Sunday School Notes: Introduction to Revelation 2-3

This week we started a new Sunday School year, with a lot of new faces in the class. Both for the benefit of the newcomers, and as a refresher for those who were with us for chapter 1, I decided to spend most of our time this week re-acquainting us with the themes of the book, and preparing the ground for our study of the next couple of chapters.

Most of what we discussed in terms of review can be found in the notes to chapter 1 elsewhere on the blog (see under “Sunday School Notes-Revelation” in the “Theology” tab above). We talked about the setting of the letter, when it might have been written, the type of literature it is (letter, prophetic, apocalyptic, all of the above…?), and the major themes that run throughout.

Chapters 2 and 3 present to us seven letters to the seven churches addressed at the beginning of the book. We recalled the significance of the number 7 in Scripture (fullness, completion–rooted in the seven days of creation in Genesis 1-2), and noted that while John (and Jesus) specifically targeted seven churches in Asia Minor, the intent of the letters is for all the churches. The refrain found at the end of each letter, “Let him who has ears hear what the Spirit says to the churches” supports the idea that they were not meant solely for the named recipient. But why these churches, especially since significant churches such as Colossae, Hierapolis, and Troas are not mentioned? On a practical level, it could be that these churches were all within 100 miles of Ephesus and on a circular route ideal for missionaries or preachers. John may well have operated out of Ephesus as his “base church,” and traveled around to each of these in the course of his ministry. But as we look at the issues facing these churches, and the varying degrees of success they’re having dealing with them, we can easily find our own situation somewhere along that spectrum. In other words, within these seven churches every church at every time should be able to see herself, and draw hope, encouragement, and perhaps even chastisement from that identification.

Each of the seven letters follows a similar kind of pattern:

  • Jesus addresses a particular church via the angel that represents that church (see 1:20).
  • A description of Jesus drawn from the vision in 1:12-20. Each letter uses different imagery pertinent to the message for that church.
  • A statement regarding some aspect of the church Jesus sees or knows about. This could relate to an area of strength, or a problem with the church.
  • Based on that statement, Jesus encourages faithfulness or exhorts to repentance lest judgment should fall.
  • “Let the one having ears hear…”–emphasizing the general application of Jesus’ message.
  • Finally, a promise of eternal life in return for faithfulness and perseverance. Sometimes these last couple are reversed.

As we consider patterns, it’s also interesting to note the way the letters are arranged. It seems the churches most in danger of losing their Christian identity are addressed first and last, then the churches in the best shape, with those generally okay but with internal issues in the middle:

  1. Ephesus: A church in bad shape, and in danger of having her lampstand removed (if the lampstand represents the church (1:20), then the removal of the lampstand implies the loss of that status).
  2. Smyrna: A faithful church facing persecution, in need of encouragement.
  3. Pergamum: A church doing okay on the whole, but having a difficult time with a faction stirring trouble within the body.
  4. Thyatira: Another church doing okay but with a disruptive faction that needs to be dealt with.
  5. Sardis: A church in need of revival, though there are still faithful members so there’s hope.
  6. Philadelphia: A faithful church battling the “synagogue of Satan” and in need of encouragement.
  7. Laodicea: A church in bad shape, in danger of being “spit out” by the Lord.

As we noted before, within the range of issues the churches face, we can find our own church situation. This leads to the question: was there really ever a “golden age” of the church? We sometimes like to think that the first hundred years of the church was a time of faithful endurance under persecution, full of “on fire” believers willing to give all for the faith. What we see in Revelation, however, are good, strong churches and weak churches falling into compromise with the world, and other churches somewhere along the spectrum in between. The fact is, there has never been a time when the church hasn’t been plagued with issues of some kind. This is only to be expected since the church consists of people, and even at our best, we are still hampered by the enticement of sin and the trappings of the world.

This is what makes Revelation a timeless book. It wasn’t written for some future age of the church, nor was it just meant for John and these seven churches in the latter part of the first century. In Revelation, the Lord of the church addresses his bride, to encourage her in times of stress, to chasten her waywardness, and to shepherd her toward the hope promised to her, and bought for her at Calvary. It’s as much for us as for any other church in any other time.

