The first round of a World Cup is a lot like a circus: There are clowns and high-wire acts, wild animals and magicians. And with 48 games in 14 days, it's hard to watch everything.
So as the tournament paused Friday to bid arrivederci to Italy and the other 15 teams that have been eliminated, it seemed like a good time to get everyone caught up on the first two weeks.
Here's what you might have missed:
Defending champion Spain went out, while unheralded Costa Rica stayed in.
Wayne Rooney, Mario Balotelli and Cristiano Ronaldo all went home, while Lionel Messi, Neymar and Thomas Mueller all went crazy, scoring four goals apiece.
Luis Suarez bit the dust after biting an opponent, taking the teeth out of Uruguay's attack, while the Netherlands devoured opponents whole, scoring 10 times in three games.
Three countries — Greece, Uruguay and Algeria — reached the round of 16 despite losing their first games, something only five teams had done in the previous four World Cups combined.
Three teams from CONCACAF — the federation representing the Caribbean and North and Central America — also moved on, as did two from Africa.
Neither of those things had ever happened before.
Seven of the 13 European teams that started the tournament didn't survive group play — including England, which hadn't been bounced this early since 1958.
"This World Cup is full of surprises," said U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann, whose team produced one of its own by living through the "Group of Death" and advancing despite losing its final game.
Meanwhile, Greece went through on a penalty-kick goal three minutes into stoppage time, the latest score to advance a team in World Cup history. And Belgium, the U.S. opponent in the knockout stage, scored all four of its goals in the final 20 minutes of regulation time yet won its three group-play games.
Brazil's Neymar, who has undressed opponents with a pair of two-goal games, also undressed himself after beating Cameroon, taking off his jersey and exposing the waistband of his underwear. That left the suits in FIFA's trademark police hot under the collar, so they launched an investigation of Neymar's unmentionables — which are in the colors of the Brazilian flag — charging they violate a disciplinary code because they weren't made by a World Cup sponsor.
Then there's Messi, Neymar's club teammate at Barcelona. Needing a World Cup title to further his claim of being the world's best player, Messi single-handedly carried Argentina into the knockout round, scoring the deciding goal in his team's first two games then adding two more in the group-play final.
"It's been an unusual World Cup," Messi said, "with results no one expected."
Messi scored twice as often as Greece scored as a team, yet the Greeks are going through to the next round while Croatia, which scored six times, is going home.
And speaking of scoring, the 48 group-play games produced 136 goals — a World Cup record for the first round and only nine fewer than were scored in the entire 2010 tournament.
On the other end, Belgium, Mexico and Costa Rica each gave up only one score in group play.
The U.S. had more broken noses than wins, with Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones suffering fractures. But the Americans also had the best distance runner, with midfielder Michael Bradley covering a tournament-high 23.6 miles in the first three games. Before the first half ends in Tuesday's game with Belgium, Bradley will have run a full marathon in Brazil's heat and humidity.
Then there are the African teams, who may have taken the concept of pay for play a little too far.
Cameroon's team was a day late arriving in South America because the players refused to board their plane until the country's soccer federation agreed to increase the size of their World Cup bonuses. Cameroon will be going home early, though, after failing to qualify for the second round.
Same with Ghana, whose players threatened to boycott their final group-play game until their bonuses were increased. Ghana's president, John Dramani Mahama, dispatched a plane carrying $3 million to the team hotel in Brasilia, where defender John Boye was photographed kissing the cash.
Hours later Boye's own goal helped Portugal knock Ghana out of the tournament, 2-1. Still around — at least through Monday's second-round game with France — is Nigeria, whose players skipped practice Thursday to push their demand for a bonus on top of their bonus. Judging from recent history, it won't end well for the Nigerians either.
"This," U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said "has been a crazy World Cup."
And it's only half over.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun