Welcome to the knockout stages of the 2010 World Cup - the sixteen matches that will decide which team will wear the world's soccer crown for the next four years.
Saturday sees the "upper quadrant" of the bracket - the part of the draw sure to produce a surprise semifinalist -narrow the tournament by two more teams. Uruguay and South Korea stage the early match in Port Elizabeth, with the Koreans looking to become the first team in South Africa to score a goal against the Uruguayans. At 2:30 p.m. Eastern, the United States looks to redeem their elimination from Germany 2006 against Africa's last surviving nation, Ghana.
Saturday's matches at World Cup 2010:
Uruguay versus South Korea, Port Elizabeth, 10 a.m. Eastern, ESPN
Where They Stand: With seven points, Uruguay won Group A, scoring four goals, having yet to concede. South Korea's four points (one win, one draw) put the Asian Tigers through in second place from Group B, finishing behind Argentina.
Player(s) To Watch, Uruguay: After Uruguay opened the tournament with a 0-0 result against France (the only point Les Bleus would register in the finals), coach Oscar Tábarez, faced with a suspension to Nicolas Lodiero (his most creative midfielder), put Palermo striker Edinson Cavani in the lineup and dropped Diego Forlán into a withdrawn role, getting his most skilled player closer to the play as it comes through midfield. The choice, a risky one that took his best scorer farther from goal, has paid off with four goals in two matches while augmenting Uruguay's greatest deficiency - their ability to get the ball from their stalwart defense to their striking trio (which also includes Luis Suárez).
Forlán will continue to be Uruguay's most important player. Without his ability to create the link to the attack, Uruguay will be left waiting for goal to happen. With Forlán in the withdrawn role, La Celeste can actually create goals.
Player(s) To Watch, South Korea: Central defender Lee Jung-Soo's two goals have garnered him attention, but the focus he and defense partner Cho Yung-Hyong get on Saturday will come at the other end of the pitch, looking at how they manage Uruguay's attackers. Rather than dealing with an attack that exerts constant pressure, Lee and Cho will have to deal with strong, isolated spurts, much like they had to manage against Nigeria or (to a lesser extent) at the end of the Argentina match.
Korea's defense was a question mark coming into the tournament because of their inconsistency, and having allowed six goals through three World Cup matches, the back line will need improvement from Lee and Cho if they're to manage Forlán, Cavani, and Suárez.
Prediction: Over 90, or possibly 120 minutes, South Korea will have to craft a drastic defensive turnaround to keep Uruguay off the scoresheet. First goals are always important, but if South Korea does not get the initial score on Saturday, we could see a Uruguay 1, South Korea 0 where the Uruguayans play the match out conservatively.
United States versus Ghana, Rustenburg, 2:30 p.m. Eastern, ABC
Where They Stand: The United States won Group C with five points, beating Algeria while drawing England and Slovenia. Ghana is through Group D with four points, beating Serbia while drawing Australia and losing to Germany. The meeting's a rematch of Germany 2006, where Ghana knocked the U.S. out of the tournament with a 2-1 win to conclude the teams' group play.
Player(s) To Watch, United States: "The Incredible Story of Landon Donovan" has gone from trite crutch describing a remarkable journey to a remarkably accurate statement. Not to make too much of this, but if Donovan's story doesn't move you, I suspect you've either had a conflict-free life, have been scared by excessive turmoil, or remain stubbornly skeptical of Donovan.
I admit: I had previously disagreed with people's want to erect statues in Donovan's honor, but the effort he has put in over the last year redefining his career has been inspirational. Whereas Donovan's previous stature was due in part to marketing, his current prowess is all substance.
On Saturday against Ghana, Donovan has significant advantages on the right side of attack. Milovan Rajevac will be asking 20-year-old left wing André Ayew and Bayer Leverkusen back-up defender Hans Sarpei (playing left back) to contain one of the tournament's best players.
As we've seen against Slovenia and Algeria, all it takes is one moment for Donovan to turn a match, and given ninety minutes against Ayew and Sarpei, Donovan's likely to find a moment.
Player(s) To Watch, Ghana: The United States' poor defending seemed better against Algeria until you consider some of the chances the Desert Foxes had in the context of their World Cup 2010 goal scoring record (which doesn't exist). Fortunately for the U.S., Ghana's goal scoring is only marginally better, having scored twice, both goals through penalty kicks.
Kwadwo Asamoah, Ghana's 21-year-old fulcrum to their midfield attacking trio, can convert the United States' errors into Ghana goals. The left-footed, Udinese prospect has started to form connections with striker Asamoah Gyan (no inverse relation) that could make the Ghanians dangerous, quickly. Against Germany the duo (and the rest of the team, specifically wingers Ayew and Prince Tagoe) were able to continuously create chances, but whether it be from inexperience or lack of familiarity, they were never able fid the precision needed to create goals at this level. Their shots ended-up manageable and their threats isolated because the team still lacks that last bit of guile.
But with each match, Asamoah gets a little closer to being able to craft those opportunites, and against Germany, the midfielder showed he was close enough to think Saturday's match against the U.S. may see everything click.
Prediction: Ghana may find that precision, but asking them to go from no open-play goals to enough goals to put-away the United States is a demanding request. As the U.S. showed against Slovenia, two goals may not be enough to put them away, and as long as the States can stay close, the advantages Donovan has could be the difference in a United States 2, Ghana 1 result.