Football Station


Strike Anywhere – Ghana v. Uruguay Preview

GHANA – URUGUAY

“Strike Anywhere”

Preview

July 2nd, 2010

Soccer City, South Africa

Seemingly one of the more underwhelming Quarterfinals, the Ghana – Uruguay game has as much potential excitement etched

Gyan will need to be on point to get Ghana through to the Semi's.

into it as any of the other ties.  Both sides overcame the odds to make it here, advanced out of very tough groups and are not to be underestimated, as so many have and paid for it.  Just like every Quarterfinal, a clear cut winner is anything but certain, and this will be a game of inches.  The winner will be the one who takes advantage of their chances in front of goal and defends as a unit.

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The only remaining African team will be hoping to have the crowd behind them as they take on 1 of 4 South American teams at Soccer City on Saturday.  It must be bittersweet for Michael Essien to have to watch this game from the sidelines, but he will be bursting with pride at his countrymen’s efforts so far.  Plus, he will probably still be a member of the 2014 World Cup squad in Brazil and he will be doing everything possible to make sure he’s fit for it.

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The Ghanaians have an injury scare with star striker Asamoah Gyan, whose stunning winner against the United States saw them to the Quarterfinals, picked up an ankle injury.  Despite this, he is still expected to play, and the Elephants will be desperate for him to be fit.  His goal against the Yanks in the first knockout round will have him brimming with confidence and he will be giving the Uruguayan back line some trying moments.  However the South Americans are prepared for that threat with Martín Cáceres (Barcelona) and Captain Diego Lugano (Fenerbahçe) anchoring the back four.

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With a powerful midfield, Ghana will be looking to flex the muscle of Kevin Prince-Boateng, Andre Ayew and Anthony Annan.  Sulley Muntari might be called into action to try and throw a wrench in the gears of the Uruguayan midfield’s attacking moves. What Ghana forces teams to do with their busy midfield of 5 players, is play the long ball over the top to try and cut out the African’s middle men.  The problem is that the Ghanaian team is tailor made for such tactics as we saw in the United States game and they are content to out muscle the opposing strikers, let their midfield claim possession and knock the ball around for a few minutes.  The problem with this game is that they are facing two red hot strikers in Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan.

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Uruguay didn’t surprise too many by advancing from their tough group, so don’t expect them to roll over and die for a very talented

Diego Forlan: Too hot for Group A. And too hot for his jersey apparently.

and young African squad.  The South Americans’ biggest asset is their strike force of Suarez and Forlan, and they will be looking to utilize that as much as possible, especially on their right side of the field where Hans Sarpei (the oldest member of an incredibly young squad) will be playing.  The 34 year old is capable but looks weary towards the end of games and will be prime for punishment when the game gets down to the grind.  If Ghana are ahead at 80 minutes, expect the South Americans to channel their attacking drive towards Sarpei, or at least until Milovan Rajevac, the Serbian manager, replaces him which he is wont to do.

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If Uruguay tries to play how Ghana want them to, then expect the African side to advance to an unprecedented first ever Semifinal appearance.  However, coach Óscar Tabárez has been around the block a few times and will be wary of how Ghana intend to play this game.  Edinson Cavani and Alvaro Pereira hold down the midfield with Diego Perez and won’t be susceptible as the Americans in midfield, especially if Tabárez opts to play the gritty Nicolás Lodeiro alongside them.  He’s small but he’s physical, which could be exactly what they need to overcome the hustle and bustle of the Ghana midfield.  If both he and Muntari play, it will be an interesting match and not a question of who will win the physical battle but who will receive a red card first?

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Ghana has allowed a goal in every one of their games except their opener, whereas Uruguay has only conceded a single goal and shut out all of Group A.

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Both sides can win this game and both know it full well.  Uruguay has more experience, but Ghana has more energy and the homefield backing.  The midfield will toil, but this game will be made in the striking department.  You only get a few clear chances a game, and the winner will be the one who can capitalize on theirs.

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Prediction

Uruguay  1 – 0  Ghana – though, extra time is not out of the question.

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Sub Prediction

Diego Forlan will at some point be shirtless.



