South America has the edge over Europe at the World Cup

by William Abbs

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

Uruguay beat South Korea 2-1 in Port Elizabeth on Saturday afternoon to become the first side through to the quarter-finals of the World Cup. Two strikes from Luis Suarez either side of a headed goal by Bolton’s Lee Chung-yong won the match for the South Americans in driving rain at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

Suarez is now on three goals for the tournament, a tally matched by three other strikers: Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina, Spain’s David Villa, and Slovakia’s two-goal hero against Italy, Robert Vittek. However, for his performance against South Africa, which was rewarded with two goals, and an assist for Suarez’s first against South Korea, Uruguay’s Diego Forlan is currently the best-performing striker at the World Cup. Writing in Saturday’s Guardian, however, Mick McCarthy chose a front three of Landon Donovan (United States), Enrique Vera (Paraguay), and Gervinho (Ivory Coast) in his team of the tournament. While the other two have impressed to a degree, particularly Donovan, the presence of Gervinho seems perverse. McCarthy’s selection of the comically-coiffured Ivorian over the likes of Suarez and Forlan says everything you need to know about the strikers at Molineux (in terms of ability, not hair), even if the Wolves manager picked his dream team before Uruguay’s latest win.

There can be no denying, though, that teams from the UEFA region have been outperformed by their rivals from across the Atlantic so far in the tournament. All five of South America’s representatives at the World Cup survived the group stage. By and large, they have been better to watch than many of the European sides too.

Germany’s 4-0 rout of Australia remains the most impressive performance by a nation from football’s wealthiest region up to this point. The Netherlands took nine points from nine but did not thrill in the process, while Spain’s profligacy against Switzerland and Honduras raised doubts over their World Cup chances. England have been desperately disappointing so far, but at least they made it through. UEFA’s last two World Cup-winning nations, France and Italy, both finished at the foot of their groups, the latter losing out to unheralded Slovakia in a pulsating encounter that ended 3-2. Five other European nations – Greece, Slovenia, Serbia, Denmark, and Switzerland – are on their way home already too.

Argentina are the team of the tournament so far. With so many options in forward positions, Maradona even selected a winger, Jonas Gutierrez, at full back for his team’s first two games. Lionel Messi has yet to score but watching him try remains a tremendous spectacle, such as in the case of his rifled shot from distance against Greece that cracked back off the post. Uruguay, along with Chile and Paraguay, have also all played with flashes of panache as this African World Cup has evolved into a fiefdom for its South American contenders. Brazil might have played with the relative caution that was expected of Dunga’s side before the tournament but, in mitigation, they were faced with the spoiling tactics of North Korea and Portugal in two of their matches.

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  • Bill

    Argentina’s defeat of Mexico yesterday was impressive, reaffirming that they are indeed the team of the tournament so far. However, Argentina’s victory was not as impressive as the German’s mauling of England. The Germans looked very impressive, possibly strong enough to win the whole thing?

  • dexylongshot

    They are both looking good and I can’t wait to see the game next saturday. Will German organisation triumph over the sublime technique of Tevez and co. Too close to call.

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