Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.
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It seems like the World Cup just began, and already half the knockout-round spots have been taken. Eight teams are in with a chance; eight are flying home. Here's a look at each group that's been decided.
Group A: Brazil and Mexico in, Croatia and Cameroon out
Brazil, of course, were in the second round from the moment that the groups were drawn for the World Cup. Mexico, on the other hand, were impressive in beating Croatia 3-1 in their final group match; they're going through thanks to three goals in ten minutes, which for a Mexico side that's struggled mightily to score must have felt like about ten goals in three minutes.
Croatia are the disappointing ones of the group; bad goalkeeping and worse refereeing sent them to defeat against Brazil, but until they capitulated against Mexico, they still had a chance. Cameroon, meanwhile, was terrible all the way through, and barring a collapse, will finish with the worst record of any team.
Group B: Netherlands and Chile in, Spain and Australia out
This was the least exciting group on the final day, given that the two teams that had already qualified were playing each other. Still, it must be noted that the Dutch scored twice more and held the Chile attack scoreless; it's hard not to see the Oranje as the favorites in their half of the knockout round, especially with Mexico and the Costa Rica/Greece winner lined up for the first two rounds.
As for Spain and Australia, we'll remember this World Cup as the fall of the Spanish, and the time Australia got drawn in a group that was sort of unfair, and got beat three times.
Group C: Colombia and Greece in, Ivory Coast and Japan out
Oh, Greece. If it wasn't for Uruguay - about which more later - you would be by far the most annoying team that's in the final sixteen.
The Greeks finally managed to score a goal in their final game against the Ivory Coast, taking the lead before halftime through Andreas Samaris, but when Wilfried Bony scored with sixteen minutes to go, it looked like the Ivory Coast - who needed just a draw to qualify - was going through.
In stoppage time, though, Georgios Samaras tripped himself in the penalty area, and the referee fell for it. Samaras put away the resulting penalty, which sent Greece to the knockout round for the first time in their history. The Greeks are annoyingly boring to watch, one of the few teams that can be described as such in what has been a wildly entertaining World Cup, so it's disappointing that we'll have to see more of them. I suppose they'll probably make the semifinals now.
For American soccer fans, Colombia is mostly "the country that we shouldn't have beat in 1994, but did because Andres Escobar scored an own goal and then was murdered when he went back to Colombia." That, though, ignores how good Colombia were in 1994 - they didn't lose a game in qualifying - and also ignores that they really haven't been good since, going down quietly in 1998 and failing to qualify since.
The Colombians are back, though; they won all three of their games in this round, led by James Rodriguez, who scored in all three. They've ended up in a quarter of the bracket with Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay, South American rivals all, which might be good for them; they finished ahead of both Chile and Uruguay in qualifying, beating both along the way (as hosts, Brazil didn't have to qualify).
Japan? Japan also participated.
Group D: Costa Rica and Uruguay in, Italy and England out
Quickly on three of the four: Congratulations to Los Ticos, who won the group and qualified for the knockout round for only their second time ever. As for Italy, given that they failed to score in two of their three games, it's hard to feel bad. As for England, they remain stuck in their semi-absurd self-mythmaking that generally sees expectations for the team wildly inflated. "We showed today how good of a team we are," said manager Roy Hodgson after their 0-0 draw with Costa Rica, which probably tells you everything.
Now, Uruguay. A good newspaperman probably would not have buried Luis Suarez all the way at the bottom of this blog post, but to recap: Suarez, while running through the penalty area, bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini in the shoulder. This is the third time - THE THIRD TIME - in his career that he has bit an opposing player.
You can spend all day reading about Suarez - Wright Thompson for ESPN is a good place to start - but after this incident, there is absolutely no doubt that he is the most hated man in soccer. He is an adult who bites people, he is perhaps the biggest diver in soccer today, he was once suspended eight games for racially abusing another player, and was involved in one of the more shocking moments of cheating in World Cup history.
Few can defend him. More will remember that Diego Godin scored a minute after Suarez's latest chomp, the late goal that Uruguay needed to get to the knockout round. Suarez will, if there is any justice, be suspended from the rest of this World Cup. There will, unfortunately, probably be no prison time to go along with the suspension.
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