On the whole, though, yesterday's results yielded fairly straightforward outcomes for both Groups D and E. The former, with Ghana now leading and Serbia and Germany trailing, looks like a hornet's nest of confusion, but if Germany wins against Ghana next week -- which, really, they are significant favorites to do -- they top the group. The second-place picture is a bit of a mess, but the Germans' effective control over their own destiny (through their huge goal differential lead) keeps hope for an A-B-C-D "soft spot" alive in the top quadrant of the knockout round. In Group E, meanwhile, the Dutch are almost certain winners and Japan and Denmark will play for second. There's a strong incentive for Italy to come out firing today against New Zealand -- if they fall behind Paraguay in goal differential, they could well have to play the Netherlands in the first round.
A larger tournament theme, meanwhile, seems to be the struggles of the African teams. Once touted to use home-continent advantage to make deeper-than-ever runs into the bracket, African teams are now a combined 1-6-4, with 5 goals scored and 12 allowed. From a group promotion picture, it's not much better: Cameroon are out, South Africa, Algeria, and Nigeria in somewhat desperate positions, and Ghana needs a result against a Germany to guarantee advancement. Only Ivory Coast's future is not yet written, but they're still only about a 50-50 chance to make it through. What accounts for this disappointment? I took a stab at it in my initial predictions -- the hype really didn't match the quality of the African teams, their brutal draws, and key injuries. Nate Silver, meanwhile, has some intelligent thoughts here, arguing that the idea of a continent-wide 'failure' is an overstatement.
All that said, it would be really lousy if not a single African side went forward into the Round of 16 -- I hope everybody will do their part in cheering on Drogba and the Ivorian boys today against Brazil.