We now have the “Final Four” for the World Cup. The favorites are out, and the game’s biggest stars are out.
- Argentina is out. They feature Lionel Messi who some believe is a “generational player”.
- Brazil is out. They are a World Cup blueblood. Neymar is a world star and he is gone.
- Germany is out. They are the defending World Cup champions and they were the betting favorite to win it all at the start of the tournament.
- Portugal is out. They are the reigning UEFA champions. Cristiano Ronaldo is also considered by many as a “generational player”.
- Spain is out. They were the second favorites in the betting as the tournament began.
What is left is a very interesting mixture of four European teams.
- Belgium is a country with a population of about 11.3 million people. Putting that in perspective, that is approximately the population of the city of Tianjin in China – – and Tianjin is only the fifth largest city in China. Nevertheless, even from that small native talent pool, Belgium has fielded a team labeled the “Golden Generation” because they feature 4 players who are bona fide stars in the English Premier League. [Aside: I have enjoyed watching midfielder Kevin De Bruyne; he is an excellent passer and is always looking to attack.]
- Croatia is a country with an even smaller population than Belgium; Croatia has a population of about 4.2 million people. Putting that in perspective, that is approximately the population of the metropolitan area surrounding Boston MA. Like Belgium, they have a talent pool that is sufficiently skilled that much of the Croatian team plays in the top leagues around Europe. Remember, I am rooting for Croatia this time around because I promised out tour leader in the Balkans that I would.
- England is a soccer crazed nation that has underperformed in the World Cup tournaments for the last several decades. From what I have seen in this year’s tournament, England is playing very good defense. If the adage that “defense wins championships” holds water, England may prevail. This time around, they are in the semi-finals and the mantra there is that “It’s Coming Home!” – – meaning the World Cup trophy. For the record, the only time England won the World Cup was in 1966.
- France is also a one-time winner of the World Cup (1998) and they seem to have gotten here on cruise control. I did not see any of their draw with Denmark, but I have seen some or all of France’s other games and if they were pressed in any of them, it surely did not look like it on a TV screen. They have looked to be under control and in control when I have been watching.
Since a team from Europe is sure to win this year’s trophy, that will mark the fourth consecutive World Cup that has gone to a European nation; the last winner from somewhere other than Europe was Brazil in 2002.
There was an interesting stat from the quarterfinal Belgium/Brazil game. In that contest, Brazil took 26 shots – – and Brazil lost the game. To put that in perspective consider these shot stats for other teams in the quarterfinal matchups:
- Brazil 26 shots lost
- Croatia 3 shots won
- Belgium 9 shots won
- France 11 shots won
- England 11 shots won
On a recent ESPN telecast of a Yankees/Red Sox game, Brett Gardner beat out an infield hit. Analyst Jessica Mendoza said that he did that “by using his feet to get down the line”. Interesting:
- I was unaware of the rule change that allows players to opt for a Segway to take them to first base…
In NFL news, Julian Edelman’s 4-game suspension was upheld on appeal. I never expected any other outcome. However, the NFL has yet to reveal what it was in the blood/urine sample that caused the test failure; they still do not know what the “unknown contaminant” is. For me that leaves a huge open question here:
- If you do not know what the substance is that makes the test procedure indicate a “failure”, how do you know that it is a PED or that it is on the list of NFL-banned substances?
- Seems like a good final exam essay question for a college course in epistemology…
Finally, here is an interesting quiz from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:
The biggest competitive mismatch these days is:
- a) Globetrotters vs. Generals
- b) Warriors vs. NBA
- c) Joey Chestnut vs. hot dogs
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………