Several posts ago I suggested that the knock-out rounds mark the moment when Romance is Dead at the World Cup. Romance may not be dead—I think Ribery was trying to find a date in the stands after France bounced Spain (or...what was he doing?)—but Youth is definitely on the ropes. The highly carbonated Spanish kids, whose fresh-legged furia has been one of the pure aesthetic delights of this World Cup, go out to the balding, battle-pocked ancient mariners of France.
Suddenly les Bleus, who looked horrible early on, seem possessed of mettle and wisdom that would trouble just about anyone, but maybe callow-looking Brazil especially. Unlike the trio of teams who've made the quarters without doing anything very impressive (England, Brazil, Ukraine—and no, I don't count their 4-0 pasting of the House of Saud as impressive), France is gathering steam and the kind of emotional momentum you can't quantify. Was there a dry eye in the global house as Zidane and Barthez—guys who've just about grown up together in the unforgiving public eye—strolled off arm in arm to contemplate a reunion with the Selecao? Fantastic stuff.