I’ve been watching World Cup since 1986 and this has been the best one yet. Other than Spain crashing and burning most of the major powers trooped on through to second round without much trouble, but the traditional second tier squads of the world were upended right and left.
CONCACAF did surprisingly well, putting the US, Mexico, and Costa Rica into the second round. Mexico, a team that qualified for the tournament by the slimmest of margins over Panama, showed enormous heart, though that would not have been enough without their goalkeeper Ochoa playing out of his mind against Brazil. Still, getting out of group stage is a wonderful achievement. I had Croatia would have been the second team through with Brazil. Speaking of Brazil, they have not looked like world beaters other than Neymar. That’s surely not for lack of talent, so one wondersÂ what’s up.
Spain’s almost complete collapse in Group B was one of the Cup’s early surprises, where questions of “Are they too old?” were definitively answered to the affirmative.Netherlands started hot and seemed to cool, but with the likes of Robben and Van Persie they can’t be counted out of any match despite how slow their defense looks at times. Chile took full advantage of Spain’s abdication and look a very dangerous opponent for next round.
Columbia may have waltzed through Group C, but given the competition it’s hard to say just how good or bad they might be. Be that as it may, James Rodriguez is the real deal and it’s thrilling to think we’re going to see him in at least two more World Cups as he’s only 21.
I may be partial to the Ticos of Costa Rica owing to a late-1980s soccer tour there with my dad and brother, but by no stretch of the imagination did I (or dare I say anyone else) have them topping a group with Uruguay, Italy, and England. I said from the outset that Uruguay would go as far as Luis Suarez could take them. Suarez decided to bite an Italian defender and end his World Cup (the ban was ultimately nine games and four months). Diego Forlanâ€”my favorite player in the 2010 World Cup and winner of the Golden Boot in South Africaâ€”can’t possibly be expected at age 35 to beÂ up to the task of carrying Uruguay this time around. Uruguay may have escaped the group stage thanks to Suarez, but they’ll be going home thanks to him as well.
A revitalized France scoredÂ a lot of goals and toppedÂ Group E. This was a marked contrast to the team’s self-destruction in 2010 where they didn’t even have enough cohesion to conduct team practices. Switzerland might have been lucky to escape group, but it’s hard to imagine them going much further. I’ve been rather down on Lionel Messi’s play for Argentina, but it’s hard to be too harsh on someone who keeps winning games. It does seem like there must be an end to his ability to pull a rabbit out of a hat like this, but that could also mean that Argentina has yet to play their best soccer. Nigeria got what it needed to advance out of group, but like most second tier teams, one doesn’t expect them to go much further.
In Group G , USA bunkered all game against Ghana but was able to counter their way to a victory. Germany, which showedÂ world class talent in utterly dismantling Portugal, weren’t nearly so effective against the US or, certainly, Ghana. Ghana was perhaps a little unlucky not to advance, but the were unable to beat a rather uninspiring Portugal squad, and the USA backed their way into the second round. Given the second round draws (Germany v. Algeria and US v. Belgium), one can see both advancing.
Belgium’s played good defense, but a weak group makes it hard to give them too much credit. Algeria did enough to get through, but are likely to run into a German buzz saw in next round.
Second round predictions: Brazil over Chile Not by much, and I won’t be at all surprised if the host nation goes out here. Columbia over Uruguay Suarez is gone, and Uruguay will be as well. Netherlands over Mexico I love Mexico’s heart, but I don’t see how that gets them past the Dutch. Costa Rica over Greece The Ticos have looked great and come out on top of a very strong group. Greece’s group was weaker. France over Nigeria Nigeria is better than they get credit for, but France has been playing very well. Germany over Algeria Anything’s possible, but if Germany plays well they should waltz into the next round. Argentina over Switzerland Can Messi do it again? I’ll say yes. USA over Belgium This may be a little more hopeful than realistic, but I see no reason why we can’t beat Belgium.