And we're down to the final four! As expected, South American giants Brazil and Argentina have progressed, untroubled, to... um... the... ah... wait, what?
- Yes, this was really looking like it was going to be South America's tournament. All five teams from the region made the round of 16, and, furthermore, no team from Europe has ever won the World Cup outside its home continent. In fact, FIFA had even taken the step of sending home most of the South American referees, since there were obviously so few games left that would not involve South American teams. And now, all of a very sudden, we're down to one South American team. Brazil were undone by nerves and poor discipline, not to mention a Netherlands side that was more than equipped to take advantage of both those defects. Argentina were simply run over. And now, barring some kind of miraculous performance from Uruguay(!), it's Europe's tournament.
- Just to clarify on the referees: No World Cup Finals referee can officiate a match involving a team from his continent. An exception to this rule was made in 2002, for the final between Germany and Brazil, to allow the man pictured above to take charge, since he was clearly the best referee in the world at that time. For those of you unacquainted with him, his name is Pierluigi Collina, he's Italian, and he is now sadly retired from refereeing.
- Last word on referees: The refereeing in this tournament hasn't been that bad. Of course, hideous blunders have made headlines, as usual, but most of the games have been professionally and competently handled. If I'm selecting the ref for the final match right now, it's Yuichi Nishimura of Japan. When I've seen him, he's been calm, dignified, decisive, and fair-minded without being pushed around. In particular, I thought he did a fine job with the Brazil-Netherlands game.
- From the department of over=reacting: Nigeria's president has suspended its men's national team for two years, for the purposes of reorganization, and the French government has launched a formal probe of their own team's debacle. This is fairly heavy duty; Fifa takes a very dim view of government interference with the various national soccer associations, and both France and Nigeria could end up suspended from all international play (including women's and youth tournaments). In my experience, however, these things do tend to get resolved before the more drastic steps are taken.