We won’t be meeting next week, so we’ll dive into the letter to the Ephesian church (2:1-7) the following week.

Doctor Who Returns…

Less than a week to go until Season 8 of Doctor Who (that’s Season 34 if you count from the very beginning)! This coming Saturday we’ll see Peter Capaldi make his debut as the Twelfth Doctor. Of course, those who have attended World Premier events have already seen the episode. My brother, for example, was at the premier in Cardiff a few weeks ago, and he assures me the story is awesome and Capaldi is even awesomer. It seems the TARDIS is in safe hands. Should my brother be reading, feel free to elaborate on this assessment in the comments!

Rumors are circulating that this will be Jenna Coleman’s last season (she plays Clara, the Doctor’s companion). Tabloid stories suggest she will be bowing out at Christmas. Naturally, we take such rumors with a pinch of salt until confirmed, but to be honest, a lot of these kinds of stories tend to lean toward truth. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jenna wants to move on to other things. Doctor Who is such an international phenomenon, it can only promote the careers of its leading actors. Part of Matt Smith’s reasons for moving on was the huge attention he was getting as a result of Who. And I’m sure we’ll soon see current show-runner Steven Moffat step down as bigger opportunities tempt him away. We’ll see about that.

Here’s the list of episode titles for this season, as reported in Doctor Who Magazine:

  • Deep Breath by Steven Moffat
  • Into the Dalek by Phil Ford and Steven Moffat
  • Robot of Sherwood by Mark Gatiss
  • Listen by Steven Moffat
  • Time Heist by Stephen Thompson and Steven Moffat
  • The Caretaker by Gareth Roberts and Steven Moffat
  • Kill the Moon by Peter Harness
  • Mummy on the Orient Express by Jamie Mathieson
  • Flatline by Jaime Mathieson
  • The Forest of the Night by Frank Cottrell Boyce
  • Dark Water  by Steven Moffat
  • Death in Heaven by Steven Moffat

This will be a full 13-episode season, so it’s possible one of these is the title to a two-parter. We know the finale is a two-parter, so maybe it’ll be “Death in Heaven Part 1″ and “Death in Heaven Part 2,” or perhaps the title for episode 13 has yet to be revealed…?

UPDATE: The BBC Blog released the above list, and they indicate that “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” are episodes 11 and 12, the two-part finale. This means there are only 12 episodes this season, one shorter than usual. What’s up with that? I don’t know. Perhaps things will become clearer as the year progresses…

“Deep Breath” will be broadcast on Saturday, August 23rd at 7:50 pm on BBC1 (simulcast in Australia on ABC1 on Sunday, August 24th), and at 8:15 pm (ET) on BBC America.

Finally, there will be a new title sequence for the new Doctor. It seems Steven Moffat came across a fan-made sequence on YouTube and liked it so much, he contacted the creator and asked him to collaborate with BBC Wales on the official sequence. Here’s Billy Hanshaw’s original version:

We’ll see the final official version on Saturday.

Are you looking forward to the new season of Doctor Who?

What’s Up Wednesday

I’ve not been around the blogs as much over the past few weeks, so I thought I’d join the WUW meme this week so those who are curious can find out what I’ve been up to. Not that there’s a whole lot to tell, but just so you know… If you want to join in too, go visit the hosts, Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. Not only will they tell you how to participate, but they have the linky widget you can use to visit other WUW-ers.

