The initial group stage of the World Cup is now over and the 32 qualifiers have been reduced to just 16 teams for the knock out stages.
But there have been some surprises along the way, setting up a number of second round matches that are not at all as most people would have expected them to be.
The European sides have fared badly so far in South Africa. Only six of the thirteen original entrants retain an interest in the World Cup
France and Italy head the list of teams already heading home, and they were so poor that they thoroughly deserved their early exits. Both of the previous finalists have failed to qualify from the opening round for the very first time. Serbia, many people’s tip as a dark horse, also failed to qualify after two losses.
African teams have not performed well either. South Africa have a victory over France to remember but they became the first host country to fall at the first hurdle. Ivory Coast were unsuccessful in the toughest of the groups and it is now left to Ghana to carry the continent’s hopes into the last 16.
The sides from the Americas have played very well so far. From the northern part of the continent, the USA and Mexico qualified with only Honduras missing out, while from the south all five sides, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile remain alive.
The remaining qualifiers come from Asia, with Japan and South Korea both going through as group runners up. The very poor North Korean side has exited along with the Australians, who now play on Asia rather than Oceania, from where New Zealand are also out.
The first round of matches has given us 101 goals from 48 matches, an average of just over two goals per game. Hopefully this will go up as the tournament progresses. There have been few high scoring games: Portugal’s 7 – 0 demolition of North Korea saw the most goals but there were very few one sided games this time around.
In the race for the Golden Boot, Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina. Spain’s David Villa and Robert Vittek of Slovakia lead the way with three goals each. Eleven others have scored twice, leaving a very open competition for the prize.
One other interesting statistic: the player who has attempted most shots at goal so far is Lionel Messi with 20. But he has yet to score a single goal. Surely that run will not continue? The tournament’s sharpshooter is Lee Jung-Soo of South Korea, who has scored with both of his shots at goal so far.
So what will the last sixteen ties have to offer us?
Uruguay will take on South Korea in the first tie of the second round. The South Americans looked good in their early matches and will be clear favourites but the Koreans are a talented side. This one could see a few goals.
The USA against Ghana is a surprising tie, as many would have expected England to win their group and play in this match. But the Americans late winner put them through on merit and they will now be strong favourites to progress to the quarter finals.
England’s poor performance and eventual qualification as runners up gives then a tie against Germany. They have looked good and played some flowing football, which is something the English have failed to do. I think the Germans will prevail, without the need for penalties this time!
The Argentinians are playing very well and should have too much class for Mexico. Higuain will be looking for more goals and Messi might even break his duck too. Maradona’s men should qualify with ease.
Similarly, Holland should be far too good for Slovakia. The Dutch have not hit top form yet, but they eased through their group without problems. And the squad seems to be together at this tournament, with no signs of a typical crisis which too often affects this talented nation.
Tournament favourites Brazil will be firm favourites to brush aside a Chile team that will be weakened by several suspensions. My tips to win the trophy should get through without too much fuss.
Paraguay will start as favourites against the Japanese, but I think there will be an upset here. I’ve been impressed by the Japanese and at 11/4 or so they represent good value to progress.
The final match sees Spain taking on Portugal in what is something of a local derby. This last match could be the tie of the round and I expect a high scoring game. I think Spain will have too much for their neighbours in the end, but Ronaldo and co could provide a stern test.
If my predictions come true, we would see a quarter final line up with Uruguay v USA, Japan v Spain, Argentina v Germany and Holland v Brazil.
But given my tipping record so far, it will probably look nothing like that!
The knock out stage is often when tournaments come alive. There are no second chances now, it is sudden death. And that will hopefully lead to more attacking matches for fans to enjoy.
It all kicks off later this afternoon.
Sit back and enjoy it!