World Cup Brazil 2014, Part Three.

My prediction performance so far, with my correct picks in bold:

Group A: Brazil, Mexico. Easy picks.

Group B: The Netherlands, Spain. Even after the whupping from Holland, I thought Spain would bounce back. Nope. The Dutch look good. I mean real good. I mean like “we’re back for revenge and we don’t care who gets in our way” good. And it looks like Chile’s high ranking was justified.

Group C: Colombia, Ivory Coast. Got Colombia right despite not knowing too much about the group. I’m a bit disappointed about the Ivory Coast; Drogba’s a genuinely good guy and I wanted to see him do as well as possible.

Group D: Italy, Uruguay. Whoops. Italy was awful in its last two games, but was still unfortunate not to advance. But if hard work begets good luck, then they didn’t earn any good luck. After the first match, the offense disappeared. The Azzurri were barely even trying to score. Balotelli reminds me of Wayne Rooney in his first World Cup appearance– incredibly talented, but undisciplined and immature. Even if Italy had advanced, his second yellow would have kept him out of the Round of 16 game. They need him to grow up, and they need to develop at least one other reliable striker to pair with him.

Uruguay advanced as expected, but the how was unexpected. If the ref sees the bite, Suarez gets a red, Uruguay’s down to ten men, they probably don’t score a minute later, and Italy advances with four points. But I’m not mad at the ref. Shame on Italy for allowing themselves to be in that position, and shame on FIFA for the light punishment. This was not the first time Suarez bit an opponent. This was not the second time Suarez bit an opponent. This was the third. He needs a complete and total ban for at least a year (some have argued for a lifetime ban; I wouldn’t object), and mandate a psychological evaluation and extensive therapy. Four months is a mere vacation.

All that said, Costa Rica looked darn good. I’d bet nobody outside Costa Rica picked them to win this group, much less with seven points. This was the real Group of Death; Italy, Uruguay, and England were all ranked in FIFA’s top ten heading into the tournament. Costa Rica beat them. Congratulations to our CONCACAF rival for doing so.

Group E: France, Switzerland. Nailed it, but France looks even better than expected.

Group F: Argentina, Nigeria. I thought these were easy picks, though Iran did have a shot at sneaking through in the final group game. What’s scary is that Argentina won without looking very good. Messi has shown up, what happens if/when the rest of the team does?

Group G: Here’s what I wrote: “Germany will win the Group of Death, and the US will finish second.” Yep.

“In the first set of games, the US will finally get past Ghana, and Portugal will be beaten and beaten up by Germany.” Yep.

“Ronaldo’s nagging injuries will get the better of him, and I think Portugal’s a paper tiger without him in good health.” Not quite. Ronaldo was Portugal’s only bright spot, and the more I read about his charitable work, the less I despise him.

“We’ll tie or beat Portugal in our second match, Germany will beat Ghana and secure passage to the second round.” I gave myself some leeway in the USA-POR game, but was surprised by the Germany-Ghana tie.

I could only listen to the USA-Portugal game on ESPN Radio, but it sounded like we had the better of the game. We were better than Portugal. We didn’t get the result we should have, but that’s because we were sloppy and they were fortunate to score.

“Then we’ll tie Germany in the third match and advance with five points. I hope.” Close enough.

Group H: South Korea, Belgium. Belgium won the group, so I should give myself half-credit. South Korea disappointed. The Algeria-Russia match was fun to watch. Aabrock and I flew out to Vegas to watch the last two days of the group stage, and were surrounded by Russians in the sports book. We hoped for a high-scoring Russian victory so we could (A) be assured of making it out alive and (B) witness their loud and happy and terrifying celebrations. Didn’t happen. They drew, and Algeria advanced.

In toto: Got 12 of the 16 second-rounders right, with 11 of those 12 in exactly the right spot. Not bad. I think I’m winning my fantasy league right now. That in mind, my original picks for the knockout rounds are mostly intact, but let me offer some new picks.

Brazil over Chile. Chile was better than expected, but Brazil is hitting its stride and there’s no way the tourney/refs will let Brazil lose this one anyway.

Colombia over Uruguay. Colombia is better than expected, Uruguay is down to its gums.

France over Nigeria, Germany over Algeria, Netherlands over Mexico, Argentina over Switerland… those winners have looked strong and played positive games.

Costa Rica will beat Greece…and I think the US will beat Belgium. Belgium’s had their nice little run, but we’re better than everyone they’ve played so far. They aren’t as good as Germany. Altidore will be back. We’ll be ready– not to squeeze past them, but to beat them.

Match of the tournament so far: tough call. The most significant game so far was Holland’s defeat of Spain. The term “statement game” is perhaps overused by American commentators, but that was one if I ever saw one. Spain’s run of greatness was over, Holland was back and angry.

The goal of the tournament so far was from that same game. Robin Van Persie’s Nintendo goal right before the half was well-served, well-struck, and well-timed. You could see the life and hope drain out of Spain– that’s when it was over.

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