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World Cup Update #4: Things Are Shaping Up

By Lord Castleton | | June 28, 2018 |

By Lord Castleton | | June 28, 2018 |


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Germany is out.

They’re OUT.

My goodness gracious. I mean, how? How? What a strange, perverse division Group F turned out to be.

Mexico beat South Korea who beat Germany who beat Sweden who beat Mexico. I think the scientific name for this is a ‘Reverse Menudo’ or a “circle of suck.”

This fascinating breakdown I pulled from a Reddit post:

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Coming in to the games this morning, I fully expected Sweden to be handled by Mexico, who had blanked the defending Cup champions 1 to nil. That would have sent Sweden home with South Korea. And Sweden fully deserved to get punted, based on a pretty tepid showing in a loss to Germany on Saturday.

But instead, Sweden looked like a side on a mission. Not only did they play their usual brand of disciplined defense and direct play, but they started to look pretty inventive in the front, and before you knew it…they had trounced Mexico 3-0.

So now Mexico was going home.

And the only thing that could stop that was lowly South Korea, the basement janitor for Group F, somehow drawing or beating mighty Deutschland.

But that wasn’t ever ever ever ever going to happen…until it did. Germany just couldn’t get it together. They blasted like 26 shots toward the goal and only like 6 made it on net, and those were deftly flounced aside by South Korea captain and Man-of-the-Match Cho Hyun-woo.

Mute this video but watch this compilation of amazing saves. (This link keeps getting scorched, but hopefully it’ll last the day)

Talk about a man who holds the fate of two countries in his hands. Three countries, really, but you won’t find Germans lining up to buy him a brewski anytime soon…

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South Korea had nothing but pride to play for and they left it all on the field. It was tense. My kids and I were screaming with every missed German header. It was nuts. Now Germany succumbs to a very familiar curse for recent Cup winners and Sweden and Mexico advance. What a day!

Mexican fans swarm to Korean embassy and have tequila shots with embassador

Makes you almost wish that people could get along this well without, y’know…sports.

But that said, someone has to lose big and this year it was the Germans.

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It was also a day for Brazil, who clinched the top spot in their group with a victory over Serbia to the tune of 2-0. Brazilian fans were…enthused to say the least.

Brazil winning it again…

So there we are. Everything is shaking out. Cream is rising. Whatever is not cream is falling or just being unhomogenized milk-water. It has to go this way, but it can really sting if your country is out.

The thing is: in every tournament, there are winners and losers. And as we’ve seen this year more than ever, the moments that decide which camp you’re in can hang from a hyaline thread.

Think about how you feel before a big meeting, or date, or job interview. You’re not sure how it’s going to go. The difference between a success and a failure may hinge upon the tiniest of breaks.

That’s why the World Cup is so exciting. Because that tension, that focus, that razor’s edge is condensed and distilled into a structure that is pushed ever forward by an on-field enemy and a ticking clock.

When a player lines up for a free kick, you wonder if it’s going to be something that is aired and re-aired across the face of the planet innumerable times or if it’s going top be something that refracts harmlessly off the back shoulder of a defender, never to be watched again.

As the player mentally prepares that shot, with the eyes of billions on him, he makes his plan. Is he going to chip it into the set piece and hope for a structured play to take shape or crank back his thigh with a quarter-century of study and practice and hard-won kinetic know-how, and let that bastard fly?

These are the best moments as an athlete. The moments where it’s all there for the taking, and all you have to do is have enough skill to take it.

We’ve seen a tremendous amount of forgettable soccer in the World Cup. Like, some real garbage. Some countries just don’t have the program to compete with the big boys, and other countries have the money and population and seemingly everything you need to field a solid international side.

And then they get on the field with a real team and they look awful. Just average as hell and confused.

Some teams that came in with a real head of steam visibly fizzled on game days. Some teams that came in with the hopes and dreams of their countries proved to be shallow pretenders. I’ve watched every match in an effort to really dive into the NFL sized hole in me, and the only thing that’s brutally apparent is that there are only a few teams out of this huge ocean of 32 who have a prayer of winning it all.

Teams like Saudi Arabia, which had a 45 year old player — bless his heart — had no business being in the draw.

Teams like Australia and Iceland, who were charming and interesting and full of what seemed like World Class talent, just looked out of place and overmatched.

Teams like Argentina, (and eventually I think, Portugal), who rely on the skills of one player, don’t have the team play, defense or horses to compete. Though that last Messi goal on the way out was poetry.

And then there are teams like Morocco and Iran and Peru, who have all the heart in the world, and nearly enough skill, but couldn’t make the grade, despite a charming, never-say-die ethos. (That’s Morocco’s hot-ass French coach Herve Renard in the header photo).

One real benefit to the average or uninspired play is that when you see a team that really knows what it’s doing? Ooooh. It’s chef kiss good. It feels more powerful and more relevant.

There are a few teams like this, and one of them, I have no doubt, will raise the Cup*.

*Writer’s Note: With apologies to soccer enthusiasts, the Stanley Cup is the greatest of all cups and always has been and always will be. This is an undisputed fact.

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There’s a huge game today, or what should be a huge game, between England and Belgium. But something tells me they’re both going to be playing with their foot off the gas (a la that France vs Denmark 0-0 snoozer the other day). In fact, Belgium is resting their to goal scorer, Lukaku, ostensibly for health reasons.

Mmmm hmmmm. Riiiight.

In reality, whichever team ends up in second place in the division seems to be looking at an easier draw than the side that ends up in first place. Here’s how it’s all shaking out:

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We’re going to hear about this bracket a lot over the next week. One side — on paper, at least — looks significantly more manageable.

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The other looks like a murderer’s row of elite talent.

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It could mean an easy road on one side for a team like Spain, or it could open the World Cup up for a Cinderella run from a team like Croatia or Japan.

It’s too early to tell how it’s all going to play out, but at the very least we’ll get to see Russia get curb stomped by Spain on 7/1. We deserve that much at least.

One last thing about this year’s World Cup: Every country scored at least one goal and we’ve had 19 goals in stoppage time. Nineteen! Eight of which have been game-winning goals. Two were to level to a draw. That’s some Yogi Berra “It ain’t over til it’s over” goodness right there. Hot damn.

It’s been fun hanging out in the undulating venom-sac that is FIFA with you all, and the best is yet to come!

Futbollll!




Lord Castleton is a staff contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.