After the shock early exit of Spain was followed closely on the heels with group stage eliminations for England, Italy and Portugal, there was work to do in the round of 16 for the European sides to redeem the continent’s standing. The more traditional powerhouses stumbled through and will move on to sterner tests, while the less-fancied Greece and Switzerland were knocked out.
Defending champions Spain were unceremoniously dumped out of the reckoning in Group B after receiving a hiding from the Dutch and then being dismissed by a vibrant Chile side, an outcome that set the early tone of the World Cup. England suffered the same fate with two opening defeats by European then South American opposition before Italy were eliminated at the group stage for the second consecutive time after winning the tournament in 2006, at the hands of a Uruguay side that seemed toothless for large periods of their fixture.
World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo was unable to inspire an insipid Portuguese team to the latter stages of the competition, with the round of 16 significant for the presence of so many Central and South American representatives. This all changed after the first knockout round however, with some of Europe’s larger footballing nations emerging through a number of stern tests.
It took a very late show from the Netherlands to break Mexican hearts, with two last gasp strikes providing great drama and excitement that was unfortunately tainted by the actions and confessions of Arjen Robben in relation to diving for penalties. The Oranje move on to face a Costa Rica outfit that were able to dig in and take Greece to penalties despite going a man down. Fernando Santos’ team will be disappointed they are not enhancing the European name in the quarters after facing 10 men for almost an hour.
Algeria, having already made history by reaching the knockouts, will be imagining what might have been after taking the might of Germany all the way to 120 minutes. Joachim Low must be worried at how the African side kept his much more illustrious charges at bay, considering that he is now preparing to face a France team that boasts a number of players oozing with confidence such as Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba. There will be a match-up of Europe and South America come what may in the first semi-final, as Brazil and Colombia face off in Fortaleza.
This could also be the case in the other semi if the two favourites progress, but up next for Argentina following their own last gasp winner against Switzerland, is Marc Wilmots’ Belgium, who also required extra time to see off the United States. Both quarter finalists may count themselves fortunate to be alive and kicking, and it is hoped that the positivity that they have been blessed with translates to an exciting game of football between two talented attacking sides.
An all-European final at the Maracana remains a distinct possibility, but there will be stern tests for each nation before that becomes a reality.