Friday, June 29, 2018

The end of the group stage

The one major thing I predicted before this World Cup is that Germany would go out early. To the only person I know who closely follows soccer, Marcus, the former teen librarian, I said "I have one prediction and one prediction only: Germany will go out early. Mark my words."

I really hope he marked my words.

But as I wrote the following on the eve before Germany's amazing loss to South Korea, I did not dare to dream that Germany would go out. I tempted fate in a kind of reverse psychology, letting fate make me wrong for the sake of a result I delight in: Defending Champions Germany are out of the Cup!

As to everything else, besides that singular elimination, what I say in the following is still pretty much correct, and in some ways the end is even more true.


As I write we are still in the middle of the last round of the group stage of The World Cup. But as you read this the group stage will all be over. We will be on our first day of rest since the tournament began, waiting patiently for the round of 16 to begin. So I thought I'd go out on a limb here and sum things up, even if they haven't all quite happened yet. I actually hope they don't happen!

In the first round all was thrown into madness. Upsets reigned and unpredictable results seemed to throw the doors of The Cup wide open.

In the second round the great dramas were all set up, everything rising towards the great decisions of the final game.

And in the third round all order was restored. Everyone who everyone thought was going to go through ended up going through, and all the brave underdogs came up an inch or two short. The underdogs are packing their bags, while all the favorites are keen to wipe away all past uncertainties, and start fresh.

I don't live in Argentina, Brazil, or Spain, or France, where nearly everyone I would meet would be as informed and passionate about The World Cup as I am. I am in America, where only through a great effort have I wrung interest in The World Cup from the people around me. A few of these people have risen to the challenge and even watch some of the games. They might have even picked a team or two to cheer on. But mostly what I have gotten around me are what I think of as The Underdog Rooters.

Underdog Rooters are people with a modest knowledge of what's going on but not enough interest or attention to pick a team on some private reason. So they default to rooting for the underdog.

It's a nice enough sentiment, I suppose. I tell them who the underdog is. They cheer for them.

And while after round one it looked as if this approach might have some pay off, by round three, as I've noted, we've ultimately returned to form.

All the underdogs are gone. Who will these people root for now?

But as I look over all the group stage performances it strikes me that no one has been so terribly great. And so, if you want to root for the underdog just go ahead and pick anyone, anyone at all. There are no favorites left. Whoever wins now will defy the odds.

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