Look… most of us always understood that we weren’t going to win the World Cup. Jurgen Klinsmann took some heat for admitting as much before he got on the plane to Brazil, but anyone who pays any sort of attention to this sport knew that he was simply being realistic. Roy Hodgson said more or less the same thing about England’s chances and everyone over there just nodded in resigned agreement. Pretty much every manager, other than the guys in charge of the real heavyweights (like Brazil, Argentina and Germany) would have answered the same way.
Even so, that didn’t make it any easier to watch us get eliminated by Belgium today. When you get to the knockout stage, and you see the big teams getting pushed to their limits, you start to believe that anything is possible. No matter how much you try to keep your expectations in check, you start talking yourself into believing. The dream becomes tangible, and it hurts when the bubble finally gets popped.
I was incredibly proud of the team’s fighting spirit, but, like I said the other day, you can only hang on by your fingernails for so long. If not for the excellent Tim Howard, Belgium would have scored at least two or three goals in regulation time. The U.S. defended valiantly, but we won’t be considered on par with the world’s elite teams until we progress to the point where we can keep the ball for longer stretches, or at the very least frighten our opponents with faster and more threatening counter-attacks. We’re not there yet.
At the end of the day, though, this was a good showing from the U.S. team. They got through a very challenging group, pushed Belgium to extra time, and gave them a real scare in those last fifteen minutes. A lot of teams would have folded once they went down 2-0 after 105 minutes; we raised our game and damn near pulled it out. As a fan, I couldn’t ask for a more committed group of players.
A final word about Jurgen Klinsmann. You have to say that he did everything right here, as all of his substitutions seemed to pay off, and his faith in youngsters like DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks and Julian Green was more than justified. I’m excited to see where we go from here.
RESULTS FOR THE ROUND OF 16
I picked seven out of eight results correctly (I would have settled for six and a U.S. win, but it wasn’t to be):
My predictions (actual results follow in parenthesis, correctly-predicted winners in bold):
1. Brazil 2-1 over Chile (Match finished 1-1 after extra time, Brazil won on penalties)
Chile came within inches of winning the match at the end of extra time, and Brazil were lucky to survive a very nervy penalty shoot-out. A reminder of the pressure that these guys have to deal with every time they take the field, and also a warning that a team with either Fred or Jo up front may not be good enough to win the World Cup.
2. Colombia 3-1 over Uruguay (Colombia won 2-0)
I didn’t hit the score on the nose, but this one played out as expected. Without Luis Suarez, Uruguay looked a spent force. Colombia will feel great about their chances against a somewhat vulnerable-looking Brazil in the quarter-finals.
3. Netherlands 2-0 over Mexico (Netherlands won 2-1)
Again, this was harder than I envisioned. The penalty drawn by Robben in stoppage time was legitimate, I think, but it was hard not to feel for the Mexicans. They went toe to toe with the Dutch and very nearly pulled it off.
4. Costa Rica 1-1 with Greece, Costa Rica wins on penalties (Match finished 1-1 after extra time, Costa Rica won on penalties)
I should have bet on this one. Kudos to Costa Rica for playing the last fifty minutes with ten men, and still hanging on. On the flip side, Greece were poor, and Costa Rica deserved to go through. A more formidable challenge awaits the Ticos.
5. Nigeria over France 2-1 (France won 2-0)
The one upset that I predicted didn’t come off, but this one was more tense than the score implies. It took France 82 minutes to break through, and even then it was the result of an error by the Nigerian goalkeeper. The Super Eagles went on to concede an own goal in extra time that spared France a nervous finish, but, to be fair,2-0 wasn’t anything more than Les Bleus deserved. They dominated the second half and eventually got their reward.
6. Germany 2-0 over Algeria (Germany won 2-1 after extra time)
Algeria got through ninety minutes at 0-0, but they looked pretty exhausted by the time the whistle blew to mark the end of regular time. Germany scored two minutes later, and the result wasn’t in doubt after that, despite a game effort from the Desert Foxes. Still, the Germans will rue the profligate finishing that got them to extra time in the first place.
7. Argentina 2-0 over Switzerland (Argentina won 1-0 after extra time)
It took Argentina 118 minutes, but they finally got their goal. Not the first time in this tournament that they left it until late. One worries that it’s a trick that they won’t be able to repeat too many more times.
8. Belgium 2-1 over United States (Belgium won 2-1 after extra time)
I didn’t see the extra time coming, but this one largely conformed to expectations. That it went beyond ninety minutes is a testament to Tim Howard (and somewhat of an indictment of Belgium’s shooting accuracy – as good as Howard was, he benefited from a fair number of shots being hit straight at him). Even after all of that, though, the U.S. did enough at the end to give us some real hope.
QUARTER-FINAL MATCH-UPS (PREDICTED WINNERS IN BOLD)
Brazil vs. Colombia
Netherlands vs. Costa Rica
France vs. Germany
Argentina vs. Belgium
How will Brazil react after their close call with Chile? Will Fred get benched? Will Hulk move to the middle? Lots of questions surround the hosts, and Colombia is riding high after dismantling Uruguay in the Round of 16. It makes for a very intriguing start to the quarter-finals, and a Colombian victory wouldn’t be hugely shocking. I think Colombia gives them all they can handle, but Brazil once again finds a way to survive. 2-1 to the hosts.
Costa Rica has done more than enough to silence their doubters, but the Netherlands are a vastly tougher opponent than Greece. You have to back the quality of the Dutch here. 2-0 to the Oranje.
France vs. Germany is a tough one to predict. Germany is probably regarded as a more talented team overall, but France has looked in better form so far in Brazil. I think this will be a cagey affair, with both sides keen to avoid a fatal mistake. I think it ends 1-1 and Germany advance on penalties.
From Belgium’s perspective, the most significant thing to come out of their win over the U.S. might have been the re-emergence of Romelu Lukaku. He’d been marginalized after a poor start to the tournament, but when he came on in extra time today, he looked very dangerous. Bad news for an Argentina defense that has seemed vulnerable at times. This could be a wild one, but once again Messi will find a way. 2-1 to Argentina.