What I’ve Been Reading

I completed Volume Two of my three-volume edition of WAR AND PEACE, so I’m taking a little bit of a W&P break before I jump into the final part. I also finished DISSONANCE by Erica O’Rourke which was excellent. I reviewed it on the blog yesterday so you can find my thoughts about it there. This novel is the first in a new series by Erica, and it’s about parallel worlds, and a girl who can walk between them, and what happens when she falls for a guy in an alternative universe. Sound cool? It is, trust me! I’m currently reading some short stories, because…

What I’ve Been Writing

… I finished the first draft of a short story, and I need to orient my mind toward the right kind of feel and voice for the story as I revise. This first draft has all the essential elements of the story–the characters, the structure, the plot, and so on. What’s missing is craft: tuning the voice, shaping the words and phrases, adding flesh and color to the bones. Reading published short stories–especially in the same genre–helps a great deal with this. My plan is to submit this for publication when finished, so I want it to be as polished as possible. I might even throw it in front of some Beta Readers, if anyone’s interested.

What Inspires Me Right Now

The fact that I’ve actually managed to write a short story after saying for so long I’m going to write one! And this one came rather quickly. I sketched out a basic plot with paper and pen, then wrote it up. Of course, it’s only the first draft so there’s still a lot of work to do. But at least I have something to work with.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

Nothing particularly strange or startling. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve not been as active on the blogs or Twitter recently. That’s partly because I’ve been investing more time reading and doing other things that don’t necessarily require an Internet connection. Also, the new Sunday School year is fast approaching, so I’ve started studying for that. We’ll be picking up with the Revelation study in a little over two weeks, and I’ve got a lot of preparation to do. It’s work, but it’s fun work, which is always the best kind.

So, how have you been?

Book Review: DISSONANCE by Erica O’Rourke

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Delancey Sullivan is a Walker. She has the ability to Walk through pivots in this world to other worlds–worlds created by decisions. What if I hadn’t gone to the mall, but visited grandpa? What if we had turned left instead of right? Each decision makes a branch, each with its own sound that only Walkers can hear. Sometimes these other worlds go out of harmony, and left too long they can cause a chain reaction of corruption that could affect the Original world–the Key World. The only world that really matters. It’s the responsibility of Walkers to keep these other worlds in harmony, even cutting off branches that are too far gone.

Delancey’s parents work for the Consortium, the ruling body of Walkers, who oversee training and maintaining order in the multiverse. A major disturbance has them working all hours, trying to trace the problem and put it right. In the meantime, Delancey’s problems center around Simon, a non-Walker jock at school who is only interested in cheerleaders and fawners. This same Simon keeps turning up in the Echo worlds she visits, but the Echo Simons seem much deeper, and much more interested in Del. How can Del possibly get involved with an Echo–someone who isn’t real? And what damage would she do if she did…?

I enjoyed Erica’s previous trilogy (TORN, TANGLED, and BOUND), but I have to say, this first in a new series is her best yet. The whole concept of alternative universes based on what-ifs is fascinating, and makes for fun stories when handled well. Erica has really thought through the implications of the world she has created for her Walkers. Each Walker is very musically inclined, a side effect from their ability to hear the sounds of the alternative worlds. Their abilities are genetic, so relationships with non-Walkers are discouraged to make sure there are always genetically pure Walkers around to keep the multiverse in order. Different Walkers play different roles. Some are particularly gifted at mapping out the alternative universes, some are good at fixing inversions, and detangling threads in the fabric of the Echo worlds. It’s this kind of depth and thoroughness that sets the stage for an immersive reading experience.

But a great concept and a well-developed world don’t guarantee an excellent novel. It also has to be well-written, and this is where I commend Erica the most. Her first-person prose is flawless. Del’s voice is true, and she manages to explain the world through the characters without a lot of awkward exposition. It all flows naturally and effortlessly through the story. This is very hard to do, which is why I was so impressed at this.

The biggest flaw in Erica’s world I found was in the fact that the pivots are solely based around people’s decisions. There are so many other factors that play into why events occur. Our lives are not simply a series of random decisions. Other things affect the decisions we make–sometimes it’s other people’s actions, and sometimes it’s the weather, or some other natural occurrence (what if it the wind had blown this way instead of that, or the rain had fallen here not there, or that rock slide had shifted a few inches west…?). I understand, however, that for the sake of the story, and not getting too bogged down in the complexities of decision-making, it was necessary to simplify, so I’m not too bothered by this.

