Sweden and England get through to the quarters today in what is being discussed as the best World Cup of all time. The argument is there: huge upsets, busted brackets, fallen stars, an emergent dark horse, world class goals, extra time, penalties, all before we even get into the big-money rounds. And while there is a tendency to romanticize this tournament, there has been an ugly underbelly to the narrative that reared in today's second game.
Sweden and Switzerland was a classy affair, albeit droll for anyone unconcerned with the advancement of either squad. Switzerland had a story: they had not been to a quarterfinal game since 1954 when they hosted the World Cup and there was no round of 16—West Germany won then—and have never won a knockout match. After drawing Brazil in their opener, La Nati looked promising, led by talisman Xherdan Shaqiri, but their finishing let them down in an affair that fizzled out despite Switzerland's 18 shots.
Sweden have some experience on their side, many of their men coming of age under the tutelage of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and could now be a better team without him, but it will be curious to see where their goals come from against an England squad that have been hard to break down defensively.
The Blue-Yellow gather after Forsberg's winning goal.
The discussion point before England and Colombia was set pieces—both sides have their quality on dead balls and England have been aggressive on corners, so with 57 set piece goals scored in the tournament so far, the battle for 58 was on.
Colombia notably evened it up in the 94th minute on a corner kick, but for the first time in this World Cup, at least this neutral fan wasn't excited to see another 30 minutes of play. Ultimately, the quality was overshadowed by embellishment, diving, selling and complaining to the refs. The match was so stop-and-go that there were 3 added minutes in the first half alone despite no goals and no major injuries. In the 76th minute, Jesse Lingard had beat his man in the box and instead of fighting to get a serve in off-balance he chanced it with a fall and whine to the referee. Center back Harry Maguire tried his hand at a sell in the box to no avail, and even Colombia keeper David Ospina decided to get in on the action when a brusque hand from Maguire late in the game gave him reason to flop to the pitch and look for a call.
Sniper in the stands!
There were appeals to go to the VAR, headbutts, hair smelling, nut tapping, hand holding, and as much rolling on the ground as Cooper's Hill, but in a match that produced only two goals and more yellow cards (COL: 6, ENG: 2) than shots on target (COL: 4, ENG: 2) there was a bitter taste left in the mouths of fans wanting to see the game be played as it's meant. Even the steely, dangerous tackles that Premier League players are often noted for went lacking in favor of hands in the air and reliance on the ref to change the game, a true tactic of lesser teams.
Still, kudos to The Three Lions for shedding their history and winning in penalties for the first time, and to Captain Kane for doing his best to lead the team with strength and skill, yet while they advance in a favorable side of the bracket, they have some growing up to do in mentality and play style (their passing from the back was often too casual) if they truly want to earn that cup.
"Break it up, kids!"
All in a day's work, and while some are tasting bitters over the likes of Neymar, Luis Suarez, and a generation of others who prefer the ground to grit, the belief remains: football finds a way. With eight matches to play (including 3rd place), the faithful watch on, waiting for brilliance to come in its many forms.