Sports

World Cup group stage: What you need to know

The group stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup wrapped up yesterday. In case you haven’t been paying close attention, here’s what happened:

The USMNT survived the “Group of Death”

Everyone who made a commitment to see the US men’s national soccer team—whether among the legion in Brazil or the record-breaking numbers watching from home—has been rewarded. Improbably, the United States finished second in Group G—behind Germany and ahead of Ghana and Portugal—to qualify for the Round of 16. It’s the first time the USMNT has advanced past the group stage in consecutive World Cups.

Next up, the US faces stronger-than-usual Belgium, while Germany faces Algeria. Of note: three of four CONCACAF (North American) squads and five of six CONMEBOL (South American) teams advanced, while of the 13 UEFA (European) sides, only six made it through. (And it really should have been only five—Ivory Coast got jobbed.) That certainly speaks well to the strength of soccer in the Americas, which usually isn’t given enough credit for how strong it is.

That said, the Netherlands and France looked like the strongest teams in the group stage, while pre-tournament favorites Brazil and Argentina looked a little shaky.

Search ”world cup bracket” on Google and this is what you get. Search ”world cup bracket” on Google and this is what you get. Pretty neat.

End of an era

Two European titles. One World Cup. Spain’s run of soccer dominance lasted six years, but it’s over now, as the most beautiful team in “The Beautiful Game” crashed out early.

I suppose one could have seen it coming—Barcelona, the club team from which Spain fielded many key players, saw its own dominant run ended recently, while captain Carles Puyol retired earlier this year and key midfielder Xavi was limited by injury—but it was still surprising to see it happen so unceremoniously and so quickly, in the group stage itself.

Klose ties Ronaldo for career World Cup goals lead; Muller hot on his tail

German forward Miroslav Klose isn’t a dominant possession player, but has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. The 36-year-old tied Brazilian legend Ronaldo’s record with his 15th career World Cup goal a few days ago, netting Germany’s second goal against Ghana.

Teammate Thomas Müller, meanwhile, has nine World Cup goals to his name. He scored five times in 2010, and this time around, already netted a hat trick against Portugal and the game-winner against the United States.

Müller is 24. Klose and Ronaldo’s record may not stand for long.

Charlie Suárez bit my finger shoulder

Uruguay’s Luis Suárez is immensely talented, but also might be a little crazy. Frustrated in a match against Italy, he bit opponent Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder, and FIFA suspended him for about four months, ending his World Cup.

It’s not the first time he’s been suspended for this sort of stunt. Over the last four years, Suárez was suspended for two separate biting incidents for a combined 17 games. He also has eight games for racial abuse on his rap sheet.

Messi can score after all

If you follow enough sports, you realize that fans in all sports look for any reason to trash the megastars of the time. In soccer, over the past four years, fans and commentators were pointing out all-time great Lionel Messi’s thin World Cup stat-line as if it somehow disqualified the Argentinian from being mentioned in the same breath as legends like Maradona and Pelé.

Well, Messi has a tournament-leading four goals in three games in this World Cup. So much for that.

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