I rate DISSONANCE a PG-15 for light profanity (a few s-words and f-words, and some Third Commandment violations). I highly recommend this book, especially if you enjoy a good sci-fi/contemporary blend. Definitely a Goodreads 5-star book.

What’s Up Wednesday

I haven’t done a What’s Up Wednesday for a few weeks, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to say hello and catch up with everyone. Hello! Now to the catching up…

What I’m Reading

I’m still reading WAR AND PEACE, but I’m encouraged by the fact there’s something of a plot going on. Aside from another war brewing (the 1812 war to be specific), there’s a love triangle that’s a train wreck waiting to happen (and it’s her fault–oh those flighty 19th century damsels!), and I’m sure the main guys are going to be called to serve, which might make for an interesting turn of events. We’ll see. I still think this novel would be better in a different translation.

I’m also beta reading a novel, which is kind of reading and writing since I’m making copious notes. I hope this ends up being useful to the author, and not just an opportunity for me to feel like I’m writing something.

What I’m Writing

Aside from beta reading comments and blog articles, not a lot else. I’ve made a start on one novel, but I have another percolating in my head that I might make a start on. Whichever one looks the most promising will probably get my attention when I have more time to write.

What Inspires Me Right Now

Literary agent Jessica Sinsheimer tweeted that she received around 800 queries while she was at conferences and traveling. It inspires me to know that I’m not alone querying, and there are so many others out there in the same boat, writing stories they love, trying to get the attention of agents, publishers, and readers.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

If you’ve seen my blog over the past month, you know I’ve been following the World Cup. I’m not a very sporty person, and have never really been a great fan of physical exertion. But of all the sports in the world, (real) football is the one that captures my attention most. Particularly the World Cup. There’s something about this global (literally, not like the baseball “World Series”) event where national teams from five continents show off their football skills, and one nation is crowned the top football country, that enthralls me. And this year, the tournament has been particularly spectacular, full of awesome displays of talent and head-turning upsets. Germany won, as I thought they might from the way they played their first game. But it was a close match, and thoroughly entertaining. And now I’m done pretending to be a football fanatic for another four years.

Also, yesterday “Weird Al” Yankovic released a new CD. I tweeted the track he’s been promoting from it because, as always, it’s a clever parody, but it’s also very appropriate for writers, literary agents, editors, and grammar pedants. In case you missed the tweets, here’s the song:

So that’s my week. How have you been? If you want to join in the WUW fun, go visit the founders’ blogs: Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. There you’ll find details on how to participate along with the linky widget so you can visit other WUW-ers.

Every Football Fan’s Dream-Come-True

Despite the past few weeks of babbling about the World Cup, I’m not a sports fanatic, and I don’t follow football (i.e., “soccer”) that much. Yesterday’s World Cup Final article was the last thing I planned to post about the game until 2018, but then my wife forwarded me this article. It originally appeared in the Howler magazine in the US, and was re-printed by The Guardian newspaper in the UK. It’s the story of how a West Ham fan got called out of the stands and given the opportunity to play with the team for part of a game. If you love football, this is a great story. But the reason I wanted to share it here is because it’s not only a good story, it’s very well written. So even if you don’t care much for sports, if you enjoy good writing, I think you’ll like it.

So here it is: “The Day Harry Redknapp Brought a Fan on to Play for West Ham,” by Jeff Maysh. Enjoy!

Note: The picture on the right is from the article and was taken by Steve Bacon, described by Maysh as “West Ham’s loyal photographer.”

2014 World Cup Thoughts: The Finals

Between June 15, 2011 and November 20, 2013, 203 teams from across the world competed for a place in this year’s FIFA World Cup. Of those 203 teams, 32 went through to the Group Stage, which began June 12, 2014. After a month of football, it all came down to two teams fighting it out for the coveted title of World Champions. That match took place yesterday. Before we talk about that, let’s first talk about the runner-up game.

