There's something bittersweet about the end of the group phases. Much like the NCAA Basketball tournament, the frequency of games in the earlier rounds makes it the most exciting days of the competition. I especially enjoy the third set of group stage games when head-to-head matches leave you ping-ponging between all four teams in a given group.
But, we move on. Before doing so I thought I'd rank the 32 teams in the tournament based on their group stage performances. And here are those rankings.
1. Argentina: Diego Maradona may be nuts, but he and his team are fun to watch. One of only two 3-0 teams, the two-time champs had the tournament's second-best goal differential.
2. Brazil: The favorites definitely took a sandbagging approach, especially in their third match, but they've got the goods for a deep run.
3. Spain: Give Spain a mulligan for their first match against Switzerland. When David Villa is in form, this team is scary good.
4. Netherlands: Unlike previous Dutch sides, the wins were efficient, not stylish. While they did go 3-0, it's hard to imagine them topping Brazil in the quarters.
5. Uruguay: A sound defensive side mixed in timely scoring to take 7 points from a tricky group.
6. Germany: The tournament's Goldilocks team- one match they were hot, the next they were cold and the third was somewhere in between.
7. Portugal: A pair of stale 0-0 draws sandwiched around a thrashing of a weak North Korean team make Portugal tough to figure out. While they didn't concede a goal, it will take more than defense to get past Spain.
8. United States: Group winners despite only holding a lead for the final minutes of stoppage time in their third match, the US is a resilient group set up for a potential run to the semis.
9. Paraguay: A draw against Italy gave one of five South American advancers the confidence they needed to win the group.
10. Chile: Chile many have played their best soccer after going down to ten men against Spain. Their second half effort a man down ensured safe passage to the knockout round.
11. Mexico: The performance against France highlighted their potential, but this up and down squad looks destined for another Round of 16 exit.
12. England: After Rob Green let in a "howler" in the opener, England blanked opponents in the final 2.5 games. Where Italy and France stumbled, the Three Lions overcame the negativity to win their third match. If only Wayne Rooney would show his face.
13. Japan: Coach Takeshi Okada thinks his team can reach the semis. If the free kicks continue to fly in as they did against Denmark, maybe he's right.
14. Slovakia: The Slovaks played their best game against Italy and were justly rewarded with a slot in the final 16.
15. South Korea: Rallying to force a draw with Nigeria showed the scrappy effort and underrated skills that make this side a tricky one to finish.
16. Ghana: Their only goals came on two PKs, but the Black Stars defense frustrated two European foes. They'll look to do the same against the U.S.
17. Ivory Coast: The World Cup draw has dealt the Ivory Coast two straight Groups of Death. If any side deserves a break in 2014, this is the one.
18. Denmark: The Danes were surprisingly drab in a must-win game against Japan.
19. Slovenia: Had they preserved a 2-0 halftime lead against the U.S., Slovenia would have won the group. Instead they head home in third.
20. Australia: The Socceroos spent too much time playing with 10 men. At full strength against Serbia, they showed knockout stage talent.
21. Serbia: A questionable no-call on a hand ball penalty stopped the Serbs from equalizing in their third match and advancing.
22. South Africa: Bafana Bafana made the local fans proud with a draw against Mexico and a well-deserved win over the French.
23. Switzerland: The Swiss failed to capitalize on their upset of Spain, showing little offensive urgency in their final two matches.
24. New Zealand: Three draws, highlighted by a 1-1 tie with Italy, made the Kiwis one of the tournament's overachievers
25. Greece: The Greeks finally broke their World Cup hex with a win over Nigeria, but consistent scoring threats continue to allude this team.
26. Nigeria: One of the tournament's letdowns, their inability to protect leads against Greece and South Korea ended their stay.
27. Italy: Marcello Lippi took an aging squad to South Africa and it showed. A healthy Pirlo and Buffon would have helped, but Italy still should have managed their way through a weak group.
28. Algeria: The Dessert Foxes frustrated their opponents defensively, but a lack of finishing skill was evident against the U.S.
29. Cameroon: All three matches were winnable and the talents of Samuel Eto'o made this an attractive side, yet they were unable to get a point.
30. France: Ok, so Les Bleus probably weren't the third-worst team at the World Cup, but given the way this squad imploded, it's hard to put them any higher.
31. Honduras: Defensively this team held up ok, but the offense was non-existent, and they leave as one of only two teams not to score a goal.
32. North Korea: Things looked promising after a brave effort against Brazil, but then the defense fell apart, allowing 10 unanswered goals in the final two matches. Let's hope rumors of what awaits the players back home are untrue.