Thursday, June 24


This may be the World Cup of the underdogs. Going in, I think most would have expected one or two African nations to be tagged as the surprise teams performing above expectations, but the results are proving otherwise. Although some of the teams going through were not the favorites, my congratulations actually go to two teams that did not advance.

I think it is more than safe to say that South Africa (ranked 83) and New Zealand (78) - only North Korea was worse (105) and the next best was South Korea (47) - were not expected to earn any points in the tournament, let alone register a win or multiple points.

Although South Africa will probably be the lone host nation, for quite some time going forward, to not advance, their performance was superb. A tie against Mexico and a victory defending finalist France were two results that deserve far greater recognition around the soccer world than will be given with their exit from the tournament.

When New Zealand struck for the late equalizer against Slovakia, it was a stunning result for the Kiwis. It was great pride for the nation and many heralded it as what would stand as their shining moment of the tournament. But the All Whites shocked Italy for an early go-ahead goal and were only undone by an Italian penalty for a second straight 1-1 tie. And today, against group-leading Paraguay, New Zealand earned a third consecutive tie to finish unbeaten and ahead of the defending World Cup Champions. They will finish as the only unbeaten that did not advance, and are currently one of 10 teams without a loss in the group phase with four of them yet to play.


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