Hello fans! The semifinals have come and gone, and only two teams are left standing. Germany and Argentina will play on Sunday for all the marbles (and probably also a trophy of some sort), although they got to the big game by very different paths. Let’s look at how the games went down:
I’ll be honest with you guys, even though it’s hard to feel pity for a five-time World Champion, I’m not exactly feeling the Schadenfreude right now. This was a historic beatdown, and you’d have to be completely heartless not to empathize with Brazil. They spent many billions of dollars, handed control of their country to FIFA for a month, and endured months and months of unrest and second-guessing, all for a chance to finally win one at home and erase the ghosts of the Maracanazo. In a way, they succeeded: no one will be talking about 1950 for a long, long time.
After the game, as images of heartbroken fans filled TV screens around the world, the players showed exactly how much this tournament had meant to them. David Luiz was the first one to face the music, tearfully apologizing to the entire nation. Keeper Júlio César said he wished the game had been lost 1-0 on his own mistake, so that he could spare his teammates the great burden of guilt they will surely carry around for many years. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari blamed himself for the disaster. There was no finger-pointing; the magnitude of the defeat would simply not allow it. Look, I know what fútbol means in South America. I know how it feels to carry that chip on your shoulder about the way the developed world looks down on countries like Brazil and Uruguay, and I know all about using sport as a substitute for being thought worthy to have a seat at the big geopolitical table. I can’t hate on Brazil right now. I see the players’ body language after that second goal, the way they caved in to the pressure of standing up for an entire nation and realized that they were about to fail in their mission, and I know this is a stain that can’t be washed clean. With the possible exception of Neymar, Brazil’s lone spark throughout the tournament, everyone on this team, from Felipao on down, will carry the same black mark once branded on Moacyr Barbosa, the keeper in that fateful 1950 final.
As the first semifinal was drawing to a close, I posted the following message on Facebook: “6 more goals needed to set a new tournament record. So after tomorrow’s game we should only need… 6 more goals. It actually ended up being five goals after Oscar’s late tally, but the point was that I expected Argentina and the Netherlands to play a tight, low-scoring game. I actually called this one right on the nose, a cautiously played scoreless tie that gave way to penalty kicks, where Argentina took advantage of two great saves by Sergio Romero to prevail 4-2. The Albicelestes move on to play Germany in a World Cup final for the third time (they split a pair of back-to-back decisions in 1986 and 1990), while the Dutch are once again left wondering what might have been. Hey, at least they didn’t lose another final.
So how did I guess that this game would be goalless? Well, if we ignore the 5-1 hurting the Dutch put on the Spanish (seriously, it looked like the Eighty Years’ War out there), both of these teams had made their way through this tournament by focusing on neutralizing opposing offenses and patiently waiting to capitalize on a crucial mistake or a moment of isolated brilliance from one of their world class forwards. This game was no different, except for the fact that both teams were playing the waiting game, and so the opportunities never really materialized. Argentina wasted a couple of clear chances in the extra period thanks to poor finishing, but overall this game had penalty kicks written all over it from the get-go, and that’s exactly where it ended up. Here’s hoping the weekend brings a little more excitement. I don’t necessarily need five goals in 29 minutes, but it would be nice to see the ball hit the back of the net a few times before the end of regulation. I have hope: Brazil will probably come out for the third place game like a wounded animal, which should suit the Dutch counterattacking style well. In the big one, Argentina won’t be able to remain this passive against the Germans if they want to win their third title.
Those who are tardy get no World Cup Final!
The Scoring Update
So here we are: with only two games left, a total of 167 goals have been scored–an average of 2.69 per game. As we discussed already, if five or more goals are scored during the final weekend, this tournament will top the record of 171 set in France ’98. Even if no more goals are scored (a distinct possibility when Argentina and the Netherlands are involved) this would still be the second highest total in history, and the resulting average of 2.61 would be better than seven other World Cups: Germany ’74, Mexico ’86, the god-awful Italy ’90, and the last three editions before the current one. So here’s to going out with a bang and setting some records!
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