World Cup Quarters – "& Then There Were 8"

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The typical suspects have overcome group stage difficulties to rise to the top. However, no smoking gun has appeared to point out the single culprit most likely to win the tournament. Using a really big magnifying glass, a trench coat, a smart talking sidekick, and intuition, we embarked on an investigation of the remaining teams in this World Cup quarterfinals, searching for clues in a sea of uncertainty. Our conclusion as to who will win the World Cup?

All signs point to….

Let’s start with the obvious – you knew nothing about Paraguay except that their A closer inspection reveals a side more than capable of holding la furia roja without a goal for 90 minutes. Also, Argentine born – big in Germany -forward Lucas Barrios has proven potent up top, while Oscar Cardozo shined in Portugal this past year. Still, the albiroja would be a long shot for a finals appearance. Thus, they are among the list of secondary suspects – dangerous, but not requiring closer inspection at this time.

As for Uruguay, admit that you knew about Diego Forlan. He had a good season at Atletico de Madrid, scoring clutch goals in their successful Europa league campaign. However, aside from the game against South Africa, he has taken on an accomplice role. Diego is the distraction to the deadly, deceptive, and delightful enrachado Suarez, the Dutch young player of the year who has scored crucial goals this tournament for the charruas.

 

Despite theĀ  world class striking tandem, depth at midfield poses a problem for Uruguay. Do they have the bodies to pull off a heist of global proportions? Probably not, as a nearly disastrous double yellow in the opening game against France revealed. Thus, the Uruguayans may pose a bigger menace than Ghana, they remain a secondary suspect.

Ghana is better than you thought. Despite the injury to Michael Essien, the seeds of the successful under20 side are blossoming nicely. Even Muntari, a strong role player in Inter’s successful treble winning season, struggles to get minutes. However, a glance at the magnifying glass reveals overly defensive tactics and a team too wet behind the ears. Could they upset Uruguay? It’s a remote possibility. But the semi-finals will probably be a bridge too far for Africa’s last remaining representative.

Now we move onto the primary suspects. The first is obviously Spain. The furia roja edged out a negative Portugal side which lacked any ounce of creativity in midfield. Still, David Villa aside, the Iberians have lacked a cutting edge in the 18 yard box. Despite Fernando Torres’ attempt to conceal his identity via hair color change, his lack of fitness has hindered his contributions. And his athletic and direct approach always stuck out like a sore thumb for Spain.

 

More troubling is Del Bosque’s overly negative tactics. The Spaniards two holding midfielders, Xabi & Busquets, means that Xavi has limited attacking targets. The lack of movement has been troubling. David Villa’s individual brilliance can probably lead them past Paraguay, but the semi-finals should see the limping Spaniards bounced in convincing fashion. The Spaniards are a primary suspect, but only just barely. Don’t count on finding their prints anywhere near the trophy.

Now, we turn out attentions to the disappearing Dutch. A glance at the roster gives us ample motive to assert Holland as favorites. However, going from paper to people, reasonable doubt creeps in. The Dutch locker room is always volatile, a tempestuous sea of swirling emotions where placid surfaces mask powerful undercurrents. Robin Van Persie’s recent outburst and lingering resentment from a basic free kick at Euro 2008 reveal a group of mean spirited, needy, and insecure professionals.

Up until this point, the Dutch coach has refrained from criticizing his own players, a rarity in the “everybody else is to blame” orange establishment. However, when the going gets tough, when the chips are down, the stylish Dutch 4-3-3 reveals a gaping hollow in the center as wingers complain about a “lack of service” rather than backtracking. Not to mention that this Dutch side has hardly played stylish attacking soccer so far. The orange’s suspect back line will haunt them against Brazil, in a closely contested affair more akin to involuntary manslaughter than premeditated murder.

Argentina has scored goals by the bucket, shielding an aging and lead footed back line. Javier Mascherano, aided by either Veron or Maxi, has worked tirelessly to feed the three striker attack while provided cover for Heinze and Demichelis. But will Di Maria provide enough width against a well organized German defense?

 

The bi-polar Diego gives both reasons to both suspect and discount the Argentinians. On the one hand, he has a happy locker room and confident group of attackers. On the other, he has failed to show the capacity to make an astute tactical substitution to turn a game in the albiceleste‘s favor. The young Mueller and speedy Podolski may reveal the wear and tear on the defensive tires, but no team with Leo Messi and the in-form Tevez & Higuain can be dismissed out of hand. Expect a breathtaking quarterfinal, with the Argentines willing to attack, and the counterattacking Germans inviting them forward. Who will win? That would be more guesswork then detective work. A coin toss.

You can never underestimate the Germans. Never. Just when you figure the old guard has advanced into the sunset, a group of young and sprightly blonds, tall as an oak, sprint by your wingbacks and outjump your centerbacks. The biggest cause for concern, and suspicion, is the Turkish central playmaker.

Mesut Ozil’s ascent has been meteoric. June 29 of last year, he led the Under 20 side to a 4-0 thrashing of England. And this summer? Just a 4-1 drubbing in the World Cup. With the tireless Schweinsteiger in midfield, the ageless Klose occupying defenders, and the fearless Podolski out wide, Ozil offers a touch, vision, and reading of the game rarely seen in Deutschland. He is a primary suspect and must be watched closely, along with the rest of his German cohorts.

The primary suspect is the typical suspect is the usual suspect. Brazil. However, this Brazil wears gloves, a mask, dusts its own prints, and leaves no trace of impressive success in its wake. Not wanting to leave behind a shell, a bullet, or any other clue, the Brazilians prefer a much simpler, less noisy, and less messy manner of murder: asphyxiation.

Gilberto and Felipe Melo slowly wrap their paws around the game, patiently passing the ball with Lucio and waiting for a moment of weakness. All your intuition and instincts point to Brazil, yet no smoking guns appears. You blink your eye, and a first touch combination by Kaka, Elano, and Luis Fabiano leaves another talented side dead in the water. You blink a second time, and Robinho has just turned his defender and sidestepped a centerback, setting up Corrales for a tap-in.

And then they go back to pedestrian passing, a five foot pass backwards to a defender, a ten foot pass sideways to another, as if nothing had happened. You scratch your head in bewilderment, unsure of what you’ve just seen but uneasy all the less.

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