Brazil v. The Netherlands

After a fairly decisive 7-1 whooping by Germany, Brazil needed this game to salvage some self-respect. The Netherlands, on the other hand, ended up here after a penalty shoot-out against Argentina. The Dutch had already shown themselves to be a world-class team, so they really had nothing to prove. Perhaps with Silva back on the field, Brazil could save some face by at least providing a challenge to the Netherlands. I think Brazil did play a better game, but it wasn’t enough. Maybe Silva made a difference. Perhaps the loss of Neymar was too much of a psychological blow to the team. Either way, Brazil can take comfort in the fact that they were only beaten 3-0. There was some controversy over a couple of the Dutch goals. One came about when the referee called for a penalty on a Brazilian foul he thought happened inside the goal area. The replay showed it was just outside and should have been a free kick, but, as always, the ref’s decision is final. The second Dutch goal was ever-so-slightly offside, which, again, we can only appreciate thanks to slow-motion replay. None of the officials saw it, so the goal was allowed. There was no question about the third goal, and despite some opportunities, Brazil was never able to catch up. The Netherlands played a great game, and deserve third place. Brazil can count themselves blessed that they came in fourth. There are many, even in their home country, that don’t think they earned that much.

Argentina v. Germany

This was not going to be an easy match for either Argentina or Germany. Both teams deserved to be in the final because, over the course of a month, they demonstrated themselves to be the best in the world. Germany played a tight, possessive game, and Argentina defended well, sending the ball up the field on the feet of Messi, or another striker as they had the chance. There were bad referee calls that could have turned the tide, but after 90 minutes, there were no goals, and the game went into extra time. Well into the second half of extra time it looked like the game would go to penalties, but then the young German substitute, Mario Götze, took a brilliant pass from Schürrle (another substitute), and with impeccable control sent the ball past Argentine goalie Sergio Romero and into the back of the net. It was the kind of skillful play that epitomized the talent we’ve seen on display throughout this tournament.

And so the 2014 FIFA World Cup ended on yet another landmark win: the first time a European team has won the World Cup on South American soil. Argentina’s Lionel Messi was awarded the Golden Ball for Best Player of the Tournament. Messi’s a great player, but honestly I think James Rodriguez of Columbia deserved this, having scored six goals in six games. Germany’s Manuel Neuer won the Golden Glove for Best Goalkeeper, and I won’t argue that at all.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: this was one of the best–if not the best–World Cup tournaments I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. Over the last month we’ve seen why this game is so popular throughout the world.

And that about does it for me as sports reporter! 2018′s contest will be in Russia. More football talk then… :)

2014 World Cup Semi-Finals Thoughts

I was going to wait until Monday to do a big wrap-up on the Semi-Final and Final matches of the World Cup. But after the games we’ve just seen, I had to comment. So here are my thoughts:

Brazil v. Germany

This match-up between the favorite and second-favorite teams promised to be memorable. I said on Monday I thought Brazil would have a hard time without Neymar and Silva, and that would help Germany pull out a victory over the home team. But never in my wildest dreams did I think it would turn out the way it did. For those who don’t know, Germany beat Brazil 7-1. And that’s unheard of. Yes, there have been scores like this in the past at this stage in the competition (though not often), but not against the favorite team on home soil. When you consider five of those goals were scored within the first 20-30 minutes of the game, you just wonder what kind of alternate reality this is.

So what happened? First, Germany were on fire. They played a superb game of football. Immaculate passing, great defense (except for a 90th-minute lapse that allowed Brazil to score)–everything you could ask for from a world-class team. And second, Brazil were lost without Silva. Yes, Neymar being injured out of the game made things harder. But honestly, I don’t think they would have won even if Neymar had been fit to play. Silva is their captain and their defensive organizer, and clearly his absence on the field made far more of an impact that it ought to for a first class football team. Not to take away from the talent of the other Brazilian players, but I think it’s apparent that Brazil have been coasting on the skills of two players. That’s not the way to play world-class football, and Germany called them on it.

