But I'm an impatient sort of fellow, so instead I thought I'd discuss those games only in the context of the final knockout tournament. I'm actually putting this one below the fold -- a first here at the Iron List! -- because of its sheer nerdy ponderousness. So read on, soccer geeks, if you dare.
1. The winners of half the groups (B, E, F, G) are virtually certain: Argentina, Netherlands, Paraguay, Brazil; and the second place outlooks are relatively clear, as well -- South Korea will probably beat or tie Nigeria to advance; Japan or Denmark battle directly for the 2E slot, Japan needing only a draw; Italy will probably beat Slovakia; Portugal have iced things over Ivory Coast with their 7-0 win today.
2. In Group A, it is really down to two teams, Mexico and Uruguay, and Uruguay only needs a draw to win (and avoid Argentina in round 1). They have the advantage, but even if Mexico wins, the teams would just switch places.
3. Group D looks complicated but gets simpler when you consider that Germany will almost surely beat Ghana on Wednesday. The German loss against Serbia seemed worse on paper than it was in person: they were down to 10 men and dominated the match anyway. Ghana, meanwhile, only beat Serbia on a penalty and almost lost to the 10-man Aussies. Germany needs to win this match to advance, and win it they will. The other spot is up for grabs, but will likely be Serbia, with Ghana holding on to an outside chance.
4. The only really treacherous groups, in my mind, are C and F. I'm still sticking with England, against Silver's odds, to top group C, because despite all evidence I think they're a better side than they've showed so far, and all they have to do to win is beat Slovenia by more than the USA beats Algeria. Group F is really the most perplexing, as three teams can win two games but still manage to lose out entirely. I still like Chile's chances to take it, needing only a draw against Spain, but somewhat illogically I'm preferring Spain to Switzerland for the 2F spot -- it seems too early for the Spanish to go out completely, and I think Honduras might well do enough to get a tie from the Swiss.
Now, a few observations about this admittedly premature reckoning -- both in terms of the final group games this week, and the shape of the tournament to come:
1. The soft spot in the 1A-2B-1C-2D region is very much alive and well. Whoever can sneak into those spots looks quite likely to be able to reach a semifinal without facing a "favorite" any more highly regarded than England.
*Group repercussions: Mexico and Uruguay should not, as some expect, play for a draw. The difference between the soft spot and a rd. match v. Argentina is too great.
* Tournament repercussions: We're almost surely going to see a "Cinderella" semifinalist coming out of this stew. Of the possible teams, I think the Uruguay-Mexico winner seems the most likely to advance, with England or the USA also a possibility. If the Americans can get a really decisive (2-0 or 3-0) result vs. Algeria, and snag the 1C spot, they are more favorably set up for a deep run than in any previous World Cup.
2. Who's Afraid of Brazil? Both Chile and Spain, presumably.
*Group repercussions: The Chile-Spain game this Friday is critical not only to determine group advancement, but to sort out which of the two sides (or the Swiss) will have to face Brazil in the round of 16. All the more reason the Spanish will be desperate to win the match outright -- and by enough goals to prevent a Swiss mauling of Honduras from making a difference.
* Tournament repercussions: The 1E-2F-1G-2H quadrant looks like it will be the direct opposite of the soft spot above: Brazil and Spain, pre-Cup favorites, Italy, current champs, and the Netherlands, maybe the top European side in the competition so far. Even if 2H is Chile/Switzerland instead of Spain, whoever survives this graveyard of favorites will be by far the most battle-tested (and battle-exhausted?) Cup semifinalist.
3. A Second Softie? 1F-2E-1H-2G also looks primed for a surprising result: while Spain may sneak through as Group H winners, the other three teams are all somewhat less well-regarded.
* Group repercussions: The Japan-Denmark game on Thursday isn't just a battle to be first-round fodder at the hands of a major power. As well as Paraguay have played thus far, I'm sure both the Danes and Japanese would be thrilled with their draw, and their chances to make noise in the quarterfinal.
* Tournament repercussions: Again, the Chile-Spain game is the match of the tournament so far: whoever comes through will have a solid chance to make the semi without beating anyone better than Portugal. Meanwhile, the Portuguese themselves have to be kissing their good-luck rings. After seemingly surviving the Group of Death, they are now in position to make their second-straight semifinal with wins over Chile and Paraguay. We may be dealing with excessive Ronaldo close-ups until well into July.
UPDATE: Silver is onto this as well, only with a prettier graphic.