World Cup, The Round of 16.
Thrills, chills and spills.
Four days in football paradise.
Thrills for the fans and the winners.
Chills for the losers.
Spills for the fallen foot soldiers and the trainers with their magic aerosol spray.
Lionel Messi is the first Golden Boot winner to leave the tournament, followed a few hours later by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Frances’ high octane offence overcomes Argentina’s heart and soul in a masterpiece of entertainment, then Uruguay’s dynamic duo of Suarez and Cavani combines to put an end Portugal’s World Cup dreams.
Something happened to Spain after their breathtaking 3-3- tie with Portugal.
Sure, they had fired their coach just before the tourney, but…
Against Russia they made a record 1029 passes, but keeper David De Gea, touted as one of the world’s best, couldn’t stop enough shootout balls to keep the hosts from going through.
And where was Diego Costa, the two goal scorer against Cristiano’s team who was referred to as “playing like a wolverine” on that day?
The Spanish press wrote that this loss marked the end of an era.
Later, stylish Croatia was road blocked by a persistent Danish defence and with the 1-1 regulation score being set in the first five minutes, what came after was a lumbering, bland affair until extra time.
Early on a blatant foul in the penalty area gave Croatian captain Luca Modric a chance to end it all.
Danish keeper Kaspar Schmeichel had been exceptional during the tournament but he moved off his goal line early to stop Modric’s kick, which is an absolute no-no.
Neither the referee nor the video replay crew picked it up, so the game continued until penalty kicks had to decide this match, just as it had with the day’s earlier contest.
Both teams missed their first shots then Luca Modric got his revenge with a goal. In the end it was Croatian keeper Danuel Subasic and midfielder Ivan Rakitic that cemented their victory, Subasic’s three stops tied a W.C. penalty kick record.
This day brought us Brazil taking on Mexico in a much anticipated tilt. Could the Mexicans shock the Samba Kings with their fleet counter attacks or would they be overwhelmed as they were by the Swedes?
The men in green were full measure for much of the first half, but the South American defenders held their ground and then the flow shifted with Neymar, Willian and Firmino grooving to the bossa nova beat which resulted in a 2-0 victory.
Adios El Tri.
Japan and Belgium squared off in the second half of the double header and the Blue Samaria surprised millions with their offensive dexterity and finish. Jumping to a 2-0 lead after 52 shocking minutes the Japanese were totally in control.
Then in the 69th minute a harmless looking header from a wide angle by defender Vertongen pulled the Red Devils one back.
Five minutes later the curly haired substitute Fellaini used another header from a corner to tie the score 2-2.
Elation for the red, black and gold, blues for the Blues.
Now it was time to witness the most fluid, bold counter-attack of the tournament to date.
Just minutes into stoppage time, Belgium keeper Courtois catches a Japan corner kick with ease and runs about ten yards forward before under-handing the ball upfield onto the foot of a flying De Bruyne, who in turn smacks the orb out to the right flank were Vertonghen collects his prize and lays a sweet pass back across the field to his left where the charging Chadli is found, and while Lukaku draws his mark away from the front of the net, Chadli strikes to ball into the white mesh behind a stunned keeper Kawashima.
All the English play by play announcer can say is “Can you believe it?
The less said about the Switzerland vs. Sweden tilt the better. Cautious drudgery would be an apt description. Emil Forsberg’s deflection off of a Swiss defender put the Swedes through. Nough said.
England vs. Columbia was another matter.
Were England for real? Would the perpetual chokers crumble under the South American’s swagger?
Well, they did not.
Although I must admit when Columbia’s lanky defender Yerry Mina deposited his strong volley-header into the net in extra time to tie the score when England had the game put away after Harry Kane’s penalty marker at 57 minutes, I turned the telly off and walked away.
OH NO, NOT AGAIN!
A few hours later the PVR playback had astonishing good news.
England wins 4-3 on penalty kicks. I now believe in miracles.
You should too, this has been a World cup full of them.