The USA’s improbable run ended on Tuesday, but there are still plenty of reasons to stay tuned to the 2014 World Cup. Here are five reasons to keep watching, starting with the quarterfinal matches on Friday and Saturday:
1. Lionel Messi. There are a number of amazing goal-scorers remaining in the World Cup, including Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie (Netherlands), Thomas Müller (Germany) and Neymar (Brazil). But the best of the bunch is Argentina’s Lionel Messi, who has scored 243 goals for FC Barcelona in Spain since 2004.
The 27-year-old Messi has already scored four goals at this World Cup, and his pass to teammate Angel Di Maria led to a game-winning goal in the closing minutes of Argentina’s Round of 16 match against Switzerland. Messi’s next challenge (Saturday at 9 a.m. on ABC15): break through the defense of Belgium, which has allowed just two goals in four World Cup matches.
2. Costa Rica. Placed in a group with three previous World Cup champions, the Costa Ricans were supposed to finish last and bow out of the tournament early. Instead, they beat Uruguay and Italy in consecutive matches, and then earned a draw against England to finish atop Group D. In the Round of 16, they gave up a late game-tying goal to Greece, but recovered to win on penalty kicks.
Costa Rica has only been to four World Cups (its first appearance was in 1990), and this year’s march to the quarterfinals is its deepest-ever run. A win on Saturday against the Netherlands, the 2010 runners-up, would be one of the largest upsets in recent World Cup history, and it would transform the Costa Ricans from a feel-good story into a feared squad with a real chance to win it all.
3. Brazil vs. South America. As the host nation, Brazil has had home-field advantage throughout this World Cup, but it hasn’t seemed to benefit from it much. While the Brazilians did win their group, they were unable to score against Mexico (a game that ended in a 0-0 tie), and they were lucky to survive their Round of 16 match against South American neighbor Chile – a game that was decided on penalty kicks after a Chilean shot went off the bar at the end of extra time.
If Brazil is to survive and win its record sixth World Cup, it will have to beat at least one more South American rival, as its quarterfinal game on Friday will be against Columbia, which has yet to lose in this year’s tournament. If Brazil survives that game and a semifinal game against either Germany or France, a finals showdown against Messi and fellow South American powerhouse Argentina could loom.
4. Previous champions. Only eight nations have ever won the World Cup, and four of them are still playing: Brazil (five championships), Germany (three), Argentina (two) and France (one). The Netherlands has been to three World Cup finals since 1974, but has yet to win it all. Will a World Cup blueblood add to its trophy case, or will we crown a new champ this year?
5. Klose to the record. In a group-stage game against Ghana, thirty-six-year-old German striker Miroslav Klose came on as a second-half substitute and scored his 15th-ever World Cup goal, tying him with Brazilian legend Ronaldo for the most in the history of the tournament. If Germany is to get past European rival France on Friday, Klose may be called upon to put his country into the semifinals and, in the process, make World Cup history with goal No. 16.
World Cup quarterfinals schedule:
France vs. Germany – Friday, 9 a.m., ESPN2
Brazil vs. Colombia – Friday, 1 p.m., ESPN
Argentina vs. Belgium – Saturday, 9 a.m., ABC15
Netherlands vs. Costa Rica – Saturday, 1 p.m., ESPN