We’re halfway through the 64-game tournament. All but one of my picks are still alive. The exception is Costa Rica, which has been eliminated after just two games. I probably should’ve done a bit more research before picking them based largely on a really cool photograph of Hector Marchena doing a mid-air scissor kick in 1990. No biggie, except that it makes the USA’s failure to qualify that much more embarrassing. Costa Rica’s no good, Panama just plain sucks… and we couldn’t get past either one of them. Oh well.
Some quick and shallow notes, group by group:
A: Russia looks good. Granted, they’ve played two of the weakest teams in the tournament, but they blew both of them out, which is exactly what a decent team should do. Putin (probably) didn’t even have to assassinate anyone to make it happen. Suarez hasn’t bitten anyone, so that’s good. I fear tomorrow’s Russia-Uruguay game will be boring because both teams will advance to the Round of 16, where think there won’t be much difference between playing Spain or Portugal. So there might be a little less incentive to perform than usual.
B: For my money, the Spain-Portugal tie was the best of the tournament so far. Spain’s second goal (Diego Costa off the well-executed misdirection free kick) was my favorite of the tournament. We’ll see if that holds up. Spain has played better than I expected, given they fired their coach the day before the tournament started. Ronaldo’s been good. Iran’s going home tomorrow.
C: France has impressed me so far. They’ve got two one-goal victories, but they’re pretty good for such a young team. If they don’t win this time they’ll be in good shape to do so in ’22.
D: I badly underestimated Croatia. The way they beat up and beat down the Argentinians was shocking. Nigeria looks good to me despite the opening loss against Croatia. Argentina’s melting down at the worst possible time, but if they can somehow flip the switch and get a win tomorrow, anything can happen in the knockout rounds. I’m not going to put too much money on that happening. Messi looks like he has no help. Some folks are comparing this team to Maradona’s 1990 team that lost its opening match, but that team played desperately and cynically enough to claw their way to the final that year. This team looks bloodless. Lifeless.
E: This one is going roughly as expected. Brazil will yawn their way out of the group, and the Swiss will beat the Ticos.
F: The Group of Death has been the most entertaining group. Mexico’s earned their spot on top of the group fair and square. They played ze Germans exactly right, they dominated South Korea, and there’s no cynicism in their game. That said, I loved watching both of ze Germans’ games. Germany-Sweden was my second-favorite match so far, despite the ref and the VAR pooching the non-penalty call in the first half. (More about the VAR later.) Ze Germans are the best team in the group, zey’re trying desperately to win, but zey just don’t have a defensive midfield, so the counters are killing zem. And until the second half yesterday, zey couldn’t buy a goal despite out-possessing and out-shooting zeir opponents by far.
G: England has finally showed up for a World Cup. They and Belgium (who I usually think are overrated) have done exactly what they’re supposed to: beat the tar out of the minnows in their group. Hopefully they have a 6-5 goal-fest on Thursday.
H: Another entertaining group. Senegal and Japan are going through. Senegal’s going to knock out ColOMbia, who, despite blowing out Poland, are too inconsistent for my taste. That’ll leave ColOOOOMbia stuck at three points, and Japan already has four.
I am grateful for the VAR, which has been the star of the show so far. Again, I’ll write more about that later.
I am also grateful for the fact that there have been no zero-zero draws, and hopefully there will be none the rest of the way. If you ask me, scoreless draws should count as losses for both teams. No goals? No points.