We were so over you, Spain. You and your tiki-taka triangles and your refusal to surrender possession and your pretty-boy charms. Even the phrase "tiki-taka" just grates on the nerves, fingernails down the chalkboard of one's spine.
Except ... except maybe we didn't hate you as much as we thought. Against Chile, by the time the 80th minute rolled around, the feeling was more of pity. Spain, holders of back-to-back European Championships and the last World Cup, had simply given up. Like in previous tournaments, they were knocking the ball amongst themselves, with no clear desire to take it up the pitch. But unlike before, they weren't holding on to a 1-0 lead.
For as much as we were tired of Spain being declared the epitome of perfect football, and tired of the debate raging over the implications of possession-based stats, most didn't want to see it end like this. Regardless of how annoyed we were by the end, Spain had done their bit to redefine soccer, and they'd done it in a beautiful way.
But this was like Dorthy pulling back the curtain to reveal a not-so-great-and-powerful-Oz. We saw how Xavi's age had overtaken him. We witnessed the creaking limbs of Xabi Alonso. Iker Casillas looking like a parody of his former self, his Ol' Yeller eyes against the Netherlands betraying his probable future with the team.
Now it's time to give them all a bunch of flowers, and seat them in the front row where the camera can find them. The curtain's been lifted, and the show must go on. This tournament is much more about the quick break, the energetic drive forward, the relentless refusal to give even a cursory thought to defense. Sorry, Spain, but apart from the third bit you just didn't fit in here.
Cameroon disintegrate, start throwing punches
For God' sake, Cameroon. It's the World Cup! You don't get another shot at this next month, you know. All that work in qualification, all that arguing about bonuses, all that work ... and you're going home in, and let's be frank here, a complete mess.
Maybe it has to happen. Perhaps cosmic balance demands it. For every Chile, there must be a Cameroon: unambitious football, abstracted defending, miserable players. Even Alex Song couldn't get himself sent off properly, preferring instead to drag his elbow down Mario Mandžukić's back. Points for innovation, maybe, but he didn't half look a pillock. As, of course, did Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who decided that since the game was gone, he might as well put the head on a teammate. "Absolutely disgusting," said coach Volker Finke. "Highly amusing," said everyone else.
Generally, though, it's all a little bit sad. Particularly the sight of Samuel Eto'o, the finest Cameroonian footballer of his generation, forced by injury to sit and watch his country embarrass their way out of the tournament. Barring something deeply peculiar against Brazil, Cameroon will finish this World Cup winless, pointless, and in all likelihood goalless. They exited the 2010 World Cup without any points either, and their last win came in 2002, a 1-0 victory over the mighty Saudi Arabia. Somebody, somewhere, needs to find a way of making Cameroon fun. Let's hope those bonuses weren't performance-related.
On the plus side, though, their capitulation and disintegration sets up the last round of Group A nicely. Mexico, who aren't the most secure defensive team in the world but are pretty ace on the counterattack, only need to draw against Croatia, while the Croats, who look in decent form, have to chase the win. That game should be great. Not having to watch Cameroon again is a bonus.
Tim Cahill's grand farewell
Poor Tim Cahill. You score one of the best volleys anyone's ever seen in a match where your unfancied side has just gone behind to a major European power, and by the end of the day everyone's talking about something else. Spain going home early, mostly. Those who enjoy a bit of rough-and-tumble are still glued to replays of Alex Song rather awkwardly finding a way of punching Mario Mandžukić in the bum while both were running at a sprint. Cahill's goal, a true masterpiece of the genre, seems so far away ago now that it's barely even worth making a fuss over.
But fuss we must, because that was Cahill's final contribution to this World Cup and probably, barring some medical miracle, his final contribution to any World Cup. And what a contribution it was. The 34-year-old peeled off first Ron Vlaar then Stefan de Vrij to get on the end of the lovely parabolic arc that was Ryan McGowan's ball forward. And then he met it with utterly, utterly perfect technique. The football fizzed off his left boot, past Jasper Cillessen before anyone could blink, hit the bottom of the crossbar, the ground and then finally found the roof of the net to send the Socceroos berserk.
It was a magnificent goal, but what made it so good was from whom it came, when it came and what kind of match it led to. Australia aren't supposed to be serious challengers for the likes of Chile and the Netherlands (let alone Spain), and Cahill's not supposed to be able to come up with moments of such raw magnificence. Arjen Robben had just scored to give the Dutch a 1-0 lead. The game was over.
The game was not over.
Cahill's first-half yellow card means that he's suspended for the next match, and with Australia already mathematically eliminated there's no chance of him playing again. But coming up with that strike, inspiring Australia to take the game to the Netherlands for the better part of an hour before suffering a narrow loss -- well, that's not a bad way for his country to remember him.