Wing It – Netherlands v. Brazil Preview

NETHERLANDS – BRAZIL

“WING IT”

Preview

July 2nd, 2010

Port Elizabeth, South Africa

With no games today and no games tomorrow, the footballing world is left twiddling its thumbs and (if their side is still in the competition) throwing up a Hail Mary or two.  The competition was been slashed from 32 teams to 8, sending 24 squads packing home.  Saturday brings two world heavy weights and two relative underdogs toe to toe in the competition.  South America is represented in every one of the Quarterfinals (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, & Uruguay) , while Europe has three in Germany, Netherlands and Spain.  With the world’s finest footballers sharing the same field this weekend, there are bound to be fireworks.

NETHERLANDS – BRAZIL

Football purists are drooling over this tie and for good reason.  Bayern Munich team mates Mark van Bommel and Arjen Robben take the field against the Inter Milan defensive trio of Lucio, Maicon and Julio Cesar – whom they faced in the Champions League Final.

There isn’t much between the two sides, and it will be down to the wire on Saturday as Wesley Sneijder leads the Dutch against Kaká and the South Americans.  Brazil’s back line is deceptively versatile as it can turn all out defense to attack in seconds through the speedy outside backs who love to get in on the action.  Brazil have conceded only 2 goals in the tournament while scoring 8.  Both of the goals allowed came late against Brazil after they had seemingly won the game, which could be a warning sign that they could be more vulnerable towards the 90 minute mark.  Still, their squad’s overall solidity is nearly absurd, as they are all bonafide stars.  The spine of the team is Julio Cesar, Lucio, Kaká and Luis Fabiano.  Don’t tell me that doesn’t just bring a tear to your eye.

Robben will be hoping to expose Michel Bastos on Saturday.

Netherlands are a similar story, as they have also conceded only 2 goals but have scored 7 times, one less than the Brazilians.  They possess some of the trickiest wingers in the world with not only Arjen Robben, but Eljero Elia and Ryan Babel, as well.  Their strike force is almost second to none with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Robin van Persie, Dirk Kuyt and their wingers frequently getting in on the action.  The Dutch flex their attacking menace insanely well and like to have Sneijder pulling the strings behind the strikers and spraying the ball wide for Robben and Dirk Kuyt to play with.  The former loves to cut in on his left foot and let fly from outside the box, and past experiences against Fiorentina in the Champions League and Slovakia just a few days ago will tell us he is more capable than anyone at making that cut pay dividends.

Key matchups are all over the field, as it happens when world class opponents face each other.  Take your pick.

Robben vs. Bastos.

Van Persie vs. Lucio.

Fabiano vs. Heitinga.

Felipe Melo vs. Sneijder.

Kaká vs. De Jong.

If you had to pick a weak spot in the tie, it might be the Dutch back line.  Captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst is 35 and can be exposed by pace, as he will surely meet against Robinho and Luis Fabiano.  Joris Mathijsen is a sturdy central defender but, like his captain, is susceptible to trickery and the more fleet footed.  Also, Stekelenberg is a great keeper, but he will be up against one

The little magician certainly has some tricks up his sleeve.

of the top attacking lines in the world and might fall victim to a slew of Brazilian shots.  Also, the Dutch are perennial chokers.  They are known to cruise through qualifying, breeze past formidable opponents, only to fall to lesser ones.  Here’s hoping history doesn’t repeat it self and we are in for a real game.

If anybody on the Dutch squad can expose inexperience, it’s Arjen Robben.  Luckily for the Europeans, he will be matched up against one of the least experienced Brazilians in Michel Bastos.  While the Lyon full back is a very capable defensive player, he hasn’t face as much attacking power thus far in South Africa (and that’s saying something after coming out of Group G).

Also, the atmosphere for this game should be off the charts.  The famous Oranje supporters meet the world renowned Brazilian maniacs who live and die by their national team’s results.  Hopefully we can hear some songs now (considering that there isn’t an African team playing) other than the dull drone of the vuvuzelas.

Hopefully, Dunga and Bert van Marwijk will be looking to win the game, rather than trying not to lose.

