World Cup trends: South America impresses; refs make critical gaffes
With the second stage over and the quarterfinal matchups set, here are the biggest talking points from the World Cup:
This is the first time that all five South American sides advanced to the last 16, and the remaining four -- Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, which beat Japan in a penalty shootout on Tuesday -- could conceivably reach the semifinals, an unprecedented accomplishment for the continent. (Chile, the fifth team, lost to Brazil in the second round.) Considering that the last South American quarterfinalist outside of Brazil and Argentina was Peru in 1978, this is some achievement. Europe's top teams, on the other hand, have failed in South Africa, with only six out of 13 reaching the last 16 (at least nine made it in each of the last five editions), though one poor tournament does not turn a slump into a trend.
Some South American coaches have introduced new systems to the tournament (
One theory put forward by
With Europe's failure and Africa's five sides, Ghana excepted, also underperforming, there could be calls from the South American Football Confederation asking for more places at the next World Cup, especially with Brazil serving as host in 2014.
Serie A's Udinese has always been a selling club, but this summer it might be busier than most, given that four World Cup stars are on their books. Slovenia's
A list of other players who have impressed shows that many share something in common: Uruguay's
Others who have played well simply know their jobs and are secure with their place, like Portugal's
Amid all the recriminations over England's elimination, coach
Premier League stars from other national teams have barely made much impact:
Other failures may have been coming for a while, but were still shocking in their impact. France capitulated when coach
We may yet end up with a familiar name on the trophy, and even a repeat of the 2002 final between Brazil and Germany, but this has been a tournament in which expectations have certainly not been met. The 2006 finalists, France and Italy, provide the most obvious example. They might not have been expected to do much compared to their illustrious predecessors, but both finished bottom of their group and, in France's case, eliminated in a self-induced storm of controversy. Both teams have to overhaul aging sides, but they also need to earn back the respect of their public. The same is true of England, which failed spectacularly to live up to expectations apart from the first five minutes of its opener against the U.S. Other flops included the African trio of Cameroon, Nigeria and Ivory Coast, each left to wonder if highly paid European coaches on short-term contracts really are the best solution for them.
As noted above, those that have exceeded expectations are mainly from South America. In addition, Group F brought us two surprises: Slovakia, which deserves credit for its exciting win over Italy, and New Zealand, which ended the tournament unbeaten and ahead of Italy but failed to qualify for the knockout phase. There were single performances of note: Algeria's draw with England, North Korea's respectable loss against Brazil and Switzerland's upset victory against Spain. And there has even been a reverse of soccer styles, with Germany playing a speedy, counterattacking game and the Netherlands grinding out results without showing its best form (the Dutch typically peak in the group stage then crash out in the knockout rounds).
The U.S. had two goals ruled out in its group games, while Brazil, after benefiting from a missed handball in the build-up to a
The debate about video technology, long vetoed by FIFA boss