As the streets that once held thousands for watch parties are swept clean, and the inevitable myriad articles blaming everyone and anyone for the U.S.’s loss are Tweeted, this is a sad day for U.S. soccer fans. Those of us who follow the team closely are slightly less saddened, however, knowing that the Yanks will take the pitch again in September against the Czech Republic before the 2015 Gold Cup is here. However, for millions of fans who tuned into the World Cup to watch the U.S. and who may have gotten sucked into other matches along the way, this may be the end of their soccer journey.
This is the part of the World Cup where things get more like the soccer we are used to seeing – scoring drops, matches go into extra-time and penalties, and teams seem a step slower after four excruciating matches most likely in nasty heat and humidity. While the drama of who will win the World Cup is there, that may not be enough for casual fans to remain committed to the tournament as they had been previous.
These fans would be foolish to quit on this tournament at this point, however, and here are eight reasons why this World Cup is still must see TV:
1. The drama of Brazil needing to win the World Cup is almost physically apparent.
In the second half of their match against Chile and into extra time, the pressure on the Brazilian players to win was apparent. The fans had quieted and the players looked tense, making simple mistakes and running with their heads down after every blunder. This is a team whose nation is placing all of its hopes and desires on them – a loss means another embarrassing World Cup defeat on their home soil and the citizens have to go back to face economic and geopolitical debates. Can this team handle these immense pressures and win the trophy?
2. Can Germany confirm that it is the juggernaut we always assume they are?
For all the press they receive, this German team has some weaknesses, including those exposed by Algeria in the round of 16. They are a bit slow in the back and they have interchangeable forwards. Under Jogi Low, they have rolled to the semifinals and finals of tournaments, only to be knocked out. Is this the year they can affirm their dominance?
3. Are the Netherlands this World Cup’s good guys or bad guys?
The Arjen Robben dive to win the match against Mexico showed the casual fan what long-time Robben watchers know – the guy loves a flop. For as much praise as this team has received for its play, their elimination of a fun-to-watch Mexico side means they now lost that lovable, meme-inspiring image they had prior. Every good tournament needs a “bad guy”, have the Netherlands become that team?
4. Can Belgium win the World Cup to keep their country united?
The Belgium coaches and players were so classy after eliminating the U.S., making it near impossible for U.S. fans to truly hate them. They are young with incredibly skilled players, but on top of that their country is rife with regional debates. I’ll leave it to others to go into the details, but sufficient to say one major region’s political parties (Flanders) has been pushing for independence from the other (Wallonia), with that region’s extremist parties looking for a possible reunification with France. It’s complicated and ugly, but this team is transcending politics in a wonderful way.
5. Everyone should watch James Rodriguez as much as possible.
Colombia is a great soccer nation but this is its first World Cup appearance since it was eliminated in the group stage in 1998. It is missing its alleged best player but may have found a new one in James Rodriguez. This is an exciting underdog team to watch and Rodriguez, as he showed against Uruguay, is an absolute star.
6. Is this one of those “good France” years?
When France’s team is clicking on all cylinders, it is good. Very very good. When it is not (see 2010 in South Africa), it is a spectacle for the tabloids. Despite some initial grumblings over the initial team selections, this France team has performed well on its way to a tough Germany match-up. Maybe overshadowed by some of its UEFA rivals, this is a good team that plays entertaining soccer. Plus their uniforms may be the best remaining in the World Cup.
7. How can anyone not root for Costa Rica to go as far as possible?
Considered also-rans behind the U.S. and Mexico traditionally in CONCACAF, this Costa Rica team has raised eyebrows for its stunning upsets of Italy and Uruguay as well as total team play by its exciting players. The match against Greece caught many people’s attention for their ability to overcome going down to ten men and win in a penalty shootout despite being exhausted. How long will this World Cup’s Cinderella dance?
8. Is this Messi’s time?
Argentina are full of talent, but despite advancing to the quarterfinals they have yet to really show the full extent of their abilities. Belgium is their toughest challenge yet and they will need to shake out of their sleep walking to advance. Lionel Messi hasn’t exactly been sleepwalking in this World Cup, but as his team goes so goes his reputation. Can he carry Argentina past Belgium and the Netherlands/Costa Rica to guide his country to another Brazil World Cup title? Doing so would truly make him the national hero he deserves to be called.