This game will be made in the wings.  Robinho and Robben hold the keys to a game that will be poised on a knife edge.

Prediction

Brazil 2 – 1 Netherlands (after extra time)



Battle in Bloemfontein

 

 

 

 

 

ENGLAND – GERMANY

“THE BATTLE IN BLOEMFONTEIN”

Preview

June 27th, 2010

Bloemfontein, South Africa

Football fans are drooling over this historic tie, and for good reason.  Both teams appear packed to the brim with talent, have very capable managers and the expectations of their nations thrown heavily on their shoulders.  Individually, England are spectacular, as a unit, they lack connection.  Despite the fact that they started to look like a real team against Slovenia, that was Slovenia.  This is Germany.  The two are different.  Germany were a little bit of a grab bag in Group D as they romped Australia, lost to Serbia (who were beaten by Australia) and narrowly beat Ghana.  Calling a winner will be tough, as typically just the mention of either country’s name triggers a reaction in the football fan’s brain that they are favorites to win the match.

 

 

All business.

England – Almost more than any country in the world (save Brazil, maybe), England are expected to win the World Cup every time they enter it.  The UK is a nation obsessed with watching the Three Lions romp to victory, so it has been understandably tough for the country to sit by idly and watch their national team play a limp draw with the United States, an even limper draw with Algeria and finally find a little rhythm against Slovenia, but still nothing of what is expected of them.  Then again, the things that are expected of them are seemingly impossible.  Show me a “realistic” England fan and I’ll show you a liar.

Player for player, England might actually be better than Germany, but that is not the case, obviously.  It is almost impossible to predict which players will actually come to play for the Brits.  Wayne Rooney absolutely lit up the Premier League but can’t buy a goal in South Africa.  John Terry has offset the balance of the team with his well publicized scandal with Ms. Bridge and his outburst with Capello.  The question is: why doesn’t England win every game by 3 goals?  Maybe their egos?  Not enough chemistry?

Rooney can't believe his luck as he fails to find the target once more against Slovenia.

Starting from the front, England are gifted by all means.  Wayne Rooney, Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and Emile Heskey are all capable of making an impact in just about any game…funny thing is that none of them really have at the World Cup except Defoe who netted a lovely winner against Slovenia.  Wayne Rooney is paramount to this tie against Germany.  So much so, that we’re calling that if he doesn’t turn up tomorrow, England is out.

The midfield is jam packed with talent in Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney and hopefully for purists out there Joe Cole.  Cole would be a lovely inclusion for the very defensively rigid Germans and his creativity would counteract that of Mesut Ozil’s, who is guaranteed to give England problems in the back.

Speaking of which, the back line for England is suspect.  John Terry has performed, but hasn’t been amazing, Jamie Carragher shows age, Glen Johnson can’t, well…defend, but Ashley Cole may be England’s top performer thus far in South Africa.  The ‘keeper situation is well known and David James will be aware that the Germans will test him early and often.

Keys for England are Rooney coming to play, Gerrard motivating, and no calamitous error from David “Calamity” James.

Germany – There is never a time that Germany enter the World Cup with expectations lower than an appearance in the final.

Doesn't like Capello's attitude.

Why should they?  They have a great squad every time they come to the World Cup.  Even without Michael Ballack, the Germans have one of the most surprising players filling the void with great skill.

In Group play, Germany sent a message to the world with their 4-0 thrashing of Australia.  They looked genuine contenders for the final and cut open the Australian back line like they were Hertha Berlin.  Mesut Ozil in particular looked impressive as he didn’t find the scoresheet but he had two assists and was the architect behind most of Germany’s moves.  After that display, however, the team crashed 1-0 to Serbia after Miroslav Klose was received a red card (twice yellow carded) for a cynical foul in midfield.  Germany had their chances, though, as Lucas Podolski had his spot kick saved.  But the Germans put that behind them and picked up 3 points over a good Ghana side from an even better Mesut Ozil goal.

Coming in to the game, the Germans will be looking to capitalize on the shakiness of England’s back four, goal keeper and overall play.  Despite the fact that the Brits started to look better against Slovenia, the Germans are more than able of tearing all their work to pieces.  How?  Glad you asked.

