WEEKENDER: A real buzz about the contest’s underdogs
11:31am Saturday 28th June 2014 in News
Belgium's Nicolas Lombaerts blocks a shot by South Korea's Koo Ja-cheol during the group H World Cup soccer match between South Korea and Belgium at the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, June 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
AS I begin to type this column, I am accompanied by a chorus of oooooooohs, aaaaaaahs and eeeeeeehs from the living room, as Lady Weekender and our eldest son tune into the latest World Cup match.
Which footballing feast for the senses is this?
Does it feature the magnificent Lionel Messi? The rampaging Neymar? The inventive Thomas Muller?
No. It is Belgium v South Korea, a Group H game the outcome of which becomes less meaningful every passing minute as in some other part of Brazil, Algeria clinch the draw they need against Russia to send them through to the knockout stages.
An hour ago, Lady Weekender was bemoaning the fact that there was football on again and wearing a face that looked as if it had received the full force of a free kick from the aforementioned Messi.
Yet here she now is, seemingly urging on the South Koreans in their vain attempts to score an equaliser.
The lure of football is greater than it seems, and perhaps it should be deemed comforting that just a couple of days after the antics of Luis Suarez, otherwise disinterested folk such as she are still prepared to get involved in the excitement.
And the World Cup so far has been exciting, a stage for true talent to show through, and for a changing of the footballing guard.
England, Portugal, Italy and World Cup holders Spain, countries without whom the latter stages of a tournament would not so long ago have been unthinkable, are already back home and the uncomfortable questions will continue to be asked of their players, their coaches, their preparations and the set-up of their league systems for weeks, nay months, to come.
I am sure it will have been commented upon by the time you read this, but of the 16 qualifiers for the ‘round of 16’ – or second round in old money – just six are European.
I haven’t done any research, but I am prepared to wager that is the lowest amount of European qualifiers for this stage, at least in the history of the 24- and 32-team finals stretching back to the early 1980s.
Instead, gracing the knockout stages are the likes of Costa Rica and Algeria, and lesser fancied South American teams like Colombia and Chile.
The latter duo are perennially unfancied but have shown in the group stages, Colombia especially, that they can’t half play.
Hopefully, children up and down the land will be consigning the unsavoury antics of Luis Suarez to history, and instead will head for their local parks and green spaces in an attempt to recreate Colombian midfielder James Rodriguez’s sumptuous chip over the Japan goalkeeper during his team’s 4-1 win last Tuesday evening.
When the draw was made for the finals last December, many saw Group D, England’s group, as the tournament’s Group of Death. But few if any were prepared to predict that Costa Rica would top it, rather than prop it up.
Instead, they have played some fantastic football. Comprehensively defeating Uruguay and deservedly beating Italy, before comfortably keeping England at bay in the final group game.
A match against Greece for a quarter final place awaits tomorrow and I fancy them to win it.
On paper, Algeria v South Korea was probably the least attractive of all 48 group games but it turned out to be cracker, Algeria ending up as 4-2 winners with their last goal an unsung gem.
Germany should prove too strong for them on Monday, but they have more than merited their progress.
So, we’ve had surprises aplenty to keep the tournament buzzing. I’ve conducted an in-depth assessment of the qualifiers and the fixture permutations (ie, I’ve stared at an online ‘wallchart’ for two minutes) and I’m going for a Brazil v Netherlands final.
But I’d also settle for Algeria v Costa Rica.
In the meantime, I’m practising oooooohs, aaaaaahs and eeeeehs so I can join in with the rest of the family.
WHILE the majority of the attention is on the World Cup finals, it is important to spare a thought for Cardiff Blues and Wales centre Owen Williams as he begins his road to recovery from a serious spinal injury sustained in Singapore.
The 22-year-old was hurt while playing the game he loves and the sight of him being attended to and taken from the pitch by medics is a sobering one indeed.
It is a cliché that rugby breeds a fellowship among its participants that is unique in sport, but every good cliché is a true one, and the messages of support that have flooded in for Williams from across the globe are a heartening example of that bond.
It is too early to tell what the future holds for Owen Williams, but we should be united in wishing him well.