A Mockingbird World Cup Review (So Far)

I gave myself whiplash celebrating a USA goal. When Jermaine Jones scored in the 64th […]

Win Jordan / 7.2.14

Tim HowardI gave myself whiplash celebrating a USA goal. When Jermaine Jones scored in the 64th minute for the US to even the score at 1-1 with Portugal, I raised my fists and snapped my head back so rapidly as I roared that I had quite the headache, and was left massaging my neck. Yes, it was idiotic, but no, I don’t regret it.

I have fully bought into the fanaticism of the World Cup. I took a little bit too much pride in being able to recite all of the possible outcomes for the US going into the final day of group play. I’ve been riveted by even the smallest of games like Nigeria vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was heartbreaking to see the USA’s run come to an end last night, but I couldn’t help feeling an immense sense of pride in the way they fought to the end, and in how goalkeeper Tim Howard sent the country into a frenzy after each one of his record breaking sixteen saves during that game. I can’t tell if it’s just the emotion of the present, but I think this has been a World Cup unlike any other so far. There has been a wealth of last-second goals, some shocking early exits, and one extremely unlikely underdog. In the eight Round of 16 games, FIVE went to extra time (with two of those going to the nail biting penalty kick shootout), and two others were decided after the 79th minute. The World Cup is always exciting enough even without this heart-stopping (literally) drama, but amid all the chaos and excitement, some themes from our Mockingbird Preview have played out in some very interesting ways.Neymar penalty

1. Brazil’s Enormous Expectations

The hosts have made it to the quarterfinals, but they have not done it in impressive fashion. They did not dominate any of their group stage games (except for the second half against the worst team in the tournament, Cameroon) as they were expected to, and were even held scoreless against Mexico after an unbelievable performance by the Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.

Then, in the Round of 16, fellow South Americans, Chile, took the hosts all the way to penalty kicks, and Brazil just barely survived. They will not win this tournament if they keep playing like this, and those colossal expectations that have been placed upon them of winning and placating the riots will not be met. That’s the sad part for Brazil; it’s win (and dominate) or else. For a team like Costa Rica, being in the quarterfinals is a magical experience that their country is euphorically celebrating. For Brazil, this is very serious business. That might be their undoing.

2. England’s Not-So-Big Expectations

Many thought that England might be able to succeed without the weight of crushing expectations. They did not…at all. Now there’s a crisis of sorts because the Americans have bested them in two straight World Cups. Their identity as a “footballing nation” is crumbling right now.

3. Colombia is Back

Colombia is one of the biggest success stories of this World Cup so far. They won all three of their games in the group stage in a tough group (Greece, Ivory Coast, and Japan), then cruised past rival Uruguay in the Round of 16. This is Colombia’s first tournament appearance since 1998, and they look to represent a new start for Colombian soccer after it was so intertwined with the drug trade in the 90’s. They have the opportunity to make a landmark moment in the quarterfinal against Brazil to cement this “new beginning.” Right now, Colombia is playing better, and if they can beat the hosts, it would complete a sporting rebirth unlike any other.

Spain frustration4. Spain’s Dominance Tested

Nobody crashed and burned quite like Spain in this tournament. After their shocking blowout at the hands of the Netherlands in the first match, the defending champions earned the dubious distinction of being the first team eliminated from this World Cup with a loss to Chile in their second match. After three straight major tournament wins, the Spanish were brought back down to Earth in the cruelest way possible. In so many interviews, people in many struggling countries claim that their country’s team is a welcome distraction from the problems of everyday life, Spain included. The Spanish returned to real life much, much sooner than they would have liked.

5. The Egos

Forget the three egos highlighted in the Preview (Ballotelli, Ronaldo, and Neymar). The biggest story of misbehavior has been Luis Suarez of Uruguay. Fun fact, you have a greater chance of being bitten by Luis Suarez than you do by a shark. That’s because for the third time in four years, Suarez bit an opposing player on the field. The worst part was in the confusion of the bite, Uruguay got a corner kick which they converted for a goal to defeat Italy and send them through to the next round. However, he received a four month ban, including the rest of the World Cup. Without him, Uruguay was soundly defeated by Colombia. One of the reasons the ban was so harsh was Suarez hadn’t understood the seriousness of his actions after his previous two bites.

6. The Group of Death

When Group G was drawn, it seemed all but guaranteed the USA would be heading for an early exit. This impossibly difficult draw (two top-five teams in Germany and Portugal, the top team from North America in the USA, and the top African team in Ghana) actually proved to be the saving grace for the legacy of the USA’s performance in this World Cup. Americans should not remember the World Cup for the heartbreaking loss last night. Instead, we should remember it for the way the team fought against the odds to make it through this impossible draw when we had no business doing so. This team turned an impossible draw into one of the best things to happen in a while for US Soccer. Funny how quickly we become grateful for things we were bemoaning just a short while ago.Dempsey

7. Geo-Political Showdowns

That impossible scenario of the US playing Iran that CNN was salivating over did not come to fruition. Thankfully, this World Cup has been about the soccer and not the politics. That might change in 2018 when the tournament is staged in Russia.

(And here is the storyline nobody saw coming)Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s Magical Run

Costa Rica was drawn into Group D with three previous World Cup champions (Italy, England, and Uruguay). It looked like the second Group of Death and that those three teams would fight for the two spots to advance. But Costa Rica shocked everyone and won this group. They then took Greece to penalty kicks in the Round of 16 despite having 10 men for much of the game, and won it. Now they are on to the quarterfinals. So many people are pulling for “Los Ticos” for a variety of reasons. Nobody expected them to be here, they don’t have the economic resources of the other remaining teams, and they are the first team from Central America to ever advance past the Round of 16. We’re drawn to underdogs in life and in sports, but that draw is even stronger in the later stages of the World Cup. We see so many familiar teams in the quarterfinals (Netherlands, France, Brazil, Germany, Argentina) that Costa Rica just doesn’t seem to belong. That makes the underdog storyline even more compelling on the world’s biggest stage.




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