Four chances, four victories. As predicted, all four original MERCOSUR nations have now gone through to the round of eight in the World Cup, joining three teams from Europe and one from Africa. Only one team from South America has been eliminated (Chile), and it was bounced by another team from the region (Brazil). Head to head against competition from outside the hemisphere, South America continues to impress. From the opening round, the region has been a dominating presence in this year’s tournament.
It wasn’t always easy or pretty, witness Paraguay’s shootout victory over a motivated Japanese team, but to this point, South America has gotten the job done. Moving forward to the final four, however, will be another thing altogether. There are no “gimme” games at this point; both the Brazil-Netherlands and the Argentina-Germany games could be legitimate championship games this year, were the teams not destined to meet in the round of eight. It’s possible that the winners of these two games could well meet up in the actual final.
I still like Brazil to win the tournament, and the championship could feature another South American team, most likely Argentina. It would make for a compelling match up, and a fitting final for a tournament so far dominated by the region. But, they have to continue to advance, and both the Germans and the Dutch are strong, disciplined teams. With almost two weeks still to go, there is plenty of time for Argentina’s coach Maradona, known for his public outbursts, to do something that might throw off the rhythm that his team has developed in the tournament. Brazil’s Dunga is less emotive. Even so, both he and Maradona have won the World Cup as players for their national teams, and both know what it takes to prepare a team for the ultimate test.
This ride is far from over.