Well the field has been cut in half by the group stages and now the real fun begins, each team is faced with the same challenge, win 4 matches in a row and claim the World Cup. It may sound simple but even getting to this stage is a challenge, just ask the two teams that faced off for the 2006 World Cup? Both Italy and France are gone, and in their place are teams like the US, Korea, Japan, and Slovakia.
Saturday morning the action begins:
Uruguay vs. Korea - 8:00am MT - ESPN
Uruguay was the team that first exposed that the French were in real trouble, a 0-0 draw in their first group match, but after that Uruguay would post two straight wins a 3-0 defeat of hosts South Africa, then a 1-0 win over Mexico to claim the top spot in the group. Korea got to this match by finishing second in group B with a 1-1-1 record, an opening round win over Greece 2-0, a loss to group winner Argentina 4-1, and a 2-2 draw against Nigeria in the final match of the group stage.
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"We've showed that we are a tough team to tackle. We're trying to do what we had exactly in mind before the tournament. I don't think we've achieved that yet, but Uruguay is now a difficult opponent for anybody," Oscar Tabarez, Uruguay coach
"Although we haven't had good results against the teams from South America, the group stage match against Argentina has given us some good lessons on how to deal with Latin American sides. We all know how to defend and attack against them, and we'll show a different side of ourselves than in the group stage," Park Ji-Sung, Korea Republic captain
Uruguay and South Korea have turned in somewhat surprising runs to reach the knockout stage, but there's a tremendous opportunity to advance much further for both of them when they open the round of 16 on Saturday in Port Elizabeth.
While Uruguay is a two-time World Cup champion, its last title came in 1950. La Celeste haven't truly been a world power since, now bidding for their first quarterfinal berth since 1970. South Korea, meanwhile, failed to reach the knockout stage in 2006 after stunning the world with a run to the semifinals on home soil four years earlier.
There is one simple fact that predicts what I think will happen in this match, Uruguay haven't allowed a single goal to be scored against them. 3 matches played and 3 clean sheets. Korea has given up 6 goals in their last two matches after shutting out Greece, but the 2 goals against Nigeria make me worry that Korea's defense simply won't be able to deal with the technical abilities of Uruguay. In the World Cup, just about anything can happen and with no matches ending in a draw from now until the end of the tournament, teams will look to handle their business in regulation time. Uruguay 2-1, to move on to the quarterfinals.
USA vs. Ghana after the jump:
Saturday afternoon TV's all across the United States will likely be tuned to the USA vs. Ghana in record numbers as the sides fight for a spot in the quarterfinals.
United States vs. Ghana - 12:30pm MT - ABC
In the 2006 World Cup the US needed a win against Ghana in their final group match to advance to the round of 16, but there was no last minute game winning goal and the US came home and played observer for the rest of the World Cup, but that was then and this is now. The US is a very different team, unbeaten in their group with draws against England and Slovenia and a whistle beater win over Algeria to advance. Unlike 2006, the US has scored in each of their group stage matches, if you count the two horrible goal stealing calls, the US actually would have 6 goals instead of the 4 that are in the stat book.
Ghana come out of their group with a 1-1-1 record and their 4 points earned them a spot in the round of 16 based on a better goal differential than Australia. The "black stars" only scored two goals in their 3 group stage matches, a 1-0 win over Serbia, a 1-1 draw against the Aussies and a1-0 loss against Germany. There will be great pressure on Ghana to do well as they are the only African team to advance out of the group stage.
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"The USA are a very good side, solid, full of running and they play well as a team. Still, we know we have the quality to beat them," Asamoah Gyan, Ghana forward.
"We'd be delighted with two more wins but why stop there? Nothing is impossible. Winning the World Cup is what we're here for," Jozy Altidore, USA forward.
While the United States is carrying the hopes of a nation, Ghana is carrying the hopes of an entire continent.
The underdog teams meet for a spot in the quarterfinals Saturday in Rustenberg, with Ghana representing the lone African team to reach the knockout stage.
To be fair, there is probably no clear favorite in this match. Ghana represents the only chance Africa will have in the round of 16, and many believe the continent is ready to rally around the only team to make it to the second round.
The USA vs. Ghana match represents the pairing of the Group C winner versus the second seed from Group D. Way back when the World Cup draw was announced, the USA had a clearly advantageous alignment. Our side gets to bypass Brazil, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands and Italy until the semifinals. That, in a word, is amazing.
For the US, the question isn't "are they good enough?", it is simply can they play to their capabilities? If so then they should be able to advance past Ghana. For Ghana, the question is can they carry an entire continent on their backs? That is a mighty large thing to ask, when you add in the fact that they are without their best player and their leader Michael Essien, that task becomes even larger. I think the United States will get the 2-0 win in this match, Ghana may be stronger physically, but the US are quicker and stronger mentally as they proved with their never say die attitude in the last match.
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