As I lay my 1982 World Cup champion Italy – the Azzurri's third World Cup title and first in my lifetime – T-shirt back in the drawer after the group stage for the second time since it won its fourth global crown eight years ago, I turn my personal attention to the United States and Mexico.
Both North American teams advanced as runners-up from the group stage into the "Round of 16" or "Knockout Round," where they were joined by group winners host Brazil, Colombia, France, Germany, Netherlands, Costa Rica, Argentina and Belgium; and other group runner-ups Chile, Uruguay, Nigeria, Algeria, Greece and Switzerland.
After the weekend elimination matches, two of the World Cup favorites, host Brazil and powerful Netherlands, somehow escaped being ousted by the proverbial "skin of their teeth" by Chile and Mexico, respectively.
Chile had the Brazilians on the ropes and came within inches of shocking the five-time champions, but the ball bounced off both the cross-bar in extra time, and the post in the deciding, and excruciating, penalty kickoff.
As both a player and fan, the last thing you want the final outcome to come down to are with penalty kicks, with fatigue at that point of the match for the players being a factor in their team's fate, and the stressful to elation or heartbreak for the fans being their fate.
Mexico outplayed fast and dangerous Dutch throughout the first half of their knockout match in blistering heat, then quickly scored a goal after the break and committed one of the most common and egregious mistakes in game or match management, being conservative and playing not to lose instead of playing to win.
Sustituting a defensive player for an offensive one while holding on to a narrow 1-0 advantage, but with nearly a whole half to go, finally stung the Mexicans as Netherlands always dangerous strikers continued making runs at the goal and got numerous corner kicks that led ther undoing.
The Dutch tied the match with three minutes to go, and, then in extra time got a questionable – though Mexico put itself in constant second-half peril – penatly kick and converted it to make their great escape, as did Brazil, and both countries are now on a still-possible collision course to meet in the final.
But Holland and Brazil better watch their luck facing other underdogs in the quarter- and semi-finals, who might complete their bite on the two favorites, who next face knockout-match winners Costa Rica, which sent Greece packing on penalty kicks, and Columbia, which eliminated Uruguay, respectively.
As for Uruguay, it played without their suspended infamous star Luis Suarez for another biting incident, this time against one of my Italians, and it most justifably cost him a suspension of four months of club play and eight matches with his country team.
Yesterday's Round of 16 matches pitted Germany against Algeria, while France faced Nigeria – results not available at presstime – and today, Argentina plays Switzerland, and the U.S. battles it out with Belgium, which is young and strong and some say could reach the semifinals.