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And then there were eight, then four…

By Nth Degree

What a roller-coaster World Cup. First, a quick recap. Action started June 14 with the group phase. That ended on Thursday, June 28. Those who caught flights home for an early vacation after the group matches were Saudi Arabia, Egypt (sorry, Mo Salah), Morocco, Iran, Peru, Australia, Nigeria, Iceland (smallest country ever to make the finals), Serbia, Costa Rica, South Korea, Panama, Tunisia, Poland, Senegal and the biggest shocker of all, 2014 Brazil World Cup champions, Germany (sniff).

And then after a day of respite from all the drama, the knockout round began in earnest just last weekend. Those who went sight-seeing in Russia before confirming their flights home were Messi and Argentina, Ronaldo and Portugal, 2010 South Africa World Cup champions Spain, Denmark, CONCACAF powerhouses Mexico, the impressive but naïve Japan, ho-hum Switzerland and the undisciplined Colombia.

There was a funny image on social media that had Messi waiting at the airport for Ronaldo. Need I remind you, football is a TEAM sport. Yes, both Messi and Ronaldo, you could say are the best players on planet Earth, but on the field, they play with a goalkeeper and nine other outfield players so I don’t get it when people keep going on and on about Messi or Ronaldo being the saviour of their respective teams.

Of the round of 16 matches, the most exciting were France v Argentina, Uruguay v Portugal, Brazil v Mexico, and Japan v Belgium. Those involving European teams —Russia v Spain, Croatia v Denmark, and Sweden v Switzerland—were for the most part, boring. Why?

The Europeans have a certain style of play with minor alterations. These teams play each other often enough to qualify for the European Championships and World Cups so there is a lot of familiarity, and they tend to cancel each other out.

One thing, Spain played into the hands of Russia last Sunday. Spain passed, and passed, and passed, and nearly passed out from not taking any shots on the Russian goal. The Russians clearly had a plan to nullify the Spaniards and it worked.

I’m glad the Colombians are gone—too rough. Skilful, yes, but too much ungentlemanly conduct on the field. Adios Falcao et al.

Before I run out of space, here’s a quick look at the final eight and the matchups. These would have been played Friday and Saturday. France v Uruguay—this would have been a good final; the youthful French men versus the experienced and well-organised South Americans. Looking forward to seeing how the Uruguayan captain Godin copes with the speedy Mbappe.

Russia v Croatia—two European teams again so watch for a cagey display. I see the hosts getting the better of the talented Croats.

Brazil v Belgium—this would have been the best final for Russia, but the luck of draw has them playing each other in the quarterfinals. Belgium came back against the Japanese, proving they have the talent and the mettle. Brazil will have to be at their optimum and hope Neymar doesn’t get injured. He’s injury prone it seems. A leaf could touch him and he’d be rolling around in agony shouting to the ref that he’d been fouled. Seriously?

Sweden v England—another European match up and I expect another cagey affair between two teams who know each other pretty well. Last time they met at the World Cup was at the 2006 Germany World Cup. Yes, remember? T&T were in the same group with them.

Dear St Luigi Scrosoppi, patron saint of footballers, pray for us as we prepare for the finals next Sunday.