I will commend the Brazilians for their sportsmanship. Understandably, the stadium was eerily quiet during the second half, except for the cadre of German supporters who were trying to make up for the noise deficit. However, the Brazilians applauded the last couple of German goals–and one of them, number seven, was an exceptional display of control and precision shooting. And the players were ready with hugs and congratulatory words after the match. This was a very humiliating experience for Brazil, both the team and their supporters. It’s to their credit that, from what I hear, there was no fighting nor were there angry words against the victors. I don’t know if Silva will be allowed to play in the runner-up game, but even if he isn’t, I hope Brazil have learned from this, and can pull together a better performance on Saturday.

Argentina v. The Netherlands

What a complete contrast this game was! I said it would be hard to call, and I was right. I thought both teams looked dangerous, and while their strengths were different, they were evenly matched. Argentina played a very aggressive 90 minutes, with more shots on goal. But the Dutch defense held strong, and probably had the upper hand in terms of possession. The Dutch star Robben hardly got into the game until near the end, and the Dutch managed to contain the Argentine star Messi, who failed to be the game-changer he has been on so many other occasions. That the score was goalless at full-time was no surprise to anyone. Both teams missed some great opportunities to end the game in extra time. Barring a major mistake, or a stroke of genius, a penalty shoot-out seemed inevitable. And so it went, and the game came down to the team with the better goalie: Sergio Romero. But this is the kind of game we expect to see at this level of the competition. I think the contrast between these two semi-finals tells the story of this World Cup: excellent football, major upsets, and great sportsmanship.

The Finals

On Saturday, Brazil will face The Netherlands for third place. There’s no medal or award, it’s simply a matter of honor. I expect Brazil to play a much better game since they have a lot of face-saving to do. However, I think the Dutch will ultimately prevail. Argentina put them through their paces, so I think they’re more than ready to face Brazil, even if Silva’s playing.

Sunday’s game should be an amazing match, with Germany and Argentina facing off for the third time in a final. I think it’ll be close, but in the end I think Germany will win. Especially if they bring the quality of play we saw against Brazil. Granted, Argentina are a vastly superior team than Brazil, and Germany won’t have nearly as easy a time. But coming off of a 7-1 victory, German confidence is high. Given the amazing display of skill and talent we’ve seen from the German side throughout the competition, I think the win is theirs for the taking.

But those are just my thoughts. What do you think?

2014 World Cup Thoughts

This past week saw the conclusion of the Round of 16, and the Quarter-Final matches, and once again we were treated to some magnificent football. You might recall from last week, I called Belgium vs. USA for the States, and Brazil vs. Columbia for Columbia. As it turned out, those were the only two I got wrong. I still believe the US had a talented team that could have beaten Belgium. They simply didn’t play to their strengths, and left it too late to bring on Julian Green–a kid just turned 19, who had played only 45 minutes of professional football prior to this game–who scored the only US goal of the match. Expect great things of this young man! Of course the hero of the game was Tim Howard, the US goalie, who made a startling 15 saves in just this one match. That statistic alone not only speaks of Howard’s skill as a goalie, but it also tells the tale of the game, since the Belgian goalie didn’t get nearly as much of a work-out. If the US learn the lessons from this tournament, they should do very well in 2018.

Brazil faced Columbia in their Quarter-Final match, and, again, I stand by my statement that Columbia had the talent to beat Brazil. Things just didn’t come together for them on the night, however, and Brazil beat them 2-1 to go forward to the Semi-Finals. Surely one of the most touching moments of the 2014 World Cup was the scene at the end, when a distraught James Rodriguez, star striker for the Columbian team, was being comforted and encouraged by the Brazilians. James certainly has nothing to be ashamed of, having scored a goal in every game they played. Brazil go on to face Germany, and while I think Germany are more than capable of pulling out a victory against the home side, they have the added bonus of playing against a Brazil minus star players Neymar and Silva. Silva received a second yellow card during the Columbia game which, along with a yellow from a previous match, suspends him from the Semi-Final. Neymar sustained a serious injury that, while treatable without surgery, ends his participation in the World Cup this year. Brazil think they can manage without them, but against this German team? I share the skepticism of many.

