It’s time to get down to the real business, the final sixteen of the World Cup. After what was nothing short of a group stage of disappointments in between a few shocks, the deadwood has been put to one side and the cream of the World Cup crop after left to fulfill our summer’s entertainment.
Uruguay -v- Korea Republic
Port Elizabeth, 16:30 local time
Uruguay – strong at both ends of the field – They were impressive in Group A, beginning their competition well with a draw against France before really getting it into gear with the 3-0 demolition of South Africa. With Diego Forlan on outstanding form, as well as Luis Suarez finally getting off the mark against Mexico, Uruguay will have more than enough in attack against the Koreans. However their strongest area is in defence, which includes the double act of Diego Godin and Diego Lugano, and the superb attacking option of Jorge Fucile from left back. Uruguay have played four different full backs so far, dipping deep into their 23-man squad showing Oscar Tabarez is not afraid to use the full range of options available.
The formidable attacking trident of Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez and Forlan has been nothing short of outstanding since being unveiled in the second game against Bafana Bafana. Forlan likes to drop deep and receive the ball, as Cavani and Suarez work the channels either side of the striker. To add to this trident, Alvaro Pereira also likes to join in when on the offense. Overall, Uruguay are a handful in attack and are rock solid at the back.
South Korea – Hardworking, but don’t have the firepower – The Koreans were one of the fortunate nations to qualify on four points, after wins over Greece and a tight draw against Nigeria in Group B. However despite promising early on, the Koreans leave a lot to be desired and surely won’t be emulating the heroics of 2002 where they reached the final four. Their key man is Ji Sung Park, the Manchester Utd midfielder, who seems a different player when in the red of Korea then to the red of Utd. Although talismanic, he and his nearest attacking partner Park Chu-Young won’t enough to break down the Uruguayan defence. Assuming they go with the attack that lost to Argentina.
They were more adventurous against Nigeria, but conceded two goals against the Super Eagles. They were reserved and in defensive mode against Argentina – and lost 4-1. Something tells me Uruguay will be comfortable at both ends, as Korea lack both the defensive fortress and attacking ability to knock out the Group A winners.
Prediction: Uruguay 3-0 South Korea
USA -v- Ghana
Rustenburg, 20:30 local time
USA – Plenty to threaten with, but do things the hard way – They left it to late, to the very last minute in fact, before guaranteeing progression into the last sixteen stage. USA are a very good team, it’s fair to say, but are lacking in areas particularly at the back. Up front they are quick, strong but don’t convert anywhere near the amount of chances they should be. After beginning with a deserved draw against England, the US drew with Slovenia 2-2 after going two goals down, before a late Landon Donovan strike in the 94th minute of the Algerian game put them through.
They are efficient in offense, with guys like Jozy Altidore, Robbie Findley and when he comes off the bench, Edson Buddle providing pace, strength but sometimes lacking in crucial goals. Then behind them they have attacking midfielders who score most of the goals, which is always a bonus. We’ve seen enough of Clint Demspey to know he is a great player, creative, adventurous and with a fine goalscoring ability, and you can add the same attributes to Donovan. Defensively, or in the “D”, they’re not so good and could get opened by a Ghana team who love to create chances. They played the same back four for the opening two games, but Oguchi Onyewu’s sub standard performances meant he was dropped for John Bornstein and the US duly delivered their first clean sheet.
Ghana – they love to create, but just can’t score - I loved watching Ghana in the group stage, and was chuffed to see they had pipped Australia and Serbia to second place in Group D. Why do I love watching them play? Because they create so many opportunities for themselves, but just can’t find the target often enough. In their first two games, Ghana managed forty-one attempts on goals, but just eight on target, and two goals both coming from the penalty spot thanks to Asamoah Gyan. But despite this, they are a very good side and deserve to be in the final sixteen. Defensive, efficient and very cohesive, they’re probably the most un-African African team in the competition as they play smart, intelligent football.
The began their competition with a surprise 1-0 victory over Serbia, who many believed to be dark horses in the competition – including myself, I had them in the final eight. After a draw against Australia, and an unlucky 1-0 loss against Germany, Ghana progressed on four points, ahead of the Socceroos on goal difference. Their achievement is all the more greater when you consider they are without Michael Essien, arguably one of the world’s greatest midfielders. They defend solidly, are happy to create but rely on the narrowest of margins and their structure and discipline is to be admired.
Prediction: USA 1-1 Ghana at FT
Note: The line-ups shown in the diagrams are predicted starting elevens, and not confirmed or leaked squads.