Wednesday, 4:37 p.m., Taco Bell, East Village
Oh, how they will be going crazy in the bars of Lucerne and Lausanne tonight. The World Cup of Parity™ continues. Despite fielding 22 of the most perfectly manicured eyebrows the sporting world has ever seen, Spain's possession game came unstuck against the wafting of the Jabulani ball. The Swiss had no such problems as they barely touched it in their 1-0 victory.
Congratulations to South Africa for ridding the World Cup of one of its most annoying statistics. Bafana Bafana are shaping up to become the first host unable to reach the elimination round -- an achievement which will considerably ease the pressure on England if it is awarded World Cup hosting honors for 2018.
If Thursday witnesses half of today's thrills and emotion, you simply have no choice. Wake up early, unleash a firestorm of creativity to ensure your workaday tasks are complete by 7:30 a.m., and then kick back and feast on this bombastic bouillabaisse of ball-winning beauties.
Argentina versus South Korea, 7:30 a.m. ET, Johannesburg
The flamboyant firepower of Argentina confronts the diligent organization of South Korea on a day in which Argentinean coach Diego Maradona celebrates four consecutive weeks in which he has not run over a journalist's foot in a Mini Cooper. Mazel tov, Diego.
During his team's opening game, the cameras appeared more interested in Maradona than the match itself as El Diego manically prowled his technical area, trussed up in a three-piece suit (great product placement, Polyester Trade Association) with the groaning buttons on his waistcoat the only things at this World Cup under more pressure than England manager Don Fabio Capello.
Argentina secured a 1-0 victory, but Maradona will be aware that his team is still very much a work in progress. The defensive system will need to be tightened before it can withstand a serious examination, and while Lionel Messi shone offensively, he must summon a clinical finish to cap his signature slaloming runs. Striking partner Gonzalo Higuain appeared profligate in front of goal. How long can it be until lanky Diego Milito, the Champions League hero from Inter Milan, is given the chance to start?
South Korea's traditionally hard-running game will offer a stern test for the Argentines, especially as the Taeguk Warriors' typical fitness and organization allow them to score a lot of goals late. Their style is typified by opening-game man of the match Ji-Sung Park, known to legions of adoring Manchester United fans as "Three Lungs Park." His play has reportedly been enhanced by a disciplined oxygen-huffing regimen. This game may have a late twist in the tale.
South Korean coach Huh Jung-Moo has faced Maradona in the opening round of the World Cup once before -- as a player in 1986. Huh was given the mission of marking the Argentinean maestro and gave Maradona such a kicking he complained later that the Koreans came "to play taekwondo, not football." Diego still conjured three assists and Argentina won 3-1. If the Argentines repeat that score line, their challenge will appear very real.
Greece versus Nigeria, 10 a.m. ET, Bloemfontein
Unless you are a Hellenist, Nigeria-phile or have really, really caught the World Cup fever, this game may not sound so thrilling at first blush. But, come join me. Give it a go. Let's watch together and discover how my Super Eagles respond to their lackluster performance in an opening game in which they were, goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama aside, decidedly Mediocre Eagles. An upgrade at striker will be needed. Luckily, they have eight on their squad. Nigeria coach Lars Lagerback (who, Maradona take note, permits his gut to spill brazenly out of his warm-ups) wisely adopted a quantity-not-quality approach. They may all be needed if the Eagles will be able to stab in a goal and gain the victory they need to turn their tournament around.
Redemption could be at hand if Greece continues its stubborn refusal to score in a World Cup game. Their proud record:
Games played: 4
Goals leaked: 12
Goals scored: 0
The traditional highlight of a Greek appearance is the singing of their national anthem, which contains the line: "I shall always recognize you by the sword you hold." Everything proceeds to go downhill from there.Don't expect much to be different in this game. Greece's German coach, Otto Rehhagel, looked decidedly bored as South Korea spanked the Greeks 2-0 in their opening game. Aged 71, he became the oldest coach to ever manage in the World Cup. As his side was torn apart, he appeared to be elsewhere. Perhaps his mind was on retirement plans. Whatever the Teutonic equivalent of Boca Raton may be, with its life of early-morning rounds of golf and early-bird diner dinners, Rehhagel will soon be there.
France versus Mexico, 2:30 p.m. ET, Polokwane
Will France's all-around dismal opening game (0-0 draw with Uruguay) be a wake-up call for the talent-rich/performance-poor French? Not according to the legendary Zinedine Zidane, who lambasted the team on Canal Plus television. The good news is Zidane could find only two weaknesses. The bad news was that the first was the coach ("Raymond Domenech is not a coach") and the second was the team ("there is no teamwork").
Zidane appears to be right on both points and there may be no quick fix. Domenech is rumored to have had an argument with Chelsea's Florent Malouda, one of the most in-form players on the squad and just one of many rifts that has fragmented the French camp. Reports suggest that teen heartthrob midfielder Yoann Gourcuff has been marginalized to such an extent that teammates Nicolas Anelka and Franck Ribery refused to pass to him throughout the opening game. Former France left back Bixente Lizarazu chose to place the blame on Gourcuff, claiming the doe-eyed star was "too self-effacing, too nice and probably too well-brought up." Expect the French to unravel further.
The Mexicans are also under pressure to gain a result after their 1-1 draw with South Africa and will demand more end product from their talented young strike force of Carlos Vela and Giovani dos Santos, and front man Guillermo Franco, a big lump who is one of the only players in the tournament whose gloriously ineffective game is actually improved by the official ball.
The Mexican goalies are ready to do their part. At Monday's practice, they ran drills with an NFL football to prepare for the unpredictability of the Jabulani, which is either a coaching stroke of genius or an inspired piece of guerilla marketing by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his pigskin suits.
Finally, Davies: Please stop banging on about your choice of the "Post" as the player of the tournament thus far. Anyone who saw the glorious Swiss victory knows they have my main man "Bar" to thank. In the second half, when Spain's Xabi Alonso powered a banking drive goal-bound, "Bar" leapt out of nowhere to make the save. Admit it. He is able to get up mighty high for a big man.