Biting, writhing, sweating and gesticulating aside, the 2014 FIFA World Cup is primarily an athletic contest second to few. Thirty-two national teams are winnowed over a series of qualifying tournaments from 207 countries aiming for a spot. From the start, then, the World Cup offers soccer fans the best and brightest. As play progresses, it gets better – if more passionate.
Group play – wherein eight cohorts of four countries vied for two spots per group to advance – concluded Thursday, with 16 teams heading for the knockout round. The U.S. Men’s National Team is among this elite group moving ahead, despite a 1-0 loss to Germany on Thursday. With the same record of one win, one loss and one draw in group play, the U.S. and Portugal – which beat Ghana on Thursday – were measured on goals for and goals against. The United States won on the numbers and will move ahead to the Round of 16, where no such luck will be available: It is single-elimination, must-win. The U.S. will face Belgium at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
World Cup soccer is full of stories – some better than others. At its root, though, it is an impressive exhibit of finely honed athleticism and commitment to sport. Enjoy the games to follow, and go, USA!