It was as if the knockout stages had begun early here at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, with Wednesday's final round of matches in both Group C and D providing tension aplenty and ending in Round of 16 berths for Germany, USA, Ghana and England. And despite the complicated permutations, none of the teams involved could be accused of not playing to win – an approach that lent vibrancy and openness to all four encounters.
A clear example of this came in the closing minutes of England's match with Slovenia, with the Three Lions defending a 1-0 lead. Despite the fact that at that point the Zmajceki were set to qualify even in defeat, given that the USA were being held by Algeria, Matjaz Kek's charges continually pressed to try and get back into the match. In the end, however, their failure to find an equaliser was punished by the Stars and Stripes' late winner against Les Fennecs.
What is more, the three 1-0 scorelines in favour of USA, England and Germany did not reflect the sheer number of goalscoring chances, the commitment shown and the suspense and excitement of eight determined sides chasing four places in the next phase. As the dust settled on two more groups at South Africa 2010, we so far have three South American nations, two from the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone, three European countries, one African and one Asian team safely through to the last 16.
Of these upcoming Round of 16 ties, age-old rivals England and Germany are set to meet in what is sure to be an epic clash, with the former having finished second in Group C and the latter taken top spot in Group D.
Goal of the day
Landon Donovan, USA 1-0 Algeria, 90+1': With former US president Bill Clinton looking on from the stands at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium and time running out, the LA Galaxy star broke down the right flank on the counter-attack before sending a long pass to striker Jozy Altidore. The powerful front-runner controlled the ball, before sending in a low cross which Clint Dempsey got on the end of, only to be denied by the outrushing figure of goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi in the six-yard box. As the ball rebounded off the keeper's body, up popped Donovan, who had timed his run to perfection, to arrive first to the loose ball and calmly tuck a shot into the bottom corner.
One to remember
Four African teams have already bid farewell to a place in the Round of 16, but Ghana’s second-place finish in Group D did at least ensure one side from the continent made the knockout stages. The Black Stars secured four points from their three games, thanks to a win over Serbia and a draw with Australia, and now face the United States in their bid to reach the quarter-finals for the very first time. Beaten 3-0 by Brazil in the last 16 at Germany 2006, Ghana's physically powerful and attack-minded side will have high hopes of going far here in South Africa.
Quote of the day
"That's the England team that I know. Now the team can go onwards and upwards. All the players and the coaching staff have a clear conscience. From now on we can continue without fear. I’m pleased for the fans," Fabio Capello, England coach.
Stat of the day
5 – Football followers in Germany and England will already be turning their minds to the pair’s fifth meeting in FIFA World Cup finals action, set to take place on 27 June in Bloemfontein. Of the four prior matches, three went to extra time, including England's 1966 Final win, and the last of the four was decided by penalties at Italy 1990.
Voice of the fans
"I fell to my knees with tears in my eyes. It was gut-wrenching to watch them miss all those shots. I don't think 'amazing' even sufficiently describes it. Thank you Landon Donovan! I'm so proud of our team," Brie4US, FIFA.com user.
Have your say
As Africa's only representatives in the knockout phase, how far do you feel Ghana can go in the competition?