The captain sinks with the ship: champions four years ago, Cannavarro and Italy head home as the bottom of their group.
I've been trying to write these as previews before the last group stage matches, but obviously I didn't make it for this one. So, here's a quick wrap-up of how these groups shook out.
Group E: Not quite the Group of Death this year, but one that produced a good quality matches. Here's a quick review of the teams from worst to best.
Already eliminated and playing for pride only against the already qualified Dutch, Eto'o and his compatriots are going home without claiming a single point. In the end, the game comes down to getting the ball to cross the line, and Cameroon only managed that twice. They join the hosts, Nigeria, and Algeria in the club of African teams that couldn't take advantage of playing on the home continent. Only Ivory Coast has any chance of joining Ghana in the second round, and they need a couple of miracles to pull it off.
Did well to come back against Cameroon, but weren't up to the task against Japan, who were particularly inspired in that final match. Nothing much to say beyond that.
Fell to the Netherlands, like everyone else in the group, but improved steadily. Their win over Denmark was built on superbly taken free kicks, and Paraguay will have to be extremely careful about fouling near the penalty area. Keisuke Honda in particular is extremely dangerous, and notched a beautiful free-kick goal, and a crafty assist against the Danes.
The Netherlands were efficient and effective. Three matches, three wins, five goals for, one against. Not the flashiest numbers in the Cup so far, but then this group didn't have any punching bags. Cameroon may not have been able to get a point, but no team was able to walk over them, and their rivals' victories over them were hard earned. Netherlands next faces Slovakia, and one would have to give the Oranje a great chance of making the quarterfinals.
Group F: what can you say? This group feature two big surprises, and they're the teams that didn't qualify. This kind of thing is why they play the games and why the World Cup is so great.
After France, one of the giant surprises of the tournament. Four times champions and one of the teams that is always on the list of favorites to take the Cup, Italy crashed and burned without managing a single victory. Italy actually came into the last match in the group with a chance of winning it, with something less of a win from Paraguay and a solid victory over Slovakia with enough goals to overtake the South Americans on goal difference. Even a draw might have been enough, as long as the Kiwis lost or drew with fewer goals. Alas, while New Zealand helped by drawing nil all with Paraguay, the Italians fell into disarray and gave up three goals before clawing back two. Too little, too late, and they were gone.
Didn't make it through, but most people will consider them as having overperformed on their undefeated, though also winless, run. Something to build on for the future in a country where soccer takes a seat several rows behind rugby.
Not hugely impressive in their first two matches, but turned it on when it counted against Italy. I have my doubts about them against the Netherlands, but that's for the future. For now, they can bask in the glow of getting through the group stage.
Like the USA, Paraguay took the top of the group partly on the because the titan had feet of lead. Even so, winning the group is winning the group and their reward is taking on the Japanese instead of the Dutch. It is probably a preferable match up, but as they just demonstrated against Denmark, the Japanese are armed and dangerous. It looks like Paraguay will have to bring its best game in order to reach the quarterfinals.
Now that Groups E and F are done, Friday sees the end of the group stage as Groups G and H finish up. The Lusophones look to have Group G sewn up, with Ivory Coast needing a victory and a minor miracle to overturn the Portuguese's nine goal advantage over them. In Group H, all teams still have an arithmetic chance, with Chile, Spain, and Switzerland all with realistic chances of making it through, and Honduras with an outsider but still possible if all the results go the right way.