The World Cup Group Grope is over, and from now on, it’s win or go home for everyone. The big story in US media is inevitably the survival of the US in the Group of Death, but there were a number of other story lines that wrapped or ignited as the week progressed. Here is Soccer’s Sweet Sixteen and how it came to pass:

Saturday 6/28
Early game: Brazil vs Chile — the hosts had about as close to a friendly as you can get, yet the already-eliminated and feuding Cameroon managed a goal to raise a few early eyebrows. Now Brazil will face a pack of angry, revenge-minded attack dogs in Chile (who have been eliminated by Brazil in all three of their previous appearances in the World Cup knockout stages), and Neymar and his juniors (and especially their defense) will have to get up to freeway speed fast.

Late game: Colombia vs Uruguay — The big, individual non-American story was Luis Suarez’ mac-attack on Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder, shortly before Uruguay took advantage of the chaos (and an earlier, disputable red card that left the Italians with 10 men) to score the solitary goal of the third group game that sent Italy home. After a slight delay, FIFA has acted and banned Suarez from the tournament (including entering stadiums) as part of a greater four month FIFA and club ban (Beats has not dropped him yet, though). The rest of the Uruguayan team has threatened to withdraw, as befits this cynical and deluded organization (although now they are merely appealing the ruling), as they do know that without Suarez they stand little chance against an in-form Colombia squad that easily won Group C, with new stars like James (pronounced “ham-ez”) Rodriguez coming forward.

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Sunday 6/29
Early game: Netherlands vs Mexico — Netherlands eased through their third game over a Chile that may have perversely WANTED to play Brazil, but it will not be much easier to face a buoyant Mexico after their handling of Croatia. Mexican coach Miguel Herrera has now become a darling of the vine and meme crowd with his Sam-the-Hobbit-like antics on the sidelines, but he will now be able display his soccer know-how to its limit as he matches wits with Dutch mastermind Louis Van Gaal, soon to take over the reins at Manchester United.

Late game: Costa Rica vs Greece: Costa Rica have been the surprise of the tournament so far, Panini sticker collector and Arsenal reject Joel Campbell and company defeating both Uruguay and Italy before cruising through a turgid draw against an eliminated England. Their pre-match sex ban has been lifted. The Greeks pretty much suffered through the whole group stage, losing 3-0 to Colombia and scraping out a scoreless, ten-man tie against Japan before striking Ivory Coast with two killer blows at the end of each half to seemingly miraculously appear in the knockouts. Anyone who had the opportunity to watch them win their European Championship in Portugal ten years ago is now sitting up and paying attention, but they are still dangerously under the radar.

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6/30
Early game: France vs Nigeria — The first of two games pitting European former World Cup champions against African squads. France easily won their Group F (although their impressive goal onslaught slowed in the third game), and now faces a team that was ‘best of the rest’ in Argentina’s group, but as current African Nations’s Cup Champions, still holds unexpressed knockout potential. Could be a great or an awful game, but my bet is that this game will be quite compelling if the referees don’t get in the way.

Late game: Germany vs. Algeria — this game holds even more compelling potential, as after 32 years the Algerians finally will get their chance for World Cup revenge for the Germany-Austria ‘Anschluss’ game, in which the two national squads conspired to get the exact 1-0 result needed to eliminate the Algerians from the 1982 World Cup in Spain — the reason for the rule change requiring that all third group games be played simultaneously. Today, Germany beat the US in the Recifé rain, but in general have looked good but not all-conquering. A highly motivated side like Algeria (as was Ghana in the second game) could give them a lot of trouble.

7/1
Early game: Argentina vs Switzerland — again a game that perhaps could be compelling, but there is this inkling that referees will get involved. The Swiss are organized and have a group of attacking options, at their best combining German elements with expat-Bosnian craftiness. Argentina have ridden their star man Messi through the first three games. If he does finally get shut down, will an Angel (di María) step forward?

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Late game: US vs Belgium — and the US get the finale, after surviving a loss to Germany, ironically thanks to Germany’s 4-0 drubbing of the drugged-looking Portugal in the opening game, which ruined C-Ronaldo’s squad’s goal differential, as well as two suspicious howlers from Ghanaian defenders, the Africans coming off equally-suspicious last minute bonus disputes and suspensions. The ongoing pitch of the US as scrappy underdogs has rung at varying levels of truth. They definitely have their strengths, and have so far utilized them just enough to achieve their goal, while ESPN and other sites have been working hard to make it as realistically dramatic as possible. This next step fits right in. Belgium’s collection of young world-class talent is being inflated to the bursting point, while at the same time niggling comments about their three ‘unimpressive’ group wins are entertained as well. It will come down to this: If Belgium can further come to grips with their talent, grit and potential, the US is doomed. If not, we could soon witness another telegenic ‘miracle’ surpassing the opening victory over Ghana.

In response to Ann Coulter’s intriguing remark that ‘no one who’s great-grandfather was born here’ is watching the World Cup,’ ESPN host Mike Tirico pointed out today that Wall Street trading dropped significantly during this morning’s US-Germany game. Meanwhile, the Conan O’Brien Show’s Triumph the Wonder Dog provides some great twists and ripostes on the comment with an ongoing series of outrageous clips of NYC World Cup viewers on YouTube

Check out some soccer highlights on FilmOn Football, here.

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