By Adam Vaccaro
What happened Friday: Playing without Kaka (suspension) and Elano (minor shin injury) in its first World Cup match against Portugal since 1966, Brazil won the Group of Death with a scoreless draw. A win would have clinched the top spot for the Portuguese, but they seemed fairly content with the result that sends the squad to the second round as runners-up. Coach Dunga of Brazil was far less pleased, and he showed his ire with the lack of offense on the sideline throughout the match. Still, Brazil wins its group for the eighth straight World Cup and remains a strong favorite as knockout play begins.
Also Friday: Winning the group was significant for Brazil, as it means that Selecao will avoid Spain in the second round. La Furia Roja beat Chile 2-1 to win Group G. David Villa sent a 50 yard bid home to start the scoring and picked up another goal from Andres Iniesta in the 37th minute. Down a man, Chile pulled the score within one just out of halftime on a deflected bid from Rodrigo Millar and showed good spirit in trying to level the score, but the task was just too tall. Even in losing, Chile earns a trip to the Round of 16 thanks in large part to a surprising scoreless draw between Honduras and Switzerland. They won't have much time to celebrate, however; Brazil awaits on Monday.
Ivory Coast needed a Portuguese loss and to score at will in the process of beating North Korea to wipe out a wide goal difference and advance. The Elephants showed the required attacking urgency early on, scoring twice in the first twenty minutes, but they only got one more and Portugal's draw kept them from possibly advancing regardless. We knew all along that only two of three very strong teams were going to survive the Group of Death. Ivory Coast ended up the unfortunate exclusion despite playing on its own continent's soil. The 3-0 win at least made for a solid send-off result.
What it all means: Spain and Portugal will partake in a great neighborly dispute on Tuesday morning. That one of these two powers will be eliminated so early is good news for the rest of the tournament. Brazil draws the easier assignment in Chile, but La Roja has shown itself very capable not to mention entertaining in group play. It'll be an uphill battle for the Group H runner-up, but they do at least belong on the same field with their fellow South Americans. In Chile, a nation still recovering from a devastating February earthquake, the team's success is a welcome distraction and a beacon of hope.
Switzerland heads home with four points but will be a team to watch over the next few years and are likely to be quite strong in 2014. The draw against Honduras is a disappointment, however, as the Swiss entered the day looking very likely to advance. Honduras was clearly happy just to have qualified and proudly takes a point away from its first World Cup in 28 years.
The talented Ivory Coast had an opportunity to go deep in the tournament, but they knew elimination was a distinct possibility from the moment groups were drawn. Brazil and Portugal are just too good. Overall, the country will be proud of its scoreless draw against Portugal and Didier Drogba, who at 32 has likely played in his last Cup, will go down in history as one of Africa's all-time greats.
With North Korea departing, we bid farewell to the source of some of the tournament's best off-field stories. We'll likely never hear from much of the team again, but for all we know they'll be celebrated as the tournament's champions in their country. What are tangible results to tell Kim Jong-Il otherwise, after all?
What to watch on Saturday: They've done what was expected of them and have captured the attention of America in the process. Now the United States has an opportunity to match its best ever World Cup finish and really shift the country's insatiable sporting attention to its soccer team. The Yanks face off tomorrow afternoon with Ghana, the team that eliminated them during the 2006 group play finales. The Black Stars are a physical, defensive group that play five in the midfield. Asamoah Gyan is a very legitimate offensive threat, however, and it will be on the sometimes questionable American defense to keep tabs on the young striker. Landon Donovan and (assuming he starts in the midfield) Clint Dempsey, usually known for their prowess in the attack, will also need to be at their defensive best against the quick Ghanaian wings.
But we can talk tactics and strengths and weaknesses all weekend. Let's say this: if America shows that same urgency it did against Algeria and against England and in the second half against Slovenia, the same urgency that stunned Spain in the Confederation's Cup last summer, the same urgency that Bob Bradley demands and his players understand they need in order to win, then the Yanks stand a great shot of making it to the tournament quarterfinals for the second time in history. If they got there, they'd see a match-up with either South Korea or Uruguay, neither of whom would be easy but both of whom would be beatable. Then our dreams would start getting really wild, and rightfully so.
Also Saturday: Traditionally a strong soccer nation, Uruguay is undergoing a revival after watching its team post three straight clean sheets en route to easily winning Group A. They'll see Group B runner-up South Korea in the first match of the second round. With respect to Japan, the Taeguk Warriors represent Asia's best chance to go far in the tournament. With Uruguay very strong on the back line and perhaps even more talented up top, South Korea will look to control the midfield in pursuit of the upset.
Question of the Day: How will the United States respond to what is likely to be a very pro-Ghana crowd? Their usual role as underdogs usually nets the US at least even crowd support. While there are high numbers of American in South Africa, this time around the vast majority of the crowd will be supporting the host continent's lone second round representation. The Yanks may relish being villains, or the scenario may stall them. Or maybe the buzz of the vuvuzelas will just negate any support either way.
Full schedule (all times EDT): Uruguay v South Korea Port Elizabeth Stadium, Port Elizabeth 10:00 a.m.; The United States of America v Ghana Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg 2:30 p.m.
Quote of Note: We have received incredible support from all our fans at home and from the many, many fans who have made the trip here. Whenever you have a team, one of the things you try to achieve, you want to have a team that the people who care about that team and follow that team and root for that team can feel part of, a team that people can believe in. That's part of our responsibility and we are excited in the moment that there is that kind of feeling. - United States coach Bob Bradley on the eve of his team's second round match against Ghana.