Belgium might have looked impressive against the US, but they were no match for Argentina who are in fine form this tournament. Messi is certainly their star player, but they have plenty of talent all round to make them a force to be reckoned with. I was torn between the Netherlands and Costa Rica for their Quarter-Final game. The Dutch team, when they play their best, are a treat to watch and play some great football. The Costa Ricans have come from nowhere and taken the game by storm this year, so to see them go further would be great for them, and a major upset. Both teams played well, and it’s to Costa Rica’s credit that they held the Netherlands to a goalless tie. Costa Rica can be proud that their first defeat of the tournament was at this penalty shoot-out. They’re another team to watch for 2018.

The last games of the 2014 World Cup will take place over the coming week. Here are the game times:

Tuesday, July 8 (4pm ET): Brazil v. Germany
Wednesday, July 9 (4pm ET): Netherlands v. Argentina
Saturday, July 12 (4pm ET): The losers of those games play off for third place
Sunday, July 12 (3pm ET): The final game to decide the winner.

The only team I’m not certain of for the final is Brazil. Without Neymar and Silva, I don’t know they’re good enough to beat Germany, the Netherlands, or Argentina. But these are all strong teams, and each has played well enough to win the tournament. However, for the fun of it, I’m going to predict Germany and the Netherlands in the final, with Argentina coming up third. And I think Germany will win. But I’m glad I’m not a betting person, because I wouldn’t want to put money on that prediction!

What do you think?

2014 World Cup Thoughts

The group stages are over and we’re into the Round of 16–and what a start! Before we go there, let’s take a moment to review the action of the last week. As you may be aware, in the group stage, each team has to play the other three teams in its group to determine its group position. This means each team plays three games, and the teams are ranked within the group according to how many wins, losses, and draws they get (3 points for a win, 1 for a draw, 0 for a loss). Goal differences also come into play in the event of a tie.* The top two teams in each group move on the the Round of 16. Depending on how well (or badly) a team performs, their chances of moving on may well be set by the end of the second game. As we noted last week, England‘s loss to Uruguay following on from their loss to Italy sealed their fate in the group. They had a final game to play against Costa Rica, but it would make no difference. To their credit, they held Costa Rica to a goal-less draw, but, against all odds, Costa Rica still finished the week as the group leaders, with Uruguay right behind them. England were on the bottom, exiting the contest along with Italy. Who’d’ve thunk?!

On the other hand, both the USA and Germany faced their final match-up needing only a draw for both to qualify. In any other venue, with any other teams, this might have been a recipe for a dull game of back-and-forth with no real effort. But this is the World Cup! Both teams came out blazing, fighting for a win. Given the point and goal differences in their group, either the USA or Germany could suffer a loss and still go through, as long as the loss wasn’t too significant. As it turned out, Germany managed to score a goal against the US, but it was a hard-fought goal. This was the Germany of their first game, and the US did a great job to keep them at bay. I did think Germany was the better team, though, and while they both go forward, and will do well, I’d be surprised to see the US go beyond the final eight.

The Round of 16 began on Saturday and concludes on Tuesday. And what a start! Since there must be a winner from each of these games, matches that end in a tie after 90 mins go into Extra Time (another 30 mins consisting of two 15-min halves). If it’s still tied up at the end of Extra Time, there’s a penalty shoot-out. In the penalty shoot-out, each team selects five players to take shots on goal from the penalty spot. There’s a coin toss to decide which end to use. This may make a difference if a team has a lot of supporters behind a particular goal area. Then there’s a coin toss to decide who goes first. Each team takes turns at trying to misdirect the opposing goalie and score. The first team to get an insurmountable lead (e.g., 3-1, or 5-4) wins. If it’s 5-5 at the end of the shoot-out, they go to “sudden death.” In sudden death, the teams continue to take turns shooting penalties, but the first team to score wins. These rules will apply to the contest from here to the final, since each game must produce a winner.

