While I was out of station for most of the last set of matches, I'm as gung ho as anybody for the start of the knockout rounds. But first, let's take a look at the major themes that came out of the last round.
ON: Colonies--For the first time in the World Cup's history three North American teams made the second round. Add to that South America's absurd success in sending 5 of their 6 teams through as well and you have a massive triumph for the Western Hemisphere...because those are extremely rare for us.
OFF: Colonizers--Who were the three most prominent colonizing forces in the America's? Spain, England, and Portugal: a trio with a wealth of soccer clout, experience and power. Who has been eliminated from the competition? Spain, England and Portugal. Who marches on Portugal's Brazil; England's old colonies, and ex-Spanish outposts stretching from Baja to Tierra Del Fuego.
ON: Africa's Old Guard--In 1982 Africa's single biggest stunner in World Cup History hit the coasts of Spain when Algeria knocked off West Germany, only to be denied a deserved spot in the next round by teutonic collusion when Austria and the Germans cock-blocked them. In 1994 and 1998 Nigeria emerged as Africa's first true power by making the knockout stages twice in a row, and while their star faded since then, they've always been lurking.
I really thought two African teams would make it to the next round--but I just assumed it would be the more potent sides: Ivory Coast, Ghana or Cameroon. Instead those teams were undone by a combination of horrific timing and federation/player feuds--if Africa wants to step up to the next level they need to get their houses in order, in the mean time, it's nice to know that someone will step up.
OFF: Asia's Everybody--After tremendous strides over the last decade, Asian Football took a step back in Brazil. The top squads were supposed to be Japan and Korea: bounced without a win and with some pretty ugly play. The worst squads were supposed to be Australia and Iran: proven to be more capable than initially expected, but neither could muster a decisive blow (and poor Iran only managed a consolation goal in their last match).
ON: My beloved Hipsters--Obviously, the big boys Antoine Griezmann and Ahmed Musa were a pair of genuine difference makers who led their teams to the next levels. Mats Hummels, Stefan deVrij, Gary Medel and Juan Guillermo Cuadrado created, delivered and stopped goal opportunities. All while Josip Drmic, Miguel Veloso, Ehsan Haji Safi, Juan Carlos Paredes, Marco Fabian and Atsato Uchida made strong contributions to their teams best showings. If only Boubacar Barry had made that last penalty save we'd have a full squad AND reserves.
OFF: Luis Suarez--Congratulations Luis Suarez, you have become a punchline. You can score all the goals you want, you can dump all over powerful rivals like Italy and England, you can be a national hero defended to the death by your loyal fans, but to the rest of the world, you're a joke. You're a cannibal, a Mike Tyson wannabe who won't ever get to make goofy cameos with Zach Galifinakis, Barcelona won't take you now and Liverpool's ready to cut bait, you can appeal--but who on earth will say "you're right...biting opponents on repeated occasions isn't that serious"? Give it up and go home.