All the teams that were supposed to advance have, and mostly without any surprises. The round of 16 hasn’t been as much fun as the first phase, but things are looking up.
Europe vs Africa · France’s defeat of Nigeria was fair, although it didn’t win them many friends. They’re totally the kind of team that could win the World Cup without actually exciting anyone. I loved the Nigerians’ pace and courage, but they just didn’t have the finishing quality to score against one of those deadening ironclad Eurodefenses.
I suppose Germany’s advance was fair-ish, too, and they’re obviously a contender to take it all. Their passing orchestration is at a level above any other, but they don’t run at defenses much. Also, the Algerians taught the world that if you can drop a big forward pass to a fast-running attacker in space, the German backfield can end up looking flat-footed and disorganized. If that sort of pass got through to Robben or Benzema, a quick goal would be unsurprising.
Argentina and Belgium · I was sort of depressed by the Argentina-Switzerland match; left feeling that neither of them much deserved to advance. The Swiss were likable but don’t quite have the quality, and the Argentines certainly don’t have the initiative. Their technique: Attack at a walk, send almost nobody forward, and once every twenty minutes or so, get Messi loose and see what happens. I don’t think that’s going to work against the top defenses. Speaking of top defenses, Argentina’s isn’t.
I sure enjoyed watching the Belgians and Americans. Anyone who plays a run-and-gun style like Belgium’s is going to have a friend in me, and while it’s weird to think of the USA as a plucky underdog, well, what’s what they were.
I actually had written my feelings about the game before the overtime and they were along the lines of “Americans are lovable but have no attacking flair or scoring punch.” And then suddenly in the second overtime half they did; it looked like a recipe that could have won the game.
So I have a question: Why did they wait so long? Was it a Klinsmann strategy gone wrong, or maybe the Belgians’ conditioning failed them?
I have to say that the Belgians could have hung back and played it safe, on the assumption they’d score on at least one counterpunch. So, credit them for courage, even bringing attackers forward in the last minute of overtime.
A kind word is in order for Algerian referee Djamel Haimoudi who mostly just let them play, and to the teams for keeping it pretty clean and letting him let them play.
Quarter-finals · The upsets seem to have ended with the Group round, and it’s hard to imagine we get through this tournament without one more big surprise. The most unsurprising surprise would be Colombia disposing of Brazil, who haven’t looked remotely like the overwhelming numerical favorites the oddsmakers still make them.
It’d be really surprising if Costa Rica survived their upcoming Dutch treat, though.
France vs Germany… anyone who says there’s an obvious favorite is blowing smoke. And it would make me happy to see Belgium bring Argentina’s boring one-man show to an end. Could it happen? Absolutely.
My predictions · Colombia meets Germany in one semi, Netherlands vs Argentina in the other. I think the final is Netherlands vs Germany.