Some thoughts on the Cup so far, and then a quick look at the quarterfinals round of 16.
I cannot understand those who think this World Cup has been boring. Either they have absurdly high standards, or they are woefully ignorant of not just the stories behind the teams but also of football in general. In my opinion it’s been a great tournament so far and the multiple upsets have added layers of meaning to every single game. There has been real drama, real tension – and no useless one-sided victories. Germany 4-0 Australia was hugely significant for the statement that the Germans made and for the fact that it effectively knocked out the Socceroos – ditto for Portugal 7-0 North Korea, which broke millions of hearts by knocking out the Ivory Coast. In fact the Ivory Coast’s game against North Korea this morning was far more engrossing than the much more high-profile meeting of Brazil and Portugal.
I was thinking this morning that Brazil vs Portugal was always going to be a tame match after the previous results all but confirmed that group’s standings, with no coach dumb enough to risk injuries or suspensions. How many of the people who made special plans for the game were aware of that? Did they really expect a 4-3 thriller with a Ronaldo hat trick and Fabiano double? Were they looking forward to a feast of sumptuous flowing football? If so, I’d like a joint of whatever they were smoking. It was simply never going to happen.
What is going to happen, though, is a very interesting round of 16 The only real matches that one can afford to miss while confidently predicting the result are Netherlands vs Slovakia and Brazil vs Chile (and I mean no disrespect to Slovakia or Chile, in particular Chile who have played wonderfully well but were undone by a very dominant Spanish performance today.) For the rest of the games, there is no guarantee of who will win.
Both Uruguay and South Korea are solid if not spectacular sides, and we’re set for a fiercely contested game with Diego Forlan and Park ji-Sung looking to lead their teams to victory. Ghana will have all of Africa praying for its success and baying for US blood – given the spirit the Americans have shown so far, this will definitely be interesting. I don’t think I need to explain anything about Germany vs England (if you really don’t know why it’s the biggest match in the second round, you’re in the wrong place) or about Argentina vs Mexico (easily one of the most exciting games in 2006, and Maxi Rodriguez’s stunning match winner still lingers in the memory). How Rafael Marquez sets up his defense to handle club mate Messi in particular will be extremely interesting. Paraguay vs Japan is another even match between two good (although not world-beating) sides. Spain vs Portugal – ah, the neighbors may just put on a wonderful attacking display, although I suspect Carlos Quieroz may put faith in his defense and invite La Furia Roja to try and score, hopefully denying them and giving Ronaldo an opportunity to catch the Spanish defenders on the break.
So, really? It’s been a horrible World Cup? Hell no. It’s given us several great games already and looks set to produce many more. (Note: If more than half of the following games have to be decided via penalties, then I will eat my words – but not before!)
By the way, if you haven’t checked out the wonderful photos at the Big Picture, do yourself a favor and have a glance. Great photography.
Update: I was so addled in the head that I confused the round of 16 for the quarterfinals. A steadily accumulating sleep debt does that to you.