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In the days of yore, when armies faced each other on the field of battle, they would hurl projectiles at each other before the melee started to soften up the other side. It would usually prune some of the infantry and, if lucky, injure a commander. The same holds true for the group stages of the World Cup – two teams advance from each of eight groups to the second round as most of the also-rans fall by the wayside. This World Cup has seen, regardless of their health, three giants slayed in Italy, Spain, and England.

From the Second Round on, the defeated party packs up its bags and goes home. No more is the World Cup an arena for friendly banter and civilisational appreciation – henceforth, all calculations and support will be made with an eye to seeing one’s team have the easiest path to the FIFA World Cup Trophy.

Despite the reduced constellation of footballing stars, there is a lot of spectacular football left to be played. Among the powerhouses, the teams to watch out for are obviously Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. They’ve all topped their groups, Argentina and the Netherlands will full points. However, none of these football superpowers have yet shown the total domination one would expect from them against the lesser sides of the group stage. As great teams are capable of, however, they can suddenly turn their performance up a notch.

Much was expected out of Portugal, but the team was exposed for what it has been this tournament – not a team, but Cristiano Ronaldo and his ten minions. Italy has struggled for form ever since their surprise victory in 2006 and Spain had failed to nurture younger talent in the excitement of winning three major trophies on a trot.

More interestingly, the dark horses that may pull out an upset at any stage are Chile and the United States. If Chile beat Brazil, it could very well find itself in the semifinals against Germany or France and the United States has the potential to go past Belgium into a quarterfinal against Argentina. As the sporting expression goes, any given Sunday…

As things stand right now, Brazil and Germany seem set to square off in one semifinal and Argentina and Germany in the other. To inject a little parochial pride into an already tense situation, this World Cup could easily end up an all-European or all-South American final. So far, Europe has won the World Cup 12 times and South America 11.

What will be of greater interest to fans is if Germany will win their fourth title and inch closer to Brazil’s five championships. They will equalise Italy’s haul of four and if precedence is observed, be awarded the trophy outright as Brazil was in 1970 after it won the World Cup for the third time. Presently, there is no such rule. To make matters more exciting, Brazil and Argentina both stand to win the trophy outright as well if they win – it will be Brazil’s third victory after 1994 and 2002 and Argentina’s after 1978 and 1986. On the other hand, the Netherlands may finally break their World Cup jinx and win their first championship ever as Spain did in 2010.

Whatever the final result, there are still slightly over two weeks of paradise left before the four-year drought sets in. And as I always say, Los geht’s Deutschland!