U.S. out, but plenty of World Cup action remains


Brazilian teammates Paulinho, from left, Daniel Alves and Neymar celebrate a goal during their opening match against Croatia. Brazil will have to raise its level of play to win its next match, against Colombia. (Murad Sezer/Reuters)

After three weeks of upsets, last-minute goals and unbelievable saves, the World Cup soccer competition is down to eight teams.

Unfortunately, the United States is not one of the final eight. After making its way through group play, the U.S. team lost a heart-stopping 2-1 game to Belgium in extra time in the first knockout round. The Americans played hard, and goalkeeper Tim Howard was magnificent, but Belgium had too much offensive talent for our team.

So the United States is out. But the World Cup games go on. Let’s look at the remaining teams to see who has a good chance to win the world’s biggest sports event.

Remember, the World Cup is very hard to predict. I initially thought Spain was going to win it all, but the defending champs got bounced in group play, losing to the Netherlands and Chile. Five of the first eight knockout games went into extra time, and almost every game was decided by a single goal.

Let’s take a look.

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates a goal against Switzerland by teammate Angel Di Maria during their 2014 World Cup round of 16 game. Messi has scored four goals for his team in the World Cup. (Paulo Whitaker/Reuters)

The favorites: Host country Brazil has been teetering on the brink throughout the tournament. The team just squeezed by Chile in the first knockout round, winning 3-2 on penalty kicks.

The competition is getting stiffer. Brazil and its superstar goal scorer, Neymar, will have to step up their games to beat Colombia in the next round. Colombia is 4-0 (four wins, no losses) in this World Cup.

Germany has looked solid, outscoring its opponents nine goals to three in the first four games. The Germans have a steady defense and might have enough scoring power to become the first European country to win a World Cup played in South America.

Argentina has been counting on its scoring dynamo Lionel Messi to get the team through the first rounds. Messi has been playing like the man who has won four FIFA Ballon D’Or awards, symbolic of the best men’s soccer player in the world. Messi’s scoring and playmaking abilities always give Argentina a chance.

The long shot: Looking for a team to root for now that the United States is out? How about Costa Rica? With a population of less than 5 million, the Central American nation is the smallest country left in the World Cup. The Washington area has more people than that.

Costa Rica won its group by shocking traditional powers Italy, England and Uruguay. Then the Ticos knocked off one of the roughest teams around, Greece, in a shootout.

Costa Rica might need a miracle or an outstanding game from its goalkeeper, Keylor Navas, to beat the high-scoring (12 goals in four games) Netherlands and their lightning-fast forward, Arjen Robben.

But miracles happen all the time in the World Cup.

Bowen is the author of 19 sports books for kids, including two soccer books: “Soccer Team Upset” and “Go for the Goal!”

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