Because of pretzel logic unique to FIFA, one World Cup team could virtually clinch a berth in the round of 16 before two others lace up their boots for the first time.
The second of three games Tuesday pairs Brazil with Mexico. Both opened with victories. If they avoid a draw, whoever wins safely can book plans for the knockout phase.
Then Russia and South Korea, who have been twiddling their toes for almost a week, can tuck them into their soccer shoes and finally go to work. The other Group H members, Belgium and Algeria, lead off the day.
This foursome, by consensus and most analytics, comprises the weakest of the tournament. That explains why Belgium is the wise-guy pick to surface in the Final Four even though its youthful roster contains only one name who has played in a national team tournament of magnitude.
Yet 12 of their 23 men hail from the Premier League, more than any other side but England’s. Only the harsh glare of the spotlight might interfere with Belgium running roughshod over Russia, which feasted on soft pre-Cup competition; South Korea, which neglected to score in four of its last five international friendlies; or Algeria, which failed to score in the 2010 Cup.
Against Brazil, the Mexicans’ cause is hardly hopeless. They have won seven of the last 15 encounters with the host country. And Brazilian forward Hulk will be less than incredible if he is slowed by a thigh injury that cropped up in Monday’s practice.