This year’s FIFA World Cup has come with its share of excitement, with more political dissent than any other tournament in history, and with the number of upsets the fans have witnessed in the first and second rounds. Now that the quarterfinals are about to be underway, sports analysts and fans alike will be wondering what kind of surprises they can expect in the last push toward to the most coveted prize in the world’s most popular sport.
The opening games of the World Cup in Brazil saw almost all the favorites wiped out, or just squeaking by. The most notable example was the elimination of Spain, the 2010 World Cup champions, who lost both of its first round games. England and 2006 champions Italy were also expected to make it at least as far as the Round of 16, but were also out in first round play. The first round also had its share of unexpected triumphs in teams like Uruguay and Costa Rica. Even top teams like Germany and Brazil had no guarantee of making it through. There were more ties, extra time, and close games that could have gone either way than have been seen in at least the three previous Cups, and thus the first round saw some of the highest viewership worldwide as fans rooted for their underdog countries.
The Round of 16 in this year’s World Cup proved to be no exception to the rule of making players from the highly-ranked teams sweat. Brazil’s second round game against Chile, for example, saw Brazil win only by way of a penalty shootout, and even then only by one shot. Costa Rica also took favorite Greece to a shootout, and, in another upset, managed to push through to the quarterfinals. Germany’s match with Algeria was a near miss, as Germany only won in extra time, as did Belgium over the U.S. and Argentina against Switzerland.
Each of these many upsets and near misses have amounted to some stunning soccer over the course of the first two rounds, and guarantees much more to come in the quarterfinals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Fans have been waiting anxiously during the two day rest period to see how this drama in Brazil will conclude. Friday, July 4 will see two old rivals collide in Germany and France for the early game. Both history and technical prowess favor Germany, as France has not won against them in World Cup play since 1958. Both teams seem strong, however, and many fans are saying that Germany was unprepared for this tournament, having coasted through the first two rounds. The late game on the 4th will be between Brazil and Columbia, two South American titans with top ranking who have looked very strong in the first two rounds. Brazil is obviously the home country favorite, however they have not looked as strong as Columbia so far, so this, again, is anyone’s game.
Saturday, July 5 will see the two strongest teams of the tournament so far, Argentina and the Netherlands, pitted against two of the most surprising upstarts of the Cup, Belgium and Costa Rica. Though Belgium is ranked fairly high among the world team standings, the team was not expected to get this far, as the prediction was they would be edged out by one of their stronger European counterparts like Italy or Spain. Costa Rica has been the true underdog story this year, surprising just about every team they played in the first and second rounds. Argentina and the Netherlands are the two teams with the most points so far in the tournament, and seem to be the only teams who have been living up to their reputations, winning almost every game they have played by two or more points, with shutouts in many cases. It will be an uphill battle for both Belgium and Costa Rica. Belgium will be playing against a strong team whose style they are not used to, and Costa Rica, the little country that could, most likely has not seen play with the technical powerhouse that is the Netherlands in World Cup play.
The results of next two days’ worth of quarterfinal action are anybody’s guess. With so many upsets so far, the FIFA World Cup has come to represent more and more what “The Beautiful Game” means to so many players and fans. No matter the location, wealth or ranking of a team, each country enters the arena with an equal chance at greatness. Fans love a good underdog story, and there have been than enough at the World Cup to keep them glued to their seats in these last three rounds of play. While Brazil and the Netherlands are still the favorites to make it to the finals, no one is discounting the possibility that one of the underdogs will make it through and claim the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Commentary by Layla Klamt