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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Poll Position: Your World Cup 2010 Predictions

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Walski has to admit that he’s not been updating this blog as regularly as he’d like to. In fact, myAsylum has been the diametrical opposite of Ibrahim “Froggy” Ali, whom we seem to be hearing from almost every other day.

The reason for Walski’s lack of activity is the very focus of our recently-concluded poll: the 2010 FIFA World Cup tournament, currently being held in South Africa, the first time football’s ultimate challenge has been held in the African continent.

In any case, the group stage of the World Cup 2010 has just concluded early this morning (Malaysian Standard Time, GMT/UTC +8), and so Walski thought this would be as good a time as any to splash the results of the recent myAsylum poll, which has closed to coincide with the end of the group stage.

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Predictions, by the way, that are still plausible. Apart, of course, from North Korea, who were in Group H (with Brasil), and who were quite convincingly knocked out. Unless, of course, you want to believe what the DPRK Press Man has been tweeting.

According to him, North Korea is still pretty much in the running, and that FIFA is investigating their qualification status (via Twitter). Any facts to the contrary are, therefore, nothing but imperialist Western propaganda.

It wouldn’t surprise Walski one iota if it turns out that the 4% came from the DPRK Press Man himself…
(poll result plus Group Result analyses, and more, in the full post)

But kidding aside, it’s interesting how you voted in the poll, and of the 7 countries you voted for, 6 actually graduated to the Round of 16, which is a great result. From here, the Winner of Group A will meet the Runner-Up of Group B, and Runner-Up of A will meet Winner of B, and so forth for the other C/D, E/F and G/H group pairings.

Click to view Group A details, from, image hosting by Photobucket

Group A, which featured former champs France, saw the biggest upset in the tournament to-date, when France failed to make it to the second round. Despite having a group of talented players, the team under coach Raymond Domenech simply could not gel together, and could only manage a draw (with Uruguay) and two losses (to Mexico and hosts South Africa).

This once international football powerhouse only managed to score one goal in the three group games. Adding insult to injury, Nicholas Anelka, was sent home just before their final group game against South Africa, as a result of a falling out with the coach.

Hosts South Africa, despite not making it past the group stages, didn’t go down easily, managing a win (against France in their final group match), a draw (against Mexico in the opening match), and a loss to Uruguay. And as far as the African representation situation went, they were not alone – out of the four countries to represent the continent, only Ghana made it past the group stage.

Group A – Winner: Uruguay, Runner-Up: Mexico

Click to view Group B details, from, image hosting by Photobucket

One of the only two teams that ended the first stage with all 9 points came from Group BArgentina, whom 11% of you picked to win the tournament. The Argentines topped the group, winning all three matches, while South Korea emerged as runner-up.

Co-hosts for the 2002 World Cup, the Koreans proved to be no pushovers, in a group whose runner-up was decided only once all the final group games were done and dusted. Although they did lose to Argentina, they managed to beat Greece, and drew with Nigeria, finishing the group stage with 4 points. Unfortunately, they lost to Uruguay in the first knockout stage game, which saw the Asian team down by a goal during most of the match, equalizing in 68th minute, but eventually losing the game when Uruguay scored the winning goal in the 80th minute.

Group B – Winner: Argentina, Runner-Up: Korea Republic

Click to view Group C details, from, image hosting by Photobucket

For most Malaysians, England, in Group C, is perhaps the most familiar team, because of the large following that the Barclays Premier League has in the country. Walski reckons that because of this familiarity, 11% of you picked England to emerge champions.

That has to be the only plausible explanation, as they were not at all impressive, only managing two draws in their first two matches (against the USA and Algeria), and literally squeaked through to the knock-out stage by beating Slovenia 1-0 in the final group game.

The other team from this group that made it into the poll was USA, picked by 4% of the respondents. USA topped Group C, equal on points and goal difference with England, but because USA scored a goal before England in the group stage, they topped the table.

