Well! That was a lightning-fast first 48 games for the 2018 World Cup, wasn't it?
But we can take our breath, rest for a day at least, and, of course, make our picks for the Round of 16. (Though it's not at all the same without being able to debate them with Sandy)
So here we go:
- Uruguay vs Portugal. Uruguay is one of only three squads to win their first three matches, but in Portugal they face a substantially tougher opponent than they've seen so far. Portugal win, 2-1.
- France vs Argentina. Argentina somehow came to life in their third game, with their backs against the wall, but it feels like too little, too late, and I wonder how much of their energy they spent just getting this far. France win a game that is not as close as it sounds, 1-0.
- Brazil vs Mexico. Which Mexican squad will attend? The one who defeated the defending world champions? Or the one who were annihilated by Sweden? I fear it will be too much of the latter, but Mexico will make Brazil work for it. After regular time, it's tied 2-2, but after extra time Brazil take this 4-2.
- Belgium vs Japan. Japan delightfully made it through on the "Fair Play" tie-breaker over an equally-deserving Senegal, but still they earned their presence in this game. But Belgium are going deep in this tournament and are barely tested, beating Japan 3-1.
- Spain vs Russia. The home team have a powerful advantage, but Spain have a powerful squad. This one goes to extra time, and finishes 1-1. Spain advance on penalty kicks in the shootout.
- Croatia vs Denmark. I like both these teams. One of them has to lose. It is Denmark. Croatia win an hard match, 1-0.
- Sweden vs Switzerland. Another rough, physical bout. This one is 0-0 through 90 minutes, and 0-0 through extra time, and isn't decided until the 9th player steps to the shootout spot, at which point the Swiss prevail.
- Colombia vs England. The liveliest of all the round of 16 matches, this one features two high-scoring teams full of firepower and perhaps just a bit lacking in defense. Colombia exhibit the quality that brought them to the tournament from the hardest qualifying region, but this English team has youth and passion and, most importantly, for the first time in decades they have a goalkeeper who won't let them down. After finishing 90 minutes tied 2-2, and falling behind 3-2 early in extra time, England somehow rally and move on, 4-3.
And, before we leave, let's join Deadspin in saluting the real reason that we watch the World Cup: South Korea's Performance Is Why The World Cup Exists
Fans and commentators love to sing the praises of teams and players that step up when the stakes are highest, but there’s also something to be said for giving everything when the stakes are obscured. South Korea came into today’s game knowing that even if they played perfectly and somehow managed to defeat a much more talented German team, there was no guarantee that their efforts would amount to anything. They were facing not just the long odds presented by their superior opponents, but those presented by their broader circumstance. They looked all that in the face and then went on to win the hell out of a soccer game.
In doing so they did everything an underdog is supposed to do. They packed it in and rabidly defended every German attack; they ran hard on every counter attack and kept running hard even as each one fizzled in increasingly frustrating fashion; they never for a second looked ready to accept their role as a station on Germany’s redemptive path.
The fun resumes in 36 hours!