Who am I kidding? I have like, maybe less than zero qualifications to comment on soccer: my predictions on the World Cup were so wrong that even my prediction that all of my predictions would be wrong turned out to be wrong. But once I’ve predicted Argentina to beat Brazil 2-1 in the final, I might as well keep on blundering.
Besides, I can’t help noticing all of the winners at the World Cup.
One of the best aspects of the World Cup consists of this: so many countries come home as winners. You already know about Germany, but after every Cup a bunch of nations go home happy, no matter how many of them lost their final game of the tournament. Here are some of the tournaments other winners.
- Bosnia-Herzegovina reached their first Cup, put up a good fight in their fairly difficult group, and came away with a victory in their third and final game.
- Algeria (one of my few correct predictions) reached their first Round of 16, and can say they put up a better fight versus Germany than Brazil. Those players will never have to pay for a restaurant meal in their hometowns ever again, and that’s saying something; Algerian cuisine is quite underrated.
- Costa Rica: By far the biggest positive shock of the Cup, the team picked to lose all of their games in Group D (one of the two Groups of Death) won the group outright, reached the quarterfinals for the first time, and thanks to the schedule can claim they reached the “Final Five.”
- France: Thanks in part to the management of Didier Deschampes, France made an impressive comeback from their 2010 disaster and reached the quarters.
- Colombia reached the quarterfinals for the first time.
- The United States–somehow–survived the other Group of Death and reached the Round of 16.
- Belgium reached their first quarterfinals since 1986, darn it.
- Greece: Round of 16. Not bad at all.
- CONCACAF. Four teams qualified, America, Mexico and Costa Rica advanced, and all three teams truly earned their places in The Sixteen.
- James Rodriguez, Colombia. Five games, six goals.
- The 4-2-3-1 Formation. Still something of a novelty in 1998, a lot of teams resorted to this attacking formation in 2014, which might explain our next winner…
- Offense. Perhaps we live in an era where the attackers in general are better than the defenders in general. Perhaps the weather wore down the defenders more the attackers during the second half and extra time (all three goals in Belgium-USA came after the 90th minute). Whatever the reason, overall 2014 ranks as one of the liveliest Cups in a long time.
Best of all, my list probably overlooks a bunch of other players and teams who went home happy.
Still, some teams could not go home happy. For example,
- Every team in Group D that was not Costa Rica. Even Uruguay.
- Brazilian White. Did anyone else feel surprised that Brazil wore white? I thought they had decided after 1950 that white was unlucky and they would wear yellow jerseys with green numbers, blue shorts, and green socks forever. Maybe white explains their collapse?
- The English system of player development. This is the second straight Cup where the Three Lions performed worse than their former Colonists, and when even the English coach says (publicly!) that they could learn something from the American system…wow. The USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann doesn’t like the US system of sending soccer players to college, and we still fared better than England.
- Spain got old. Can’t be helped. All they need to do is bring in the next generation and they’ll play better in 2018.
- And perhaps a controversial choice: The United States. True, surviving a brutal Group of Death ranks among their greatest achievements. And no one can deny that all other nations must fear a team that becomes more dangerous as the game goes on, thanks to their amazing fitness and psychological fortitude. But aside from Tim Howard, the team looked hopelessly outclassed by Belgium. Also, consider this; they entered the tournament as the world’s 13th ranked team, so going out in the Round of 16 means that by one standard they only met expectations. How much longer can we feel satisfied when we finish +1, =1, -2? What will it take for America to reach the next level?
But that is a matter for the future. Today the United States can legitimately call itself one of many winners in a tournament designed to produce winners at all levels, in all shapes and sizes.
Vonn Scott Bair