1st UPDATE: 8:51 p.m. EDT: Great response from my friend Greg Newton about a couple themes I missed. He writes:
I think the real story of only one top seed (U.S.) in the semis is the increasingly competitive women's game. If you look at the way Japan dominated a good Swedish side, their quarterfinal upset looks less surprising, and is indicative of much greater parity than 4 or 8 years ago. At the same time, the women's game remains blessedly free of the worst elements of cynical gamesmanship that infect too many men's matches. And the fans know it--the crowd reaction in the US-Brazil game to Brazil's antics in the second half was great. And justice prevailed in the end. Finally, Christine Brennan's column today echoed something I'd been thinking--that we're closer than ever to viewing the players as athletes. To a lot of folks, the nekkid pics were no more a story than if Beckham had done it (and for all I know, he has). My favorite data point here from last week--Rapinoe calls Wambach a beast, and everbody understood just what a compliment that was.
Good stuff, Greg. Thanks!
ORIGINAL POST: Granted, when one takes in an event only as a fan (and via television and the media), something could be missed. So, the following list could be incomplete.
Here are my top 5 story lines from the soon-to-be-completed World Cup tournament.
5. Japan and New Zealand seek to heal. Both nations in recent months have been victims of horrible earthquakes (and a tsunami, in Japan's case). Their fans saw the World Cup as an opportunity to bring some good news and some healing to their fragile psyches. In fact, the Japanese team have used their time in Germany to thank the world for the support it had given its countrymen and countrywomen.
4. You took your clothes off, and so will we. A few members of the German team opted to appear almost fully naked in Playboy, with those pictures appearing a couple weeks before the tournament began. Three members of the French team then posed for nude pictures that appeared in a German newspaper, with those pictures appearing just days after the tournament began. FIFA penalized none of the players from either team.
3. 'Mazing Marta. Brazilian superstar Marta lived up to the hype, repeatedly showing during the tournament why she is the best women's soccer player anywhere.
2. Neither Germany nor Brazil makes it to the semifinals. They entered the tournament as two of the top three teams in the world, but the host Germans were stunned by Japan and the Brazilians bowed to the Americans. Both teams exited after the quarterfinals, leaving their fans to wonder what went wrong.
1. You cheat, you lose. In the final minutes of a quarterfinal game and with her team leading 2-1, a member of the Brazilian team suffered a devastating injury that required her receiving medical attention on the field. But as soon as she reached the sidelines, she miraculously recovered. Her "injury" allowed for three additional minutes of play, and the Americans used that time to score the game-tying goal. They then won the game on penalty kicks.
So, there you have it. Now, enjoy the third-place and championship games this Sunday.