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[Washington Babylon]

World Cup: Cream rises to top

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There were a lot of upsets in the first round but the best teams have reached the quarter-finals at the World Cup: Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Spain (with Holland a step behind, and Ghana, Paraguay and Uruguay several steps behind). But predicting the outcome of the World Cup is a thankless task; in soccer, too much depends on intangibles like poise, luck and who scores the first goal (which can change the whole course of the game and is by far the most likely way that an underdog team can knock off a strong favorite).

A lot of people rate Brazil as the favorite — see this terrific piece by Daniel Alarcon — but Brazil looked good at this point in 2006 and then got killed by France in the quarter-finals. They should beat Holland but the game’s no cakewalk, especially with the team’s injuries and Ramires suspended with two yellow cards. If Brazil gets past Holland it’s going to the finals, because barring a miracle neither Ghana nor Uruguay — which play in the match across the bracket — has a chance to beat Brazil in the semis.

Argentina looks awfully hard to beat, though its game with Germany is also a toss-up. Spain should have an easier time with Paraguay, though the one worrying matter, if you’re a Spanish fan, is the team’s continued inability to finalize. No team has had more chances during the first four games than Spain, but it has scored only five goals. The worry for Argentina (or Germany) is if it wins its next game it will likely have to face Spain before even getting to the finals. That’s the toughest route facing any team.

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