While talking about the World Cup with my mum last week, she said to me, “This is an odd World Cup.”
Not a bad summary, really. There have certainly been plenty of results that nobody saw coming. Did anyone think Spain would go out in the group stage, or Costa Rica would win their group? With a few surprise teams making it through to the last 16, and with a few high-ranked teams getting there but not quite living up to their full potential yet, it’s looking like it could be anyone’s game. This tournament has been a neutral’s dream, with aggressive football and (so far) the highest goal average for 44 years, and could well go down as one of the best World Cups ever.
Except, of course, for that one sad little detail.
Having stayed up to watch England lose to Italy, I actually felt very positive about everything except the result. We hadn’t deserved to lose. We had actually played well, with real aggression and good organisation. It was the best I’d seen England play in a long time – and certainly the most fun I’d had watching them. Yes, we hadn’t gotten a point, but all we’d done was reduce our margin for error. If we carried on playing like that, we shouldn’t have too much trouble beating Uruguay and Costa Rica.
Of course, as the Uruguay game approached, I was still nervous. I asked my mum if she was this tense after England lost their first match in 1986. She replied, “It’s always tense.”
And as it turned out, we didn’t manage to play quite as well against Uruguay. It was still an even match except for two things: 1) Uruguay defended better than we did, and 2) they had Luis Suarez and we didn’t. I got home from work the following day to see Costa Rica beat Italy (seriously, who saw that coming?) and put us out. In the first round.
Part of it seemed unfair. We had unquestionably been playing better than we did in 2010, and we’d ended up with two less points for it. I guess Italy and Uruguay are more likely to punish you than USA and Algeria. And we’d actually tried, as well. When Spain went behind against Chile, they just seemed to give up. England’s hearts seemed to be in it all the way to the end against Uruguay, and they weren’t rewarded.
I can accept that the team just wasn’t good enough – our defending and chance-converting obviously needed work. But what really made me sad was that I’d tried to be positive without being blindly optimistic – and it had come to nothing. The cynics had won. Even a few pundits had been predicting at the beginning that England would go out in the group stage. Why were they the ones who had to be right? Why couldn’t it have paid to be positive for once?
Well, life goes on, and so does the World Cup. Currently hoping for the Netherlands to win – Brazil haven’t been as good as I expected.
Favourite match so far: England vs Italy, Colombia vs Ivory Coast (love those Colombian dance moves) and what I saw of France vs Switzerland were fun games, but the best so far has to be Spain vs Netherlands. Not just because it was a dynamic game with some fantastic goals, but because it gave us our first real indication that this wasn’t going to be a predictable tournament.
Favourite goal so far: Has to be Robin van Persie’s header against Spain, with Arjen Robben’s first goal coming second.
Predictions: Giving myself a point for getting a team and their position right, and half a point for getting the team right but not the position, I got 9 out of 16 for my earlier predictions of who would get out of the group stage. So, what about the actual last 16?
- Brazil vs Chile = potential for a surprise here, but Brazil should edge it
- Colombia vs Uruguay = Uruguay might have had a chance if they still had Mr Bitey, but without him, Colombia should come out on top
- France vs Nigeria = France
- Germany vs Algeria = Germany
- Netherlands vs Mexico = Netherlands
- Costa Rica vs Greece = Costa Rica, or at least I hope so (both because I want to see the surprise package do well and because I’m not a fan of Greece’s style)
- Argentina vs Switzerland = again, there could be a shock, but after Switzerland got battered by France in the group stage, they probably won’t quite be enough to beat Argentina
- Belgium vs USA = close one; I’ll say USA in extra time