World Cup Update (The Semifinal Edition)
USA went out of the World Cup in the last round, but the tournament marches on toward its end, and so does my blogging about it. Let’s get to the questions.
What do we learn from the quarterfinal games?
Belgium and France had little to offer in response after they went down early to Argentina and Germany, respectively, and they went out without disappointingly little fuss. On the other hand, Costa Rica held out admirably against the Netherlands and left the tournament without ever being beaten in regulation time, while Keylor Navas joined the ranks of CONCACAF goalkeepers (along with USA’s Tim Howard and Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa) who were among the best in the tournament. As for Colombia, they may have been eliminated, but this is further than they’ve ever gone, and they have a new star in James Rodríguez, who scored his goal against Brazil despite having a huge grasshopper on his arm. To fully appreciate their achievement, I highly recommend you watch The Two Escobars, a documentary made as part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series that chronicles the previous high-water mark in Colombian soccer history, when they came into World Cup 1994 as dark horses to win the tournament. (I named this film among the best documentaries of 2010.) The team promptly lost to Romania and USA, defender Andrés Escobar was murdered back home before the tournament was even over, and Colombian soccer collapsed when the cocaine money coursing through it dried up. It’s just awe-inspiring how far Los Cafeteros have come, and with backup goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón on the team as the only player from World Cup 1994 to play in this year’s World Cup.
It seems like the officials are letting physical play go.
This is certainly a brawnier version of the game than we’ve seen in recent World Cups. The first half of Brazil vs. Colombia especially felt fully like the South American game in full flower, with full-blooded tackles and yet with end-to-end action and scoring chances on both sides. In retrospect, it’s no wonder that Spain was eliminated early; their prettier version of the sport would have needed to be strong indeed to prevail in this environment. The physical element should be a part of the game, though we don’t want it to overwhelm finesse like it did in World Cup 1982, when Brazil’s Zico had a hole ripped in his jersey by Italy’s Claudio Gentile. (Zico showed his torn shirt to the ref. The ref did nothing.) Brazil was determined to scythe down Colombia’s attacking players, but the approach may have gone pear-shaped on them, since they wound up losing Neymar to injury.
Is Brazil completely screwed?
Very possibly. They’ll also be facing Germany without one of the world’s best defenders in Thiago Silva, but Neymar is an even bigger loss after fracturing his vertebrae after a challenge by Colombia’s Juan Camilo Zúñiga. Neymar was pretty much running their offense single-handedly, with Fred and Hulk doing precious little to contribute. Brazilians are now hoping for a new Amarildo, the striker who stepped in for an injured Pelé in the middle of World Cup 1962 and helped his country win that tournament. Will Bernard be Neymar’s like-for-like replacement? Or will Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari unleash Óscar, the brilliant offensive playmaker who starred as such in the opening match against Croatia, but has since been deployed in a more defensive role. The manager, who won World Cup 2002, has some serious juggling to do.
Are there other injuries to be concerned about?
Lost in all the furor about Neymar is the fact that Argentina’s Ángel di María tore a thigh muscle in the quarterfinals and will miss the rest of the tournament as well. Overshadowed by Lionel Messi, di María had been in streaky form but was still Argentina’s second-best player in this tournament, and scored the game-winner against Switzerland. Di María linked their defense with the team’s defense with the front men. Could Ricky Álvarez step into the role? He seems like the readiest one-to-one replacement. The team will have Sérgio Agüero back, but they still have a hill to climb to beat Netherlands.
Rank the potential finals matchups for us, in order from least appealing to most.
Since all the remaining semifinalists are superpowers in the sport, there’s history between all of them, so there really aren’t any bad matchups. 4) Argentina vs. Germany. A rematch of the finals of World Cups 1986 and 1990, which the two countries split. The Germans also knocked Argentina out of the last two World Cups. Since Argentina is no longer coached by a crazy person, they might like their chances better this time. 3) Brazil vs. Netherlands. The Dutch knocked the Brazilians out of World Cups 1974 and 2010, with the Brazilians getting returning the favor in 1994 (in Dallas) and 1998. That game between them four years ago was rather ill-tempered; a rematch could get ugly. 2) Germany vs. Netherlands. This pairing would massively piss off half of South America, while the other half would enjoy a good laugh at their expense. Famously, the teams met in the final of World Cup 1974, with the Dutch scoring before the Germans even had a chance to touch the ball. However, their subsequent attempt to humiliate the country that wreaked havoc on them in World War II backfired on them, as the Germans counterattacked and beat them. That 1974 Dutch team is considered one of the greatest teams ever to not win the World Cup; their successors would want to avenge them. 1) Brazil vs. Argentina. The one everyone wants. The atmosphere would be otherworldly. The best player left in this tournament faces the host nation. Losing this match would haunt Brazil into the 22nd century, and give Argentina permanent bragging rights.
Has there been any movement on the Mexico homophobia chant?
Just this: Univision issued a verbal disclaimer both before Mexico’s quarterfinal match and during halftime, stating that the network is against discrimination and welcomes all audiences “incluyendo el audiencia gay.” I guess that’s better than nothing. Oh, and when the South Korean team went back home, they were greeted at the airport by fans throwing toffee at them. Apparently, the toffees in South Korea look sort of like penises, so throwing toffee at someone is like telling them to eat one. That’s dumb for so many reasons.
What’s happening with Luis Suárez?
He made his cadre of defenders back home look like fools by admitting to biting Giorgio Chiellini. Of course, the alternative was not admitting it and looking like a pathological liar. The admission may be about more than his conscience; he’s looking for a move from Liverpool to Barcelona. During the months of July and August every year, soccer opens what’s called “the transfer window.” This allows club teams everywhere in the world to buy players from each other if the two parties can agree on a fee. (There’s another window in January as well.) The Spanish team is reportedly willing to pay in excess of $100 million for the player’s services. That’s just silly money, and while Liverpool’s incredible season last year depended hugely on Suárez’ goals, a sum like that would tempt Liverpool to sell him even if he weren’t damaged goods. We may be witnessing a return to Barcelona’s dysfunctional management of old, where they brought in high-priced players to make a splash and neglected their homegrown players. Even if Barça get rid of Alexis Sánchez (which they’re expected to do), how is their frontline going to accommodate Messi, Neymar, and Suárez? Then again, Neymar is hurt and Suárez will miss a big chunk of next season because of his suspension. Maybe Barcelona figure they can rotate those guys. But when was the last time rotation of such big stars worked?
I thought this post was about the World Cup, not the Spanish league. Get back on topic! Anything else on USA?
Aron Jóhannsson apparently needs surgery, so USA’s team was hurt even worse than we knew. Also, the Things Tim Howard Could Save meme cropped up on the internet, and it’s really funny. DeAndre Yedlin could be a hot property on the transfer market as well, with Liverpool and AS Roma sniffing around.
Why do we care about that?
Because the European leagues offer a higher standard of competition than ours, with all due respect to Major League Soccer. Young players who go out and test themselves against higher levels of players become better. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann is agitating for his guys to do just this. If Yedlin joins AS Roma, he’ll be on the same defensive line as Ashley Cole. The English left-back is a miserable human being, but there’s probably a lot to learn from watching him play. We’ll see if any of USA’s players make the leap, and how they do once they get there.