Everyone thought that a World Cup in Brazil would be a big deal. But now, after the group stage is done and half the teams are still on the battle for victory and glory—and the other half, including some major blows, are flying home—it’s safe to say that no one imagined such a festival of football lust. Brazil, the home of the “jogo bonito,” or beautiful game, is hosting what is perhaps the most partying, intense and joyful atmosphere a World Cup has ever seen, all together with great matches, great performances and an impressive goal average.
But, with all this, the 2014 World Cup still lacks something—a team that seems determined to win. Sure, we have had some huge talent, and collectively Holland and Germany are one step ahead of the 16 horse field waiting in the tracks. But even they had their issues. After such an easy game against Portugal, Germany’s Nationalmanschaft had big troubles against Ghana. Their victory over the United States (a solid team, with great wingers and a real chance of going through the quarterfinals on their clash against Belgium) was solid, but shy of what was expected after the first impressions in Salvador.
But, with all this, the 2014 World Cup still lacks something—a team that seems determined to win.
And this feeling is starting to kick in with the German people, too. I was in Berlin for the match against the Black Stars of Ghana, and the whole city was expecting another show from Mueller, Oezil and their colleagues. But, as the match developed and the Ghanese took the lead, all the resentment for last year’s poor performance on decisive matches started to show. Joachim Loew, the coach, has been recognized for a great job promoting new players and changing the German style of play, now more focused on talent than on sheer force. However, the losses to Spain in the Euro 2008 final and in the WC 2010 semifinal, and to Italy (always a hard battle for the Deutsches) in the Euro 2012 semifinal, have put Loew’s competence for achieving a major title is in doubt. But still, if there’s one team that has shown its capability of being in Maracanã in July 13, it’s Germany.
Holland, on the other hand … Yes, they made the great blunder of the year with the 5-1 against Spain in the first round, and have a perfect set of thre victories so far. But the match against Australia was worrying, and even on their win against Chile, it depended too much on the skills of Arjen Robben. Sure, with Robin van Persie on his side, things will be different in what promises to be an exciting battle against Mexico, its speed and its amazing set of supporters, but it’s not a done deal. Besides, how many times has the Oranje seemed fit to win the World Cup and failed to deliver in that crucial moment?
The other 14 contestants have had their ups and downs. Brazil, the host, is playing under so much pressure that it only shows how gifted Neymar really is. Even though he didn’t have a great first season in Barcelona, he’s showing all his capabilities with Luiz Felipe Scolari’s squad. No wonder he is one of the main goal scorers of the Cup, with four balls in the net, together with Lionel Messi and Thomas Mueller. Most importantly, he’s getting better at the collective side of the game. Chile will be a hard opponent for the Brazilians, but the history of the encounters is all positive for the Canarinhos. It also promises to be a great battle.
Argentina, on the other hand, started very weak but improved a lot on their match against Nigeria, the toughest one of the group stage. And, finally, Messi. He is replicating on the Albiceleste his entire repertoire from the great days of Barcelona. La Pulga (the flea, as he is called by the Argentineans) is having his best performance in a World Cup, and it was about time. Now, they will face Switzerland, and Alejandro Sabella’s team has a great chance of advancing thru the important matches.
Between the rest, we have had the great showings of Colombia (a favorite of mine), Chile and France; the surprises of the mighty Costa Rica, Algeria and Greece; and the disappointment with Belgium. Even though the Diables Rouges have won all their matches, so far they haven’t lived up to the expectations that fans around the world were putting on Eden Hazard and his crew. Uruguay, on the other hand, did a great job beating England and Italy, but are the Celestes up to the challenge of not having Luis Suarez on board? The striker’s bite, just a new chapter on a roll of unusual behaviors on the pitch, might cost them a lot. But man, this South American encounter with Colombia at Maracanã sure looks big.
And for those who fell … Well, what can we say? Spain, England and Italy were the major upsets, for sure. The Spaniards, all proud of the gold star above their crest, had to pack up early and now will have to think all their football through. The tiki-taka is gone, and gone are Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Iker Casillas and Fernando Torres from La Furia. A major challenge, one that the Iberians have never faced, is up ahead, and it will all be on Andres Iniesta’s return to see how they develop from now on.
England and Italy, on the other hand, had a difficult group to deal with. But one of them was obligated to go through, and they both failed on their matches with Uruguay, who showed more heart. Italy’s fall to Costa Rica was, actually, the match that decided the group’s destiny. The Three Lions, on their side, never looked promising enough to go for the title. But to leave a World Cup with just one point was too low, even with the low profile of Roy Hodgson’s choices. Farewell to Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in this World Cup.
Other upsets were, clearly, Portugal, Ivory Coast and Bosnia, all looked good to go to the round of 16 in the prospective groups, but failed on the big games. But their leaving was no shock. So all I can hope is that their fans had a good run in the Brazilian festas.
Oh, yes, and the party will go on. After the lust for goals in the first 48 matches, things will surely be different now, with every match meaning that someone will hit the road back home. But one thing will remain the same—the atmosphere. Let’s all hope that this World Cup confirms all the great words we saw in the first stage.