This World Cup went through its “Rocky I & II” phase, when tales of gritty, hearty, colorful underdogs abounded. C’mon, you Soca Warriors! Allez Sparrowhawks! USA! USA!
Then, thanks to the referees, it entered something of a “Casablanca”-meets-“Dog Day Afternoon” reality, a realm of violence, intrigue and incompetent officials barging around issuing comically ineffectual orders.
Now, though, the final eight resembles nothing so much as a formula heist film in which a bunch of aging, veteran crooks get together to pull One Last Job. The whackings of Ghana and Australia (and Suisse, too, I guess) took out the last real outsider hopes, leaving a bracket that just about any World Cup in the last half-century could have produced. Italia! Portugal! Eng-er-lund! Brasil! Argentina! Ze Germans! Les Bleus! And, of course, the pale, unsettlingly skinny ghost of the Soviet Union in the form of Ukraine, which always provided a huge chunk of the great CCCP squads that regularly made deep runs back in the day.
So much for the underdog, and for every continent besides Europe and South America. When the World Cup gets serious, apparently only one script will do.