As the World Cup charges towards the elimination rounds, it is getting more and more outrageous as the stakes grow higher and higher. The shocks just continue and continue: Italy out, England out, Spain out!?! Here are some awesome things about the 2014 World Cup:
The supposed Championship teams have looked borderline beatable (Argentina, Brazil, Germany) and upstarts who are shocking people (Chile, Colombia, USA) could potentially win this thing…and then Luis Suarez bit someone.
The World Cup was already going down as one of the best ever, not only did you have ridiculous weather conditions and wire to wire games like the one between the USA and Portugal, or the way that the biggest players in the world are stepping up when it matters most like Neymar or Messi. You could argue that even Suarez had been stepping up as well, but then, well, you know what happened next. Suarez always, always downplays the fact that he bites people and there is no denying what he did. FIFA moved quickly to suspend him for 9 games, but Suarez deserves more, much, much more. He is one of the most despicable examples of a human being: he is one of the best footballers in the world.
A quick comparison: during the NFL playoffs, Richard Sherman gave one of the most astoundingly honest interviews ever. It was an honest and terrifying look at the frame of mind professional athlete who has to transform themselves into a monster in order to play an exceedingly violent game. Suarez has said his own wife does not recognize him on the pitch, do soccer players have to transform themselves as well? Some of the best players in the world have done incomprehensible and seemingly reprehensible things when it seems bizarre for them to do so. Most people struggle to separate French star Zinedene Zidane from his infamous headbutt in the World Cup Final (even though the team won both the World Cup Championship and World Cup with him) even though he was one of the best players of his generation. Suarez (who has not won anything) is crafting a similar legacy as the good and bad are definitely not balancing any more. At the outset of the World Cup this was an opportunity for Suarez to banish the bad press. He was coming off the best season a Premier League striker had ever had, and he was the reason Liverpool was competitive and fighting for the top spot in the league. Finally he was growing up it seemed and yet, he could not help himself. This is the third bite in his career and a strong message has to be sent. One player cannot be bigger than the tournament itself and he deserves to be banned for a very, very long time. Two incidents is way too much: three is a pattern that is not going to change. Send a message, across the board.
Another great thing about the World Cup has been the Men in Blazers and their breakout performance as media stars at ESPN. They are off kilter, hilarious and incredibly insightful. The Blazers make soccer easy to understand for Americans and are almost singlehandedly increasing the popularity of the sport in the country. This has been their breakout opportunity and their popularity will likely skyrocket as a result of all the burn they are getting at the World Cup.
What will happen in the upcoming round of 16 is likely to be totally nuts. CONCACAAF teams could make a big splash and Brazil could easily lose to Chile! Unless of course there is some serious match fixing going on, which, given how much Brazil has invested in winning this thing would not be surprising (there first game already looked a little match fixy). Will the teams who have looked great – think France and Holland – be able to keep it together and actually win some real games?
This World Cup is awesome: and is only likely to get better with a new team rising to the top and the ongoing question is who will be able to survive the pressure. A couple of players, Messi and Neymar, are feeling intense pressure to deliver the title. This may be the last chance for Messi and will be the only time Neymar will play on his home soil.
World Cup = bonkers. And it will only get better.