By Adam Vaccaro
What happened Monday: Chile went a man up over Switzerland in the 31st minute but struggled to capitalize on the advantage for most of the game. Then, a pair of Chilean substitutes put La Roja on the scoreboard late in the contest. Esteban Paredes, who entered in the 65th minute, slipped past a defender into the right corner of the box before crossing to half-time sub Mark Gonzalez. With the goalie drawn out, Gonzalez got his head on the ball to net the game-winner. Unfortunately for Chile, this would be the game's only goal. The team is still undefeated in group play but will see Spain next week and may suffer for not having converted on more scoring opportunities.
Also Monday: Last week, North Korea gave Brazil everything it had in a 2-1 loss to the five-time champions. Based on this morning's result, in saying everything they had I am speaking very literally. Portugal posted a crooked 7-0 score in securing its first victory of the tournament. North Korea was able to hold them to just one score in the first half but the world's third-ranked team put on a finishing clinic in the second half, including three goals after the 80th minute. Tiago scored twice and Cristiano Ronaldo ended a long international scoring drought with a pretty juggling effort late in the match. All of Portugal hopes that the goal, which notably did not come in a high-pressure situation, will get the superstar rolling on the world stage again.
Spain got itself back on track with a 2-0 win over Honduras. David Villa, Barcelona's newest striker, scored twice on six shots and La Furia allowed very little in the way of opportunity to Los Catrachos. Having played pretty well in a losing effort against the Swiss last week, it stood to logic that things would straighten out for the Spaniards against the group's weakest opposition. The win sets up for a very interesting conclusion to what has probably become the tournament's most exciting group.
The head of FIFA's refereeing department did not directly comment on Koman Coulibaly's foul call that cost the United States victory against North Korea. Jose-Maria Garcia-Aranda acknowledged that the tournament has seen some poor calls but chalked them up to human error while saying that most of the tournament's officiating has been quite good (no argument here on that point). It's still likely that Coulibaly will be sent home before the start of the Round of 16, and he has not been assigned to any match through Wednesday's set, the latest with referees already assigned.
What it all means: Portugal finds itself very likely to survive the Group of Death after today's blowout. Should the team post a draw against Brazil, it will advance and the Brazilians will take the group's top seed. But even a loss should be an acceptable result for Ronaldo and Co. They weren't bullying North Korea in scoring seven times, they were improving their chances of advancing. Portugal now boasts a nine goal advantage over Ivory Coast in the event that the two tie. In other words, Ivory Coast is all but eliminated. With the loss, North Korea now knows that it will not advance. I do hope the squad was able to bring happiness to its Dear Leader, as was its stated goal.
Group G just might see three teams mount six points. The Swiss will be favored against Honduras and victory would give them two wins. If Spain beats Chile, already twice a winner, La Furia would also be at six. This would be a remarkable turn of events, as one two-win team would not advance. No group has seen three six point teams since the World Cup finals expanded to 32 teams (1994 saw two groups with three six-point teams, but under the format of that 24-team tournament, those teams advanced). A number of scenarios could play out in that instance. Essentially, advancement would depend on who wins or loses by the most or least in the group finales. Despite not having yet lost, Chile would be in the toughest spot; La Roja has hurt itself by only scoring twice despite numerous opportunities in its first two matches. If, however, Chile posts a draw, the team will win the group. And should that come to pass and the Swiss win, it would mean the shocking end of the line for Spain.
What to watch on Tuesday: It is unlikely that either France or South Africa will advance from Group A, but I would still prioritize their 10:00 a.m. match. The reasons? This will almost certainly be Bafana Bafana's send-off in its home country. The crowd should be loud and the team should have fun and play with a lot of pride, making for some enjoyable soccer. Perhaps even more compelling, Les Bleus have found themselves in complete disarray in group play's concluding week. France entered the tournament as a very difficult squad to cheer for. Frankly, it's been a delight to watch them implode. I'm hoping to catch a few final dramatics from the Frenchmen in what should be their last match as a group.
Also Tuesday: In other Group A action, Uruguay and Mexico will meet knowing that a draw will send both teams to the second round. This probably won't be a highly competitive match and at the end of the day, the two teams will likely advance and shake hands knowing that the only way they'll see each other again would be in the tournament finals. A different result could change things, but even then it's highly unlikely that these two won't advance. Should one team win, they'll take the group's top spot and the loser would be stuck in a tie breaking situation with a hypothetical winner of France versus South Africa. But because Mexico and Uruguay currently have a positive goal differential while Les Bleus and Bafana Bafana are in the red, it would take serious work on Tuesday for either of the latter duo to advance.
Group B on the other hand still needs to be decided. Argentina will win the group with a draw against Greece. The Greeks played well against South Korea in securing its first ever World Cup victory last week, but Argentina should outclass them in this one. South Korea and Nigeria will both play for a win when they meet. For either side, an Argentinian victory over the Greeks would send the victor into the Round of 16. Nigeria is yet to win but could still become this year's first African team to advance to knockout play. Vincent Enyeama has kept the team's hopes alive with his play in goal, and a victory over South Korea along with a Greek loss would advance the Super Eagles on goal differential. South Korea would also move forth with a draw, assuming Argentinian victory. Should both matches result in a draw, the fortunes of South Korea and Greece would come down to total goals scored. Stakes will be high all around during the two 2:30 matches.
Question of the Day: Will Lionel Messi score on Tuesday? The Barcelona superstar has yet to collect a goal for Argentina but has been dominant through two games. Messi played a hand in all four of his team's tallies in defeating South Korea. Against Nigeria, he was shut down on several great opportunities by Enyeama, arguably the tournament's best keeper thus far. Eventually he'll put one in. South Korea and Nigeria both hope it will happen against Greece, maybe more than once.
Full schedule (all times EDT): Mexico v Uruguay Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg 10:00 a.m.; France v South Africa Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein 10:00 a.m.; Nigeria v South Korea Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban 2:30 p.m.; Greece v Argentina Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane 2:30 p.m.
Quote of Note: Yes, I think what happens with the team is sad. But it is also sad that we don't debate soccer. Still, France has a small chance, and this obstacle will be forgotten if France wins. - Former French midfielder and captain Zinedine Zidane, referencing the disarray surrounding Les Bleus on the eve of its Group A finale.