Four chances, four victories. As predicted, all four original MERCOSUR nations have now gone through to the round of eight in the World Cup, joining three teams from Europe and one from Africa. Only one team from South America has been eliminated (Chile), and it was bounced by another team from the region (Brazil). Head to head against competition from outside the hemisphere, South America continues to impress. From the opening round, the region has been a dominating presence in this year’s tournament.
It wasn’t always easy or pretty, witness Paraguay’s shootout victory over a motivated Japanese team, but to this point, South America has gotten the job done. Moving forward to the final four, however, will be another thing altogether. There are no “gimme” games at this point; both the Brazil-Netherlands and the Argentina-Germany games could be legitimate championship games this year, were the teams not destined to meet in the round of eight. It’s possible that the winners of these two games could well meet up in the actual final.
Each World Cup brings a new storyline, and this one is no different. The rise of African football, the year that Spain finally met expectations, the return of England to World Cup prominence; all of these and others have been mooted as possibilities for 2010. But to this point, all have proven a bust. In fact, having just watched Chile defeat Switzerland, the real story of this year’s competition is the dominance of the Western Hemisphere.
Latin American nations, as well as the United States, have not lost one game yet in the preliminary rounds, except for Honduras’ 1-0 defeat by another Latin American nation, Chile, and 2-0 to Spain. With the final game left to play in the opening round, it’s likely that no fewer than six or even seven of the eight Western Hemisphere representatives will go through, almost half of the final 16 in the quarter finals. This contrasts with the underperforming Europeans, only one of which (Holland) is at the top of its group. England, Germany, and Italy have all underperformed, whereas the French have just been inept, poetic justice for the handball that brought them through qualifying against the Irish. Portugal looked languid until a wipeout of North Korea; Spain needed to play the weakest team in the tournament from the Western Hemisphere to notch its first points.
Head to head, Western Hemisphere against Europe, the results have so far been amazing. Chile has knocked off Switzerland, which earlier beat Spain. Paraguay defeated Slovakia and tied Italy; Mexico defeated France; the United States tied both England and Slovenia.