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Surprises continue in South Africa

June 19, 2010

"Nice to hear your own fans booing. That's loyal support for you." -

Though Spain losing to Switzerland remains the biggest surprise of the World Cup’s opening exchanges, the second round of group games provided a few more unexpected results that leave several of international football’s flagship nations uncertain of qualifying for the knockout rounds.

France’s defeat to Mexico was greeted with more media surprise than appropriate, given the French’s ineptitude in the first game, their struggle to qualify for the tournament finals in the first place, and their respective world rankings (Mexico, 17th, are only 8 places below France). Much-maligned coach Raymond Domenech’s insistence of playing Nicolas Anelka up front alone has looked increasingly misguided as the former winners have struggled over 180 minutes of football. Anelka now seems to be heading home following a disagreement with his coach; more on that later, no doubt.

Germany’s loss to Serbia was more surprising given both sides’ performances in their opening game, and leaves their group open, with Ghana (3 points from 3) play Australia (0 from 3) this afternoon. Italy should beat New Zealand tomorrow but if they do not, they will struggle following a draw with Paraguay (which was not a huge surprise in itself).

England’s performance against Algeria was more surprising. Wayne Rooney was too deep, again, and his side relied on hitting balls to Emile Heskey, who didn’t play as well as he had against the USA and in any case lacked support from a lacklustre midfield. England should beat Slovenia on Wednesday and qualify, but if they do not they will could just one of a number of former winners who do not even make the last 16. Rooney’s frustration was evident at the end as he sarcastically credited the travelling support for booing, an outburst destined to yield little sympathy from most. Fabio Capello must almost certainly make some significant changes to avoid the same treatment afforded to Steve McClaren, though one suspects the public and press are more ready to blame failure on the players this time.

Spain have plenty of time (but plenty to do) to rectify their first loss, but another failure to break down their opposition will almost certainly see them exit early on. The two big South American teams, by contrast, have 3 wins from 3 between them. Argentina and Brazil both did their job and the former are as good as through; Dunga’s side still have to play Ivory Coast and Portugal, but should only need to win one to advance. Holland, too, have picked up 2 wins, albeit in underwhelming games.

A second round without France, England, Germany, Italy and Spain would certainly count as a shock. Only France are in serious trouble as it stands, but Germany, Spain, and England are only one result away from a very early exit. It should be an interesting few days.

Today’s predictions:

Ghana 1 Australia 1

Denmark 1 Cameroon 1

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