STORY BY ROBIN POPLEY
Quarter Finals day beckons and with it, I take stock of what I believe could well turn out to be the best World Cup ever. As I predicted before a ball was kicked, the party mood of the favelas has captured the imaginations of the millions of fans watching but moreover, each of the 32 nations participating (even our own) have been involved in some of the best total football matches at many a World Cup in recent memory.
We have seen the Spanish – the current World champions – exit at the group stage. We have been inspired by the heroics of Algeria, Costa Rica, Mexico (and in particular their manager) and the USA. Although only one out of the four of those have progressed to join many of the bigger teams at the tail end of this year’s competition, it is great to see so many of the underdogs have the opportunity to seize the day and stamp their authority on the destination of where the trophy ultimately ends up on July 13th.
In the past, we have had the heroics of people like Roger Milla capture the imagination and as recently as 2002, we saw hosts South Korea reach the last four and Senegal take on the then, World Champions, France and overcome the odds to beat the footballing giants of the French game including Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Viera and Thierry Henry.
Whilst discussing the French national side, their cup winning captain of 1998, Didier Deschamps has rediscovered the fortunes of the French national team and have made them into one of the most formidable teams at this World Cup. Should their campaign ultimately end this afternoon against Germany (my sweepstake team) there is more than enough reason to be happy as a French fan ahead of them hosting the European Championships in 2016 which I presume will see them heavily fancied. Germany, themselves, despite needing Extra Time to overcome an Algerian team which boasted Leicester City’s winger Riyad Mahrez (sorry for the plug again, but you’ve got to make the most of success as a Foxes fan), have looked in steady shape – in particular the defensive line spearheaded by Neuer. At the other end of the pitch, Muller has been scoring for fun, and is on course to mount a challenge for the Golden Boot when tournament proceedings come to close.
Colombia, who always prove a heavyweight in qualifying have now matched that on the biggest stage, to put to bed some of the ghosts from previous tournaments. They and Costa Rica have been mightily impressive thus far and deserve to find themselves in the Quarter Finals. Belgium, another ‘outsider’ of sorts have had a recent revival in fortunes and have some great players – many of whom are now plying their trade in the top divisions across Europe. However, I still feel the challenge which faces these sides is quite daunting and this may be the end of the road for them this time around.
Then we come to the three other highest ranking teams (bar Germany) left at the World cup; the Netherlands, Argentina and hosts Brazil. For me, this is the pool of nations where the eventual winner will come from. Holland were extremely lucky to get to this stage after a late comeback against Mexico but we know the class they possess following their early 5-1 victory against Spain. Argentina, too, have some quality players in their ranks – in particular multi-time winner of the Ballon d’Or, Lionel Messi, widely considered to be the best player in the world currently. Nevertheless, my mind remains unchanged. I firmly believe that Brazil, in their own backyard are too strong and will overcome the odds to win the World Cup for a remarkable sixth occasion. If Neymar stays fit, it is theirs to lose… And what a fitting way that would be to close the Brazilian and perhaps the best World Cup, ever. Enjoy the games!