Author’s note: THESE ARE NOT POWER RANKINGS! POWER RANKINGS ARE THE LOWEST FORM OF HUMAN DISCOURSE, NEXT TO GRUNTING OR STICKUPS! APPROACH FOREWARNED
[REWIND: Ray Ratto's World Cup power rankings]
The World Cup is through its culling stage, eliminating the weak, the old and the never-had-a-prayers, and the United States has survived. Not necessarily thrived, mind you -- the most important thing that happened to the Americans was Germany poleaxing Portugal 4-0 10 days ago -- but beat the punditorial (cq) odds enough to get to the knockout stage.
And credit to them for not failing when failure was predicted.
But at this point, punditry matters zero, and every team is the master of its own fate. So, we give you the masters and the likely mastered, in order of the day that mastery is exhibited.
SATURDAY: THE CONMEBOL CONFLAGRATION
Brazil (A winner) faces Chile (B runner-up) and Colombia (C winner) draws Uruguay (D runner-up), and the one thing we know is that nobody not born of Uruguayan blood is rooting for Uruguay -- Luis Suarez and his Dancing Teeth saw to that. Colombia, which won Group C easily despite missing Radamel Falcao, faces a Uruguayan team that needs to show it can win without Suarez and handle the horrific blowback from the reason they will be without him. Colombia is the sounder defensive side, but expect this to feature a lot of malice-based kicking between two sides with spiky exoskeletons.
As for Brazil and Chile, Brazil has Neymar, who has been at his magician’s best, and its eagerness to go forward, against a Chilean side that is built from the back and proved that in Group B. Brazil showed it could handle the early pressure of being the host, and is now in position to show it can enjoy being the host.
SUNDAY: THE DUTCH, AND THREE OTHERS
The Netherlands gets Miguel Herrera and Mexico, while Costa Rica gets a Greek side that could make anyone beg for the sweet release of a broken femur. The Dutch boatraced Group B, including a 5-2 evisceration of Spain, so the one-footed Arjen Robben and the Orange Army is considered superior to the effervescent but less overwhelming Mexicans. If only Herrera could still play.
As for Costa Rica, the new small-school darling of the tournament after defending its way through Group D (four goals in three games), they get the even less intrepid Greeks, who scored only twice, and one of those was a dodge penalty that got them past Cote D’Ivoire. If you must miss one game, this is it, but if not, expect Costa Rica to survive because of being in the right hemisphere.
Interesting note -- the Dutch and Costa Ricans lead in fouls committed so far, so if it comes to a match between them, bet their shins and the over. The way way over.
MONDAY: THE COLONISTS AND THE COLONIES
France once owned Algeria, to its eventual regret, and Germany owned Cameroon, which is near Nigeria, which was run by the Brits. We will now stop with this interlude from the History Channel and get down to cases. Africa has never advanced two teams in the knockout stage, and one suspects they will both go down here, though that could be Euro-snobbery at work. Germany’s 1-0 win over the U.S. to win Group G got it Algeria (H runner-up), but it is the German efficiency in possession as well as having the world’s best keeper in Manuel Neuer that makes it the favorite.
The French are a more confounding kettle of fondue. Better at getting inside the box and then creating shots than any other team in the competition, they face a Nigerian side that is more comfortable in defense. Movable object meets resistible force in this one, but bet the French.
TUESDAY: LIONEL MESSI AND OTHER THINGS
The Americans get Belgium, and Argentina faces Switzerland. Argentina is getting Messi at his best, so the Swiss will doubtless be unhappy. The US, on the other hand, has a counterpuncher’s chance against a Belgian side that is loaded front to back, and has the added advantage of being better in goal (Tim Howard is used to being busy, as opposed to Thibaut Courtois). But that is its only advantage, and Belgium is, I think we just said, loaded, with an opponent it can handle. Conditions may play a role, but at some point the chalk must endure.
[SHOP: Get your USMNT gear]
And remember, THESE ARE NOT POWER RANKINGS, DAMN IT! IF SOMEONE TRIES TO SELL YOU POWER RANKINGS, CALL THE COPS!