I managed to watch most of all four games, and boy, were my predictions ever wrong. The quarterfinals produced few creative triumphs, but were still pretty entertaining.
Pre-Quarterfinals · First off, I take back all the nasty things I said about France. To my astonishment, they suddenly switched from boring to interesting and jaded to passionate. Sorry, Spain. And, to the Aussies: my condolences, the ref could have avoided calling that penalty and nobody would have been shocked. Still, your game is just too light on strikers and finishing; juice up that dimension and you could be in the final in my lifetime. And bye-bye Ghana [sob], one of these years a running attacking joyous African football team will manage to take it up one more notch and just go through the World Cup like a hot knife through butter, leaving the Eurobots wondering what hit them.
On to the quarters.
Germany 1 Argentina 1 · Fair outcome, and both sides had so tight a grip that it wasn’t much fun to watch. You have to be impressed, though, with Ballack, who could barely stand, taking his penalty-shot turn with power and cool. If I had to bet on a winner, I’d probably bet on Germany. Not a sure thing, obviously; I think any of other three teams left standing might manage to get past them, but they better do it in the first two hours because I can’t see anyone beating Germany at penalties.
Italy 3 Ukraine 0 · Ukraine, to be fair, had taken a pretty soft path to the quarters and maybe didn’t deserve to be there. But Italy is looking better and better and totally won it fair and square. Sure, give Ukraine the two goals that bounced off wood and it looks closer; but the Italians, given the chance, hit the net not the wood.
Could the Italians win it all? Absolutely; if their defense plays at its soul-deadening best, and if Buffon maintains his awesome form; it just takes two opponents to make one mistake each and provoke that lethal Azzurri pounce.
England 0 Portugal 0 · After the Portugal-Netherlands debacle, I’d dismissed the Portuguese as a bunch of cheating, diving, hacking goons, and thus was cheering on the English who play, relatively speaking, an honest if only partially committed game.
Only the Portuguese stayed pretty clean, and the English were unable to overcome the combination of rather stinky officiating and their own stupidity; if your Great Scoring Hope can’t avoid getting sent off in that kind of situation, you’re toast.
I can’t see the Portuguese getting past France into the final.
Brazil 0 France 1 · Like I said above, I take back all my unkind remarks about the French. All of a sudden they’re playing an exciting, dynamic, disciplined game, and—wonder of wonders—Zidane has, apparently by pure force of will, made himself once again the world’s most dominating player. Those in Real Madrid management may be forgiven their fury at an underperforming galáctico suddenly becoming the real thing given the right stimulus, which apparently isn’t Spanish paychecks.
Everyone kept wondering when the Brazilians were going to play up to their reputation and the answer turned out to be “never”. Earth to remaining World Cup contestants: when Zidane has the ball, don’t do like Brazil and leave Henry unmarked at the post.
Going Forward · Who knows? It’s a pity it’s all Europe. I think betting against Portugal would be pretty safe at this point, but any one of Buffon or Totti or Adriano or Klose or Lehmann or Ballack or Zidane or Henry or Ribery could end up being The Man Who Won It All In 2006.