South Africa Match Observations: Round of 16, Part I

Some random observations after the First Knockout Round:

Uruguay 2-1 South Korea: Quick attacking movement from both sides from second one. Neither team were going to waste time waiting for counterattacks; both Uruguay and South Korea put the pedal to the medal, spread the field and took long, direct passes upfield into the attacking end. Both teams were very effective in the midfield, but Uruguay was a lot more solid in the back (Uruguay quietly went through the group stage without giving up any goals). Diego Forlan was on target early, not letting grass grow beneath his feet. The first counterattack for Uruguay resulted in a Forlan cross behind the Korean backline to Luis Suarez on the right, who one-timed it into the Korean goal. After that South Korea got a lot more disciplined going forward, looking to buildup their attack with sustained ball control. Uruguay exposed holes in the Korean backline, spreading them thin on the flanks with their furious counterattack and ability to switch play like nobody else in this tournament so far. Uruguay showed fantastic ability to close down the Korean attack in the midfield.

After the 30th minute Korea began to take quality chances on the Uruguayan goal. Park Ji-Sung was a monster on the left flank, using his speed to get the ball forward and showing a deft touch getting the ball to the forward players in the final third. You had to figure that one or both of these teams was going to get tired due to the furious pace of the game by both teams. Slightly more accurate long-range shooting from South Korea. Furious attacking by Korea after halftime, putting Uruguay’s backline under siege. For whatever reason Uruguay took their foot off the gas, letting Korea dominate possession in the attacking end. Park was now playing more centrally and much more forward as a target man in the box. No panicking from the Koreans, they were finally able to get the first goal past Uruguay this tournament on a poorly defended set piece, setting up Lee Chung-Yong to finish the rebound in the 68th minute. Finally getting their attacking mojo back, Suarez scored with a brilliantly sublime shot on the right upper corner off a set piece rebound in the 80th minute. Fantastic attacking match from both sides. Madd Props to Uruguay for a tactically proficient match that they grinded out for the win. And Big Ups to South Korea for always showing great workrate and never giving up.

United States 1-2 Ghana: Mistake giveaway in the midfield by Ricardo Clark followed by the failure of the USA backline to close down gave Prince Boateng an easy goal in the 7th minute during the run of play for the first time in this tournament. Ghana did a good job of controlling the midfield early, even disrupting the USA attack before it could get to the final third. Decidedly uncharacteristic buildup by Ghana, which resulted in them having the advantage in possession and sustaining it going forward. Not very tactically smart approach by the USA, who wrongly decided to try to match Ghana’s speed and strength. Bad day for defensive/holding midfielder Clark, who had his pocket picked early and got a yellow on a hard challenge only minutes later. Great anticipation by Ghana, who also showed an ability to chase down lose balls and get back in numbers in front of their goal to defend a counter. Benny Feilhaber came on in the second half for the USA and the distribution got much better, sending diagonal balls inside if still not spreading play wide with any regularity. Tactically the USA got better chances on the attacking end. Big break in the 62nd minute when a defensive breakdown by Ghana led to a hard tackle in the box on Clint Dempsey resulting in a penalty converted by Landon Donovan.

After that the game became a war of attrition; a lot of back-and-forth through the center with both teams closing down the ball carrier. In extra time, once again on a long pass into the front Jay DeMerit and Carlos Bocanegra couldn’t decide which one was going to close down Asamoah Gyan, who picked the pass out of the air and put a laser past Tim Howard. Ghana just went about killing time by playing keep away and flailing around on the ground on phantom injuries to close out the game. The USA went to the well once too many times, giving up early goals way too often to be able to come back from. A winnable game for the USA that they should not have lost. Proof positive that mistakes in the back can be fatal and send you home. A shame, really, because the USA clearly has the talent to hang with anybody but clearly lacks a certain mental toughness. Ghana’s strength and ability to press was the difference.