World Cup Last 16 Preview: Day 1

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.

File:Uruguay football association.svgFile:Emblem of Korea Football Association.svg

Uruguay -v- Korea Republic
Port Elizabeth, 16:30 local time – 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

File:US Soccer logo.svgFile:Ghana FA.png

USA -v- Ghana
Rustenburg, 20:30 local time – 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.

The Author

Kevin Coleman

Founder and co-editor of Back Page Football and current host of our 'Three At The Back' weekly podcast.

7 thoughts on “World Cup Last 16 Preview: Day 1

  1. “Defensive, efficient and very cohesive, they’re probably the most un-African African team in the competition as they play smart, intelligent football.”

    Though I know you don’t mean it that way that comment has more than a whiff of racism about it because you phrased it poorly.

    1. If you knew what I meant, I can’t see the need to point out how you felt it was phrased. What way would you have phrased it, then?

      African sides are known for their open and undisciplined football, little structure and organisation but a fun team to watch.

      1. You just answered your own question. I think you got a bit lazy with the earlier description of their football. Making a generalization about the entire continent’s football is absurd. Does Egypt play like South Africa? Was Algeria playing open and undisciplined football? Reverting back to stereotypes propagated by others seems below you given your nuanced commentary and analysis elsewhere. Shite, Ghana just scored.

        1. Well, apologies then for making such a generalization.

          I do feel however that “racism” was too strong a word, never had I intended or even considered such a sentiment.

  2. Nice post Kevin

    I’m going to focus on the US team here, since it’s the one I know best amongst the 4 teams mentioned here.

    You’re right when you say that the American defence is shaky. Bradley faces a real dilemma whether to start Onyewu or not, for various reasons. OK, the team earned its first clean sheet of the World Cup with him on the bench, but there are a few factors to consider :

    – Onyewu has delivered a stellar game against England and the problem against Slovenia might have been his fitness. He’s been injured most of the season and one can think that Bradley rested him for the Round of 16 game.

    – Bornstein’s performance against Algeria was quite good, but he’s probably been the most controversial pick of the 23. The US lacks quality at the left-back position, and Bornstein has had a couple of terrible games with the US in the past few months. But his speed seems adapted to Ghana’s style.

    – Whatever the US lineup is, Ghana’s speed will be the most important threat to the American defense. Algeria has shown that the Yanks are not comfortable defending on long balls, and all their options at the center back position are slow players (Onyewu, Bocanegra, Demerit, Goodson). This is something that has to be watched.

    What defence would I pick? Tough choice but I’d go with Onyewu in central defence along with Demerit, and start Bocanegra as a left back. Expect Donovan to start on the lef of the midfield t to help cover Bocanegra. On the right, Cherundolo is a natural pick.

    Now, as the 4 midfielders are normally known, let’s take a look at the attack. Bradley went for Findley in the first 2 games, with limited success. Findley is a very fast striker, and he enjoyed a great season in MLS with Salt Lake last year, but he is too limited for the international level. His touch is poor, and his finishing is average at best. The problem is, the other options have limited experience with the US national team. Gomez was out of the team’s radar 6 months ago, and blew a huge chance against Algeria. Buddle has never been so efficient in his whole career and scored twice in the last pre-World Cup friendly against Australia, but he hasn’t been used much since. I still consider him better than Findley.

    The lack of quality in terms of finishing up front cannot entirely be solved by Altidore. He works a lot for the team, draws fouls, creates space and chances, and can be really threatening when he accelerates, but his touch in front of the goal is still unsufficient for the international level. One just has to check his statistics at Hul City last season to confirm this. But one day, he will solve his finishing problems, and this day, the US national team will have an excellentstriker to count on.

    Once again, what would be my choice? I like to see Donovan in a deeper position, turning around Altidore. I’d go with Bolton’s Stuart Holden on the right of the midfield (good with the ball, excellent work rate and nice quality on crosses) and move either Donovan or Dempsey up front (even both, as they can switch position during the game)

    (Gosh, that was a long comment)

    Once again, what would I go for here?

    1. Sorry for only getting back to this now, with the USA and Ghana game hitting the final minutes of extra time!

      Good points, as was evident the US couldn’t deal with Ghana’s pace in attack.

      Onyewu didn’t start, I felt he was poor against England and just as poor against Slovenia, so they were right to continue with Bornstein at left back and Bocanegra in the centre. (unless Onyewu was going to score the winning goal, which we’ll now never know.)

      With two deep lying midfielders, I can’t see a space for Holden in the side, especially with such talent out wide in Donovan and Demspey. However I would’ve like to see Donovan behind the striker, like you said

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