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Upstart Takes on the World (Cup): Day 20

He mightn't be kicking Yuichi Komano while he's down, but Evan Harding is quite happy to sink the slipper into the world's second-best player.

‘People expect only the best performance, even under extreme conditions.’

So sayeth Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aviero, who, under the extreme conditions of a 1-0 deficit, was largely anonymous in the second half as Spain tapped their way into the quarter-finals. The most striking thing: why are Ronaldo’s hands on the steering wheel and why does he turn his head to drive off when his bonnet is up?

A close second, however, is a realisation that not only has Ronaldo been long since shown to be not the best player in the world, he might not even be second best. This was just the latest in a series of big games where the former FIFA World Player of the Year has done missing on big occasions – the 2009 Champions League Final and the second El Clásico from this past season to name a couple.

The argument could be made that David Villa, who scored his fourth goal of the tournament, is up there, and certainly Ronaldo and his Real Madrid teammates will fear his brilliance being unleashed in the Barcelona attack. But perhaps he doesn’t have the overall quality of Ronaldo. For that you would need to look elsewhere in the Barça side.

The problem, though, is that the fortunes of Xavi and Andrés Iniesta are so inextricably linked that they cannot be split. It is almost like their two bodies are controlled by the one brain; together they form a force that would – never mind Ronaldo – even challenge Lionel Messi.

That particularly mouth-watering contest is due to take place in the semi-finals, provided Argentina get past Germany, and if Spain can defeat Paraguay, the winners of the other Round of 16 clash last night.

The Paraguayans’ victory over Japan was by no means a classic – a scoreless draw eventually settled by penalties. Without bringing out the ‘there’s no crueller way to settle a match’ cliché, it’s hard to see a tearful Yuichi Komano and not wish there was a better way. And no, an Isner-Mahut-style fight until someone drops is not that.

Any further cracks might be kicking him while he’s down, and anyone can miss a penalty. No, that doesn’t link to the famous 2008 miss by the one who is still the world’s second-best individual player but only on a technicality.

MUST-SEE: More on commercials featuring Ronaldo – as John Ashdown dissects the main performers in the Nike ad and how they’ve gone so far (clue: not so well). Nike have rushed out a Robinho version since Ronaldinho never made the squad, so perhaps it’s best to take him out of your fantasy World Cup teams.

EYEBROW-RAISER: Robin Van Persie’s continued hissy-fit over being substituted in the Netherlands’ win over Slovakia. A footballer’s arrogance still (occasionally) has the ability to astound. Meanwhile, UK’s Telegraph has an article about Howard Webb’s chances of refereeing the final and lists six of his rivals, and how likely they are. Not to be pedantic, but how can they all be above 5/10 in the ‘how likely’? There’s only 100% to go around, right?

REASON TO GET SOME SLEEP: You have two days to catch up on the last two-and-a-half weeks rest. Use it wisely.

REASON TO NOT GET SOME SLEEP: You have two days to catch up on the last two-and-a-half weeks socialising. Use it wisely.

TONIGHT: Aside from the inconsequential dead rubber in the one-day series between Australia and England, it turns out there are quarter-finals on tonight after all. Not the World Cup, but Wimbledon, and it’s another chance for one of our favourite things on the planet: a British sporting failure! Andy Murray takes on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, while the world’s top three – Federer, Nadal and Djokovic – are all in action. European summers are a killer. If you must have predictions: Federer in three, Nadal in four, Djokovic in three, Murray in five.

Evan Harding is co-producer of The Contenders Daily Bite, a daily World Cup short which can be seen on Tribal Football. A Master of Global Communication student at La Trobe University, he is an upstart editor armed with a month’s supply of coffee and a Spanish chance to still make back the money lost on an ill-conceived bet. Previous World Cup columns can be found here.

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