This will be my last rankings, for the obvious reason that after this round of games there's no need to rank teams playing just one game for all the marbles.
The quarterfinals this weekend saw the firm squashing of the dominant narrative of weak Europe and strong South America. As I said, it's not so much that the South American teams were that great, but rather that they were consistent. They were winning the games they should have been winning, and drawing the difficult ones. This time around, Uruguay continued that trend, but all the others faced major European powers and came up short.
Netherlands v. Uruguay - The Dutch still haven't looked really good so far this tournament, but they've taken advantage of their opponents' weaknesses. Uruguay have come out with a plan each match, and stuck to it brilliantly. It's the immovable object versus the other immovable object. I expect a disjointed game filled with fouls, and a Dutch 1-0 win, with Nigel de Jong keeping Diego Forlan quiet.
Spain v. Germany - Spain's slow passing build-up play is kryptonite to Germany's quick counters, and defensive midfielders Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets can clog the area between defenders and midfielder where German stars like Oezil have run rampant. I think Spain can do it, 2-0.
Last Ranking: 4th Result: 4-0 v. Argentina Next Match: Spain
I remember the first time I saw Bastian Schweinsteiger play. He came on as a supersub during Germany's sad Euro 2004 campaign. He was a tricky young winger, like Arjen Robben and Cristiano Ronaldo who have both become superstars along the same lines. Schweinsteiger has stayed in Germany, and adapted to a deep-lying central midfield role. There's less individual glory, but a star in that position, like Xavi or Andrea Pirlo, offers the team a bigger chance at glory.
Schweinsteiger won't get the plaudits from the media who simply look at the scoresheet, but he organized the demolition crew that ran roughshod over favorites Argentina. For me, he's the best player of the tournament, passing even David Villa.
Last Ranking: 5th Result: 2-1 v. Brazil Next Match: Uruguay
I seem to be confused. When did Holland turn into Germany? Here they are, grinding out results by frustrating their opponents and picking off lucky goals, off set pieces no less. The Netherlands beating Brazil isn't a major upset. Doing it by getting under their skin and coming from behind? This is insane. Imagine what could happen if they start actually playing well!
Last Ranking: 1st Result: 1-0 v. Paraguay Next Match: Germany
Spain has had the bad luck of facing three of the stingiest defenses in the tournament in Switzerland, Portugal, and Paraguay. Now they take on a superb attacking side, the leading scorers of the tournament, in Germany. This could be exciting.
Last Ranking: 6th Result: 1-1 v. Ghana (advance on penalties) Next Match: Netherlands
Yes, Luis Suarez's goal-line save was cynical. Yes, it was cheating (in that any foul is cheating.) But he was punished according to the laws of the game. What else can be done? What would you do in that circumstance?
However, as glorious as maintaining the victory was, he's kind of a dick for reveling it it, and without him, I don't really see then beating the Netherlands.
What a disappointment. Although Dunga had been criticized as manager of Brazil for being too defensive and reliant on powerful counterattacks, this style of football can be just as awe-inspiring as the so-called "beautiful game." Against Chile, it worked to perfection, as Dunga noticed Chile's best attacks went through winger Alexis Sanchez, and Sanchez was marked out the game.
Dunga attempted to repeat the feat with the Netherlands and star winger Arjen Robben, but Robben was better, smarter, or dirtier than Sanchez. Whenever Robben got the ball, he drew a foul. It seemed Brazil's strategy was to kick him into submission, and it worked - for the first half. But as time went by, Brazil grew increasingly frustrated by Robben's tendency to go to ground and/or the referee's inclination to call a foul every time he got hacked down. The free kicks led to one goal, a red card, and then finally another goal.
And Dunga's Brazil lost me as an admirer. This was pure cynicism, and happily, it failed. I've mentioned my distaste for Portugal several times in the past couple weeks - but on Friday, Brazil was worse.
Once again, Argentina has been the best team of the World Cup up to the quarterfinals, both objectively and subjectively. Once again, they have failed at the first major hurdle. This particular epic failure will especially stick in their craw. After giving up an early goal against Germany, they never seriously threatened, and eventually got caught by the counterattack again and again and again.
At what point do we brand Argentina chronic World Cup underachievers along with Spain and England?
They are who they thought we were - an excellent defensive side who would need some sensational luck or skill to beat a major power. If a little of the referee/penalty chaos had gone their way, perhaps they would have beaten Spain. But things didn't quite fall their way.