World Cup Semifinals – A Preview and a Look Back

The World Cup 2010 Quarterfinals was soccer – and sport in general – at its most compelling.  Incalculably high stakes, countries caring about it a little too much – this round contained everything.  The four games were staggering in four completely different ways.

THE STUNNER:

Netherlands 2, Brazil 1: This is the sort of game Brazil wins.  They had NEVER lost in the World Cup after gaining a halftime edge.  They dominated the Netherlands for 45 minutes, and were a spectacular save away from a 2-0 lead and essentially blowing the doors off of this.  However, give the Dutch full marks for hanging in there.

Obviously Felipe Melo will get the goat horns for the first goal – but really that is the goalkeeper Julio Casear’s mistake.  It’s like a fly ball in baseball.  The outfielder ALWAYS has the call.  That play is much easier for Caesar to make, he could have reached it – he has to get to the ball.  Being a goalie is like being an airline pilot – there are no small mistakes.  At that point, Brazil fell to pieces – they lost composure, it did not seem their coach ever prepared them for actually being behind in a game.  Brazil just lost their marbles at the end.

THE AGONY:

Uruguay 1, Ghana 1: In my 25-plus years of watching sports – this was the single worst way to lose possible.  Ghana scored a semi-lucky goal to get the lead, and Uruguay’s super striker Diego Forlan scored the equalizer on a lovely free kick.  But the game was largely unremarkable until the 120th minute and that scrum.  Suarez, who will miss the semifinal, HAD to commit the handball.  I said on facebook that of course he cheated – but I realize cheating is a loaded term implying that the guy is an asshole.  All fouls are cheating – circumventing the rules to gain advantage – one hopes the refs call them.  Suarez had to take the chance – and he got caught.

Either way, it was a 100% chance Ghana would win or a 90% chance.  Ghana had a 90% chance and – you have to get it on the target.  That said the guy who missed it scored in penalty kicks and was the Ghanaians best player – so let’s not get too carried away.  But a couple of dreadful penalties taken completed the crush.  Uruguay deserved it – but with so many South African hearts wanting a continental semifinalist, hard not to be sad.

THE ODDITY:

Spain 1, Paraguay 0: Paraguay almost did it.  They almost stunk the Spanish all the way out of the tournament.  They actually played much more positively than I expected, and gave the usually very precise Spain team real problems.  The oddity came with dueling penalty kicks, and each goalie coming up with a huge save.  It woke up a fairly blah affair – but then Spain kept their patience then David Villa struck again.  Paraguay tried, but not enough firepower.

TRANSCENDENCE:

Germany 4, Argentina 0: I guess the events of 70 years ago prevent Germany from ever being lovable at anything.  But I don’t know.  The youth and positive speed of this group is coming together.  Germany has always been one of the most technically sound sides – but they have never been fun.  This is the exception – Germany is easily the best aesthetic of the tournament – and the goals have just flowed.  They are still technical Germany – witness how they held Argentina off until the Argentinians collapsed under the weight of their futility – but their counter is so positive and they have such speed out wide.  The last 30 minutes they broke Argentina, and just shredded them.  It was a joy to watch – they have been a joy to watch.  I feel dirty admiring and rooting for them to win this now.  But I must be true.

The FINAL FOUR

Uruguay vs Netherlands: The Netherlands have been building to this.  They have the soundness and the flair.  Uruguay has the world class strikers and solidness on defense.  However, their struggles against Ghana and South Korea showed that maybe their power in the group stage was a function of frankly France’s collapse.  The Netherlands should win this, especially with Suarez out.

Spain vs Germany: Without their sterling outside man Muller, Germany will be up against it.  With their youth and vibrance, it is hard to see Germany losing on one level.  But this is still largely the cast that Spain demolished in the Euro 2008 final.  Spain is better on paper – and have been utterly professional since the toe stub against Switzerland.  I want Germany to do it – but they won’t.

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