Steven Holloway looks at four things we have learned from the third week of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
James Rodriguez is the future
Three weeks ago the name James Rodriguez probably meant very little to Kiwi football fans. Today, he's used in the same sentence as Lionel Messi and Neymar. Balanced, intelligent and technically gifted the striker has been the drive and vision behind Colombia and the star of the World Cup with five goals (including the goal of the tournament) and two assists in four games. Rodriguez may have been overlooked by Kiwi football fans because he plays in the French Ligue 1, but his poise, grace and reading of the game explains why Monaco paid $75 million for the 22-year old, and why he looks set to be a permanent fixture in conversations about the world's elite.
Messi needs to be better than Maradona
It's hard to envisage Argentina winning this World Cup without drawing parallels between the nation's two greatest players. Without Maradona, Argentina would not have won in 1986 and without Messi, they would have no chance this year. Messi has single-handedly pulled Argentina into the quarterfinals, setting up their last minute winner against Switzerland in the round of 16 and scoring four of his nation's six goals - one short of the five Maradona claimed 28 years ago. The problem for Messi is that his supporting cast is weaker. While Maradona was helped out by Jorge Valdano (four goals) and the rest of the team who chipped in nine goals between them, Messi is receiving precious little help. Angel Di Maria is probably Argentina's next best performer and he gave the ball away more than 50 times in their last match. If Argentina are to win, Messi will have to be better than Maradona.
Football is a 120 minute game
In the searing Brazilian heat, the fittest team will win. Five of the eight round of 16 matches were level after 90 minutes and in each, a gruelling 30-minute 'survival of the fittest' extra time period was needed to separate the nearly-men from the contenders. When the body and mind is exhausted, decision making suffers, technique deteriorates and unforced errors creep in. If two teams are technically and tactically even, conditioning will be the tie-breaker. In Algeria's loss to Germany they pressed hard, closed down space and hustled relentlessly for 90 minutes, only to switch off for a second at the start of extra time and concede a goal within 30 seconds. Tired minds kill dreams.
USA is falling for 'soccer'
It's perhaps a little ironic that the USA has had a 'soccer' breakthrough after millions of Americans tuned in to watch their side lose a match that was scoreless for the first 90 minutes. But the USA's thrilling 2-1 extra time loss to Belgium got American's talking soccer; 16.9 million of them to be precise. It was the second most watched 'soccer' game in US TV history (beaten only by their 2-2 draw with Portugal which was on a Sunday) and fans are hoping it represents a changing narrative for a sport which has long been a minority. Viewers watching ESPN's live stream have also already logged more than 30 million hours, making this the most streamed sporting event yet in the United States, beating the Olympics, the Super Bowl, and the NBA playoffs. 'Soccer' has the U.S audience, now it needs to figure out how to keep it.
1) France: Stubborn in defence with a fluid, powerful team full of goal threats, France look like South American party spoilers. They have scored 10, and only conceded in one game. Top contenders.
2) Holland: Arjen Robben keeps getting quicker, faster and better and he can carry an inexperienced Dutch team on his shoulders. Four wins from four games including scalps of Spain, Chile and Mexico prove they can win this.
3) Brazil: Could be grinding their way to glory. Brazil have been mediocre and lacked attacking threat, but home advantage and the Neymar factor must not be overlooked.
4) Germany: They need to offer more, but it's hard to say what. Their balance is not quite there and a struggling 1-0 extra time win over Algeria does not bode well.
5) Colombia: Have they really been tested? Wins over Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan and a toothless Uruguay don't inspire the same threat as Brazil. They have been perfect but reaching the semis maybe a bridge too far.
6) Argentina: Can one man win a World Cup? It's been done before, but Messi might need at least five more moments of magic for Argentina to do it again. Unlikely.
7) Belgium: A young team of individuals who are still yet to click. They have won by one goal in every game, but are yet to really impress.
8) Costa Rica: Dream run has to come to an end. If it goes any further, it will be one of the greatest World Cup stories ever.