Filed by Gentry Estes
The United States may be history, but the real story of the 2006 World Cup hasn’t yet been told.
The Round of 16 opens Saturday with Germany hosting Sweden and underdog Mexico taking on Argentina. From now on, every game is massive. A loss means elimination. A tie at the end of 90 minutes means 30 minutes of extra time and possibly penalty kicks.
A predictable group stage saw each of the eight seeded reach with the next round, though the remaining 16 isn’t without some Cinderella sides. Switzerland (world No. 35), Ecuador (No. 39), Australia (No. 42), Ukraine (No. 45) and U.S. slayer Ghana (No. 48) are the biggest surprises.
—; Germany (A1) vs. Sweden (B2), 11 a.m. Saturday
Jurgen Klinsmann’s team will be tested by the Swedes, who fought gamely for a 2-2 draw with England to close the opening round. But the Germans appear to be peaking at the right time, and will be a tough out at home. They’ll cruise into a tantalizing quarterfinal with Argentina. … Germany 3-0.
—; Argentina (C1) vs. Mexico (D2), 3 p.m. Saturday
Argentina has played the best of the tournament so far, while Mexico advanced in spite of its own recent poor form. The current gap appears too wide, though should it reach penalty kicks, the Mexicans have a potential savior in goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez. … Argentina 2-1.
—; England (B1) vs. Ecuador (A2), 11 a.m. Sunday
Just when the English returned star striker Wayne Rooney from injury, they lost fellow star striker Michael Owen to a torn knee ligament. The old England curse will show up eventually, but not here. … England 1-0.
—; Portugal (D1) vs. Netherlands (C2), 3 p.m. Sunday
This match shapes up to be one of the most competitive of the opening round. Both European sides are talented, deep, healthy and playing well at the moment. There won’t be much to separate them. … Netherlands 0-0 on penalty kicks.
—; Italy (E1) vs. Australia (F2), 11 a.m. Monday
The Aussies are reminiscent of the quarterfinalist U.S. team of 2002. While never a soccer power, they’re hard-nosed, play very hard and haven’t been afraid to take chances under coach Guus Hiddink, who led South Korea to the semifinals in 2002. The Italians, still distracted by the pro league scandal at home, had trouble in a physical match against the U.S. that will be similar to this one. Here’s your upset special. … Australia 1-1 on penalty kicks.
—; Switzerland (G1) vs. Ukraine (H2), 3 p.m. Monday
Despite its peace-loving reputation, Switzerland is a brutish team that hasn’t allowed a goal in the tournament thus far. Ukraine has played below its potential and advanced mostly due to a weak Group H. Anyone’s game here. … Switzerland 1-0.
—; Brazil (F1) vs. Ghana (E2), 11 a.m. Tuesday
In terms of our own March Madness, this is the 1-16 game of the round. Brazil hasn’t missed a World Cup final since 1990. Ghana scored its first World Cup goal earlier this week. While the Black Stars played well in ousting the Americans and Czechs, they’ll need a miracle. … Brazil 4-0.
—; Spain (H1) vs. France (G2), 3 p.m. Tuesday
France was fortunate to reach the second round after floundering to draws against Switzerland and South Korea. Spain is playing its best soccer in decades, leading some to think its long World Cup drought may be ending. We’ll see against Brazil in the quarters. … Spain 3-1.