In what has shaped into a most unlikely, most unbelievable, most unforgiving World Cup round-of-16 ever, 2 GOAT candidates plus a bevy of superstars were escorted out the door to the utter surprise of the world football community. What is happening to our world indeed??? (Please read: Help!!! I Just Caught the World Cup Fever!!!)
First, it was that Greatest-Of-All-Time candidate, Lionel Messi, and the world’s 4th ranked Argentinian Gauchos, who crashed out of the World Cup, booted out 4-3 by a 7th-seeded French side featuring the next decade’s future GOAT, Kylian Mbappe. Only 19 years of age, this young genius is this World Cup’s breakout kid, scoring 2 goals and orchestrating a third in a wild, high-scoring match that changed hands a couple of times.
Hours later, another Greatest-Of-All-Time candidate fell, as Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese Selecao das Quinas team – ranked 3rd in the world – bowed out to a defense-oriented Uruguayan Sky Blue squad 2-1. While the game was billed as a possible Ronaldo- Luis Suarez scoring duel, it was Edinson Cavani who surreptitiously wriggled through to the big stage, scoring both goals for the 17th-ranked Uruguayans. The Suarez- Cavani tandem became the first dynamic duo to enter the round-of-8, while a forlorn Ronaldo joined Messi in the sidelines.
With both Messi and Ronaldo sent packing for home; with the defending champions and world’s number 1 team Germany already booted out; the passing of the torch is seen as the foreboding theme for this year’s World Cup.
True enough, for the following day, other superstars were also shown the exit door. Diego Costa and the veterans of the world’s 8th-ranked Spanish Red Fury were upended as well. Resurgent Russia, the biggest longshot with a global ranking of only 65, came up with a masterful win via the penalty kick 4-3. Indeed, what is happening to this world?
Then in another match that ended in a penalty shootout, 18th-ranked Croatia nosed out 19th-ranked Denmark in a seesaw battle. Croatian star, Luka Modric, would have taken the brunt of the blame had Croatia lost. With time running out and the score tied, Modric was given a penalty kick which he failed miserably to convert. Luckily for him, the Checkered Ones prevailed in the kicks 3-2 to move to the round-of-8.
And then the Brazilian Green and Yellow finally came through for the favored teams. Brazil was the first better-ranked team (2nd in the world ranks) to have stepped forward from the round of 16 games, beating 16th-ranked Mexico 2-0. Neymar has reaped dividends in games when he played for the team and not for himself. On this day, the Green and Yellow played like a well-oiled defensive and offensive machine.
Next, 5th-ranked Belgium survived a big upset, nipping the Nippons 3-2, after falling behind 0-2. It was a magnificent effort for the vastly improved Japanese Blue Samurai, but in applying a strategy of ‘playing not to lose’ in the second half, they caused a momentum shift that would catch them in the closing minutes. It was a clear heartbreaker for the Samurais who were poised to take a ‘last 8’ slot for the first time.
And then, the 25th-ranked Sweden would once again rip the betting lines with a 1-0 upset of the 11th-ranked Switzerland. In a conservative attrition game that seemed to be fought from the trenches, both sides played defense overzealously, but somebody needed to win. In the end, the Swedes’ Blue and Yellow would best the Swiss Nationals 1-0 with a redirected goal.
Finally, Harry Kane and 12th-ranked England would nip 13th-ranked Colombia 4-3 in the penalty kicks. Hurricane Harry had opened scoring with his league-leading 6th goal, when Yerry Mina rifled in a shot in the closing minutes to tie the count, forcing a penalty kick-off. Colombia led 3-2 in the kicks, before the English Three Lions converted the last 2 to Colombia zero hits, causing pandemonium in England.
I scored 6 wins and 2 losses in my bold predictions, with my 2 losers coming from the Spanish loss to Russia, and the Colombian debacle against England. (You can read about this in: We’re Down to the Final 16!!!) Gentlemen, we are now down to the last eight. It is Uruguay (17th) vs France (7th); Brazil (2nd) against Belgium (5th); Sweden (25th) taking on England (12th); and Hosts Russia (65th) challenging Croatia (18th). Who will you pick?
For me, it could be the favorites’ turn for the round-of-8. Except for Russia, whose homecourt advantage has proven to be a huge factor, it will be France, Brazil and England prevailing.
But at the rate the favorites have been losing, you can lose your shirt betting on them. Sacre bleu! You never know how this crazy World Cup will go! What, indeed, is happening to our world?