Baltimore, June 25, 2014 — Uruguay’s star player, Luis Suarez, may have darkened the headlines by biting an Italian player, but this World Cup is turning out to be an amazing event, full of drama, goals, attacking soccer, fascinating stories and a what appears to be, a villain.
For starters, no pundit in the world had tiny Costa Rica winning a group that contained three former World Cup winners – Italy, Uruguay and England. Greece advances to the knockout round for the first time on a dramatic late penalty kick denying the Ivory Coast, and World Champion Spain, along with Italy and England – teams from the biggest and richest domestic leagues in the world – go home early. Where’s the logic to all this?
And it seems all of America is coming on board. Fans, neutrals, newborn fans and even some soccer skeptics are rooting big time for the United States team. The U.S. game against Portugal was seen by a record 24.7 million Americans and it was ESPN’s highest rated soccer game, watched by 18.2 million viewers. That ratings record might be broken when fans tune in to watch the Americans play Germany on Thursday, which should hopefully see the red, white and blue advance to the last 16.
Americans may be feeling a little down after the U.S. team allowed Portugal to tie the game with less than 30 seconds on the clock. Soccer is often a cruel game. Despite losing Jozy Altidore to injury, the U.S. team is still in great shape, with an excellent chance of advancing to knockout round, and even going further. Why not? The U.S. team can beat Belgium. A month ago, American fans would have been overjoyed with a win over Ghana and a tie with Portugal from the so-called “Group of Death.”
At many levels, the World Cup is pretty much a crap shoot. A team needs some decent players – a star player helps – but most of all, you need good chemistry, confidence, a little luck, and some calls to go your way.
Top ranked Spain is out because the team chemistry was just not there. England is out because Wayne Rooney missed a couple of chances he would normally have put away on any other day.
Imagine how Bosnia feels? Edin Dzeko had a perfect goal disallowed because the referee got it wrong and called for offside. The Ivory Coast was 30 seconds away from advancing until they handed Greece a penalty kick. Croatia was also stung by a bad call in the game against Brazil. England is going home to face a barrage of criticism from the cruel tabloids. The team actually played well in its first two games but the defense took their eye off the ball at two crucial moments. And Costa Rica stunned everybody with wins over Uruguay and Italy, and tie with England. Who would have thought? That’s how it goes. One could safely wager that if Costa Rica played Italy in ten games Italy would probably win eight. But on the day, Costa Rica was the better team. That’s the beauty of the World Cup.
Look at Mexico. The team struggled to get into the World Cup and had to play New Zealand in a playoff. Mexico is now making the most of things, holding Brazil to a tie, and playing some amazing attacking soccer. The Mexicans appear to have found their rhythm just at the right moment.
Mighty Argentina, with a roster of superstars, needed Lionel Messi to produce a moment of magic in the dying minutes to earn a win over the lower seeded Iran. In fact, Iran was unlucky not to win that game. They had some amazing chances.
So is there any logic in the end? Not much. The good teams tend to win and some good teams tend to implode. As of now, Brazil, Argentina, Columbia, Chile, the Netherlands, and Germany – maybe even Mexico or Belgium – all look like they could win the event.
We’ll leave the sad story to last. That great player Luis Suarez, who sent home England with two amazing goals, could be going home early too after biting an opposing player. This is the third player Suarez has bitten. Very sad.
John Haydon wrote a weekly soccer column for The Washington Times for 20 years. He has covered two World Cups and written about Major League Soccer from the league’s inception in 1996.
Follow John on Twitter at @Johnahaydon or email [email protected]