We head to France in the fourth segment of our journey.
The following is a cloud I created containing all of the countries from which someone viewed my blog during the last year. Larger fonts represent nations with more numerous visits, smaller fonts represent those with less. Totals were unexpectedly skewed toward South America, likely due to my numerous posts on the World Cup. South Africa also made a splash … not even in the cloud last year, it rose all the way up to second tier. France, India and Indonesia all dropped out while Lithuania, Slovenia and the State of Palestine, among others, all made their debut.
As always, my thanks to every visitor, near and far.
Denmark Finland Italy
The round of sixteen concluded with many of the usual suspects surviving, but all the matches were close and no truly superior team emerged. This makes me wonder, can Columbia and Costa Rica continue their magnificent runs.
Columbia will be up against an old rival, even though these two squads will present fresh faces to a traditional rivalry. Brazil will have the home crowd, but will that be enough to overcome the potent scoring machine they will be facing? The hosts have shown an inability at times to score, only coming through in a penalty shootout against Chile. The Columbian defense has looked disorganized against lesser competition in this tournament but survived. They will have to improve to have any chance of advancing.
Costa Rica has been a surprise, but not undeserving of where they find themselves. They have the talent, it just seems to have matured so quickly, before our viewing eyes, in Brazil. And the Netherlands themselves have seemed unbeatable at times and then very beatable at other times, trailing Australia in the group stage and requiring two late goals to best Mexico. It will likely be a game of mistakes and opportunities. Whichever side cashes in efficiently on those opportunities will advance.
Argentina vs. Belgium, or should I say, Messi vs. Hazard, will be fun to watch. France vs. Germany is a blue chip matchup that is nearly guaranteed to entertain.
Of note: Five of the eight matches in the Round of Sixteen went to extra time to decide the victor. Two of those went through the extra period without a score and required a penalty shootout. Parody has arrived at the World Cup.
Portugal is hanging by a thread. Spain and England have already bowed out. Costa Rica and Chile have secured their advance into the round of sixteen. And the U.S. has a fighting chance to win the Group of Death.
If these are not the winds of change, then they are, at the least, the dusty breeze that precedes such a storm.
We might well end up with two European powerhouses vs. two South American behemoths in the semis. In fact, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise at all. But every slot taken by an Ecuador or Nigeria is one less place for a Russia or Italy to land. Surely, there will be more upsets to come and more giants will fall. Even the Netherlands and Germany appeared nearly ordinary in their second matches.
Scoring has dropped off dramatically since the flurry of goals in the opening days of the tournament. And the third set of matches will only become tighter, as each squad learns exactly how many points they need to secure to advance into the knockout stages.
Tomorrow will be a defining moment for both the U.S. and Portugal. Is that a breeze I feel coming from Manaus?
Of note: Iran came within two minutes of securing a second point without scoring a goal in the tournament. Australia has scored three goals but has zero points to show for it. Which team has the best goal differential so far? Germany? The Netherlands? Actually, it’s France, with a +6 margin.
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