Amid all the goals, thrills and English inquests, a wider pattern is unfolding in Brazil that might yet develop into the World Cup’s most significant narrative.
Just take a look at the various results and standings. Brazil and Mexicolead Group A. Having so stylishly seen off the defending champions, Chile are already through in Group B. Columbia lead Group C. Uruguay have eliminated England from Group D and now have the chance to progress with Costa Rica.
Ecuador are second behind France in Group E while Argentina are making their expected progress in Group F.
That is potentially eight Latin America teams into the last 16 of the tournament. It would be a feat unprecedented in World Cup history but also the continuation of a surprising wider trend that has seen countries from this region steadily increase their participation in the knockout phase from three in 2002, to four in 2006 and then six in 2010.
That this should be happening amid the backdrop of an ever widening gap between the resources in Latin America football and the riches in the major European leagues is especially striking. It certainly begs many questions. In what is the first World Cup to be played in Latin America since 1986, are we again destined for a winner from that same continent?
And, for all Europe’s money, structures, academies and 10-year plans, are we discovering that the best footballers are still those who spent their childhoods honing their technical skills and temperament away from formal coaching and in fiercely competitive street matches.
It is no secret that Arsène Wenger is searching for a striker while working in Brazil for French television and, for what is the most technically challenging position on the pitch, his eyes are trained on South America.
“I have said many times that Europe still produces many fantastic football players but, if you look well, we do not produce strikers well,” Wenger said. “Very few. All of the big strikers come from South America. Last summer, you had Radamel Falcao going to Monaco, Edinson Cavani going to PSG in a big transfer, Luis Suárez, everybody wanted to buy him. Gonzalo Higuain has gone to Napoli for a lot of money, but in Europe that is an area where it is difficult to find.
“我已经说过很多次，欧洲依然盛产很多优秀的球员，但是，如果你仔细观察就会发现我们并不盛产优秀的前锋，”温格说：“我们优秀的前锋数量很少。世界上知名的前锋大多来自南美洲。去年夏天， 拉达梅尔·法尔考去了摩纳哥， 埃丁森·卡瓦尼则以高价转到巴黎圣日耳曼，而苏亚雷斯，每个球队都想买到他。伊瓜因以高价转到那不勒斯。但是在欧洲，很难发现身价很高的前锋。”
“In Germany, I can remember in every club you had a big striker, they produced some fantastic ones, but they do not produce young strikers. Is that a result of the way we coach? Of modern life? I don’t know.”
It was certainly hard not to watch Chile outplay England at Wembley last year – and then so brilliantly dispatch Spain earlier this week – and not sense an inherent technical superiority. Any team with Alexis Sanchez in attack and Arturo Vidal in midfield should always be pleasing on the eye and they will face Holland tomorrow in a fixture that will tell us more about whether players who their coach, Jorge Sampaoli, calls the “rebels of football” can mount a realistic World Cup challenge.
Similarly, it is the flair players of Uruguay, Costa Rica, Argentina and Columbia that are excelling. “We are on the rise, we have lots of confidence but we mustn’t lose sight of our objective which is to play good football,” says Teó Gutiérrez, the Columbia striker.
For all the obvious quality of the Latin America players, there does also seem to have been something more at work in Brazil over these past 10 days. Spain, after all, could not dissect a Chile back three that comprised two midfielders relegated with Cardiff and Osasuna and a centre-back released by Nottingham Forest.
In the expressions of Suárez as he waited on the bench for the full-time whistle against England, it was also impossible not to sense a particular motivation at participating in Latin America’s first World Cup for almost 30 years. Even before the tournament, Costa Rica manager Jorge Luis Pinto summed up the attitude of his team at being drawn against England and Italy. “We love the group,” he said. “The braver the bull, the better the bullfight.”
Pride is also at stake and it has been noticeable in Brazil that, even in matches not involving their teams, most South American fans here are supporting countries from their continent. The one predictable exception is explained by the intensity in the rivalry between Brazil and Argentina.
The climatic conditions must also be factored in when you consider that Latin American teams have won the tournament on all six of the previous occasions that it has been hosted in the region. Yes, England’s loss to Uruguay might have played in autumnal English conditions but, in their sluggish performance, you had to wonder what the match in Manaus five days earlier had taken out of them.
The same also seemed true as Italy so struggled in the searing heat against Costa Rica on Friday. “I think the one main obstacle that the European sides will have to overcome is the climate – or, more accurately, the changes in climate the teams could face,” says Ioan Lupescu Uefa’s chief technical officer.
“Playing in different parts of such a big country could be like playing in three different seasons depending on a team’s schedule. Tactics may be very different from one game to the next because of this. If the European teams can negotiate this problem, they have a great chance.
“Two European teams contested the last World Cup final which took place outside Europe so I think that particular ‘mental block’ has now been removed and going to a different continent does not hold the uncertainties that it maybe once did.”
Lupesca, of course, is right and the strong early showing from Latin America still offers few guarantees for the final outcome. For all that improved representation in the knockout phase, the last two World Cup finals have ultimately ended with an all-European final.
The initial signs, however, are that the balance may very well be redressed this year. Uruguay, Colombia and Chile have rarely looked better equipped to compete with the traditional local powerhouses of Brazil and Argentina to provide an all Latin America final. The last time that happened? Back in 1950, on the only previous occasion that Rio’s Maracana has staged the World Cup final.