Group C – Winner: USA, Runner-Up: England

Click to view Group D details, from, image hosting by Photobucket

When Germany opened their Group D foray with a resounding 4 – 0 win over Australia, many thought that the 2006 host would simply stroll through the group stage. Well, not quite – they were beaten in the second game 0 – 1 by Serbia, and barely edged Ghana a goal to nil in their third game. Two wins, however, secured them top spot in the group.

Ghana, which was the group runner-up, only managed a win, a draw and a loss, to finish with a better goal difference above Australia, who had the same number of points. As it turns out, Ghana became the only African nation to survive the group stage.

Poll-wise, Germany was favored highest amongst the 7 teams chosen – 29% of you felt that the three-time world champions would lift the trophy at the end of this year’s tournament.

Group D – Winner: Germany, Runner-Up: Ghana

Click to view Group E details, from, image hosting by Photobucket

The other Asian team to make it past the group stage came from Group E. Japan were impressive – two wins, over Cameroon in their opener and Denmark in the third match, and making the Netherlands Oranjemen struggle in one goal in Japan’s loss. It could be that Japan were an underestimated team – Walski recalls what the radio pundits thought before the last group game with Denmark, that the Danes would surely triumph over them. Not to be. Japan trounced Denmark 3 – 1 in the final group match.

Another African disappointment was from this group – Cameroon, who lost all three group games, and finishing last in Group E.

Team Netherlands did well in the group stage, winning all three games (the only other team apart from Argentina to do so).

Group E – Winner: Netherlands, Runner-Up: Japan

Click to view Group F details, from, image hosting by Photobucket

The biggest disappointment of the tournament had to be  Group F, where defending World Cup holders Italy was placed. Walski is not sure how much money punters lost betting on the Italians, but they ended up finishing last in their group, after only managing two draws (against Paraguay and New Zealand). That said, the dismal performance by the defending champs was not totally surprising, being that the squad fielded had the highest average age out of all 32 teams.

Almost everyone Walski spoke with thought New Zealand would be World Cup 2010’s sacrificial lamb. But the Kiwi All-Whites did much better than most people, even expert pundits, thought they would, ending the group stage unbeaten. Of course, they didn’t win either. But they can definitely go back home with their heads held high, especially after managing to score against Italy in a 1 – 1 draw.

In the end, it was Paraguay and Slovakia that made it past the group stage, in that order, with Paraguay winning one, and drawing two. Yes, Group F was that kind of group – not exactly the most exciting games to watch, apart from Slovakia’s 3 – 2 win over Italy (who to be fair, came very close – but a case of too little, too late). That, and watching New Zealand keep everyone else to a draw. But you’d really have had to be a die-hard football fan to watch all the games in this group. Walski will be the first to admit that he only watched 2 out of the 6 Group F games.

Group F – Winner: Paraguay, Runner-Up: Slovakia

Click to view Group G details, from, image hosting by Photobucket

Group G – on paper, the toughest group in the tournament, dubbed the Group of Death – was perhaps one of the more interesting groups to watch. Not only did this group have Brazil, who have appeared in the World Cup tournament more times than any other nation, but it also had a little known-about North Korea.

Truth be told, Walski for a while did have this offbeat fantasy of seeing North and South Korea in the finals. Possible on paper, but not in reality, as the North Koreans lost all three of their group matches, including a 0 – 7 drubbing to Portugal. Interestingly enough, back home in Kim Jong-Il Land, Korea DPR’s opening game against Brazil (arguably their best performance) was delay-telecast, while their loss to Portugal was shown live. Despite their almost impossible chances of getting past the group stage, 4% of the poll respondents thought North Korea would eventually bring the cup home to the Supreme Leader.