Bastian Schweinsteiger – The 25 year old midfielder has been a main stay in the German side as he was in the Bayern Munich side that forced their way into the Champions League Final.  He’s a box to box midfielder who has a great eye for the smart pass and an even better one for the creative one that so many players wish they had.  He can and has played all across the midfield, so don’t be surprised if he comes in on the wing or in the middle of the park.  He’ll put in a show either way.

Mesut Ozil – Despite being 21 years old, Ozil plays with the composure of Andrea Pirlo and the creative edge of a player like Joe Cole.  Those are BIG comparisons, I know, but Ozil is destined for greatness, and there is no doubt in the mind of most football pundits that he will be a force to be reckoned with.  Be sure to watch him against England (#8) as he will battle with Gareth Barry and Ozil’s opposite number Frank Lampard.  He has a great knack for finding the soft spots behind the midfield and in front of the defense, a space key for the kind of passes he makes to the strikers running behind the back line.  If Carragher starts for England, Ozil will take him to the cleaners.

Analysis – Both teams are talented, no question.  Both teams are well coached, I won’t disagree.  But one team has to walk away the victor tomorrow morning.  The key match up will be Mesut Ozil vs. Gareth Barry (the more defensive minded of the two central midfielders).  Watch for it.  Who will win it?

We think Ozil.  His pace and youth are the going to be the decisive factors in his overtaking of Barry, who is a good player but has been exposed by speed and trickery before.

Prediction – England 0 – 2 Germany



Deja Vu
The United States Mens National Team fell 2-1 to Ghana for the second time in as many World Cups, only this time around, they broke our hearts in extra time.  This time, they couldn’t blame the referee.  But this time can only blame one man, Coach Bob Bradley.
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Yep, I said it.  Just what the hell was he thinking starting Ricardo Clark?  If any of you read the site regularly (unlikely, but hey, I’m an optimist) you know that I downright despise Ricardo Clark.  Now can you see why?  When I saw his name on the team sheet, I turned to my fellow Americans and said, “Clark could lose us this game.”  His attempt to step past Anthony Annan, resulted in Kevin Prince-Boatengs goal from outside the area.  Granted, Tim Howard was poorly positioned, but he shouldn’t have been put in that position to begin with.

Gyan celebrates his fantastic strike in extra time.

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Four years of Football Fandom is out the window, because Bob Bradley tried to tamper with the winning formula.  Why?  What would compel you to change the side that beat Algeria, that tied Slovenia, that could have beat Ghana?  In the only game Edu and Bradley started next to each other, the Yanks not only didn’t allow an early goal, they kept a clean sheet!  The Robbie Findley inclusion didn’t flip my lid either, but experimenting up front is much different than experimenting in the middle, especially when we were finally clicking.  Bradley’s only saving grace was his humility.  He had the guts to say, “Ok, I was wrong” and put Edu into the game.  Immediately, the United States started clicking.
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Another thing, why the long ball tactics?  I thought after the first 30 tries at trying to play a long ball in, we would give up and try to outpass them.  Nope.  Just keep thumpin’ it in there.  Eventually, one of their center backs will just let us walk on in.  We clearly showed that when we built up from the back, we had some beautiful passing movements – notably at the beginning of the second half.  We flowed seamlessly into the Ghanaian third and really put them under pressure.  And I know they were tired.  Who wouldn’t be? Honestly.  I cannot fault them in the slightest for being tired.  But you know who I can?  Bob Bradley.  If he hadn’t started Clark, we wouldn’t have been down a goal and a substitution.  Ghana used their substitutions late and they ran us out of it eventually.  What if we could have put Holden in on the wing?  Onyewu in for the tired Bornstein?  It just hurts how much sense it makes and how little Bradley had with this game.
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If we had started the game with Maurice Edu in the middle and got shalacked, fine.  I’ll take that.  It’s just such a bitter pill to go out to the same team that ousted the United States in an identical score line 4 years ago, when we had such a great chance to win.  They didn’t even have Michael Essien and bossed the midfield.

A dejected United States fan's eyes say it all.

