So far, it’s been a wonderful, wide open World Cup, full of anticipations, frustrations, elations and exasperations – of achievements and disappointments, surprises and status-quos.
It’s been a World Cup of both beautiful and erratic play that’s now up for grabs by a new champion, because the defending champion, Spain – also the reigning two-time European Cup winner (2008 and 2012) on both sides of seizing the 2010 World Cup – with their aging roster, was dominated and eliminated.
This World Cup in fun-in-the-sun and party time Brazil has been action-packed throughout, especially when comparing it to the more tepid South Africa-hosted 2010 world championship tournament. And this year’s global event has so far featured nearly four times more goals than four years prior.
For the segment of Americans who prefer their sports to produce offense over defense, with lots of scoring and not able to grasp the athletic structure, build-up, chess-like drama that demands patience leading to excitement, the goal scoring in Brazil must bring at least some enjoyment.
Actually, on the other side of the spectrum, one of the best matches played so far has been host Brazil versus Latin rival Mexico, which ended in a scoreless tie, but was made must-see theater because of a bevy of incredible saves made by Mexican goalie Guillermo Ochoa – wow, wow and more wows.
It was just, or even a touch more, thrilling than if a goal was scored, because defense is, and will always be, the key to success in sports.
As for the majority of sports fans in the world, soccer’s the game and World Cup champion is the name all the national teams are battling to own.
The daily matches have been held in venues spread out over the vast Brazil landscape and includes a stadium in the city of Manaus, which is nestled in the middle of the Amazon rainforest that can only be reached by air or water, where the humidity took, and will continue to take, its toll on teams not from hot, humid climates.
As the Italian and English players who played the first game at that site opening their group play, and, with three other stadiums located in cities in Amazon rain-forested North section of massive Brazil, other unaccustomed-to-this-kind-of-hot national teams are feeling the energy drains, which are affecting the second round.
But I’m not making excuses for struggling countries, like my favorite Azzurri, which can’t use the excuse of being drained from the win over England as the reason for their loss to Costa Rica, because the Italians were lackluster with their attack which came back to haunt them on defense in the second half.
Now, this morning, I am intently watching Italy battle Uruguay in a must-win scenario of advancing to the round of 16.
Then on Thursday, I, along with soccer America, will be glued to our TVs watching the United States, my second favorite national team (I am an Italian-American) play mighty Germany with reaching the knockout round at stake.
Unfortunately, the Americans, who beat Ghana in the Group G opener, or this World Cup’s “Group of Death,” would’ve already advanced if they didn’t yield a tying goal in the final extra-time seconds to FIFA world fourth-ranked Portugal, with world player of the year Ronaldo sensationaly assisting Sunday’s equalizer.
Side note on the match – the referee allowed the first water break in World Cup history, which is allowed at least 30 minutes into a match if the temperature breaks 89 degrees, and that’s saying nothing about the 80-plus humidity, so imagine the Amazon weather they’re playing in. More on the heat later.
As for my third favorite national team, England, it lost twice and was eliminated like Spain, though the Brits are young a promising for the future, while the Spanish are aged with the horizon not too bright at the moment.
Then there’s my fourth favorite, Mexico, which has a win and the above mentioned hard-earned tie with five-time champion Brazil. Italy has won four World Cups, England one and the U.S. and neighboring Mexico none – and entered yesterday’s Group A match with Croatia needing a win or tie to advance.
Again referring to how this has been a wonderful, wide open, full of action World Cup, what makes it even better is the fact that all this good stuff has occurred in group play, which means the suppose-to-be-more action and drama knockout round of 16, the quarterfinals, the semifinals, and the final, are still to come.
That means a whole lot more wow, wow and more wows.