Brazil, in our poll, was favored by 18% of the respondents to be the 2010 champions. For that to happen, though, the five-time champion would have to perform much better than they did during the group stage. But Walski’s been told that the team, coached by the legendary Dunga, can very well make it through to the very end. Dunga’s coaching style has been described to Walski as being “pragmatic”, with the gas pedal not down to the metal too early on. We’ll soon see – Brazil will have their group of 16 match early Tuesday morning (Malaysia time) against Chile.

Football pundits and prognosticators, prior to the start of the tournament, thought that Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) would be the most promising African team, and the team to beat from the continent. That turned out not to be, as they ended up finishing third behind Portugal. But if Portugal had lost in their game against Brazil, then Ivory Coast would have needed to win by a margin of at least 8 goals against North Korea in the final match, which they did win, but only by 2 – 1.

Portugal, the other favorite from Group G, came away from the group stage with the highest scoring win in the tournament to-date with their annihilation of North Korea in their second game, after starting off with a less-than-impressive 0 – 0 draw with Côte d'Ivoire. But the final group game against Brazil, which ended with a scoreless draw, you couldn’t fault anyone for thinking that it was a game for nothing much to fight for except who would top the group. This was really apparent in the last 10 minutes or so, when neither Brazil nor Portugal seemed interested in playing, being content instead to play with the Jabulani.

In the end, Brazil topped the group table, with Portugal in second place. All things considered, this was the preferred outcome anyway, avoiding a Brazil/Spain match-up in the Round of 16.

Group G – Winner: Brazil, Runner-Up: Portugal

Click to view Group H details, from, image hosting by Photobucket

Last, but not least, we have Group H, where Walski’s personal pick, Spain, eventually finished the group stage tops in the group. But it wasn’t an easy path to get there, after disappointingly losing their opening match to Switzerland. Apart from Walski, 25% of the poll respondents picked the Spaniards to emerge champions.

But Spain did come back in much better form for the remaining two games, beating Honduras 2 – 0, and runner-up Chile 2 – 1 in the final game. Even though Spain accumulated the same number of points as Chile, the Spaniards had a better goal difference, which put them on top. Walski was a tad afraid that Spain would emerge group runner up, which would’ve meant meeting Brazil in the Group of 16.

Many other Liverpool FC fans probably picked Spain to win the tournament, due to the fact that star striker Fernando Torres was part of the line-up, plus the inclusion of a few other current and former Liverpool players in the squad. But whether or not they can progress into the Quarter Finals is another question. What Walski has seen so far would indicate that they have not been playing to their full potential. Or so he hopes. Spain will have to take the game to geographical neighbors Portugal when they meet in the late game on June 29 (2:30am on June 30, Malaysia Time).

Chile, the runner-up in Group H, have the daunting task of meeting Brazil in their Group of 16 match, where historical statistics are clearly not on the side of the South Americans.

Honduras met Switzerland in the final group game, which was played purely for the sake of sportmanship, since both teams couldn’t have improved their position in the group table, no matter what the outcome of their meeting would have been. As it turned out, their meeting ended up with a scoreless draw.

Group H – Winner: Spain, Runner-Up: Chile

~ ~ ~ o O o ~ ~ ~

The first two games in the Round of 16 have, in fact, just ended last night and early this morning. Uruguay, who topped Group A beat Korea Republic (South Korea), runner-up for Group B. Uruguay became the first team to qualify for the Quarter Finals, in a thrilling match where it ended Uruguay 2 – Korea Republic 1. The second game saw Ghana beating USA 2 – 1, with the game going into extra time. Ghana started the goal account early in the game, with USA equalizing in the 62nd minute through a Landon Donovan penalty. But Ghana prevailed after scoring the winning goal, very early in the extra period, through a 93rd minute goal by Asamoah Gyan. The USA, it seems, literally ran out of steam, having produced last-minute comebacks earlier in the tournament.

We’ll know in a few days time who else will advance to the quarter finals, but it does look like the eventual champion may just be from one of the 5 remaining teams you polled for.

Spain, if you were to ask Walski, but only if they survive their meeting with Portugal…

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