By Adam Vaccaro
What happened Wednesday: Argentina survived. England survived. Portugal, Ivory Coast, and Italy all survived. All of these 2010 favorites were able to escape their openers with a point or, in Argentina's case, even a win despite struggling in the attack during a remarkably low-scoring opening round. Today, Spain had the same finishing trouble as its elite brethren but suffered a much more drastic consequence. Switzerland shocked the star-studded Furia Roja, winning the contest 1-0. Spain controlled the game throughout but the Swiss defense was impenetrable and Gelson Fernandes's scrappy 53rd minute goal caught the tournament favorites by surprise in what is by far 2010's most stunning upset thus far.
Also Wednesday: June 16 marks Youth Day in South Africa, a celebration and memorial in honor of the youth that died in sparking the fight against apartheid. On such an important day for the nation, a Bafana Bafana victory on home ground would have made for an emotional and moving tale. Unfortunately for the Boys, Uruguay put forth the better effort. Diego Forlan, Los Charruas' top scoring threat, became the first player in the tournament to score twice in leading his team to a 3-0 victory. Things will get tougher for the hosts: keeper Itumeleng Khune was shown a red card and will be suspended for the team's final match against France.
As thoughts and attention shifted to group play's second set of matches, Chile made a statement in its debut as it put on one of the early tournament's most impressive performances against Honduras. The score was modest at 1-0 but Chile's 19-7 shot advantage and impressive possession rate line up with what the eyes told us: La Roja dominated. Chile's win was its first in the World Cup since 1962. Jean Beausejour got the first half goal but 21-year-old striker Alexis Sanchez put on a show that lived up to his Boy Wonder nickname. Maybe this isn't just a potential 2014 behemoth. Maybe it's a team to watch right now.
What it all means: Group H was supposed to be Spain and everyone else, but the favorites will have some work to do to win it now. Switzerland and Chile are both up-and-coming teams that now sit atop the group. Spain meets Honduras next week and will look to unload on the group's weakest to get back on track. If you're cheering for the underdogs, you'll hope to see La Furia Roja fall in even more shocking fashion and for the Swiss and Chile to draw. Such a result would bar Spain from the second round. It's unlikely, but that such a result can even be considered is testament to the gravity of Switzerland's win today.
Uruguay takes the lead in Group A and looked dominant in so doing. They'll see Mexico next week. The full implications of that one will be unknown until the end of tomorrow's tilt between France and El Tri, but we do know that a draw would advance the team out of the group. Uruguay did very well to score three times joining only Germany as having scored more than twice in the tournament as it gives Los Charruas an impressive goal differential, which could be an important factor in this still very undecided pool. As for South Africa, it was disheartening to see their supporters file out with fifteen minutes left to play.
Perhaps most importantly, Wednesday gave us the tournament's best full day of soccer yet. The quality of play has been criticized in the past week, but today featured three strong matches with important results. And the best news? The tournament's still just getting started.
What to watch on Thursday: Group B could see a reshuffling in its standings as Saturday's winners, South Korea and Argentina, will meet in the early match. The Taeguk Warriors currently sit atop the group as their two goals against Greece puts it ahead of Argentina on goal differential. South Korea's victory last week made advancing to the second round seem very possible. A decision against Argentina would make capturing the group's top spot probable. Albiceleste outplayed Nigeria last week but only scored once; look for emphasis in the finish from Lionel Messi and company.
Also Thursday: France has been in a rut for most of 2010 but Group A remains wide open. Les Bleus don't match up very well with Mexico, but they'll likely come into the contest determined. This will be France's most important and probably most difficult match, and a decision would put the team in great position to advance as they'll meet a weakened South Africa next week. For El Tri, a victory would keep the group's favorite on pace with Uruguay.
Both Greece and Nigeria still stand a shot of advancing from Group B, but if either team can get three points out of tomorrow's match, the feat for will be much more likely for the winner. Greece doesn't have much of a shot against Argentina next week and Nigeria won't be favored against South Korea. A draw against one another, then, won't do either side a whole lot of good. Both of these teams are talented and neither should feel done just yet, but only a win will do. Look for loads of urgency from either side in this match.
Question of the Day: Could Spain possibly be feeling the pressure of history? La Furia has never made it past the Cup quarterfinals and is known for falling short of expectations. The current squad, though, has been near unstoppable for over two years. Is the history of World Cup failure already in the team's head?
Full schedule (all times EDT): Argentina v South Korea Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg 7:30 a.m.; Greece v Nigeria Free State Stadium, MangaungBloemfontein 10:00 a.m.; France v Mexico Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane 2:30 p.m.
Quote of Note: They deserve to lose for taking Switzerland lightly. - New England Revolution striker and CSNNE World Cup analyst Taylor Twellman, via Twitter, on Spain's surprising loss.