Talking the Beautiful Game

Brazil 2014: The last 16

In the World Cup, patterns emerge and fade quicker than English hopes. The first week hinted at a European narrative, if not dominance, as an inspired Holland mauled Spain, the silky Italians outwitted English, and the Germans and French ran riot, playing incisive, attacking stuff.

 

Argentina and Brazil were deemed to have underwhelmed, while Mexico, Chile and Colombia played out predictable victories and were overlooked. Only Costa Rica, victorious over Uruguay, raised any eyebrows.

 

But a week on and the narrative has shifted. Messi and Neymar continue to carry their respective teams, but it is the central and south Americans who have wowed. José Pékerman, the Colombian manger, has proved himself a meticulous tactician, while James Rodríguez’s form has been blistering. Having won maximum points in the group stage, the Colombians should overcome a Suarez-less Uruguay (the less said about him the better) in the Last 16.

 

Chile, similarly, have impressed. Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari says they are the team he’d least like to face in Last 16. He’ll have his work cut out. Marcelo Bielsa’s side haven’t simply impressed but innovated: his ultra-modern 3-3-1-3 formation is a thing of beauty.

 

Two of the tournament’s great entertainers meet in a Holland and Mexico next round. The South Americans have conceded just one goal, with Guillermo Ochoa excellent between the posts, while Louis Van Gaal’s team have flitted between conservatism and kamikaze attack.

 

Germany, too, have thoroughly impressed as they so often do, and proved the true pattern of this World Cup has been expressive, attacking football, one of the many reasons it has been so enjoyable. Those that have impressed – be it France or Colombia – have moved the ball quickly.

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Argentina haven’t set the world alight, but one man has. The South American’s World Cup, conceivably, could have mirrored Portugal’s if not for Messi (Ronaldo underperformed and his country crashed out), but after a trophy-laden and record breaking career (despite being just 27), the diminutive Argentine is beginning to answer one of the game’s most persistent questions: can he emulate Maradonna?

 

It’s one of the many shifting, beguiling meta-narratives that makes football the greatest game in the world, and this the greatest competition.

 

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