Slowly, the wheat was separated from the chaff -- remind me: chaff is bad, right? Giants fell. India, the second most populous nation on the planet, was eliminated by Lebanon, 6-3, in a one-and-done first-round match in fall '07. Russia, painfully, was upset by Slovenia in a last-round playoff. And even El Salvador, despite its savage and invincible liquidation of Anguilla, could not manage to squeeze through to the finals.
Two weeks ago, 32 teams gathered in South Africa to determine which was the greatest in all the world. Two more rounds of play sufficed to eliminate more pretenders: Italy, defending champions; England, birthplace of professional football; the United States; reigning world hegemon; New Zealand, home of the fearsome seven-legged lamb.
Now just eight remain. Just eight of 205. Any team that makes a World Cup quarterfinal deserves to be celebrated for this majestic accomplishment; and whatever happens in the matches going forward, the Iron List will pause today to commemorate the greatness of these eight.
Uruguay! At just 3.5 million people, this blondest nation in South America is the smallest country ever to make the final eight, since FIFA adopted a single-elimination tournament format in 1982.
Ghana! Even though he was rooting for the USA, Kobe Bryant thought Ghana's Dede Ayew was the best player on the field last Saturday. Approval from Kobe Bryant! It's not easy to come by, but when it comes, it's damned sweet. Just ask Ron Artest.
Brazil! They still haven't lost a World Cup match to a team without Zidane or Maradona since 1986.
Argentina! I warned you about the mad genius of Maradona. His World Cup mission: to prove that "the establishment has it wrong, and that in sport as in politics, the primitive emotions are more important than the cultivated ones." Fuck yeah.
Germany! The most consistent team in World Cup history have now made eight consecutive quarterfinals, by far the longest streak of any nation (even Brazil have only made five straight).
Spain! The Spanish team is even more pass-happy than Steve Spurrier*: they've completed 2265 total passes in this Cup, far more than the second place team, Brazil, who have just 1965. (The USA, in the same amount of matches -- actually, more match minutes -- completed just 1175 passes).
Paraguay! The most miserly team of this tournament has now gone 327 straight minutes without conceding a goal. But not everything about Paraguay is so ungenerous: the bosomy cell-phone girl now promises to run naked through the streets if they win the Cup.
* Yes, I believe this is the second Steve Spurrier reference I've made in this World Cup blog. Yes, I'm still bitter. Sue me.