You never know.
Today we had one of the favorites of the tournament, Brazil, against what amounts to a local favorite, Mexico. And, oh yeah, Belgium was going to destroy Japan.
Brazil-Mexico was a decent match. Memo Ochoa was great in goal for Mexico, and Carlos Vela and Chucky Lozano did well up front. Chicharito apparently injured a hamstring early and was eventually subbed out. And what was Rafa Marquez doing in the starting lineup? None of that really matters, because Brazil was clearly the better team, and they remain favorites to win it all. Mexico poured on the pressure early, which might have been a bad idea, given the 93-degree heat ... they appeared to tire as the match went on. Neymar pissed everyone off with his diving, but he had a great game. And after a mediocre group stage, Willian had his best match by far. Also worth noting: Brazil's defense has been excellent.
And then came Belgium-Japan. The match this reminded me of was Brazil-Netherlands in 1994. That match, too, had a scoreless first half and five second-half goals. Brazil got two early in the second half from Romario and Bebeto, one minute later Dennis Bergkamp got one back for the Netherlands, then Aron Winter equalized with 14 minutes to play. Then 9 minutes from time, Branco smashed home a tremendous long-range free kick to put Brazil ahead to stay.
That was the best half of World Cup soccer I can remember. But I think today, Belgium and Japan topped it.
The first half wasn't without interest, but if felt a bit like the teams were still feeling each other out after 45 minutes. But then it got crazy. Japan got a quick goal from Genki Haraguchi, made easier by poor defending from Jan Vertonghen. Four minutes later, Takashi Inui scored from distance, and it looked like a World Cup full of surprises was about to add another to the list. Belgium manager Roberto Martinez brought in Nacer Chadli and Marouane Fellaini in the 65th minute, but was it too late? Four minutes later, Vertonghen made up for his earlier gaff by scoring an accidental goal off a very bizarre header. Five minutes after that, it was Fellaini with a header to equalize. Belgium clearly looked to have more than Japan, but time was running out. What followed was a play that will remind U.S. fans of Landon Donovan's goal against Algeria. As the clock ran out, Japan took a last corner. Belgium keeper Thibaut Courtois made the grab and quickly rolled out a pass to start a last-gasp attempt before time ran out. It worked. Five Belgian players rushed down the field. Romelu Lukaku took a defender with him, then dummied a cross, leaving it to Chadli to score on the last kick of the match.