A lot has happened since my last loaf over a week ago: The downfall of Italy and the resurrection of Spain; The belated demolition of North Korea and the self destruction of France; The momentous achievement of the Kiwis and the much admired resilience of the Americans; The disappointment of multiple exits from African nations and the surprise uprising of countries from both Americas. Not to mention how tired I’ve been trying to keep up. Thank goodness there are no more 4:30am matches…….
This has truly been a wildly unpredictable World Cup.
Some quick thoughts as we head into the round of 16:
Weaknesses are starting to show on the two teams I’ve tipped to meet in the final, Brazil and Spain. They may be temporary but both teams do not looked as unbeatable as before. Spain, with their lack of variety in offense without a fit Fernando Torres, and Brazils’ somewhat overrated defense are cause for concern.
On the other hand, the mad scientist otherwise known as Maradona has managed to concoct a team that looks to be the bookie’s current favorite to win it all. Leo Messi has looked sensational in the group stage despite a lack of goals to show for his efforts. Imagine when he starts converting some of the chances he creates. That’s a scary thought. But then everything could go pear shaped should a team managed to exploit the Argentine defense and test an unproven keeper in Romero. Unlike most teams, the Albicelestes have yet to face adversity. The knock out stage may not be the best time to test their resolve.
If you are looking for a dark horse that’s lurking in the weeds, look no further than the Dutch. Quietly, they’ve managed a perfect record through the group stage without any fanfare and, more importantly, without any internal strife that has been the cause of past World Cup and Euro failures.
As much as we like to bash the Americans whenever possible, I find it difficult to hate this edition of the U.S. national team. Sure. They’ve enjoyed some good fortunes along the way (Hello, Robert Green.) as they topped group C but it was their heart, grit and determination that created that. Luck has always been an essential ingredient in any successful championship run. While I do not believe they can win it – the team must find a way to address their weakness at centre back and their habit of bad starts in matches – the Americans could go deep into the tournament based on their side of the bracket.
Kudos to South Korea and Japan for exceeding everyone’s expectations and breaking into the round of 16. Their fitness level has been outstanding and the will to compete is always evident. It would not surprise me if one or both of them reach the quarter finals.
As for England and Germany…….