The Copa America Centenario group stage came and went and, boy, did it not disappoint.
And that was the big fear with this awkward tournament; that people would check out on June 10 and flip on the Euro Cup.
But, thanks to spontaneous, good soccer, like the United Statesâ€™ emergence and Peruâ€™s scrappy â€“ and dubious â€“ qualification, the Copa America is proving to be the perfect salsa to the Euroâ€™s chips.
Letâ€™s look at some of the tournamentâ€™s surprises and predict what this truly unpredictable edition has in store for America.
The biggest shocker coming out of the group stage â€“ and I say this with complete sincerity and no type of bile or bias â€“ is the U.S. taking the group of death.
If any of the red, white and blueâ€™s warm up games and tournament opener were any indication, The U.S. would be eliminated by now, probably at the bottom of the group. But just like Jorah Mormont, here the U.S. stands; at the top of the group with a manageable quarterfinal matchup against Ecuador on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. PDT.
The Americans took advantage of Costa Ricaâ€™s poor showing and jumped at the Ticosâ€™ throats for a 4-0 win and then scrapped a 1-0 win over a Paraguay team that played much better than its results dictate.
The other unexpected turn of events is Uruguayâ€™s early elimination. Sure Luis Suarez never got fit enough to play and that was a major reason for La Garra Charruaâ€™s poor showing. We saw it in a 3-1 loss to heavy underdog Costa Rica during the 2014 World Cup opener; Uruguay without Luis Suarez is placid and toothless in attack.
That said, we canâ€™t deny Venezuelaâ€™s amazing play so far. La Vino Tinto established itself as a serious player this tournament with its 1-1 draw against Mexico on Monday. Venezuela snapped Mexicoâ€™s 11-game win streak and nearly ended its 22-game unbeaten streak â€“ the longest active streak among international teams in the world.
Donâ€™t cry for Brazil
Brazil crashing out of the group stage wasnâ€™t as big of an aberration as the U.S. and Venezuelaâ€™s qualification, but they way the Cariocas were handed elimination will probably go down in history as one of the most notorious moments in soccer.
If you live under a rock, or had better things to do other than watch Brazil vs. Peru on a Sunday night, and havenâ€™t watched a replay of Peruvian striker Raul Ruidazâ€™s lone goal, then let me describe what happened.
It was the 75th minute of the game and the score is painfully tied at 0-0. Everyone watching this game was probably questioning their priorities; why am I watching this garbage when I could be doing something equally unproductive, but less excruciating? Then Peruâ€™s Andy Polo â€“ yes thatâ€™s his name â€“ played a 1-2 with Paolo Guerrero before racing down the right side of the box and crossing straight into Ruidazâ€™s midsection. The ball deflected into the back of the net and Peru erupted in celebration, but the Brazilians charged the referee, emphatically presenting their arms as if doing the holey pokey, asking for a handball.
Of course, replays showed that Ruidaz did in fact give the ball a Diego Maradona and Thierry Henry-approved shove into the net with his arm, handing Peru a 1-0 lead and qualification into the next stage, all while eliminating South American giants Brazil from the Copa.
You hate to see anyone cheat during any sporting event, unless youâ€™re every baseball player ever, Lance Armstrong, probably a majority of Olympic athletes or the New England Patriots, but itâ€™s hard to defend Brazil when they played awful. The Verde-Amarela failed to score on anyone not named Haiti and failed to entertain anyone at the tournament.
Yes, the way Brazil was sent packing was crazy, but the fact that Peru and Ecuador went through and Brazil didnâ€™t doesnâ€™t boggle the mind.
Thank you based soccer gods, whoever you may be, for the four tasty quarterfinal match-ups on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The U.S. vs. Ecuador game kicks the second round off. In a fairly even matchup, but one that probably wonâ€™t matter in the end since the winner will face the victor between Argentina and Venezuela. The Argentines walked through the group stage with a pair of ruthless wins against Panama and Bolivia. Argentina played without Lionel Messi for the majority of the first round and still looked unstoppable. Venezuela offered a valiant showing in group C and can probably show another one on Saturday at 4 p.m. PDT, but Argentina is Argentina and weâ€™ll likely see them through to the final.
The other side of the bracket gets far more interesting. Colombia takes on Peru on Friday at 5 p.m. PDT and Mexico butts heads with Chile for the second time this month on Saturday at 7 p.m. PDT.
The Colombians offered two strong performances before head coach Jose Pekerman benched the entire team in a 3-2 loss to Costa Rica in the final group stage game and Peru, cheating aside, played respectably all three games. James Rodriguez and co. are the favorites, but weâ€™ll have to see how the Cafeteros respond when the Peruvian strikers spike every cross with a closed fist towards goal.
The most attractive game of the second round is without a doubt Mexico vs. Chile. Having said that, the game will now probably be a low scoring dud, but if soccer follows any logic â€“ and it doesnâ€™t â€“ the Mexicans and Chileans will offer a beautiful, passionate game in Santa Clara. Both teams offer attacking styles of play, both teamsâ€™ ranks are filled with exciting, dynamic players like Alexis Sanchez, Hector Herrera, Arturo Vidal and â€œTecatitoâ€ Corona and both teams feel they are the better side.
Something will have to give, I just hope itâ€™s Vidalâ€™s temper and we see Mexico through to the semifinals.