The 2014 FIFA World Cup is now down to only four teams, three previous multiple winners and one a three-time bridesmaid of you could call the Netherlands the Buffalo Bills of futbol, as the matches and individual performances have taken on more aspects of American Football: smashmouth tactics, the creation of mistakes and subsequent capitalization, and beside that, theatrical intimidation.
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Tomorrow (7/8) we will see hosts Brazil take on Germany. Yes, Neymar is no longer with us for this tournament; whisked away by whirlybird to his hometown after a confirmed diagnosis of a cracked vertebra caused by a back-barge from Colombian midfielder Camilo Zuñiga, unfortunately a karmic climax to a match in which Brazilian thugs Fernandinho and Ramires practiced hack-a-‘Hamez’ (Colombian forward James Rodriguez) for most of the match, sadly a successful strategy in which the Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo was fearful of producing a card of punishment, and Brazil thus advanced 2-1. Meanwhile, blitzkriegs were unnecessary as Germany enjoyed a cakewalk over a French side whose challenge was exposed as mostly illusion (Germany would carry their success over into the Tour de France where they would also enjoy and early lead for Marcel Kittel). Now Brazil faces an altered moment of truth: will they capitulate now that they have the excuse that comes with the loss of their built-up star, or will they bond and respond as a team, and achieve a memorable victory over a German side that is rather impressive but also still rather faceless. Can Fred come to the fore? Will Hulk get angry? This game will only be the second time these nations have faced each other, although the other was the 2002 Final in Korea/Japan, which was comfortably won by Brazil led by Ronaldo and his proto-‘bruh?’ haircut.
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The next day we have Argentina, the other side of the dream final that is still in play, through after Belgium star Hazard did not present himself, and the rest of the Red Devils could not find an extra gear to respond after a fortunate early bounce for Argentina led to an impressive goal for Gonzalo Higuain, the match’s only tally. Lionel Messi was mostly contained on the day, but will this be the same case against The Netherlands, who showed much attacking menace but no finishing luck, and came within inches and a novelty move from being eliminated by pre-tournament 4000-1 shot Costa Rica, who did CONCACAF proud. This semifinal will be a replay of the 1978 Final, held in the dark days of the dictatorship in Buenos Aires, as well as the 1998 Quarterfinal in France won by the Netherlands with what many consider the greatest World Cup goal ever, by Dennis Bergkamp.
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Whomever the winners of either of this pair of games, the hope is that play will open up one last time. The defensive-minded hacking in the quarters round is threatening to destroy the ‘greatest-ever’ impetus that has had this tournament breaking viewing records in America and world-wide.
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