The big local interests in the World Cup both crashed and burned in their second round matches in South Africa this weekend and are headed home. The United States lost to Ghana, 2-1, in extra time Saturday, and Mexico fell to Argentina, 3-1 on Sunday.
For both teams, the losses were were repeats from 2006 in Germany. In the last World Cup, Ghana eliminated the U.S. in group play with a 2-1 win. Argentina beat Mexico 2-1 in extra time in 2006 in the second round.
The United States loss was the first ever for the Americans to be forced into extra time. After conceding a goal in the fifth minute to Ghana's Kevin Prince-Boateng, the Americans had to rally, eventually tying the match in the 62nd minute on a Landon Donovan penalty kick.
Ghana's Asamoah Gyan broke the Americans' backs three minutes into the extra time, when he made a great play to claim a ball from American captain Carlos Bocanegra and then drive it home past keeper Tim Howard. For this match, the U.S. could not point the fingers at the officials. They were simply beat by a team that was slightly better. Ignore the size and economic status of each country. It was the quality of the players that mattered the most.
Mexico could pin its defeat (and likely will) in part on the officials, who missed an offside call and allowed Argentina's first goal, by Carlos Tevez in the 26th minute, to stand. But, Gonzalo Higuain scored his fourth goal of the tournament in the 33rd minute, and Tevez drilled in another in the 52nd minute to show Argentina's dominance. Mexico got a goal from Javier Hernandez in the 71st minute. That goal probably satisfied the small group of people who were in a contest on Yahoo to pick the winner and final score of each match. (Hey, that's me!)
Sunday was not the officials best day. During Germany's 4-1 rout of England, the officials failed to see that a Frank Lampard shot crossed the line.
Germans would point out that the missed goal might have been payback for an eerily similar call that went in England's favor against Germany in the 1966 final.
Ghana will play Uruguay on Friday for a spot in the semifinals. Argentina plays Germany on Saturday.
There are two more days in the Round of 16 with two matches each day. Tomorrow, Slovakia plays the Netherlands in Durban at 7 am PT. Chile takes on Brazil in Johannesburg at 11:30 am PT.
On Tuesday, Paraguay plays Japan in Pretoria (or as the locals prefer Tshwane) at 7 am and Spain plays Portugal for supremacy of the Iberian Peninsula at 11:30 am in Cape Town.
So far, all the South American teams in the tournament (all five) are still alive. One of them will be eliminated in the Chile-Brazil match. The final is shaping up to be a matchup between Brazil and the Argentina-Germany winner.
Unless I'm wrong. And I've been wrong a lot. But, if it's a Ghana-Japan final, I'll stop making predictions about anything.