Argentina, Spain and Brazil: 1-2-3

[FINAL EIGHT] A record four South American teams, three from Europe and one from Africa. That's final eight for the 2010 World Cup. Here's how we rank them after four games ...

1. ARGENTINA. Few gave the Albiceleste much of a chance after a tumultuous qualifying campaign, but it has run off four straight wins -- the first time it has won four matches to start the World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1930.

None of the major powers is playing with as much enthusiasm as the Argentines, inspired by their coach Diego Maradona. Lionel Messi has yet to score, but he's still been the best player in the tournament. Gonzalo Higuain and Carlos Tevez have six goals between them.

Messi has taken more shots on goal (13) than any other player in the tournament.

2. SPAIN. Since losing to Switzerland, 1-0, in their opening match, the Spaniards have run off three straight wins. Each game has been the same. They've totally dominated possession but needed David Villa to bail them out. Fernando Torres has yet to rediscover his form following knee surgery and now a thigh injury, and Cesc Fabregas has been a non-factor. Wins of 2-0, 2-1 and 1-0 are too close for comfort.

Spain has never made it past the quarterfinals but should break the streak against Paraguay, the weakest of the eight teams remaining. "Our confidence is rising and we want to make history," says Coach Vicente Del Bosque. "We know we're working well."

Stat: The Spaniards have completed an average of 84 more passes a game than Brazil, the next best team in the tournament.

3. BRAZIL. This isn't the Brazil of Pele and Garrincha or Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, but you won't want to bet against the Selecao. Throw out the 0-0 tie against Portugal -- probably the worst of the big first-round showdowns -- Brazil has won with ruthless efficiency in the two games that mattered: Ivory Coast (3-1) in the first round and Chile (3-0) in the round of 16.

Robinho got off the mark with his first goal of the tournament against Chile, but Kaka was disappointing in his first game back since his red card against Ivory Coast.

Stat: All eight of Brazil's goals have been scored from inside the penalty area.

4. GERMANY. Which team will we see against Argentina? The team that has attacked in waves and dominated against Australia and England or the team that lost to Serbia?

Thomas Mueller
is the leading candidate for the Best Young Player award (under-21 players as of Jan. 1). Mesut Ozil would be Mueller's main competition but he is too old by two months. Bastian Schweinsteiger, 25, and Sami Khedira, 23, complete the youngest midfield in the tournament.

Stat: All nine of Germany's goals -- the second most in the tournament -- have come from the run of play.

5. NETHERLANDS. The Oranje has won all four games but must now face Brazil for the fourth time deep in the tournament. The Dutch won, 2-0, to advance to the 1974 final, but Brazil won, 3-2, in the Cotton Bowl in 1994 quarterfinals and on penalty kicks in Marseille in the 1998 semifinals.

Arjen Robben's rapid comeback and well-taken goal against Slovakia were overshadowed by Robin van Persie's outburst after being substituted against Slovakia. Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk was forced to call a team meeting after a Dutch TV station reported the Arsenal star had told van Marwijk he should have taken out star Wesley Sneijder. (Few would share van Persie's opinion.)

Stat: The Netherlands has never before started the World Cup with three, let alone four straight wins.

6. URUGUAY. The last two times the Celeste reached the knockout phase in 1986 and 1990, it qualified as a third-place team. This time it won its group, following up on its scoreless draw with France with wins over host South Africa (3-0) and Mexico (1-0). Most important, the Mexico win meant Uruguay won Group A and avoided Argentina in the second round.

Diego Forlan (who scored the first two goals against South Africa) and Luis Suarez (who had the goal against Mexico and both goals in the  2-1 win over South Korea) are as good a frontline partnership as there is in the tournament. The defense is underrated. A win over Ghana will put the Celeste into the final four for a fifth time -- a remarkable achievement for a country with a population of 3.3 million.

Stat: Uruguay didn't give up a goal for the first 337 minutes, the longest scoreless streak to start the tournament.

7. GHANA. The Black Stars became only the third African team to advance to the quarterfinals when they knocked out the USA, 2-1, in overtime. The game was costly as central defender Jonathan Mensah and left winger Andre Ayew both picked up yellow cards in the U.S. game and are suspended for Friday's match against Uruguay. (It will probably cost Ayew, son of former Ghana star Abedi Pele, a shot of winning the Best Young Player award.)

Two other first-team players -- Kevin-Prince Boateng, who scored the first goal against the USA, and Hans Sarpei -- are doubtful for the Uruguay game with injuries, while Asamoah Gyan, who had the winning goal against the USA, insists he's ready to go despite injuring his ankle in the round of 16.

Stat: Gyan shares the lead for the most shots off target (13) with South Korean Park Chu Young.

8. PARAGUAY. After losses in the round of 16 in 1986, 1998 and 2002, the Albirroja finally advanced to the quarterfinals, but just barely.

Its Argentine coach, Gerardo Martino, admitted breaking down and crying after Paraguay prevailed over Japan on penalty kicks. Martino was surprised Paraguay won the shootout. "Our [shootout practice] wasn't too good," he said. A shootout would seem to be Paraguay's only chance on Saturday against Spain. The Albirroja will be a decided underdog.

Stat: Paraguay's three goals are the fewest of any team left in the tournament.

4 comments about "Argentina, Spain and Brazil: 1-2-3".
  1. Bertrand Hamilton, June 30, 2010 at 11:05 p.m.

    Who you kidding "which German team will show up?" Laboring under an avalanch of yellow cards with 10 men, was not exactly fair measure. With that off my chest, anti-soccer Brazil will muscle the cup back to Rio. Hope Dunga choaks on it.

  2. Luis P. KIFUTSAL, July 1, 2010 at 10:56 a.m.

    No matter how they play, Brazil with 5 World Championships and #1 exporting soccer players each year, you can't leave Brazil out of the #1 spot ever. At the end of the tournament, I am sure your ranking will be different. Argentina has been winning one major tournament for just 12 years (Olympics does not count) and their last World Cup is just 24 years away...don't be fool by their first four wins and to refresh your memory they killed everyone in Copa America 2004-2007 and when they met the greatest went down by far. Argentina x Brasil is always a close match, but for the last 12 years, it is all about Brasil!!! When they meet Brasil, they know who is the best! Just wait and see it again...

  3. Luis P. KIFUTSAL, July 1, 2010 at 10:57 a.m.

    Argentina has NOT been winning

  4. Tom Dugan, July 2, 2010 at 1:48 p.m.

    Looks like we are going to have to wait along time to see that! Brazil got squashed and I have a feeling the Germans will do the same to the Argentines. Who would have figured?

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