DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 16: Xavi Hernandez of Spain looks dejected at the final whistle as Spain lose the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group H match between Spain and Switzerland at Durban Stadium on June 16, 2010 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Monday sees the last three matches in the second round of group play, with Portugal's game against Korea DPR being the final 7:30 a.m. Eastern start time of the tournament. On Tuesday, the World Cup will spend four days playing four matches per day, two matches at a time as each group simultaneously plays its last two matches.
For somebody like myself, living in the Pacific time zone, Monday is a watershed day in the tournament. Gone are the insanely early wake-up times to watch the 4:30 a.m. matches and the early bed times that go with them. These are the last days of caffeine addiction, sleep-walking through the final hours of the 9-5 job - a potential return of a social life! The clammy feeling on perpetual, self-induced insomnia will fade. We shall be zombies no more.
The trade-off has been worth it. The World Cup only comes around once every four years, with a time difference that is rarely this significant. When the 2014 finals move to Brazil, the start times will be relatively ideal, though a possible 2018 finals in Russia will put us right back in the world of early wake-ups.
But it's only two weeks every eight years, and that's if us West Coast soccer addicts don't relocate before then.
In the interim, Monday's schedule of matches at the 2010 World Cup. I'll keep you posted on the move to Russia.
Where They Stand: While North Korea lost the first match of their World Cup (2-1, to Brazil), they looked the better side between them and Portugal, who drew their opener against Cote d'Ivoire. The North Koreans held the Brazilians at bay for most of their match and threatened a late equalizer, while Portugal only mustered a couple of scoring opportunities against a Cote d'Ivoire side that failed to significantly threaten goal until late in the match.
While Portugal is ranked third in the world and North Korea's 105th, the teams' form in their first matches would make a North Korea win more surprise than upset - if that makes sense.
Player To Watch, North Korea: Goalkeeper Ri Myong-Guk had eight saves against Brazil, but against Portugal, his shot stopping will be secondary to his ability to control his area.
Portugal is a skilled team but is often tactic-less in attack. Their skill and athleticism ends-up compacting teams in deep in their own end. When this happens, Ri will be called upon to come off-his-line at the right time to collect crosses and through balls played towards the attackers that are trying to find space in the North Korea area.
If he is able to read the match well, Ri could render Portugal's attack inert.
Player To Watch, Portugal: Deco's absence against that compact North Korea defense will be big set-back unless Raul Meireles can have a good match distributing.
For better or worse, Deco is usually Portugal's creative, central midfield presence, and with him out, an already blunt attack could lack the imagination it needs to break through the North Koreans. Meireles, Deco's partner in central midfield, will have to accept some of the playmaking responsibility, and if he lacks Deco's imagination, he can at least help by keeping the ball moving in-and-out of central midfield, preventing North Korea's defense from settling-in.
Prediction: Portugal's attacking display against Cote d'Ivoire is par-for-the-course for the Seleccao, and while Cristiano Ronaldo could break his goal drought at any time, there's no reason to expect he will against North Korea. Portugal's defending is extremely good, which makes this a relatively straight-forward Portugal 0, North Korea 0.
Where They Stand: Both teams are coming off impressive opening matches, where Switzerland handed Spain their second loss in 49 games while Chile's win over Honduras was as dominant as possible for a 1-0 result. With the teams tied atop Group H, a win by either would put them (at worst) one point away from winning the group and avoiding the assumed destiny for Group H's second place team: a Round of 16 match with Brazil.
Both teams have injury news. Switzerland will be without central defender Philippe Senderos, who hurt his ankle in the Spain match. Midfielder Valon Behrami, who missed the Spain match, is a doubt, while Alexander Frei looks ready to play a role, if not start.
Humberto Suazo likely plays for Chile, and if there was a concern about La Roja's performance against Spain, it was their lack of a presence in the penalty area. With the return of El Chupete, that concern's addressed.
Player To Watch, Switzerland: Chile is going to give Switzerland their chances to attack, but the key for the Swiss will be effectively transitioning out of their own end, where Chile will be exerting so much pressure, and into attack. Tranquillo Barnetta is Switzerland's most skilled and athletic midfielder, and unlike Benjamin Huggel and Gökhan Inler, he is unlikely to be playing an especially defensive role.
He should be hanging around the area, waiting for the Chile attack to break down, ready to get make the most of Blaise N'fuko, Eren Derdiyok and (or) Frei against a short-handed Chilean defense.
Player To Watch, Chile: With Senderos out, Suazo will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact on the World Cup. If he isn't physically able to, coming off a thigh injury, that will be even more reason to watch, as we try to determine the extent to which the Chilean star can get healthy for these finals.
Even if Suazo is not healthy enough to directly attack Steve von Bergen (Senderos's replacement), his ability to offer an option in build-up - coming back off-the-line, taking the ball at his feet and distributing to Aléxis Sanchez, Matias Fernández, Jean Beausejour and (or) Mark González - will provide a great option against a Switzerland team that will be much tighter in defense than Honduras was.
Prediction: Although they may have as much possession against Switzerland as they did against Honduras, Chile will not have as easy a time of breaking them down. Switzerland showed their ability to counter against Spain, an ability which will be on display with greater effect against Chile. Still, this will be a close match, looking like a Switzerland 2, Chile 1 game before kick-off, but we'll have to see how the Swiss respond to the pressure Marcelo Bielsa's team exerts on their back line.
Where They Stand: Honduras's loss was not so surprising, particularly given injuries to Júlio César de Leon and David Suazo. Spain's loss to Switzerland, however, was shocking - only their second in 49 matches.
One school of thought holds that the match was an aberration, while the other - the only furthered by many in Spain - wonders whether the result should have been expected. The coach that guided the team to the Euro 2008 title, Luis Aragones, spoke-out after the loss saying the team lacked desire in attack, criticizing current coach Vincente del Bosque's lineup selection against Switzerland.
Midfielder Andrés Iniesta is a doubt for Spain, though Fernando Torres is expected to start, with Cesc Fabregas also returning to the team.
Player To Watch, Spain: Midfielder Xavi Hernández is used to teams bunkering-in against his sides, whether that side be club team Barcelona or the Spanish national team. He sees the approach over-and-over again, yet both Barcelona and Spain rarely lose. If there is one player you'd want to stoke the flames, bring Spain charging back, it's Hernández, who will again put his teammates in positions where finishing, not chances, will be the issue.
Player To Watch, Honduras: Midfielder Wilson Palacios had been struggling with injuries in the lead-up to the World Cup, and against Chile he look restricted. Against Spain he would be the exact type of player to bother Hernández, his lanky, physical presence disrupting any comfort Hernández would otherwise have on the ball. However, if Palacios is not healthy enough to quickly get to Hernández and disturb his tempo, it's difficult to see how the Hondurans will disrupt Spain.
Prediction: If Spain plays against Honduras as they did against Switzerland, the result will be something like Spain 3, Honduras 0. If Spain plays close to their potential, the score will be worse.