it’s a knock-out

Last 16

Germany v Sweden

SHOOTING STAR, Lukas Podolski, required 12 minutes to send the shell-shocked Swedes tumbling out of the tournament with two quality finishes. Hopes of a Scandinavian comeback faded, when first Teddy Lucic was sent off, and then Henrik Larsson blasted the ball high over the bar from the penalty spot at the start of the second half. Germany peppered the Swedish goal throughout the game and were only prevented from more than doubling the final 2-0 score line by a combination of inspired goalkeeping and the woodwork. The unfancied home nation is through to the quarter-finals and will give favourites Argentina a run for their money.

Argentina v Mexico

MEXICO REFUSED to accept the role of underdogs, skipper Rafael Marquez shocking the star ensemble with a fifth minute strike. However, the lead only lasted six minutes, Hernan Crespo bringing his side level by forcing Jared Borgetti into heading past his own keeper. A free-flowing game ensued, with an abundance of chances at both ends, and it was only in extra time that Maxi Rodriguez made the game safe for Argentina, by cushioning the ball before volleying past the helpless Oswaldo Sanchez from 18 yards.

England v Ecuador

SVEN-GÖRAN Eriksson had promised that things would improve in Stuttgart, but the latest England performance was, once again, at best ordinary. After 90 minutes a win was achieved thanks to a 60th minute David Beckham free kick, but the remainder of the game left a lot to be desired. Following a bright, start it took a desperate intervention by Ashley Cole to deflect a goal-bound Ecuadorian effort, and things did not get any better as the encounter ran its course. Wayne Rooney’s ability to complete the match was one positive aspect, but in Gelsenkirchen this Saturday against Portugal, the moment of truth will finally have come.

Portugal v Holland

WHERE TO begin? The Battle of Nuremberg was won by Portugal, but it had little to do with the beautiful game. There was some football to be seen during the first half, Holland enjoying most of the possession, impressing with individual skills. But it was Portugal’s Maniche who scored the only goal of the match, finishing off a great move with a powerful shot from inside the area in the 23rd minute. Bad feeling had begun to ferment shortly afterwards when Dutch defender Boulahrouz left stud marks on Ronaldo’s thigh, a foul that forced the young winger out of the game. Just before the half-time whistle, and several bookings later, Costinha inexplicably handled the ball, earning a second yellow and therefore red card. Returning for the second half, the two teams rejoined the battle in earnest, soon forgetting about the round leather altogether. Figo fell theatrically under a Boulahrouz elbow, sparking a riot, which referee, Valentim Ivanov, never regained control of. The Russian set a new World Record, issuing a total of 16 yellow and two red cards. Boulahrouz was sent off. Incessant fouls resulted in physical retaliation, players engaging in shoving matches provoking a further flood of bookings. Next to go was Deco, followed by Van Bronckhurst; and a Figo head-butt went unpunished. As the six minutes of “injury time” ticked away, each side had nine men left on the pitch, with almost every one of them carrying a caution. Yes, Portugal had maintained their good record against the old foe, but at what cost? As for Holland, another highly promising set of gifted players had pressed the self-destruct button.