By Adam Vaccaro
What happened Monday: Brazil's march to the final ran over Chile as Selecao posted a 3-0 victory against their fellow South Americans. Chile turned heads in defeating Brazil in qualifiers and was impressive in group play, but they see their tournament end in the Round of 16. Juan, Luis Fabiano, and Robinho back in the lineup after sitting out to rest against Portugal took care of the scoring, with Fabiano's first half strike the highlight. The Brazilian defense was also fantastic, keeping an attack-heavy La Roja team at bay throughout. Brazil entered the tournament as the world's number one team but not as the overwhelming favorite to win. With each strong showing in all facets of the game, it gets increasingly difficult to envision anyone else lifting the Cup on July 11.
Also Monday: The Netherlands eliminated Slovakia in the day's early match and are now 4-0 in the tournament. In the 18th minute Wesley Sneijder sent a long pass to Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben, making his first start and second appearance of the tournament after dealing with a hamstring injury. Robben put a strong left foot on the ball to give the Oranje a lead they wouldn't lose. The Durch quieted some Slovakian pressure in the late second half when Sneijder added an insurance goal, sending its excitable supporters into celebration. Robert Vittek scored on a penalty kick in the match's last play to make the score 2-1. By then, however, the sea of orange was already in party mode and will continue to rock South Africa for at least one more match.
FIFA responded to Sunday's refereeing issues that granted Argentina a goal it didn't deserve and cost England one it did. But it took a route that you might not expect. Rather than acknowledge an obviously glaring issue, FIFA has decided that it will no longer show video replay in stadiums. Granted, this is FIFA's reaction to Mexican players hounding referee Roberto Rosetti after seeing Argentina's goal on a stadium screen. But this measure is a clear example of a stubborn organization ignoring a structural problem and instead attacking a symptom, and at the cost of fans' in-stadium experience to boot.
Americans can take some pride in where its country stands on the prospect of including technology, however. US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati suggested on Monday that Major League Soccer may give goal line cameras and replay a trial period. MLS is a little league in a wide, wide soccer world, but perhaps a successful trial run would show FIFA that technology's not really all that big and scary of a monster, and can actually be quite useful.
England coach Fabio Capello, who does not plan on resigning from his post after the Three Lions' early exit from the tournament, was told by the English Football Association that a decision on his future would be made in two weeks' time. It's hard to imagine he'll be brought back after seeing the Three Lions get brutally hammered in the press following Sunday's 4-1 loss to Germany.
What it all means: As the pool of potential winners gets thinner and thinner, the match-ups in each round of the tournament get better and better. This is readily apparent in Friday's quarterfinal match between Brazil and the Netherlands. For Brazil, nothing but a championship will ever do and they will certainly be favored. But the Dutch must see that if they can somehow get past Selecao, they'll be a clear favorite in the semifinals against the winner of Ghana and Uruguay. The Dutch have been too good for too long to have not collected a Cup. With Robben back in the fold and an unbeaten record, their supporters surely see 2010 as a prime opportunity to finally do so. Brazil will be out to squash these Dutch aspirations, as they did in the 1994 quarterfinals and 1998 semis.
Chile's tournament is over, but look out in 2014. While they won two games, Chile struggled to finish despite dominating attack play throughout group play a pretty sure sign that they're not quite there yet. But there's a lot of good, young talent wearing red, and they play a style that matches their strengths. Alexis Sanchez leaves the tournament a global superstar in the making and has already begun attracting the attention of top European teams. This Chilean team that captured a reeling country's imagination has its best days ahead of it and should be proud of their effort in 2010.
The Slovaks were happy to have qualified for South Africa and are no doubt very pleased with having reached knockout play. Their victory over Italy, even if Azzurri was the tournament's biggest fraud, will long be remembered fondly by Slovakia's soccer fans.
What to watch on Tuesday: The Round of 16's biggest match will pit the world's number two and three teams, who double as geographic neighbors, against one another. Ignoring that neither side has ever won a World Cup, Portugal versus Spain has the talent, star-power, and unpredictability of a tournament final. We'll be treated to it early on. Spain was not nearly as dominant as expected in group play, losing to Switzerland and letting Chile hang around. Portugal, meanwhile, did not lose, forcing draws with talented Brazil and Ivory Coast teams, and dominating against North Korea. A Portuguese upset is hardly out of the question. Whoever wins this one should have an easy path to the semi-finals, as the winner of tomorrow's other match will not be on the same level as these two powerhouses.
Also Tuesday: Japan's trapping defense, passing game, and scoring from set pieces have all been impressive in their surprising run to the second round while Paraguay's success is a product of its defense, having only been scored upon once. The betting line says Paraguay, but I'm not sure I see it. Paraguay's attack isn't all that strong, and Japan's needle-thin passing has impressed me enough to think it's capable of breaking down La Albirroja's rearguard. This isn't to say that I think they could dissect a German or even Uruguayan back line, but Paraguay's, while having put forth strong performances, is hardly on that level. They're the winners, after all, of the weak Group F that Italy was supposed to walk all over.
Question of the Day: Does Brazil's victory over Chile give us any kind of idea about a potential World Cup final match-up between Selecao and Spain? Brazil handled La Roja with relative ease while Spain struggled some in its 2-1 win against the upstarts. Spain's seen its star fall since the tournament started, and if we're to compare the two sides based on performance against their first common opponent of the tournament, Brazil looked like the much stronger side.
Full schedule (all times EDT): Paraguay v Japan Loftus Versfeld Stadium, TshwanePretoria 10:00 a.m.; Spain v Portugal Green Point Stadium, Cape Town 2:30 p.m.
Quote of Note: "We were preparing for three days for Robben, for his way of playing, but he is a total genius. When I saw him in the line-up I knew he would make the Dutch 50 percent stronger. And I was correct." - Slovakia coach Vladimir Weiss on the importance of Arjen Robben to the Netherlands.