Spain got their World Cup campaign back on track with a one-sided romp over Honduras as round two came to a conclusion at Ellis Park last night.
But despite Barcelona’s new signing David Villa scoring twice and missing a penalty in a 2-0 win for the holders, you can’t help thinking the European super-powers lack the flair and panache of the Latin Americans in South Africa right now.
They don’t set the pulses racing like Argentina and Brazil have done so far. Or is it just me?
Given their shocking 1-0 defeat against Switzerland in their opening Group H encounter, the win was what matters for the world’s second-best ranked side though. And Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas certainly sparkled when he came on. Liverpool’s Fernando Torres has lost his blond locks... and some of his elan from the looks of this one.
The other Group H clash saw Chile edge past Switzerland 1-0 after West Ham’s Valon Behrami had been sent off - but only after the Swiss had surpassed the all-time World Cup finals record of 551 minutes without conceding a goal.
Mark Gonzalez, born in Durban to Chilean international Raul who played here in the 1980s, headed the only goal to all but ensure another Latin American side go through. He said: “I didn’t have a sniff of goal in all our warm-up matches, but it’s fallen to me to score at the tournament itself, which is unbelievable. We’re close to going through to the next round. We needed bags of patience.”
Group H could now finish with three teams on six points, but Chile and Spain are favourites to go through, in that order.
Portugal became the first European side to look seriously impressive since Germany stuffed Australia 4-0 on day three.
Their 7-0 thrashing of North Korea in Cape Town certainly got South Africa on their feet. There are over a million Portuguese in the Rainbow Nation, and they were loving it at the Rosebank Mall’s two huge screens near Johannesburg.
Just 1-0 up at half-time through Raul Meirelese, Simao got the first of half-a-dozen in the second half, with Simao, Hugo Almeida, Tiago and Liedson adding their contribution before Real Madrid’s iconic Cristiano Ronaldo finally got one. Then Tiago added the seventh heaven bit.
Almeida crowed afterwards: “It was a perfect day. We’re celebrating and it gives us a confidence boost ahead of the Brazil game (in Durban on Friday). It meant a lot to me to score my first goal at a World Cup; it’s a fantastic feeling.”
Brazil and Portugal will go through from Group G, which is largely what we expected from the sides ranked first and third in the world by FIFA.
In Group F, Paraguay and Italy are the likely qualifiers can’t see New Zealand doing it, Holland will be joined by Japan or possibly Denmark in Group E and I’m hoping Ghana will keep the African flag flying in Group D, where Serbia and Germany are also in contention.
Group C is the hardest to predict, with England and the US needing wins against Slovenia and Algeria to progress on Wednesday, while Group B sees Argentina already through, with Greece or South Korea, though pointless Nigeria have a mathematical chance.
Group A resumes tomorrow with Mexico and Uruguay just needing to play out a draw to deny self-destructing France and the hosts South Africa.
In all we saw 41 goals scored in the 16 second round games – that’s a big improvement on the all-time low of 25 scored first time around. The final group games should produce goals galore. We shall see. One thing’s for sure, the referees and their red cards are the current talking point.
The other? Latin American dominance – the CONMEBOL region boasts three of the four sides with maximum points, Argentina, Brazil and Chile, with Europe’s sole six-pointers Holland looking a long way short of perfection.
Neal Collins is in South Africa to complain about England's performance and promote his first novel A GAME APART. See www.nealcollins.co.uk.
To see Neal at the National Arts Festival on July 4, go to http://www.computicket.com/web/event/neal_collins_a_game_apart/148367625.