The soccer World Cup, which will run in 12 cities of Brazil till July 13, has gone into the last lap of the group stage. Then, all teams that reached the 1/8 finals, that is, the 16 strongest teams of the planet, will be determined as soon as June 26. The last lap will feature particularly intense competition, because audience will now see not just two or three, but four games a day. In addition, two pairs of teams will play simultaneously at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m., so supporters will be forced to choose the most interesting games instead of watching all the games online.
The chief surprise of the event was, as experts point out, weak performance of traditionally strong teams from Old Europe. In particular, the elimination of world and European champions Spain at the group stage was an example of it, as it lost at the start to the Netherlands (1–5) and then gave way to the national team of Chile (0–2). Unexpectedly weak playing by England also disappointed millions of soccer fans. Country where soccer had originated as a mass sport first lost to Italy (1–2) and then to Uruguay with the same score. Last games of Spain and England did not change the standings, and players of the teams that had been considered favorites before the championship started are now packing their bags and getting ready to fly home.
After being defeated by the Germans (0–4) and a draw with the United States (2–2) the national team of Portugal has only slightest chance to progress to the next stage, although many experts expected it to at least participate in the semifinals. Surprisingly poor was Italy’s performance against Costa Rica (0–1). Who would have thought that in a “group of death,” as experts called group D including teams of Italy, England, Uruguay, and Costa Rica, it is the last team that will display the best and most stable level of play?
However, the Ukrainians invested most emotions and time spent in discussions on the Internet and in the blogosphere into match Belgium – Russia. After a frankly unspectacular draw in the game against South Korea (1–1), the Russians certainly had to win against the Belgians. However, it was the Belgians who came out as the stronger side in the match played on June 22, as Divock Origi scored the game’s only goal after 88 minutes. After the match, the Internet almost exploded with photoshopped images, in which the net users jokingly indicated to the Russians their place on the soccer and political maps of the world. Commentator Andrii Stoliarchuk from the First National TV vented his emotions on the defeat of the occupier country and went as far as to sing live the second verse of the Ukrainian Ultras song about Vladimir Putin: “La la la la, la la la la!”
“The Ukrainians in this championship have no one to root for, but clearly they have who to side against,” chief editor of the Profutbol program, broadcasting at Channel 2+2, Volodymyr Zverov commented for The Day. “I watched the match Belgium – Russia in Lviv. It is difficult to convey the atmosphere. People were celebrating the occupier country’s defeat, as if it was our side that won the championship. I felt a particularly strong emotional outburst when it was announced that South Korean footballer Lee Keun-ho, who scored against Russia in the first lap, served in the army and earned 100 euros a month. Fans stressed that he was playing for his team, not for money, but out of patriotism, and was beating the Russians. Some people now try to impose the view that soccer is supposedly apolitical. However, Ukrainian fans realize that while people may have their personal takes on the Russian team’s play in peacetime, it is today just the occupiers’ national team. Even aside from the emotions, the level of play demonstrated by Russia was unremarkable, pale, languid, and slow... After the Russians’ loss, their TV ‘experts’ started to express indignation at the assignment of a German referee to serve at a match played on June 22, the anniversary of the German invasion of the Soviet Union... There were opinions that the referee was to blame for the Russians’ defeat, and not the players who failed on the field. In general, it looks like FIFA engaged in interesting trolling of the Russian side: their first match was served by Argentinean linesman named Maidana, and the game with Belgium featured German reserve referee Borsch.”
According to the expert, teams tend to use the group stage on such great soccer forums for build-up, and real uncompromising soccer will begin in knock-out matches. “I think Argentina will grow stronger, because their people are waiting for much more. Favorites, in my opinion, are the hosts of the championship, Brazil,” the expert added. “The Netherlands and Chile are playing well, too. Overall, the Chilean team is the discovery of this championship, as it is demonstrating most organized game. I am sure that the fans will see many more wonderful contests. The soccer feast is going on.”