If it’s humanly possible, the World Cup is about to get even more interesting. The final group games begin Monday, with hosts Brazil sweating on their place in the last 16. To recap, here are the countries who have already qualified for the next stage: Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Netherlands.
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And these teams – sob! – are already packing their bags, planning their summer holidays and looking forward to some quality tennis at Wimbledon: Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cameroon, England, Spain.
The United States was about five seconds from qualifying, until Portugal equalized with almost the final kick (well, header) of their game Sunday, at the very, very, very end of another pulsating match. The Americans now need a point from their final game against Germany, who also need a point to qualify.
The diary is a big fan of the U.S.’ wholehearted, leave-everything-on-the-pitch approach, yet also with no little skill. It’s a bit like those dogs you see playing with a ball at the beach – enthusiasm takes it a long way. There’s a nagging fear, though, that the Americans may have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory – midfielder Michael Bradley gave the ball away in the wrong place at the very worst time - but we would not bet against the Americans getting a positive result against Germany.
The perfect accompaniment to the game will be the Twitter feed of USA Soccer Guy, whose commentaries run something like this:
Yet again, Ronaldo labored through the 90 minutes, although – like his great rival Messi – he still produced one piece of brilliance at the end (a perfect cross) to keep the Portuguese in the tournament, hanging by a thread that even Spider-Man would deem too thin.
Out of the teams who have definitely qualified, Argentina and Belgium have ground out back-to-back victories without ever looking like they have the faintest hope of winning the tournament. (Belgium got the “dark horse” tag before the finals, but they seem to be weighed down by expectations thus far – Sunday’s 1-0 victory over Russia was even less convincing than the previous 2-1 win over Algeria.)
The South Americans from Chile and Colombia have been dangerous, pacy and far more deserving of the dark horse tag, while Costa Rica has been the feel-good story of the tournament-to-date. Once Hollywood gets over the disappointment of that late equalizer, expect it to be sniffing around for the movie rights.
Monday’s games feature Netherlands and Chile going mano-a-mano to see who tops Group B. Normally you’d expect this type of game to be a tame affair, but both sides have a great incentive to win. Whoever tops the group will avoid Brazil in the last 16. Well, unless Brazil makes a mess of things in its game against Cameroon (which kicks off two hours after the other game finishes), in which case whoever tops the group will play either Brazil or Croatia or Mexico in the last 16. Got all that?
Good. If not, we’ll let USA Soccer Guy to explain it to you some time.
Finally, congratulations to Algeria, which became the first African side to ever score four goals at a tournament game, giving themselves a chance of qualifying for the next stage. Like a tackle by the invisible Man, we did not see that one coming.
Brazil vs. Cameroon, 11 P.M.
Croatia vs. Mexico 11 P.M.
Netherlands vs. Chile, 7 P.M.
Spain vs. Australia 7 P.M.