In fact, the words “if they took their chances well...” may just turn out to be the most repeated phrase at this World Cup.
But after 5 days and 14 matches (I'm not going to factor in the chances of the Group H teams – sorry Spain and Ukraine) here is how I see the main players in this tournament:
2. The Czech Republic are looking firm all round, and I think displayed the best form of all teams in their opening game. I couldn't find anywhere they could have done better. Nedved seemed to grow as the game wore on, and Rosicky could just go on to wallop in a few more in this tournament. With Peter Cech between the sticks, the opposition will find them difficult to break down. 8/10
3. Italy, if they play things well, could go all the way to the last four, at the very least. Nesta and Cannavaro look very miserly in defense, and hardly gave anything away to the Ghanaians. Luca Toni, Pirlo, and even the volatile Totti have a menace about them. However, they are susceptible to attacks from the flanks, and don't really look like they have someone who could boss a midfield (so necessary to win the World Cup with a midfield lynchpin). 7/10
4. Germany would feel they have underperformed if they don't at least reach the last 4. Center-backs Metzelder and Mertesacker notwithstanding, the team look inspired everywhere else, but they must reinforce the center of defense. I think we'd see this problem sorted with Ballack in against Poland... we'll see. Otherwise, a solid bet for the semi-finals at least. 7/10
5. Brazil seriously need to fix the left of defense if they wish to avoid any set-backs. I don't know how you could put cover for a fullback, but Roberto Carlos isn't exactly the most defensive minded, and Juan doesn't look like he could thwart a quick attack. Lucio is also error prone, and Dida too often flaps at crosses.
Their attack looks potent, and I'm sure will grow in fluency (unlike the game against Croatia). No need to say anything more here. 7/10
N.B.: Cafu, however, is not 36! He simply cannot be 36. How can a man who defends so impeccably and links up to the attack so effortlessly – all through the 90 mins – be 36? Somebody tell me this is not true.
5. Mexico look very exciting. I like Marquez and his work for Barcelona and in the Mexican team make him a big asset. The team hustles their opponents no end and close them down quickly when not in possession. Pardon the non-PC-correctness, but they're almost like street urchins who know which pocket to pick, and pick it quick they do. Inconvenient to play against, they could go far. 6.5/10
6. Holland seem to be flying on one wing – the left with Robben. Van Persie will probably be better suited in a more central role, with Kuyt managing the right. MVB needs to ditch van Nistelrooy, or at least bench him and keep him hungry. Midfield sorely needs a fulcrum (same problem with Italians). 6/10
7. Croatia were unlucky not to get anything in their first game. Against a team like Brazil that's saying a lot indeed. But they must put away their chances; at least 4 very clear chances were not taken. They're really quick on the break though, which could punish slower defenses. 6/10
8. France don't look like they're interested. Failing that, they don't look like they're up to it. There was no link between defense and attack, and it was almost as if there were two teams out there. I disagree with Shebby Singh – you can play two defensive midfielders like Makalele and Viera (see Ze Roberto and Emerson) and still create a flowing structure, but Les Blues flopped. Early exit, monsieurs... 4/10
9. Portugal's biggest asset is Luis Felipe Scolari, and he can't play for them. Because he's Brazilian. And too old. And he's the manager.
If Deco can't fix the Portuguese' lack of zing in their overall game when he comes on next, it's an early flight back to Lisbon, hombres. I don't see them pipping Mexico to top spot, and I can't see them coping with either Holland or Argentina in the round of 16, if they make it. 3/10
The "ARE YOU JOKINGs?"
10. England. Sigh.
Owen Hargreaves. Sven Goran Erickson. Michael Owen. Stewart Downing.
'Nuff said. Not even going to bother rating them.