And Then There Were Four
What a set of quarterfinal games!
Intrigue, excitement, last-minute dives, saves, and general madness and mayhem. This is why the World Cup is the greatest sports event on earth. It’s getting heart-breaking, though. In the two days between the last of the group games leading into the quarterfinals, I had dozens of conversations about all the teams and all the stars and all the possibilities. The one comment that stands out the most for me is, “There are a lot of good teams left, too bad someone has to lose.” Eight left among 32 who qualified for the tournament out of dozens the world over who did not. Those teams are pretty damn good and it’s a pity someone has to come away the winner. In a game like football where every goal is so precious and thousands of small heroics are invisible in the final tally at the end of a match, fates are decided by the smallest of things and often the most controversial.
The Netherlands, revitalized by the reappearance of its star Arjen Robben (a man who looks a full decade older than he is), stunned Brazil who couldn’t handle the pressure and went down in a blaze of panic. Then, that same afternoon Uruguay and Ghana locked horns in a game that went down to the wire of extra time before a surreal turn of events pushed it into a penalty kick shootout. Suarez is out for the next game. People are crying foul that Ghana was robbed, but really, the rule book states what is to happen in that situation and that’s what was done. The Ghana star missed the penalty kick (more a test of nerves than anything else) and hello PK shootout. I hate penalty kick shootouts as much as anyone, but really, what’s the alternative? You can’t continue to add extra time onto exhausted players.
I didn’t want to watch ARG v. GER because I thought it was far too early in the tournament for these teams to meet to produce a winner and a loser. I thought this was almost like a final. I guess I thought wrong. Germany, continuing to look ruthless, ripped Argentina to shreds, exposing what all us Albiceleste supporters have known but cheerfully ignored– that back line was weak and wouldn’t last a moment under serious pressure. They took the Argentines out of their stylish, cheerful attacking game and stabbed early, survived a good Argentina spell, and then whisked the game away. It wasn’t even close those last few minutes. Spain survived an obsessive Paraguay defense with a story line that though previously trod, still looks great at the end. The name is Villa, David Villa and it’s his amazing ability to finish against long odds that have kept the Euro champs in this thing.
Germany owes whoever ended Michael Ballack’s season free beer for a year. Spain owes David Villa a crown. The two meet on Wednesday for the second semifinal. I’m with Spain since they’re the last of the four teams I picked as my “to follow” lot on the ESPN FIFA app for iPhone/ iPod, even though I’m afraid this is a match they can’t win.
Still, VIVA VILLA.
P.S. Dear Del Bosque, please bench Fernando Torres and play someone else for the next match. Anyone. They’re playing with 10 men with him on the field. Loved him in 2006, but he’s just not with it this time.