I suppose given the quality of the teams moving forward, I shouldn’t be surprised that two of the first four games went to penalties. Chile gave Brazil a really difficult time on Saturday, and (IMO) Brazil’s star player was their goalie, Julio Cesar (Julius Caesar, as we call him). Sure, Neymar played well, but Chile did a good job of neutralizing much of the Brazilian threat on the field. In the end, it was two marvelous penalty saves that took Brazil on to the next round. I would have liked to have seen Chile win, but largely for the “upset factor” (Brazil are unbeaten on their home turf in 60 games, and it would be unheard of for them to be out at this point playing at home). That Brazil won was a little disappointing, but not surprising.

Columbia vs. Uruguay was a different matter. Maybe it was the loss of their star player, Suarez, who was red-carded and disciplined by FIFA for biting an Italian player in their previous game, or maybe Columbia just outclassed them. In any case, Uruguay just didn’t have what it takes to get the better of Columbia. The Columbians dominated the game, and James Rodrigues played some world-class football. He scored both goals, the first of which was an incredible shot that bounced off the underside of the top bar at just the right angle. That goal will be replayed as one of the best of the tournament. Columbia and Brazil will face off in the Quarter-Finals, starting Friday.

Yesterday, the Netherlands faced Mexico in a game that went to the wire. I only caught the last ten minutes, at which point Mexico were leading 1-0. Within the space of five minutes, the Dutch scored an equalizer, and then pulled ahead when a penalty call went in their favor during stoppage time. Both teams played well in their groups, so I thought this would be a difficult match. If it wasn’t for that penalty, it too could have easily gone to a penalty shoot-out.

The final game of the weekend saw Costa Rica play Greece. Costa Rica are the surprise of the tournament. Conventional wisdom had them placing last in their group (after all, they were in a group with England, Italy, and Uruguay!). They ended up topping their group, and looking formidable with each game. I honestly thought Greece wouldn’t stand a chance, but Costa Rica seemed to lack sparkle in the first half, and while they came alive and scored what looked to be the decisive goal early in the second half, they allowed Greece to equalize in stoppage time. But the magic returned when it counted, and Costa Rica defeated Greece in the penalty shoot-out by 5 goals to 3. The Costa Rican goalie, Navas, saved the day for sure. This means Costa Rica will face the Netherlands in the Quarter-Finals.

The remaining games in the Round of 16 are:

Monday, June 30 (12 pm ET): France v. Nigeria
Monday, June 30 (4 pm ET): Germany v. Algeria
Tuesday, July 1 (12 pm ET): Argentina v. Switzerland
Tuesday, July 1 (4 pm ET): Belgium v. USA

I predict France, Germany, Argentina, and the USA will win their games. If I’m correct, then the Quarter-Final match-ups will look like this:

Friday, July 4 (12 pm ET): Brazil v. Columbia
Friday, July 4 (4 pm ET): France v. Germany
Saturday, July 5 (12 pm ET): The Netherlands v. Costa Rica
Saturday, July 5 (4pm ET): Argentina v. USA

Of these games, I think Columbia will beat Brazil, Germany will beat France, The Netherlands will beat Costa Rica, and Argentina will beat the USA. Nothing against Brazil, but I think Columbia have the talent to stop Brazil, and it would be a major upset which can be great for the tournament. I think Germany has what it takes to get to the final, and while France have played very well, IMO Germany is the better team. I would love to see Costa Rica win the tournament, but if the Dutch bring their A-game, I think their dream for 2014 will end here. Please prove me wrong, Costa Rica! As for the USA, this is definitely the best US football team I’ve seen in a long time, and I definitely think they have the talent and skill to beat Belgium. Argentina’s a different matter. This is another game where I would love to be proven wrong, but Argentina bring years of World Cup experience, and multiple tournament wins to the field. They’ve also been playing very well. I expect the US to give them a good fight, though–it won’t be an easy victory.

So, those are my thoughts. Do you have any thoughts about the games played this past week, or the games coming up?

* I think this is why those final games are played simultaneously (see last week’s game schedule). This way, the teams in a group can’t tailor their performance according to how the other teams in the group are doing.

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