And then there were four.
After an entertaining round of 16, each of the World Cup quarterfinal games were excruciatingly close, perhaps as close as a group of games can be collectively.
All but one of the games was decided by one goal — including two games where the lone goal was the game-winner — and the exception was the Netherlands’ win against Costa Rica that was decided on penalty kicks after no goals in regular or extra time.
Yet instead of pondering if the semifinals can possibly be any closer — I doubt it — the focus has shifted to who won’t be playing in the semifinals instead.
Brazil has had its moments of mortality as the host team yet has found a way to stay alive to this point.
But the Brazilians look particularly mortal now after leading scorer Neymar fractured a vertebra in the semifinal win against Colombia.
Germany — one of the favorites to win it all since the start of the World Cup — was already a worthy opponent, but without Neymar, Brazil may find it to be an insurmountable hurdle.
Like Brazil, Argentina has survived a few close calls of its own to reach the semifinal on the opposite side of the bracket.
Now Argentina must face the real possibility of playing without star winger Angel di Maria after he suffered a right thigh injury in the quarterfinal win against Belgium.
All four of the remaining teams are tough outs as it is. The timing of these injuries for Brazil and Argentina, frankly, can’t be worse.
Argentina, however, still boasts Lionel Messi, who has arguably been the single best player in this World Cup. In fact, I still like Argentina to beat the Netherlands to advance to the final after they defeated an impressive Belgium team in the quarterfinals.
I don’t, however, see Brazil having the same fortune against Germany, which has looked to me to be the most complete team in the World Cup from the start.
Outside of its somewhat puzzling 2-2 draw against Ghana, Germany has allowed just one goal in the entire World Cup, and its 1-0 win against France was just as impressive as the 1-0 victory by Argentina against Belgium.
Germany won what was called the Group of Death prior to the World Cup.
Fittingly, I like Germany to win the entire Cup when all is said and done.