No need to worry about the feigning of injury in this Military World Cup though. There may be the odd feint and tactical retreats, but none of this diving. Nope, we take our lead from none other than Zidane - if you are going to get into the rough stuff, you might as well get rid behind, put your head down and charge forward...
Match 1 (Winner Group F vs Runner-up Group E)
Italy vs Denmark
We launch ourselves right into the controversy here. Many would argue that the Italians and the Danes both do not really deserve to have made it this far. But blinded by the dying sheen of Roman centurions and rampaging Vikings, both have made it through - and now face off against each other. Unfortunately the glory days are well past for both of these nations, and their military achievements in the 20th century have been somewhat embarrassing.
The Danes seem to have spent much of their history squabbling with their Swedish neighbours, with varying degrees of success. During the Second World War, the Danes gave up their country without a fight - although eventually their government rebelled. As the nation rebelled, the Danish navy...scuttled most of their ships. Of course they were hopelessly outnumbered (and some vessels did escape to Sweden), but that is not a great start to a war. Danish civilians on the other hand had a bit more steel about them - and the resistance movement in Denmark won much praise after the war. Things went pretty quiet after the Second World War, and the next time Danish troops were engaged was in 1994 in Operation Bøllebank
in the war in Bosnia. More recently the Danes have been in Afghanistan and Iraq - and have substantially increased the numbers of soldiers they have sent to these conflicts. Unfortunately, relative to the size of the contingent they have sent they have suffered one of the highest casualty rates in Afghanistan.
As for the Italians...well how the mighty have fallen. From an empire built through their armies to Mussolini's attempts to rebuild the Roman Empire, to article 11 in the Italian constitution which says
"Italy rejects war as a means for settling international controversies and as an instrument of aggression against the freedoms of others peoples; it agrees, on conditions of equality with other states, to the limitations of sovereignty necessary for an order that ensures peace and justice among Nations; it promotes and encourages international organizations having such ends in view"
A fine an honourable aim that might be, but I find it ironic that the Italian constitution throws its weight behind international organizations as a way of keeping the peace, when Mussolini so aptly spotted the flaws in the League of Nations (the predecessor of the UN), commenting that "the league is alright when sparrows quarrel, it fails when eagles fall out".
Of course at the time the Italians were eagles. Today they are sparrows. So maybe the UN will work for them?
Not really much to choose between these two nations really - particularly recently. Both nations have fought in the war on terror, but I think the spectacular nature of Italy's fall from grace should condemn her to an early exit (sound familiar?). Denmark rolls into the next round.
Match 2 (Winner Group H vs Runner-up Group G)
Spain vs Portugal
Well well well, look what we have here. Is this my opportunity to wreak my revenge on the Spanish? To tweak the nose of history? Of course not - this is an entirely balanced and unbiased series of blogs. Honest.
Well this is very much in the vein of a local derby. Like so many other European neighbours, relations between Spain and Portugal have been strained for a very long time. During the age of colonialism and overseas expansion the Spanish and Portuguese were in close competition for land, but it was in the 18th century that conflict really broke out between the two. In most of the wars between the great European powers the Portuguese and Spanish found themselves on opposite sides, partly because the Portuguese had a long-standing alliance with the British, who at the time were working on making as many European nations their enemies as possible.
During the Seven Years War Spain launched an unsuccessful invasion of Portugal and in 1777 there was another squabble over their South American colonies. Things really threatened to explode when during the Napoleonic era the Spanish invited the French to invade Portugal. The French decided that was a great idea - and as they were headed there anyway decided to invade Spain too. Bizarrely Spain and Portugal were suddenly allies!
Despite teaming up at this point, relations remained strained - and continued to be so in the 20th century, despite the isolation both countries endured because of their right wing authoritarian regimes. Today they are much more friendly - at least officially!
It has to go to Portugal - a tiny little country, completely surrounded by Spain just should not have been able to survive. But somehow - and despite Spain's best efforts, Portugal seems to soldier on. Whether or not the current friendliness of the two countries continues - it looks like Portugal will always be able to hold her own. Sure I wouldn't bet on the Portuguese every convincingly defeating the Spanish - but forcing them to a costly draw is not a bad result!