We now enter the I Hate You Very Much phase of the 2006 World Cup. 16 teams, no fewer than 9 of them utterly despised (by me, anyway--you don't think I give a rat's ass what you think here, do you?). Now, sunny-siders would point out that this will increase the rate at which teams I don't like will be put out of action. While that is true, it is also true that of the teams I like, very few have much of a chance to make the quarterfinals, let alone the semis.
The tippy tops of any establishment-hatin' fool's list for knockout round fandom have to be Ecuador and Ghana, both of which are likely to get scragged (by England and Brazil, respectively, although as I noted the sentiment that Ghana is doomed is not universal.
Ecuador advanced on the strength of victories over Costa Rica and Poland, the latter something of a surprise to people, I gather (I don't understand why). Many people picked them to finish at the bottom of Group A. I didn't know enough about them to pick them anywhere. Now? I know enough to figure them for pretty easy meat for the English, who are not by any means invincible. England fans are devastated by the loss of the used-up Michael Owen; I might be too, if my next best hope were the hulking and glacial Peter Crouch. Expect either a narrow English victory or a soul-sucking draw decided by penalty kicks. Given my predictive powers, this could well mean you should expect a 8-0 Ecuadoran romp (which wouldn't be a bad outcome).
Ghana faces the Brazilians, the Borg of futbol. Ghana advanced by being plucky, destroying an overrated Czech squad, and persevering against an overrated and stunningly flat US side, benefitting from some incredibly awful officiating along the way (one can hardly blame the Ghanans for that--what were they supposed to do, say "No, Marcus Merk, you blind stinking fascist idiot dog, no one could possibly accept a penalty kick for that!"?). There are those who suspect Ghana could surprise the Brazilians. I'm not among them. The Brazilians barbecue teams like this. They howl in laughter at pluckiness and throw it in the Amazon, taking side bets on whether it drowns or gets eaten first by piranhas. It will be my privilege to support Ghana in their game against Brazil; it will also be my sorrow.
Today's games are emblematic of the other part of my problem with this round. Germany-Sweden and Argentina-Mexico? Blech. Battle of the Aryan Superstars and the Mother of All Meteor Games*. Germany and Argentina should advance, setting up in their quarterfinal matchup one of those little ironies that this tournament always perpetrates.
But don't let me spoil your fun. There is a lot of great futbol left in this tournament. I may even watch Germany and Sweden trying to exterminate each other today, though I can't imagine what I'll be hoping for. I'll certainly watch both of tomorrow's games (the aforementioned England-Ecuador, followed by another Mostly Meteor Game, Portugal versus the Robo-Dutch). But the urgency of the whole thing has, for me, pretty much abated.
*In the event that my friend Germbabe has gone so far as to copyright the phrase "Meteor Game": thank you, Germbabe.