World Cup's Elite Eight: Ready To Engage


It’s the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup, so get your vuvuzelas and remotes ready for Friday and Saturday action.

The problem is that with the tournament’s draw determined in advance, the better matches on both days kick off first. No NCAA Final Four scheduling here.

That means Brazil-Netherlands Friday at 10 a.m. (ET) and 7 a.m. (PT) on ESPN and Univision. No doubt, the U.S. rights-holders would have preferred for that match to air in the 2:30 p.m./11:30 p.m. window occupied by Uruguay and Ghana.

2010 FIFA World Cup

Of course, if the Stars and Stripes had taken care of business against the Black Stars, executives at the networks would be beating a far louder Nielsen drum…

On Saturday, ABC and Univision will showcase Argentina-Germany at 10 a.m./7 a.m., with the nightcap of the morning-afternoon doubleheader pitting many experts’ pre-World Cup favorites and Euro 2008 champion Spain against Paraguay, which gives South America a horse in each of the quarters.

Not only does the July 3 opener pair traditional futbol powers, it matches countries with significant history and bad blood — Argentina defeated West Germany 3-2 in the 1986 final, before turning the tables on their rival four years later to win the title 1-0. The sides also met in the quarters in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The host nation prevailed on penalties, 4-2, with a melee providing a final high, er, low point.

Argentina coach Diego Maradona

So, what are the best storylines for the WC Final Four and the U.S. rights-holders? The Netherlands, the top soccer nation never to bring home the trophy, is an intriguing side and certainly the personal choice of ESPN’s studio analyst, Ruud Gullit, the former captain of Holland’s national team and the 1987 and 1989 World Soccer Player of the Year.

Still, Brazil is Brazil, even with Dunga favoring a more defensive-oriented approach. The other WC favorite and FIFA’s top-rated team is also everybody’s second favorite club.

No disrespect intended to “The Prince,” Enzo Francescoli, the Uruguayan midfielder ranked among FIFA’s top 100 players ever and the founder and CEO of bilingual soccer service Gol TV, but Ghana is Africa’s sole remaining hope and only one of three teams from that continent (Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002) ever to advance to the quarters. Say what you will about Ghana toppling the U.S.: the home continent nation should count for something.

As for Argentina-Germany, a win by the Europeans would give them a chance to avenge their 1-0 loss in the Euro 2008 final to Spain. Argentina’s wide-open style is entertaining and aesthetically pleasing and a win would give Leo Messi, the world’s best, another chance to put something in the back of the net.

Of course, rooting for a win by Albicelestes inches the world that much closer to coach and national legend Diego Maradona — who continues to feud with Pele — perhaps fulfilling his threat of running naked through the streets of Buenos Aires should his club hoist the hardware. That wouldn’t be aesthetically pleasing.

Larissa Riquelme

On the other hand, seeing top Paraguayan lingerie model Larissa Riquelme adhering to her promise of running covered only in body paint — featuring her team’s red and white colors if La Albirroja wins the Cup — would create its own aesthetic form.

As enticing as that may be, Spain, the perennial WC underachievers, is the choice in the final quarter. Can Spain become the first team to lose its opening match and raise the golden trophy? That can’t happen unless it puts Paraguay and sigh, Riquelme, away in this one.