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The first half of the game was absolutely abysmal from the United States, and the biggest game changing substitution had to be Benny Feilhaber.  He’s quick, clever and a concise passer.  Almost immediately, he brought an edge to the game that was previously absent as he nearly got on the score sheet.  You only get a few chances like that a game, and, time and time again, you have to finish them.
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Parting shot, the Ghanaians really didn’t show great gamesmanship in their winner here just like they didn’t in 2006.  They flopped like fish out of water and dramatically called for a stretcher every time there was contact.  Look at Clint Dempsey!  He gets treated like he’s in The Octagon every time he’s on the field.  What does he do?  He spits out blood and goes for theirs.
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Be a man.  Get up, stand up, stay up.
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It’s hard to blame one man for the loss, so I’ll blame two.  Bob Bradley and Ricardo Clark…but mostly Bob.  He could have prevented the whole thing in thefirst place.  Clark not only shouldn’t be starting, he should not be on the roster.  Who should? Maybe Freddy Adu.
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There are a lot more things I would like to say.  But I won’t.  Because, if you’ve read this far, you can read between the lines too.  This hurts.  A lot.  My emotional output before, during and after the game could power a small country.
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Bob Bradley just cost me 4 years of football fandom.  Such is life.
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Until next time...



Surprise Package?

As the knockout stages get under way, let’s examine who some of the most influential and surprising players of the tournament have been in South Africa.

5. Robert Vittek – The 28 year old Slovakian striker made a name for himself with two goals in the 3-2 victory over defending

Vittek nets his first for Slovakia against Italy.

champion Italy on Thursday.  Vittek and the Slovaks caught the Italian defense sleeping several times in their match yesterday, and were able to capitalize on three of those chances.  Turns out, that was enough.  The spritely hitman who plies his trade at…uh…Ankaragücü (Turkish side) seemingly ran for the entire 92 minutes he was on the pitch.  He is tied for top scorer in South Africa alongside big names like Gonzalo Higuain and David Villa.  Despite the fact that Vittek, along with the entire Slovakian side, have impressed so far in South Africa, they face an undefeated Dutch side in the knockout rounds.  But if history has told us anything, the Dutch will choke against some opponent, and the Slovak’s will be wondering: why not us?

4. Michael Bradley – For the coach’s son, South Africa has been his playground.  The calm and collected center midfielder is only 22 years old, but to the passing onlooker could be confused for a player 8 years older.  Bradley has turned in key performances in every game the Yanks have played in the World Cup, regardless of who his midfield partner is.  He scored the equalizer in one of the games of the tournament against Slovakia, and has been a rock in stopping attacks and a spark plug in starting them.  Without him, the United States would be standing on sea legs in the ocean that is South Africa.  The Borussia Mochengladbach lynchpin could have put himself in the shop window for bigger European clubs this summer, and with his displays against talented opposition, there’s no reason he shouldn’t get a look.

3.  Alexis Sanchez – Quick and dynamic, Sanchez has played a hand in most every attacking move for the Chilean side, who

He'll be listening to offers after South Africa.

have been impressive going forward the in all their matches.  The winger/striker plays for a very respectable Udinese side in Serie A.  Interestingly, the young gun has no goals this tournament, but has still been a key player for his South American side’s progression into the knockout stages.  They now face a Brazilian side coming off of a disappointing draw against Portugal and may be prime for some surprise attacking football…something that the Chileans almost guarantee.  Chile were unlucky to be reduced to 10 men against Spain.  It would have been a very different game if they were at full strength, as Sanchez & Co were running at the Spanish backline with speed and technically aplomb.

2. Mesut Ozil – Controversial pick here, because Ozil of Werder Bremen was known as a great player before his time in South Africa.  However, many did not give him the credit they are giving him now after his performances in group play.  In Germany’s first game against Australia, the 21 year old checked in with two assists, not to mention countless passes over and through the Australian back line.  Ozil has single handedly ensured that the presence of Michael Ballack has not been missed.  Ozil’s creativity has been the high point of Germany’s World Cup campaign and he capped off group play with a stunning strike against Ghana. He is just about as young as anybody at the tournament, but is playing at a level that the highest performers are on.  Looking for a bet?  Put it on Ozil moving to a bigger name European club for big bucks.

