Welcome to the final matchday of the Round of 16, with a few surprises already in the books, the USMNT look to spring another on the mercurial Belgians and Messi and Co. look to continue their winning ways against a stout Swiss side. Talk of the two matches to be played today aside, this has been a Round of 16 for the ages with Brazil being put to the test, Mexican heartbreak, and Costa Rica extending their World Cup dream! You would be hardpressed to find someone who could have, or in their right mind would have, chosen the Round of 16 participants and those who would be progressing to the Quarterfinals. When talking to a few of my non-soccer initiated friends prior to the beginning of the tournament, they all said “Oh Brazil’s just going to destroy everyone” and “Brazil’s gonna dominate and take the Cup easy”, and the field we see before us is the reason why I love this game. It’s not math, things don’t always add up, some days your squad is more than the sum of its parts and some days a perceived Goliath is felled by an unfancied David.
The first matches of the round went as expected, but not without a bit of a panicked sweat from the Brazilians, who took a while to get going and never quite looked their confident and settled selves. The Chileans were unable to make the most of their opportunities and had Mauricio Pinilla hit his 119th minute shot a fraction of an inch lower, we’d all be discussing how Brazil underwhelmed severely and would be watching the greatest party in sports happen in their backyard instead of playing. While all the talking heads of sports punditry continue their usual diatribe on using penalties to determine the winner of a 120 minute match – and some of their arguments hold some weight – the Brazilians kept their cool and were able to navigate the nervy shootout unscathed. As a quick aside to the media heads previously mentioned, what else would you like them to do? Continue to have the squads run around, exhausted of substitutions, in sweltering heat? No, that’s only feasible where the teams either play indoors a la basketball (except for LeBron James) or in a ‘sport’ where running 90 feet then taking an indefinite pause until possibly doing it again is considered exertion. Are penalties ideal? Not at all. Do we have a better alternative right now? Also no, but I digress.
The Brazilian nailbiter was followed up by a comfortable win for Los Cafeteros of Colombia who strolled to a 2-0. The, now familiar, starring cast for Colombia showed their merits in James (no not “Jay-ms”, “Ha-mess”) adding two goals to his tally behind the stellar play of Juan Cuadrado, and an energetic, reinvigorated performance from Jackson Martinez. While Colombia is relatively green to this tournament and with their win on Saturday cemented Colombia’s best ever finish in a World Cup Finals, as I’d previously mentioned, the past is the past, the game doesn’t always add up, and all it takes is a solid generation of players to spark a run. I’m firmly behind this Colombian team and have a feeling we may be talking about more shocks in the coming games, with one big one coming at their hands, well feet…
Costa Rica’s fairytale run has continued life at the expense of the Greeks’ first ever foray into the knockout stages, via the cruelest of Soccer Gods, Penalties. And with only 10 men, to boot. I touched on this before, so no more commentary there aside from confirming that as a former goalkeeper is my least favorite way of losing a match. Winning one can evoke excessive exultation and celebration for something that truthfully isn’t a huge sporting feat but if it’s due to your keeper, let him have those 15 minutes! Anyhow, The Greeks did come out attacking in this match and were much more pleasing on the eye than they were in the Group Stage, and were unlucky not to finish a few of their chances. Give Costa Rica’s GK Keylor Navas credit though, that guy can play, and he plays much bigger than the generous 6′ at which he’s listed. Next up for Costa Rica, another giant in the form of the Netherlands.
Netherlands were, to be honest, fairly fortunate to come through their tie with Mexico after Arjen Robben again showed why he should be competing in the Summer Olympics in the 10m springboard event. The Mexicans may have captured many a heart that day though, as they fought hard, played attractive, attacking soccer, and looked the better side for a large portion of that match. Once again, it’s another illustration of the cruelty of the Soccer Gods. The Netherlands will need to improve if they want to keep their quest for their first Cup alive against the plucky Ticos.
As of the time of writing, Argentina has just squeezed by Switzerland by a score of 1-0. Angel Di Maria supplied the winner in the 118th minute with his compatriots at the back escaping by the skin of their teeth after Blerim Dzemaili’s header clanked off the foot of the post, back off of him and out of bounds in the flash of an eye. Once again the Argies failed to impress, and Messi was held in check. This does not bode well for a squad with many questions hanging over its head right now about its defensive fragility, overreliance on Messi, and dearth of goals outside of those provided by Leo. Regardless of who comes out of the final match tonight between the US and Belgium, they may fancy their chances against an Argentinean team in disarray. This Swiss were a bit of a surprise this time around, showing some attacking gusto, but ultimately were felled by the work of the fickle Soccer Gods.
We’re being treated to one more match tonight, the US v. Belgium in what should be a cracker. The US will be looking to come out attacking and put the onus on the Belgians to chase the match. Expect a bit of a wrinkle from Klinsmann as we’re seeing he seems to have a tactical shift/alteration for each of the US’ opponents so far. I’m hopeful, and optimistic of a US win tonight; if we can keep the Belgians from dictating the midfield play and providing their speedsters up top with balls in behind our backline we’ll be in with a shout. Enjoy the last match folks, and feel free to share your thoughts below!
Hands clasped, we pray for olé… and a big win for the YANKS!!!