World Cup exceeds all expectations

Russian evolution: Neymar dives for cover after Brazil's World Cup quarter-final elimination at the hands of Belgium at the Kazan Arena. Picture: AP
Russian evolution: Neymar dives for cover after Brazil's World Cup quarter-final elimination at the hands of Belgium at the Kazan Arena. Picture: AP

Perhaps the most extraordinary impact of a World Cup is its ability to provoke comments that would never be heard under normal circumstances.

“Nigeria and Iceland. Mmm, contrasting climates.”

Sentences which would never have been conceived at virtually any other time in human existence. 

“Genki Haraguchi is a household name.”

“Have you seen that bear playing the vuvuzela?”

“I can’t believe they renamed Stalingrad. Old Josef wasn’t such a bad fella.”

All seem like reasonable observations along with responding to the spousal enquiry: “Why are you getting up at 3.45?” with the perfectly justifiable explanation: “It’s Russia against Egypt - I need to know if Salah’s playing.”

From the moment Denis Cheryshev fired the tournament into life, it’s provided endless reason to all collectively forget that it was awarded under FIFA’s dodgy regime to whoever had the biggest brown paper bag to the country that took cheating to stratospherical levels the last time it hosted a global sporting extravaganza.

Suddenly none of that matters.

“Why didn’t we consider Igor as a Christian name Darl?”

Three games to go and there’s still only been four red cards and one goal-less draw (and that was conveniently manufactured to benefit the competing teams).

And in contrast to that mutually-convenient Franco-Danish pact, the most exciting match-up has been penalties versus stoppage-time goals.

To date, there have been 24 spot kicks compared to 23 goals beyond 90 minutes – but bizarrely none since the round of 16.

“I wonder what Craig Foster will make of that.”

Then there’s the 11 own goals, Croatia scoring as early as the fourth minute against Denmark and it not being the first goal of the game, and Spain establishing a World Cup record of 1114 passes against Russia, but losing.

Nigeria and Iceland. Mmm, contrasting climates.

“I do like Pogba’s spectacles.”

Normally, when such tournaments reach their knockout phase, it’s traditional for free-flowing high-scoring contests to dry up as teams revert to trying not to lose rather than trying to win.

But then France and Argentina provided seven goals, the probable goal of the tournament and opened the floodgates on two rounds of unmissable knockout mayhem.

Another goal-less draw looked about as likely as a new Tasmanian team in an Australian sporting competition.

“The stars are out in Nizhny Novgorod tonight.”

Neymar was either scoring, assisting or pork-chopping in Brazil’s defeat of Mexico before Belgium and Japan produced another candidate in that most competitive of categories - game of the tournament.

Who would have thought nations more synonymous with cycling and sumo could produce a spectacle as entertaining as combining those two?

“Szczesny would be useful on the triple word score.”

Spain joined former winners Argentina and Germany on the way home, joined by Iberian neighbour and reigning European champion Portugal, before England-Columbia featured an injury-time equaliser immediately trumped when Sweden-Switzerland produced an injury-time red-card penalty-free-kick VAR-reversal. That old chestnut.

“Senegal-Poland was a ripper.”

Having already hosted Germany’s injury-time elimination to South Korea and the France-Argentina rip-snorter, the Kazan Arena was at it again with the pick of the quarter-finals.

Most teams playing Brazil might keep one up front and hope, Belgium left three up front and attacked. And when those three are perhaps the best players at Manchester United, City and Chelsea, counter-attacks can be irresistible.

But it wasn’t just their attackers. Centre-back Vincent Kompany may have been a one-legged sicknote throughout the English Premier League season but suddenly morphed into a cyborg with all the indestructibility of a T-1000.

“Poor old Italy.”

And then there were four, including three such close neighbours they are virtually visible to each other.

France and Belgium meet in St Petersburg on Wednesday morning followed a day later by England against Croatia in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.

Brazil’s elimination means a guaranteed fourth different European winner with Germany (2014) and Spain (2010) sent home and Italy (2006) unable to take up the invitation.

“Can’t imagine St Petersburg has ever seen this much drama before.”

Whoever takes the chocolates (that’ll be Belgium surely?), the tournament has surpassed all expectations and if it wasn’t for the Tour de France cranking into gear, Australian sports fans would soon be wondering what to do with themselves at night.

“When Japanese fans paint their faces with the national flag it just looks like they’re promoting red nose day.”