By Adam Vaccaro
What happened Saturday: For the second straight game, Australia suffered from an ejection. And for the second straight game, Ghana's Asamoah Gyan converted on a deciding penalty kick. In Tim Cahill's absence, Harry Kewell's return was a big lift for the Aussies. It was also very brief. The striker's handball in the 24th minute resulted in a red card and Gyan's subsequent score his 21st goal in 41 international competition tied the match. The score stood at 1-1, sending the Black Stars off with a very important point.
It was a valiant effort from Australia, who needed a victory to stand much of a chance of advancing any further in the tournament. The Socceroos outplayed Ghana throughout the second half and had numerous scoring opportunities even down a man. But in the end they couldn't take back the lead and will be barred from the Round of 16 unless they get some serious help in the final set of group matches.
Also Saturday: Japan entered action this morning hoping to show that it belonged with the Group E favorite Netherlands. While the Blue Samurai were unable to secure a point from the contest, its defense was very impressive in keeping the vaunted Dutch attack quiet. The exception came in the 53rd minute when Inter Milan midfielder Wesley Sneijder scored the game's lone goal for the Oranje. A point would have put Japan in tremendous position, but the team showed that it belonged on the same field with the Dutch and will have an opportunity to advance to the knockout round next week.
Facing elimination with a loss, Cameroon got on the scoreboard early when Samuel Eto'o scored in the tenth minute against Denmark. Unfortunately for the African squad, the advantage would not hold as they were unable to convert on a number of other opportunities throughout the match. Denmark scored twice after going behind and captured a massive three points in dispatching the Indomitable Lions. The Danes are built upon their back line and its defensive lapses on Saturday will be a major concern going forward, but to have escaped with the win was a very important accomplishment and sets up for an exciting final match next week against Japan.
Referee Koman Coulibaly became instantly infamous all around the world after his blown call stripped the United States of a game-winning goal against Slovenia. It looks like FIFA is not unfamiliar with justice, though, or it at least really wants Americans on board. The ref's performance is reportedly under expedited review and Coulibaly may not be assigned to any further World Cup matches. The Associated Press also says that FIFA officials and members of the Referee Committee will meet with the media on Monday to discuss the incident. Here's hoping for a vicious, brutal, and thorough roasting.
What it all means: Group D will be settled on Wednesday. If Ghana can manage a draw against Germany, they will see the Round of 16 in the first ever World Cup on its home continent's soil. Such a result for Germany, coupled with a Serbian victory against Australia, would keep Die Mannschaft from advancing, which would qualify as a massive disappointment. The Aussies do have a slither of hope: if the Socceroos defeat Serbia and Ghana beats Germany, they can still move forward. But don't expect the Black Stars to show too much urgency in lending a hand to the folks down under. With so much on the line, they will likely play it safe and look for the draw to advance.
The Netherlands will advance from Group E and Cameroon will play the Dutch only for pride in its Cup finale. Japan and Denmark each have three points. They'll meet on Thursday to decide who goes forth. A winner will advance, but Japan can move forth with a draw due to its even goal differential. The Samurai defense showed itself strong today against an attack much stronger than the Danes', so victory will be a tough task for Denmark. The deciding match should prove very compelling.
What to watch on Sunday: In arguably the tournament's biggest game yet, Ivory Coast will meet Brazil in the day's marquee match-up. The contest's result will help determine which teams advance from the Group of Death. Selecao defeated North Korea last week but not without more difficulty than expected. The world's number one squad will look for a stronger overall showing against Africa's most talented. A point against Brazil would do the Elephants well heading into the group's finales; Portugal, its primary competition for a spot in the second round, is still yet to see Selecao.
Also Sunday: Group F will become far more clear by the end of the day. Though each team in the group scored once in a set of draws last week, Italy and Paraguay clearly played better than the group's underdogs. Slovakia and Paraguay meet early, followed by Italy's tilt against New Zealand. If the two post victories against weaker competition Sunday, they'll find themselves very likely to advance to the Round of 16. Paraguay turned a lot of heads with its performance against the defending champions. How they play amid heightened expectations will be an interesting subplot to the 7:30 match.
Question of the Day: Is Didier Drogba ready to be a major factor for Ivory Coast? The Elephants' captain is still recovering from a broken arm and it remains to be seen if he'll draw the start. He entered against Portugal in the 66th minute. His team's attack picked up noticeably after he joined in on the action, but the scoring machine himself did not seem entirely comfortable playing in a cast. While Ivory Coast would both benefit from and be proud to draw, they'll play for a win. A strong Drogba presence would exponentially increase the likelihood of that result.
Full schedule (all times EDT): Slovakia v Paraguay Free State Stadium, MangaungBloemfontein 7:30 a.m.; Italy v New Zealand Mbombella Stadium, Nelspruit 10:00 a.m.; Brazil v Ivory Coast Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg 2:30 p.m.
Quote of Note: Whether he was inept or corrupt when making the phantom foul call on Maurice Edu (not to mention other horrid calls throughout the game), Coulibaly is getting more press than anyone from Mali ever has. (Sorry, Malian astrophysicist Cheick Modibo Diarra.) - CSNPhilly.com's Dave Zeitlen, on Koman Coulibaly's call against that cost the United States victory on Friday.