So, at last we turn to the final groups and the final first round matches and the final retrospective look at the teams that have been and those that will be.
Least Likely to Succeed--
South Korea: Catching lightening in a bottle for the second consecutive cup was a lot easier said than done. And when your number one goal scoring threat sits on the bench for most of every match it's a lot harder to score. That said, you have to like the fact that South Korean fans have quickly become one of the most rabid breeds in the World (and yet, without the violence so common to countries other than the U.s.).
Togo: Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of the Togolese national team. The Sparrow Hawks scored one goal in the first half of their first game and none afterwards. They were by no means embarrassing, but they were by no means among the best teams in the tournament either, so that's kind of sad. Hopefully they'll enjoy the glory of returning as national heroes...oh wait, that doesn't happen in oppressive regimes! I forgot.
Tunisia: The hard luck African side that always shows up and always goes home without a win. This was supposed to be the year, but the Carthage Eagles looked a lot more like the Carthage Cubs, and are going home early (according to Cubbie tradition).
Saudi Arabia: For all the complaints about Saudi Arabia's involvement in U.S. national affairs, I have to say, watching them stick it to a lazy Spain in the second half of today's match. Watching them string together passes and work as a unit, I'm willing to offer them a percent stock of U.s. Soccer if they're willing to teach us how to stay offensive in international situations. (Well...International SPORTING situations, we're plenty offensive in international situations already)
Most Likely to Succeed (except, not really)--
Switzerland: Big ups to the pacifists of the Cup. Even if they were a little bloodied today, even if they got a goal that shouldn't have been, the fought hard and survived match-ups with two great sides, and most impressively of all, they're the only side left not to surrender a goal. They could do well (they won't, but they could).
Ukraine: From disaster following a 4-0 loss to delight following two straight wins to escape the group stage it's been a major turn around for the Ukraine who have suddenly discovered a cake walk to the quarter finals so easy that it might as well be run by the United Church of Freebies.
France: Well, at long last Simon and I were treated to David Trezeguet actually playing soccer. And while he wasn't vital to the win over Togo, it was nice to see France finally play as we expected them to (if only for 30 minutes). Now they get Spain, and now they get to be rocked all over again.
Spain: It was nice to Spain finally play as I expected them to: lazily. Granted, they were already through. Granted, they could have put Ferdinand the bull on the field, let him sniff flowers and the Sons of the Desert probably still wouldn't have scored. Nevertheless, it was the poorest half of soccer that I've yet seen from Spain (it won't be repeated again, though if it is, there will go the hottest team in the cup).
It's on to the Sweet Sixteen and our Cinderfellas have been whittled down to Ecuador (with a good chance against an ailing and sporadic England), Ghana (with little to no chance versus Brazil), Australia (ditto versus Italy) and The Ukraine (see the afore mentioned walk of cakery). Brent listed the teams likely to win, and much as I love huckleberry shakes I'm obliged to admit that I doubt I will receive one. Still, it's a glorious game and I'm just happy to still be watching it all.
Much love to all of you winners, losers and substitutes who never got a chance,