But just because a soft spot isn't an automatic gift, it's still something that needs to be monitored as the group stages unfold. Especially for a second-tier team, it can provide a real route to World Cup glory. This year, the mushy area seems to be developing in the semifinal region that will be contested between the winners of Groups A and C, and the second place finishers in B and D. Despite their somewhat unfortunate loss today, I still like Germany to win Group D -- if they beat Ghana (which they will be heavy favorites to do), they'll almost surely come out on top in goal differential. With the Netherlands almost a shoo-in to take Group D, and France a Cup no-show, the only traditional power left in the bunch is England. The other nations with a chance to be drawn in the quadrant are the USA, Slovenia, Mexico/Uruguay, South Korea/Nigeria/Greece, and Ghana/Serbia.
The takeaway point is that much is on the line in Groups A and C -- not just in terms of who qualifies, but where they land. It's true that Mexico and Uruguay can draw next week and both will advance; but Uruguay will probably play South Korea, while Mexico lines up against Argentina. If I'm Mexico, I play for the win. In group C, the stakes are much the same: win and you play Ghana, perhaps; and then either Uruguay or Korea in the next round; lose and you have Germany, then Argentina. So not only must the USA (and England) win against Slovenia (and Algeria) today, they need to keep their eyes on the scoreboard. If both teams finish at 2-0-1 (or 1-0-2), goal differential will be key. Maybe Bob Bradley should look to Steve Spurrier or Nick Saban to act as an on-field consultant in the second halves of the Slovenia and Algeria games; they need to run up the score, and as slimily as possible.
* Grant Wahl's U.S.-Slovenia preview.
* Brazil, the Netherlands, and Argentina are big favorites to win it all, Nate Silver and the SPI's (somewhat outdated) group-by-group odds.
* After the 2-0 loss to Mexico, the French press unload on 'Les Imposteurs.'
* Aleksandar Hemon on how Argentina works -- and how he thinks they can be stopped.
* Did you wake up this morning and hope to see classic footage of Maradona juggling and dancing in pre-match warmups? I did.
* And in my favorite Maradona tidbit of the day, Diego's channels Jay from Clerks in response to a reporter's question about whether he "loved" his players: "I love women!"