It was a simple message from the president of CONCACAF, but it said it all:
Very proud of @CONCACAF teams and their quality of play at #WorldCup. Let’s keep going #WeAreCONCACAF
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This incredible World Cup is likely to end with a South American narrative. It is their tournament in their backyard. I expect Brazil and Argentina to be there at the end. There is a possibility a European side, most likely Germany, will triumph on this continent for the first time. But I am sticking to the big beasts that are the hosts and their neighbours.
Africa threatened to get it very wrong, but then suddenly the sun broke through with Ghana, Nigeria and Algeria hugely impressing in the space of two days. The danger as always with African nations is presuming teams feel they are representing the continent and the progress of its football. I feel that’s slightly patronising. They should rightly be all out for themselves.
For now, we must join Webb in lauding the achievements of North and Central America: Largely unexpected but welcomed and, at times, exhilarating. It is a region and a confederation that has its critics. But not for its organisation that is growing in strength under their FIFA’s Vice-President’s flourishing regime.
The critics round on the football. Will USA and Mexico always qualify? Yes. Are the other nations any good? No. That’s the cliche that can be thrown in the waste basket with your World Cup prediction sheets.
For the umpteenth tournament in succession, the US entered with observers willing to underrate them. This being the nation ranked 13th and clearly dangerous opponents in a World Cup. It took them 29 seconds to make their mark through Clint Dempsey, a man who has more World Cup goals than many of the players we drool over put together. With the heart of a lion.
The merit in the 2-1 over Ghana became fully clear when we saw how the African nation stretched Germany.
They were seconds from qualifying from the ‘group of death’ before Almera’s equaliser for Portugal in Manaus. But completed the job after giving Germany a hard time for 90 minutes in Recife, losing 1-0 but defending manfully.
While ticket sales of over 150,000 mean the US are technically the best supported travelling team in the tournament, across America genuine World Cup fever has gripped fan parks and led to record TV audiences of over 20m. And the fans in Brazil and team really have travelled. They covered the largest distances of any team in the group stage.
Meanwhile, Mexico showed their capabilities by holding Brazil goalless after having beaten them in the Olympic final two years ago. And then the best yet, I’ve seen Croatia at close quarters and they are undoubtedly a good side. To beat them when needing only a draw, inspired by the evergreen Marquez, was an exceptionally good result, one of the best they have managed in World Cups.
Praise of Honduras must be slightly muted. Their physical approach is not to the taste of many. On the other hand, they did manage to scored their first World Cup goal since 1982. That’s an achievement in anyone’s book.
And so to Costa Rica. Costa Rica! Their achievement in Brazil’s group stages will be lauded many years after the Brazucas have been deflated. It’s one of the great stories of World Cup history for a nation you may not realise is obsessed with football. Like most of the planet.
Drawn with Italy, Uruguay and England, three former winners, there seems to be only one way we were prepared to analyse this group. Three into two don’t go. One big team will fall. Who knows maybe Costa Rica will even have something to say about it.
A 3-1 win over Uruguay followed by 1-0 over Italy. England couldn’t beat them either. By the time those two met England were out and Costa Rica were through. They were group winners. It is arguably the greatest group winning achievement in World Cup history.
Their President Solis joined tens of thousands delirious in San Jose. His prediction of the 1-0 win over Italy showed his punditry to be much better than many on the World Cup media rosters. They now face Greece in the last-16.
But when the dust finally settles on this World Cup, for CONCACAF, the future’s bright. The year 2016 brings a wonderful opportunity to test their progress. The centenary Copa America will be held in the USA in combination with the Gold Cup – so CONCACAF teams are competing too. It will be immense.
The question is whether other nations can bare their teeth at this World Cup level in the future. Will another Caribbean Island qualify after Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago? Can Canada ever join the party?
For now this will do. Jeffrey Webb will tell you. Oh THIS will do!