[WORLD CUP 2010] With the conclusion of play Monday, the World Cup is half over: 32 games in the books and 32 more to go. Here’s a few categories and incidents of note during those 11 days of drama, spectacle, and controversy.
1. Denmark 2, Cameroon 1. Defensive miscues can make for great entertainment, and a game that featured long stretches of end-to-end play produced 36 shots and somehow only three goals.
2. Slovenia 2, USA 2. Referee Koman Coulibaly’s bizarre decisions marred a disturbing start and thrilling comeback for the Americans, whose fans back home lit up switchboards and chat rooms complaining about a disallowed U.S. goal that would have meant a spectacular 3-2 win.
3. Switzerland 1, Spain 0. Regarded in many circles as second favorite behind Brazil, Spain instead reverted to its long history of World Cup stumbles by losing its opener to a Gelson Fernandes goal in the 52nd minute. The Swiss ran their incredible shutout streak in the World Cup to five matches.
4. Italy 1, New Zealand 1. Outshot 23-3, New Zealand held on to hand the Italians their second straight World Cup tie after Shane Smeltz’s goal stunned them in the seventh minute. Vincent Iaquinta equalized with a penalty kick but that’s all Italy could muster against a spirited band of Kiwis.
5. Germany 4, Australia 0. The impressive Germans ran through Australia before and after Tim Cahill was sent off late in the first half. Spearheaded by forwards Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose, the potent German attack dominated for long stretches.
1. David Villa (Spain). His gliding dribble through three opponents and spectacular shot into the top far corner eased Spanish anxieties against Honduras, and set them on their way to a 2-0 victory.
2. Landon Donovan (USA). With teammates in the goalmouth marked up and space running out, Donovan’s blast into the roof of the net from an acute angle cut a 2-0 Slovenian lead in half and breathed life into a compelling comeback.
3. Nicklas Bendtner (Denmark). He slid to strike the ball home from point-blank range after two of his teammates conjured a chance out of nothing. Center back Simon Kjaer dropped a long, diagonal ball behind Cameroon left back Benoit Assou-Ekotto that Dennis Rommedahl ran down to center first-time for Bendtner.
4. Siphiwe Tshabalala (South Africa). The only goal scored by the host in its first two games sent the Soccer City Stadium, and the nation, into a frenzied celebration. Ten minutes into the second half of the opening game, a fluid South African attack yielded a a diagonal through ball by Kagisho Dikgacoi that Tshabalala dribbled into the penalty area and drilled into the top far corner.
5. Gonzalo Higuian (Argentina). The game had been decided by the time he completed a hat trick in a 4-1 thumping of South Korea, yet his header polished off a sweet, classy display of attacking soccer. Lionel Messi clipped a ball to the left wing, where Sergio Aguero flicked the bouncing ball with the outside of his right foot to the back post, where Higuain nodded it down past the keeper and into the side netting.
WORST GAFFES (players-only!)
1. Robert Green (England). The West Ham keeper isn’t the only one to fumble a shot with a “schoolboy error” that is an insult to any schoolboy, but his flub of a bouncing Clint Dempsey attempt in a 1-1 tie with the USA rates the top prize. So far.
2. Zdravko Kuzmanovic (Serbia). Goalies aren’t the only players to badly misjudge the soaring eccentricities of the Jabulani ball. The Serbian midfielder jumped for a cross that flew two feet over his head and instead flagged it down with his right hand. Asamoah Gyan converted the ensuing penalty kick for a 1-0 Ghana win.
3. Faouzi Chaouchi (Algeria). Robert Koren’s shot dipped just as it reached the Algerian keeper, whose clumsy attempt to short-hop the ball instead ushered it into the net for the goal in a 1-0 win by which Slovenia took control of Group C.
4. Martin Demichelis. (Argentina). When he flubbed the simplest of traps of a ball headed toward goals by Park Chu Young just outside the penalty area, Lee Chung Yong pounced to pick his pocket and score South Korea’s only goal in a 4-1 Argentine victory.
5. Richard Kingson (Ghana). Unlike Green and Chaouchi, Kingson got his body behind a shot that came to him on the bounce from Mark Bresciano, but the ball rebounded off his chest right to Brett Holman, who hit it home for Australia’s goal in a 1-1 tie.