Best of the Fours

No other sporting event captures the world’s imagination like the FIFA World Cup. Ever since the first competition in Uruguay in 1930, FIFA’s (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) flagship has only grown in popularity and prestige and the FIFA World Cup remains the embodiment of every footballer’s ambition. And now that the tournament in Germany has entered the knock-out stages, it will be worthwhile to analyze the prospects of the remaining teams and their quest for world cup glory. 

There is no doubt that this latest edition has seen more goals scored than one can remember. Unlike some of the past editions, almost all the teams that have played so far have been bold enough to go for a more attacking game-plan. It is also welcome to see a team like Italy, known for their defensive ploy and often criticized for their approach to the game, coming up with some spectacular and attractive style of play. To add to their new power play of attacking approach, the Italian defense remains solid as always. In Gianluigi Buffon, Italy has one of the best goal-keeper so far in the tournament. Their 2-0 victory over current world number two Czech Republic should give them enough self-belief that they can make it to the July 9 final. While the Italians are fortunate to have an easier group to handle, the mighty Brazilian team stands in the way. If things go according to form and reputation, football lovers should expect an Italy-Brazil semifinal lineup on July 6. It will be a treat to watch the contrasting style of play from the European and Latin American power houses both former winners of the coveted FIFA trophy.

As for defending champions Brazil, it was only in their last encounter with Japan that one saw flashes of brilliance. Football fans around the world, majority of who are rooting overwhelmingly for the Samba boys, should only hope that the superstars of world soccer are peaking at the right time. Brazil would also have to get past dangerous Ghana who with their sheer speed and physical strength can cause trouble for the Brazilian defense. With both France and Spain yet to show anything for the progress made so far into the Round of 16, it is Ghana that will test the endurance of defending champions Brazil. With the 1998 champions France looking far beyond their best, the French campaign with or without playmaker Zinedine Zidane may not go past the Quarterfinal stage. It may also well be the end of an era for French soccer with the likely exit of Zidane from the world stage.

Coming to hosts Germany, there is no doubt that they have so far remained the most impressive side in the tournament and with a strong and balanced team, Germany looks well in course to reach another successive finals. In terms of world cup history, only Brazil has been more successful. Germany’s record is staggering and in recent history it has reached the finals on five occasions during the last eight editions. Germany is also tied in second spot along with Italy with three world cup titles. Another vital statistics that will boost the German campaign will be the memory of the 1974 edition that was hosted and won by then West Germany beating Holland 2-1. Therefore, taking into consideration all vital factors of form, performance, confidence, home support and backed by an illustrious record, Germany should consider themselves as the top contender for the glistening golden trophy.

Having said that, Germany’s path to the finals will not be easy. Its quarterfinal with former champions Argentina will rekindle the old rivalry of 1986 and 1990 where the two teams had faced each other in the final with both sharing the honors—Argentina beating (West) Germany to lift the title in 1986 while in 1990 it was the latter winning the coveted cup. Germany if it does beat Argentina will also have to get past England, Portugal or Holland to book a place in what will be its second successive final. While a Brazil-Italy Semifinal line up is predicted, Germany will have to play out of their skin to overcome tough competition first from Argentina and if it progresses, then from the likes of England, Portugal and old rival Holland all pitted in the same half of the draw. Given the competitiveness of this draw, to predict the likely semifinal lineup is therefore all the more difficult. On current form, a Germany-Portugal match up could just be on the cards.