Costa Rica earn their praise
Well, thanks for that, Italy. The next time we English need a favour, we know where to go, don't we? France.
Costa Rica's extraordinary victory over an Italian side that looked decent enough last weekend did at least provide some benefit to the England camp. Flights are always cheaper if you book them in advance and not at the last minute.
More than that, though, Costa Rica's win provided the tournament with its second great story. But while Spain's collapse this week was an epic tale of tragic decline, this is the stuff of inspirational legend. Costa Rica's class of 1990 progressed to the second round, as well, but they beat only Scotland and Sweden. For the Class of 2014 to take down both Uruguay and Italy -- and let's be honest, probably England, too -- surely gives them the generational bragging rights.
Few observers expected this team to be anything other than a punch bag for three former title winners. Instead, they're on the brink of claiming the top spot, and all they have to do to claim it is avoid defeat to the English, the team who really are dangling from a chain and waiting to be walloped.
To simply label Costa Rica as "plucky" or "brave" would be as patronising as patting them on the head and ruffling their hair. These two incredible victories were not built on grit, spit and a whole lot of duct tape. At no time against Italy were their backs pressed against the wall. Neither Cesare Prandelli nor Oscar Tabarez could claim to have been unfortunate victims of "one of those games." This is a good side, strong and composed at the back. They're bold on the counter-attack, and they have the nous to know the right time to launch one. They are in the second round on merit, and, looking at their potential opponents in Group C, only Colombia would pose them a serious problem.
Jorge Luis Pinto's side have demonstrated what can be achieved if one chooses not to believe the hype; you suspect that they're not finished yet. It speaks volumes that the reaction of many English supporters on Friday was not to mourn the passing of their own ambitions, but to salute the progress of the team that had just indirectly eliminated them.
There's something deeply disturbing about France this summer. It's not just that they're scoring freely and cruising through their group. It's that they're too happy by half.
When Olivier Giroud hit the first of five goals against Switzerland on Friday night, he and his team-mates sprinted to the bench to celebrate with the coaching staff and substitutes. It was almost as if they all actually liked and respected each other and were working together toward a common goal. This is France, for heaven's sake. That's like seeing a dog and cat curled up together in front of the fire. It's just not right.
Compare and contrast with exactly four years ago, when the 2010 squad, of whom only four remain, downed tools and stormed out of training in defence of Nicolas Anelka's honour. Can this serenity last for the rest of the tournament or is it merely the calm before the training ground bust-up to end all training ground bust-ups? Their rivals will have to hope it's the latter because France have so much talent that if they don't self-destruct, they're going to be contenders.
The night's final game was a gloriously unreconstructed rumble between Honduras and Ecuador in which football was the real winner. Not good football, admittedly, but the kind of stuff that makes you think: You know what, it's been absolutely ages since I last saw Millwall play.
- James Tyler: Three Points
Honduras deserved a share of the points, if for no other reason than their commitment to the art of slide tackling, but a brace from Enner Valencia was enough to secure an Ecuadorean win. Honduras may be almost finished, but they certainly haven't left anything out there on the pitch. Except a discarded limb or two, but the ground staff will clear them up later.
Saturday sees one of the tournament's biggest "David & Goliath" clashes when Argentina, Lionel Messi and all take on Iran. On Wednesday, Iran's manager Carlos Queiroz announced his resignation, which seemed like a rather drastic way of avoiding defeat until he clarified that he'll stand down after the World Cup.
Germany will look to further their ambitions against a Ghanaian side still smarting from a late defeat to the United States, while Nigeria will have to up their game considerably if they're to take anything from a very impressive, but unfortunate, Bosnia & Herzegovina.