10 more match days remain in what has been one of the more colourful and unpredictable World Cups in recent memory. Dull matches thankfully are still few and far between, and with the last 16 -- which holds the promise of heartbreak and glory in equal measure at every kick of the Brazuca -- starting on Saturday the excitement will only be ramped up.
Thousands of miles away from the action, in Bangladesh, all that really matters is that Argentina and Brazil have gone through, and it is a point of no small pride for the chauvinistic fans that Argentina have won all three group games while Brazil have won two. Brazil followers can hit back by saying they have scored one goal more and conceded one less.
A tweet from Footbal Funnys reads -- 'Messi carrying Argentina/ Neymar carrying Brazil…. British Airways carrying England'. While taking a swipe on serial World Cup disappointers England, it is an apt description of the weight these two -- joint highest scorers with four goals each -- carry, not far less than a Boeing 747.
Messi has now scored in all three matches in the group stage, the first Argentine to do so since 1958. On Wednesday against Nigeria, in a game that both teams could have easily seen to a tame draw because of their group positions, Messi started the fireworks in the third minute when Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama knocked back an Angel di Maria shot that found its way to Messi's lightning feet, and the rest was all too predictable, even if a treat to watch. Spare a thought for goalkeepers the world over playing against Barcelona or Argentina; if they deflect a stinging shot from one of the forwards, instead of feeling a momentary relief they must be in a panic -- if the ball is in play, the phenom named Lionel Messi is bearing down through the best planned countermeasures to clinically drive it home.
Nigeria's Ahmed Musa matched Messi's brace, which the latter completed with a free kick of delightful precision in the first half. Messi has scored four of his side's six goals, with one of the six an own goal from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Gonzalo Higuain seems awfully out of sorts while what could have been a fantastic strike pairing with Sergio Aguero has been confounded by the latter's frequent injury troubles -- he went off in the 38th minute against Nigeria and was subsequently ruled out of the tournament.
With the Albiceleste conceding three goals against Bosnia & Herzegovina and Nigeria, the signs are not brightest for when they come up against tougher opposition in the coming days.
From Ghana and back
The twists and turns keep coming. Hours before their crucial match against Portugal, which the latter need to win by a big margin, Ghana sent home their two star midfielders Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng for reportedly assaulting a federation official and verbally abusing a coach, respectively. A day earlier, Ghana players refused to train because of a payment row with their federation. While this may give Cristiano Ronaldo's team a glimmer, it serves to remind us that even in the glitz and glamour of the greatest show on the earth, there are some teams for whom all is not well back home. And that is one of the reasons why this tournament is so important, especially for them. With the group stages drawing to a close, many of the smaller teams will head back, but they should do so in the knowledge that they made Brazil 2014 a richer event.