MANAUS, Brazil -- For years, CONCACAF, the governing body that oversees the U.S., Mexico and Costa Rica, has been a laughing stock.
Not to those who understand it, but certainly to everyone else.
Big confederations -- UEFA, mainly -- have scoffed at the idea of World Cup minnows standing a chance against European giants.
Now, the aforementioned three CONCACAF sides could make history.
Following Costa Rica's stunning Group D wins, Mexico needs just a draw against Croatia next week to join the Ticos in the Round of 16.
The U.S., which meets Portugal here in the jungle on Sunday, will likely progress with a win over the embattled Iberians.
“We made history,” Costa Rica's Junior Diaz said in a FIFA press release. “We dared to dream that we could beat Uruguay and we did.
“Then we dreamed we could beat Italy and reach the second round and we did. Now we can dream even bigger.”
Before 2014 qualifying began, CONCACAF begged FIFA to give it a fourth automatic spot at this summer's tournament.
Instead, it went to CONMEBOL, which justifiably has six teams competing in the competition.
But who can say the confederation Canada competes in doesn't deserve a fourth spot? Some have even suggested it deserves less spots.
Those who diss CONCACAF simply don't understand the difference between traveling to Honduras, Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama versus playing an away qualifier in Lithuania.
There's no comparison. The environment is the great equalizer in Central and South America. Just ask Spain.
After all, Mexico, who just tied World Cup favourites Brazil, needed to win an inter-continental playoff against New Zealand just to get here. Think about that.
It was already time for CONCACAF to get more respect. Now, they've undoubtedly earned it.
If the U.S. can get a result at Arena Amazonia Sunday night, CONCACAF could have more second-round participants than AFC (Asia) and CAF (Africa) combined.
Not to mention the fact CONCACAF sides have picked up results against Brazil, Ghana, Uruguay, Italy and Cameroon thus far -- something that would have been deemed impossible before the start of the event.
Now the question is whether a CONCACAF squad can turn earlier success into a quarterfinal or semifinal appearance.
HUH? RONALDO IS BACK?
Forty-eight hours ago, the world's best player was out of the World Cup.
Cristiano Ronaldo, according to an ESPN report, risked having his career cut short if he played on a bum knee.
"I don't think that's a question to be raised at the moment because he's training with us, he's practising with us and he's doing all the exercises," Portuguese teammate Helder Postiga said.
"I'm not a doctor but I don't think that's in question."
Portugal will meet the U.S. here in Manaus on Sunday in a match that will likely decide who advances from the Group of Death, which also contains Ghana and Germany.
To not totally discredit the report, Ronaldo did exit training earlier this week with a bag of ice on his knee -- something that's not totally uncommon.
As Ronaldo said in Salvador a few days back, he's always playing with some sort of pain. It comes along with the job, he added.
Following an outing to forget against Germany last week, the 29-year-old Real Madrid striker is still looking to complete the one item left on his to-do list: Help his country carve out a deep run at the biggest tournament on the planet.
"Regarding his physical condition, he's been training at his maximum and if it's not listed in the clinical information of the Portuguese (Football) Federation it's because he's fit to play," Postiga finished.
And that's bad news for the U.S., who struggled in a 2-1 last-gasp win over Ghana last week.
The U.S. defence is facing massive questions ahead of a must-not-lose tilt against the fourth-ranked team in the world.
FRANCIS FOR FIFA
FIFA president Sepp Blatter has always displayed a holier than thou attitude.
But keeping in correspondence with the Pope? That's a bit rich.
Blatter, who's currently taking in the World Cup here in Brazil, sent Pope Francis a note detailing the, uh, holy work FIFA is doing.
“We released three doves of peace at the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup, thereby sending a strong and symbolic message of hope to all,” Blatter wrote.
The note also highlighted FIFA's #SayNoToRacism campaign and its Handshakes for Peace initiative -- a memo Mexico's passionate fans apparently missed.
Mexican fans are being investigated for allegedly using a gay slur, which translates to "f--" in English.
So much for peace, FIFA.
Russian and Croatian fans are also being investigated for discrimination.
Adding to that, the Chilean federation could receive sanctions after its fans broke into the press centre at the stadium in Rio de Janerio earlier this week.
Of all the dirty, rotten things to do, this one takes the cake.
A group of Brazilian fans are under investigation for possible ticket fraud.
But tickets aren't the issue.
Rather, the fact they are allegedly faking a disability tells you a lot about how desperate fans are to see their teams play. "Disabled" tickets are reportedly being sold outside venues.
The benefit? Each disabled ticket comes with a free companion ticket.
So, in order to blend in, some non-disabled fans are accused of bringing along wheelchairs to make their "disabilities" look legitimate.
That, as they say, is just bad karma.