RIO DE JANEIRO -- At this point, seriously, can you even remember the early melodrama and late disquiet of Brazil-Croatia? Can you recall anything about the splendid Netherlands-Australia match? What about that Switzerland-Ecuador finish?
Now that the good palpitations of a great World Cup keep piling up, now that Mexico and the Netherlands just finished something that will stoke talk until all the living have died, now that Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas should change his name to Kevlar, how about that fine rampage between Argentina and Nigeria? How about the commendable Bosnia and Herzegovina against Argentina, the commendable Iran against Argentina and the forever-commendable Iranian fans in Tehran celebrating their team's excellence during a defeat?
Do you recall the merit of Italy-England, the merit of a weekend of 2-2 draws in Group G (Ghana-Germany, United States-Portugal), the merit of Bryan Ruiz's gorgeous header for Costa Rica against Italy, the surprise of the Netherlands dismantling Spain, the surprise of Chile dismantling Spain, the surprise of John Brooks' goal for the United States, the Belgian comeback against Algeria, the Costa Rican comeback against Uruguay, the Ivoirian comeback against Japan, France scoring five on Switzerland, Algeria scoring four on South Korea, the gasping jolts of England- Uruguay and, holy mercy, Greece-Cote d'Ivoire?
Surely you remember the fresh marvel of Guillermo Ochoa, the gathering marvel of James Rodriguez (the new favorite of a Miami-based basketball player, leaving aside the differing pronunciations of "James"), the enduring marvel of Neymar, or the more-enduring marvel of Lionel Messi in a World Cup of stars starring. Probably you remember the sublime Colombia, the most watchable team among the 32 even while lacking its watchable star, Falcao.
Maybe you remember that during one taut match, Luis Suarez bit someone.
OK, definitely you remember that.
Something unexpected has gone on with this World Cup. With 52 matches down and 12 to go, this one is elbowing into best-sports-event range. Yes, it did begin with a head start -- it's transpiring in Brazil -- but it has rocketed from there. For one thing, it's on pace for a booming tally of something people do seem to like: goals.
That's the strange part. From World Cups, we expect more dreariness. We expect a great big buildup, a varicolored international confluence and then a smattering of memorable plays sprinkled amid a torrent of caution. We expect a litany of matches for which alcohol becomes not a fine accompaniment but a necessity. We don't complain, much. It's understandable. International teams lack time to mesh. They're kind of like conventioneers. They fly all over the globe and convene every now and then. Rapid construction of defense is easier than rapid construction of offense. And so it goes.
Still, as the world knows, the 1990 World Cup in Italy almost destroyed all known civilization. Its 31 days of negativity spat out 2.27 goals per match, roughly half a goal below your typical big-time European club match. Goals-per-match in ensuing World Cups went like this:
*1994 (United States): 2.71
*1998 (France): 2.67
*2002 (Japan/South Korea): 2.52
*2006 (Germany): 2.30
*2010 (South Africa): 2.27
Brazil's World Cup stands for now at 2.78, and its unpredictability during matches has trumped even that. Nine matches have featured a side winning after trailing; in the entire 2010 World Cup, that happened only thrice in matches other than the third-place match. (This phenomenon may boost the goals, as Jonathan Liew pointed out in London's Daily Telegraph.) Five outcomes have changed on added-time goals. Greece began its last group-stage added time eliminated but concluded it jubilant. Portugal was gone after only two matches, except that it scored on the always-chilling 90+5 to keep nostrils above water. Uruguay was just about done 13 minutes before time but then showed its considerable teeth.
It cannot be just that everybody comes to Brazil and shucks their silly inhibitions, although that would be a wonderful explanation. The good hypotheses have begun and figure to continue for at least one eon. Some might write college papers on the matter. Others might wish they could.
It's all up for interpretation in the major sport most subject to interpretation -- the wide variety of opinions on soccer matters add a chunk to its appeal -- but two thoughts do compel most: Amelia Earhart and human creativity.
The former envisioned the world as a neighborhood, and so it has become. It's out of secrets. Players such as Ruiz and Joel Campbell may hail from a country with the population of South Carolina, but they've logged a collective six years in the English Premier League. They needn't feel timid against Italy.
The latter applies more to all the goals, and it's an oft-heard view right about now: The world of the moment seems flusher with great attackers than with great defenders. In that sense, it's an improved planet perhaps undergoing a fresh burst of evolution. Oftentimes, seeing Messi, I like to think so. Seeing James Rodriguez' mind-blower Saturday night against Uruguay, I very much like to think so.