Coming into the tournament, they were largely there to make up the numbers, evolve their skills and learn from the experience. Except they never got the memo.
So, these minnows of the football world have written their own scripts, with enthralling plot twists no one saw coming. In the process, they have dispatched some of the sport’s supposed superpowers, or at least given them a bloody good scare.
At the top of the pile is Costa Rica. Not one person on the planet expected the world’s 28th ranked team to survive against the might of Uruguay, Italy and England, all nestled comfortably in the top 10.
Certainly not the English newspaper, The Independent, which said before the tournament: “Even the doomiest prognosticator will find it hard to see the Ticos (as Costa Ricans are called) prevailing against England in Belo Horizonte, or against their other rivals in Group D, Uruguay or Italy.”
Two weeks on, Costa Rica sits at the top of Group D, having indeed beaten Italy and Uruguay and sent England packing without even playing them.
As another English commentator observed:
“There was only one minnow in Group D, and that was England.”
Now, Costa Rica’s manager Jorge Luis Pinto is being hailed as a coaching maestro. And he does a ripper Kermit the Frog impersonation as well.
All over Brazil, the world’s most fancied teams have been forced to chow down on large helpings of humble pie. Chile has beaten Spain, Mexico held Brazil to a draw, Australia so very nearly conquered the Netherlands.
After dismantling Portugal in its first game, Germany was expected to make mincemeat of Ghana. Imagine their surprise when they found themselves 2-1 down and the Ghanaians doing these ones.
Only a goal and signature front flip from the evergreen Miroslav Klose, to become the World Cup’s highest ever goal scorer alongside Ronaldo (the Brazilian one, not the Portuguese pretty boy), saved the Germans from defeat.
Portugal was locked in an epic tussle with USA and seemed resigned to the long trip home when, on the last play of the game, Ronaldo (the pretty boy, not the Brazilian) decided to stop pouting and strutting like Zoolander and play some actual football. Still, with just a point to its tally and lagging on goal difference, Portugal needs to rack up a cricket-like score against Ghana to have any hope of getting through.
Argentina found Iran similarly heavy going. A piece of brilliance in the 91st minute from Lionel Messi, who looks more like an accountant than the world’s best football player, was the only thing that saved the Argies from an embarrassing draw.
Perhaps the cautionary tale in all of this is Colombia, which has experienced life both in football’s upper echelons and as a minnow. Now ranked eighth in the world after more than a decade’s absence from the top 10, Colombia is back at the World Cup for the first time since 1998.
And aren’t they having fun? After their first victory against Greece, 400,000 fans voted for coach José Pékerman to run the country. Imagine how well he’d do if he actually entered the race.
In their second game, the players celebrated a goal by unleashing their inner disco divas. In the choreography department, they have no equal. And in the football department, let’s hope they’re around for a few more games yet.