#eyesontheprize: into the 16…

so finally we’ve arrived at what people variously call the last or round of 16 or the first knockout stage, but never the 1/8th finals. i was not a fan of super 16s and glad that that nomenclature seems to have been and gone, but i do quite like just ‘the 16’ – so that’s what we’ve gone with.

so far, i can honestly say that this is one of the strangest World Cups i’ve seen. it’s not just France and Italy going out in the group stage – i think most of us saw the France disaster coming a mile off – or Switzerland beating Spain, Slovakia beating Italy and Brazil only just  beating North Korea, or even all losing to those sodding horns. the tournament has just had a strange feel about it.

without wanting to resort to cliché, i feel that the one tabloid story that really deserves attention is controversy surrounding the ball. by now it’s pretty standard for a new ball at a tournament to be the target of the complaints of a few disgruntled goalkeepers or perhaps strikers who’ve missed penalties or squandered open goals in the first few games, but the cloud of discontentment surrounding the Adidas Jabulani gathered quite a while before the opening game and has yet to fully disperse. one thing that i have noticed in every game i’ve watched is that the ball seems to be bouncing abnormally high. there have for example, been several downward headers from within the six yard box that have bounced up to around the height of the crossbar, which is something i’ve never seen before.

perhaps it was Rob Green’s slip that cooled the British media’s interest in the fairly widespread complaints about the ball, after all we wouldn’t want there to be a reason for his traitorous evil. however, there have been several incidents of keepers clearly struggling to cope with the ball’s movement, with, interestingly, many having been to do with how it has ballooned and bounced rather than how it has moved through the air (although that has raised eyebrows too).

Ex-Liverpool striker, ponytailed inventor and notorious Australian, Craig Johnson, who designed the Predator boot and Traxion sole – which were both bought up by Adidas – as well as consulting on ball design, has been fiercely critical of the Jabulani, calling it a scandal. Johnson blames the change from stitching to thermal bonding for changing the ways the balls curve and accelerate, calling the Jabulani, which is the lightest ball ever made, “basically a $200 beach ball

the standard of refereeing, by contrast, has, i’ve thought, been on the whole pretty good, with some exceptions – not least the decision to only yellow card Juan in yesterday’s Brazil Vs. Portugal game for a blatant deliberate handball. Harry Kewell must have been turning in his grave.

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players we think will shine from here on in:

Diego Forlan – he’s been arguably the best player so far, and we see no reason for that to change when Uruguay face South Korea in the 16s. Suarez will probably score more goals (he is one of the most in-form strikers in the world right now), but Forlan’s ideas are at the heart of what Uruguay do best.

Kevin Prince Boateng – Portsmouth’s lively midfielder has had about as good a season as you can playing for Pompy and seems likely to make them more money after the tournament than he would have before. I can’t see Ghana getting to the semis, but the USA will have to keep him quiet in order to stop them making the quarters.

Wayne Rooney – he’s not shown anything near his best form yet, but RQT pities the fool who writes him off too early. prepare for a different Rooney and a different England come Sunday. We’d also recommend the Germans keep an eye on Crouch and Joe Cole.

Rafael van der Vaart – again, Madrid’s favourite substitute hasn’t hit his stride yet, but i’ve got a sneaky suspicion that he’ll still end up having a bearing on the tournament.

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our predictions for the 16s:

Uruguay Vs South KoreaUruguay (2-1)

USA Vs GhanaGhana (1-0)

Germany Vs EnglandEngland (3-1)

Argentina Vs MexicoArgentina (2-0)

Netherlands Vs SlovakiaNetherlands (2-0)

Brazil Vs ChileBrazil (1-0)

Paraguay Vs JapanParaguay (3-1)

Spain Vs PortugalSpain (2-1)

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