Tuesday, 8 July 2014

WORLD CUP 2014: The Semi-Final Countdown...

Four more games gone. Four more to go. And it is still difficult, even impossible, to choose a World Cup winner. We preview the World Cup semi-finals

The best of the four quarter-finals was also the filthiest, as Belligerent Brazil, who have traded almost all of the beauty in their game for battling brutality, bashed their way past Cultured Colombia to set up a semi-final meeting with Germany, to be played tonight. Luiz Felipe "Big Phil" Scolari has made few, if any, friends outside Brazil by capitalising on the most negative aspects of the modern game for success's sake. (As an aside, similar negative play at Italia '90 forced major rule changes in the game by the time of USA '94; what price further rule changes four years from now?)

Big Phil won't care. He's not out to win fans, and as long as he continues to get the right results, both pragmatists and Brazilians will stand by him. What will, and should, stick in the craw of everyone is his hypocrisy; his comment that the now sadly injured Neymar "was always going to be hunted" earns no sympathy when you recall that his own team wasted little effort in trying to kick star-of-the-tournament James Rodriguez out of the quarter-final.

There is something worth celebrating. The unpopular Scolari has become the only manager to lead Brazil past the World Cup quarter-finals in the 21st century. It is a monkey that Brazil have been trying to shake off their backs since Scolari managed them to victory in 2002, where, coincidentally, it took a very special free-kick to earn them a 2-1 win in the quarter-final against England. For these achievements alone, he deserves some sort of credit; and he still won't be satisfied. His attitude may put you off, his teams may not be the most attractive even on their best days, but he's not short of ambition. This, along with moments of class and luck at the right times, appears to be seeing this brutal Brazilian team over even the most difficult hurdles.

Brazil's path to the semis is also starting to bear an uncomfortable resemblance to France's overall triumph in 1998, with less elegance. Following the first round, only defenders have scored for Brazil, and they have found themselves taken to extra time and penalties along the way, as France were by Paraguay and Italy sixteen years ago. It is also telling that France's top scorer in that tournament, a pre-Arsenal Thierry Henry, scored three goals in the first two matches and was no longer in the team by the final. For Henry, we may read Neymar... what price Fernandinho scoring two headers from corners in a final where the opposition defence does not show up to play?

Of course, they need to get past Germany first. And it is funny that the Germans, despite the obvious success of the Klinsmann-Loew "attacking" revolution, are once again adhering to a typical German principle: delivering the goods when it matters. In Euro 2008, they scored a total of six goals in the quarter and semi-finals. In South Africa 2010, they knocked four past England and Argentina. In their Euro 2012 quarter-final, they scored four again. Yet the moment they faced finalists - first Spain (twice), then Italy - their dream ended. Their newly found resilience in the face of an admittedly too respectful French attack is, in a way, a welcome sight, and should put them in better stead against today's Brazil.

What might come as a godsend to Brazil, and fellow semi-finalists Argentina, is that neither Germany nor Holland has fully fired as an "attacking force". Both "Europhiles" set off like greyhounds, unexpectedly hammering fancied Iberian nations in their opening matches before muddling their way through to the last four, being pushed to the limit by less technically capable but more committed sides. Similarly, while Argentina have won all their games and will be delighted to get their own monkey off their back (this is their first appearance in the last four since the Hand Of God was amputated), they too have been rather underwhelming.

It is not that Brazil 2014 doesn't remain packed with promise. Four high-profile teams have reached the semi-finals. All four have a point to prove. All four have had their moments throughout their campaigns. Two of them - Germany and Argentina - seem to be finding some sort of form at the right time. Yet not one of the World Cup contenders this year, on the whole really makes the heart race. There is something to be said for Lionel Messi's late missed chance against Belgium, France's unexpected timidity, and Costa Rica's organised football earning more praise than the canniness of Louis Van Gaal. (Yes, it was a rather "Krul" elimination for the Central Americans.) Despite the commitment levels remaining genuinely high, goals have dried up, and fears that both semi-finals will be tightly fought, cautious affairs are not unfounded.

Then again, Thomas Muller, Robin Van Persie & Messi may find their shooting boots again (none of them have scored in the knockout stages) and Hulk may finally live up to the "incredible" tag of his comic book namesake. If so, we could be in for a pair of thrillers.


Saniyah said...


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Chino Moreno said...

Germany won! Looking forward for your article about Argentina and Germany's game.

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