A look at the 16 teams that survived the first round
Posted: Friday June 23, 2006 5:03PM; Updated: Saturday June 24, 2006 11:02AM
In his first World Cup, Argentina's 18-year-old wunderkind, Lionel Messi, has put on a show.
Ben Radford/Getty Images
They've played 48 of the 64 games in this year's World Cup in Germany, and half the field has gone home. Here's what to look for from the 16 teams who survived the first round.
How It Got Here: By putting on a clinic. Argentina beat a very good Ivory Coast team to open, and it closed with a draw in a meaningless game with the Dutch. In between, it humiliated Serbia and Montenegro 6-0. If you haven't seen the second goal, do yourself a favor and watch. It says something about the play that the highlight lasts well over a minute. The Argentines strung together 24 passes. If you're scoring at home, it went Riquelme to Maxi Rodriguez to Sorin to Maxi Rodriguez to Sorin to Mascherano to Riquelme to Ayala to Cambiasso to Mascherano to Maxi Rodriguez to Sorin to Maxi Rodriguez to Cambiasso to Riquelme to Mascherano to Sorin to Saviola to Maxi Rodriguez to Saviola to Cambiasso to Crespo to Cambiasso (a backheel!), who put the finishing touch on the prettiest team goal you'll ever see.
What Lies Ahead: A date with Mexico, which can't be too pleased. Moreover, Argentina's outstanding form combined with Brazil's indifferent displays may have propelled La Selección into the role of favorite.
Prediction: Barring several injuries or a mass alarm clock failure on the morning of a match, a deep run looks inevitable.
How It Got Here: In Guus they trust. Dutch coach Guus Hiddink got the team to finally play up to its potential. After qualifying for the first time in 32 years, the Socceroos scored their first World Cup goal late in the second half against Japan, then tacked on two more to win 3-1. A fine showing against Brazil (in which they got no help from strangely terrible ref Markus Merk) was followed by a draw against Croatia, which saw the 'Roos through for the first time.
What Lies Ahead: The Aussies play Italy, a team that, on paper, should handle them. But both Ghana and the U.S. gave the Italians fits. And you're not going to get far in life betting against Hiddink, who led Korea to a win over the Italians in 2002.
Prediction: There aren't many Cinderella stories left in this World Cup, but don't count out the Aussies. Italy can be beaten, and that would be followed by a game against Switzerland or Ukraine. Watch the 'Roos.
How It Got Here: By underwhelming the world. Ho-hum wins over Croatia and Australia were followed by a clinical dissection of a bad, bad Japan team. The big story was Ronaldo, who has gotten so pudgy and whose movements have become so belabored that looking at him you couldn't help but think he was going to start sweating red beans and rice. But where has Ronaldinho been? He's provided a couple dozen stopovers, and not much else.
What Lies Ahead: Being kicked in the ankles. Brazil should handle Ghana, but it will have the bruises to remember the encounter for days and days.
Prediction: The odds-on pre-tourney favorite will have its hands full with Spain in the quarters.
How It Got Here: Group A was horribly weak.
What Lies Ahead: Ninety minutes of football against England and a plane ride home.
Prediction: See above. Actually, I talked to several England fans who would have preferred playing Germany to playing Ecuador in the round of 16. While those people might be crazy, it does bear mentioning that Ecuador played very well in qualifying for the tournament and it handled Poland in the opener and drilled Costa Rica. But Poland isn't good, and neither is Costa Rica. The lasting memory of Ecuador's 2006 campaign will be Ivan Kaviedes's Spider Man mask, which he donned during the rout of Costa Rica.