, let’s take a look at the round of 16 matchups.

You can still review these brackets as “Groups” as they do in previous rounds, just single elimination (like our regional finals in the NCAA tourney) and each winner goes to the final four.

A. Brazil v. Ghana, Spain v. France – This is the Group of Death. Everyone is penciling in Brazil, but my sources inside Ghanaian football convinced me to write in my preview piece that Ghana’s speed and depth were enough for me to pick them to win one game and knockout the team they beat.

We were both wrong. They won two games and knocked out both teams they beat. They beat numbers two and five in the FIFA rankings. They hung tight with Italy. They have speed, speed, speed.

There is no substitute for speed. It can’t even be coached.

Ghana will give the Samba Kings all they can handle. The refs will give the Samba Kings the game. This is international “futbol,” not the NFL. Do you think FIFA wants the world number one and its biggest draw out early? 1-1 Brazil wins on penalty kicks. But this game smells as fishy as the Pittsburgh Steeler-Indianapolis Colts playoff game from this January.

Spain v. France – Spain looked fantastic in the Group Stage and their reward is France and a date with Brazil or Ghana. Ouch. France has looked sluggish and uninspired. They beat Togo, but eleven guys out of a bar could beat Togo. Spain wins going away, proving 1998 was a gift from God. Surprise, Spain upsets Brazil to go to the semis.

B. The winner of that bracket faces the winner of England v. Ecuador, Portugal v. Netherlands.

England has no excuse not to win this Group. Ecuador is overmatched and should fall 3-1. If England loses to either Portugal or The Netherlands, it didn’t deserve to win the Cup. If you are going to win the cup, you cannot succumb to inferior talent. Portugal is highly touted, but did not impress in the Group Stage and the pressure of their institutional imprint of losing on the biggest stage, they are ripe for a pressure-triggered upset. I think they edge the Netherlands in a squeaker, but lose to the Lions. If Netherlands beats Portugal, they know and match up well with England and should upset them. Winner: England

C. Italy v. Australia, Switzerland v. Ukraine – Oh sweet, SWEET justice! Finally, Italy gets a break. They overmatch the “Socceroos” in every phase and are playing because they know if they lose, they go home to criminal investigations. Win the Cup and all is forgotten. They are playing as though their lives depended on it, which essentially, they are. Further, Italy is playing at its level or higher, finally. Wanna win the World Cup? You have to beat the “Number 2s” and “Number 5s” of the World to earn your shot at Brazil. Italy looked good winning that murderous group. By the way, Italy gets “U.S., Czech Republic and Ghana” Spain gets “Ukraine, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.” I’m just saying…

Italy stomps Australia like floppy grapes. By the way, “Socceroos” is the wackiest name since “Ominous Seapods.”

Switzerland and Ukraine scare no one. If you want a stat, fine – Switzerland has not allowed a goal yet. Further, Ukraine looked awful in getting flattened and humiliated by Spain 4-0. They beat Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, which means they beat nobody who’ll be missed. Switzerland wins, but loses to Italy 3-1.

Azzuri, if you fail to convert this “penalty kick” of a bracket, don’t come home.

D. Germany beat Sweden 2-0 as we went to press, but don’t tell me you didn’t see that coming. There’s one World Cup rule similar to the NBA, keep the home team in the game (and the tourney) as long as possible. They win the next game also and advance to the semis against Italy.

Argentina v. Mexico – everyone is “ooohing” and “aaahing” saying this is the sexy upset pick, but I’m not buying it. Yes, “Mexico has played them alot” and “Mexico knows them really well” “Mexico can hang with them” but Argentina is playing great and Mexico is playing average. The margin of error for Mexico is too small. Argentina will just wear them down by coming at them wave after wave after wave. One miscue and this one is out of reach. Argentina pulls it out.

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