ARGENTINA-2 MEXICO-1 aet– For those unfamiliar with soccerspeak, the letters “aet” after a scoreline stand for “after extra time”. This was hands down the best game of the tournament so far. Argentina were heavily fancied to progress before the game but once it was over, they knew they had been in a contest. Mexico did their phenomenal support proud with a do or die performance that was worthy of further progression in the tournament. Ultimately it was a wonder goal from Maxi Rodriguez [pictured]. Top of the pile in what has been a string of breathtaking goals at these finals, which proved the difference. The biggest talking point was Argentina’s Gabriel Heinze only receiving a yellow card when he blatantly hacked down a Mexican player in the first half – most referees would have sent him off and the game would have been very different had he done so.
PORTUGAL-1 HOLLAND-0 – As ugly a sporting contest as you are ever likely to see. What is most ironic is that although there were as many as 16 yellow cards and 4 reds brandished [pictured], two of the most flagrant transgressions were missed – the deliberate injuring of Cristiano Ronaldo which could have ended his tournament, and Luis Figo’s shameful headbutting incident. I was glad to see the Dutch bully boy tactic did not work and like most football fans, I cannot believe that when his team badly needed a goal, coach Marco van Basten decided to leave world class forward van Nistelrooy on the bench all because of a disagreement off the pitch. I appreciate why he didn’t start with him, because apparently Ruud has had problems with his Manchester United teammate Ronaldo recently, but by the time the hour mark came round he had been taken off and van Nistelrooy’s introduction really was a no-brainer. I have to assume van Basten will now be seen running the Dutch show again.
SWITZERLAND-0 UKRAINE-0 aet [Ukraine win 3-0 on penalties] – Gary Lineker called this one perfectly before kickoff on the BBC – “This is a contest between the two most unfancied teams in the last 16, to decide who becomes the most unfacied team in the last eight”. OK, OK, I will hold up my hand – last week I tipped the Swiss to do well in the second phase. I did so because I reckoned they had a strong defense and this could see them through. Pity they didn’t realise that it helps to try and score some goals as well. They played to their superior talents at the back and didn’t seem to mind the prospect of a penalty shoot-out. Well, this notion bit them in the ass as not only did their gameplan make for a boring 120 minutes of football, they also lost their bottle in the shootout, missing all four of their kicks to hand a quarterfinal berth to the Ukraine [pic], who must have long forgotten their 4-0 drubbing to the Spaniards way back when.
SPAIN-1 FRANCE-3 – Cast your mind back to June 14th. Final score from Leipzig : Spain-4 Ukraine-0. If someone told you then that it would be the former Soviet republic that would make the quarterfinals and not their Latin opponents, would you have believed them? Unless you hailed from Kiev, hardly. The French wanted this game more, plain and simple. This was the performance their 30-something generation [eg Zidane seen in pic scoring France's third] needed to produce to justify their reputations, and whatever happens now, they can always point to this game. If Thierry Henry can find some of his va-va-voom as well against the Brazilians, anything can happen. However, it seems the French coach won’t let him run in at the goal from the touchline as he does so well for his club Arsenal.
all photos courtesy of www.bbc.co.uk
My predicitons for the quarterfinals…
GERMANY V ARGENTINA 2-1
ITALY V UKRAINE 1-0aet
ENGLAND V PORTUGAL 2-1aet
BRAZIL V FRANCE 3-2