South Africa to Santa Barbara Day 15: Have No Fear, the Underdogs are Here

The 2010 World Cup has had its share of underdogs overachieve and advance to the knockout round.



Follow the 2010 World Cup with the UCSB men's and women's soccer programs all tournament long on UCSBgauchos.com. "South Africa to Santa Barbara: The Cup is Coming" will provide daily commentary on the day's biggest storylines, featuring video interviews with Gaucho soccer players and head coaches Tim Vom Steeg and Paul Stumpf.

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There are many kinds of underdogs.

There is Underdog, the 1970's cartoon superhero (see video). There is the under-doggy. Any parent who has shoved their kid on a swing knows exactly what under-doggy means.

Then, of course, there is the type of underdog that every sports fan knows about. It's usually a team or individual for whom there are low expectations.

In 2004, the UCSB men's soccer team waltzed its way to the College Cup final before losing in a penalty kick shootout to Indiana. That Gaucho team was ranked No. 1 for much of the season and with a 4-1 win over Virginia Commonwealth in the quarterfinals, and 5-0 shellacking of Duke in the semifinal, it was hardly an underdog.

In 2006, however, it was a different story. That UCSB squad didn't have a bye into the second round. In fact, it had to climb from one goal behind against San Diego State to win in the first round. In the second round, the Gauchos hit the road and won at top-ranked SMU. Without returning to Santa Barbara, they then traveled to Old Dominion where they also won. After a home win over Northwestern in the quarterfinals, UCSB traveled to St. Louis for the College Cup where it posted a semifinal win over Wake Forest and a championship game win over UCLA - a team that defeated the Gauchos 3-1 during the regular season.

Talk about an underdog coming through.

The 2010 World Cup has had its share of underdogs emerge and advance into the knockout stage.

Most notably is probably South Korea, which of the remaining 16 teams, owns the lowest ranking in the last FIFA/Coca-Cola Rankings at No. 45. That is 32 spots lower than Greece and 24 lower than Nigeria, both of which it advanced over after taking second place in its group with four points and 1-1-1 record. South Korea opened the tournament with a 2-0 victory over Greece before conceding a 4-1 loss to Group B winner Argentina and battling to a 2-2 draw with Nigeria.

The South Koreans, though underdogs in this World Cup, did advance to the semifinals in 2002. They will need to defeat Uruguay - a team ranked No. 16 by FIFA - on Saturday, which may be a tough feat against a team that has yet to allow a goal in this year's World Cup.

No. 45 Japan is also advancing to the knockout round for the second time; they too advanced in 2002 when they co-hosted the World Cup with South Korea. The Blue Samurai defeated Cameroon in their first Group E match before falling 1-0 to group-winner Netherlands. Heading into the final match of group play, both Japan and Denmark had three points, but Japan took a 2-0 lead in the first half and did not look back, taking the 3-1 win and second place in the group.

This will be the team's first time advancing to the group of 16 on foreign soil and they will be paired with Paraguay, which won Group F after tying defending champion Italy as well as Tony Lochhead's New Zealand, and posting a win over second-place Slovakia.

Speaking of the Slovaks, they are the team that delivered the final blow to the Italians, defeating the fifth-ranked defending champs in the final game of Group F play. Slovakia handed Italy its first loss at the World Cup since 2002, a huge accomplishment for a nation that is in its first World Cup as an independent nation.

The Slovaks entered the tournament ranked 34th and with a win, a draw and a loss, finished group play with four points, granting them second-place behind Paraguay and the berth into the knock out round. Slovakia faces a tough pairing next against Netherlands, which is one of two undefeated teams in the tournament along with Argentina.

Our final underdog is Ghana, the United States' opponent tomorrow. Ghana reached the group of 16 after defeating Serbia, tying Australia and falling to Germany. Though the No. 32-ranked team worldwide may not be the odds-on favorite to win Saturday's match with the U.S., they will benefit from the backing of the entire host continent, as the last remaining African country in the tournament.

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Season tickets start at just $75 and include one ticket to all home men's and women's regular season games and one College Cup All Session Pass. UCSB staff and faculty can purchase their season tickets for a reduced rate of $50.

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