Honda will grow to be one of the hottest talents in world football.

1. Keisuke Honda – CSKA Moscow’s paying £6 millon for Honda now looks like a steal, as the Japanese wizard has lit up Group E.  He opened his first ever World Cup with the winning goal over Cameroon, and has continued to work his magic on the back lines in South Africa, most recently against Denmark as first he smashed a freekick into Thomas Sorenson’s net from 30 yards out but, towards the end of the game, he gave a craftily turned inside the box, and, rather than being selfish, played the ball across to substitute Shinji Okazaki for a goal.  He has been a revelation for the Japanese, and will be their biggest asset going into their clash with Paraguay, which is entirely winnable.  The manager’s claim that they could make their way into the quarterfinals.  With Keisuke Honda’s help, it’s a real possibility.



The World Reacts to Landon Donovan’s Algeria Goal
June 25, 2010, 4:14 PM
Filed under: International, United States, World Cup | Tags: , , ,

If you haven’t seen it already, check it out.  Very, very cool video.



Uruguay vs. South Korea Preview

Not the most dazzling first round matchup, but it should definitely be a tight one.  Uruguay possesses talent up and down the pitch, and Korea is no slouch either.  Both teams have been fairly surprising thus far in the tournament and progressed from tough groups into this stage of the tournament.  Now that all the group matches are over, we can catch our breath, step back and look at our knockout round match ups.

Uruguay – Finishing top of a tough Group A, Uruguay are two time World Cup champions…too bad those titles came in 1930

Dug up this beauty. Intimidating? You bet.

(the first ever World Cup) and 1950.  Not to mention, Uruguay hasn’t won a first round knockout game since 1970.  Statistics and history aside, this South American team looks like a real threat to the South Koreans, especially in their front line of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez.

Uruguay runs a tight ship in the back and hasn’t conceded a single goal in their first three matches of the tournament.  Anchored by Martín Cáceres of Juventus and Diego Lugano of Fenerbahçe, the back four is a tough nut to crack.  Moving up the field 21 year old Nicolás Lodeiro plays with a lot of flair and could be key to unlocking the South Korean rear guard.

The front line doesn’t need much said about it, other than they are not to be taken lightly.  Diego Forlan is one of Europle’s hottest striking talents, and since his renowned flop spell at Manchester United, has become a revelation at Atletico Madrid.  Luis Suarez’s goal record for Ajax speaks for itself, but it IS the Eredivisie.  Interestingly, all of Uruguay’s goals have come since Edinson Cavani was inserted into the lineup as a third striker alongside Luis Suarez for the second match against South Africa.

South Korea – The Tigers finished runners up in Group B under free scoring Argentina, who are looking more and more like serious contenders.  That said, Korea has more than enough talent to cause problems for the South American’s defense, stingy as

Chung-Yong Lee will keep the South Americans busy tomorrow.

it is.  The Koreans rally behind their talisman Ji-Sung Park of Manchester United and Chung-Yong Lee of Bolton.  Both are technically adept and, in truth, quicker than most of the Uruguayan team and Chung-Yong Lee in particular will have a chance to run at fullback Martin Caceres all game…the matchup of the tie.

South Korean football history doesn’t track back very far, and the apex of their success came in 2002 when they hosted the tournament and crashed into the Semifinals after ousting Italy in the first round and Spain in the Quarters. They would love to emulate that sort of form here in South Africa, but they’ll be hard pressed to do so.  The good news? They don’t face nearly as tough of a route.  You could get a lot worse than Uruguay and then possibly the winner of USA/Ghana.

South Korea will have to try and snap out of its curse against South American sides at the World Cup. The Tigers have lost three matches and drawn one. That drought continued with a 4-1 loss in group play to Argentina, which defeated Uruguay twice in South American qualifying.

Uruguay is 4-0-1 all-time against South Korea, winning 1-0 in the 1990 World Cup on Daniel Fonseca’s goal in the 90th minute that put La Celeste into the round of 16.