Slakr: Everyone’s Played Once. What did you learn?

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Slakr‘s had a blast so far. We think you probably have too.

Every team has played their opening game (I’ll pretend I haven’t seen the Germany – Poland game just to keep things fair), and I’m ready to predict it: Best World Cup Ever. With the exception of France (four World Cup Finals games without a goal), all the top sides have more or less lived up to their billing (or have come away with victories at least). We’ve seen tremendous attacking football, some great performances by the greatest players, and some gutsy performances by some of the “lesser” sides. I don’t think we could have asked for much more out of the last few days.

Everyone says it every single major tournament, but could this be the cup where the Spanish national team lives up to its undoubted talent? They kicked off their tournament with a 4-0 drubbing of a lackluster Ukraine side. And while they were helped no doubt by a dubious red-card/penalty call by the referee, they demonstrated their class before and after going a man up on Andrei Shevchenko and Ko. Luis Garcia and Xabi Alonso get high marks from a Liverpool fan, but David Villa looked extremely classy and Puyol led a determined effort by the back line. Iker Casillas was never really tested, and had it not been for a moment of madness (probably caused by sheer boredom), he would have had almost no part in the game. Ukraine were mauled here, but with Tunisia and Saudi Arabia making up their group, they should still be in position to move forward into the second round. On the basis of this game, thats about as far as they can hope however. Saudia Arabia were particularly impressive in their game. Both their goals were the culmination of moves that started out from inside their own penalty areas, and were extremely gratifying examples of great team goals. It was sad that Jaidi’s goal in injury time ruined what would have been an excellent victory for them, but it was a great game and a great result for both sides. Sadly, I doubt that either team will be able to overturn a Ukraine side that has more quality than they showed today.

Argentina have won a bunch of plaudits for their performance, which was undoubtedly stellar. But I seem to remember them clinging on tightly for victory against a determined performance from Chelski workhorse Diddy The Drogba (and some of his Ivory Coast teammates). Still, with Riquelme, Crespo and Saviola all looking on-form, it will take a special team to knock them out. The Ivory Coast certainly did themselves proud with their performance, and one gets the feeling that in this “Group of Death”, thats probably what they’re going to have to settle for. I don’t see them knocking off a very impressive Holland side, though they should get by the Serbs. Holland seems to have clicked as hoped for by Marco Van Basten, with a neat mixture of youth, experience, and a youth who looks like he should be retired thanks to his extremely prematurely receeding hairline. As long as he scores goals like that one, and doesn’t dive, Robben will be a star of this World Cup.

England were disappointing, but for a change they got the three points out of their first game. Owen looked like a shadow of the player he is, and Sven’s decision not to take Defoe along for the ride looks like it may be costly. Still, they’re well positioned to finish top of the group after Sweden failed to score against T&T. Gerrard was fairly invisible, whether by design or circumstance, but Lampard played the attacking midfield role creditably. A goal-feast against T&T wouldn’t answer all the questions, but it should do this team a world of good.

Brazil also didn’t impress, and Ronaldo was a joke in the game. Whether it was the heat or the weight or the lack of match-fitness, there was no way he should have been back on for the second half. That said, they did what they needed to and pulled out the 3 points. Australia put in a determined and impressive performance, and saved FIFA from a controversial result in the first set of Games. Japan’s goal should clearly have been disallowed — Schwarzer clearly had the ball until he was bodychecked away. Couple of crucial goals late on by Tim Cahill saved them the blushes, and it was clearly a well deserved result for the Aussies. Croatia are still favourites to finish up second in the group, but Australia could pull off the upset on this evidence.

The Azurri seem to have put their domestic troubles behind them with a performance that suggests they are going to be one of the teams to beat in this tournament. I’ve got them picked to finish second behind the Czechs, and then to knock out Brazil in the second round. A very assured performance against Ghana suggests that its the first part of that I should be worrying about more. The Czech’s made an impressive debut in the cup, making light of the US’s 5 ranking by FIFA. Rosicky is a touch of class, and Koller is just the player you wish Crouch would become. Koller’s likely absence though, along with Milan Baros’s injury struggles mean that this team is going to have to find new ways of scoring goals during a World Cup — a hard ask. If they succeed with that, I think either of the teams in this group have a great chance of knocking down Brazil’s door.

The hosts are in a fairly easy group, and its hard to gain a lot of takeaways from their first two games. Their opener showed that the critics are right — they’re strong and the front and weak at the back. The second showed maybe the opposite, though it was a determined effort by the Polish keeper that kept them at bay. I don’t see any other team from this group making an impact past the second stage, though Ecuador are probably the prime candidate for that slot.

Mexico’s top seed looks dubious at best. Iran gave them a game, and I think Portugal despite their light win against Angola should go through top of this group. Mexico pulled out the win, but without impressing. Portugal showed some signs of being a world-class site.

France were the only top side to seriously disappoint in their opener. A lackluster performance, these fine gentlemen may be showing their age faster than the Czechs and the Portugese who were initially expected to. On the basis of this, France may be destined for a short stay at these finals, and I would expect any other teams in this group to book early trips home.

Those are my thoughts. What did you think? Who’s going to win, and is this the greatest World Cup you’ve ever seen? Are you as excited as I am?