I... did not expect that.
Oh, sure, I’ve had my doubts about Brazil for a while now. With the loss of Neymar, I expected the team to falter, even struggle. But I don’t think anyone foresaw Germany putting five past the Seleçao in the first half en route to a 7-1 evisceration. Social media was fun during the match. I myself may or may not have tweeted an oblique reference to the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones. Schadenfreude was enjoyed by all.
So now Germany is in the finals -- this is a good time to point out that USA only allowed the Germans to put one past them, much less seven... obviously USA >>>>>> Brazil -- and we await this afternoon’s match to see who will challenge them on Sunday for the right to lift the World Cup trophy at the Maracana in Rio.
Netherlands vs. Argentina
4 p.m. Wednesday, July 9, Arena Corinthians, São Paulo (ESPN)
The curious thing about this match is that neither team has played particularly well lately. Oh, certainly Netherlands romped through what was billed as a tough group stage (Spain notwithstanding), and Argentina has Leo Messi, but both sides showed a bit of naïveté in their elimination matches. In short, neither looks like it has what it takes to beat the Germans, if the team comes out the way it did against Brazil on Tuesday.
The Netherlands, in particular, should feel fortunate to be here. Costa Rica had its chances, both in extra time and in the penalty shoot-out, to send the Dutch packing and send Central America into delirium, and it makes Dutch skipper Louis Van Gaal’s decision to use his final substitution to the 120th minute on a goalkeeper look, well, a little bit crazy. But it worked, and the Dutch have a chance to return to the World Cup championship game for the second time in a row.
Robin Van Persie is in line to return to the Dutch side after a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation, but there’s some doubt to his fitness, as he has apparently been battling a stomach bug. Should Van Persie be sidelined, the onus will fall on Arjen Robben to continue his blistering World Cup form and lead the Dutch to victory. (Fact: Robben has exactly one move -- he cuts inside from the right and shoots with his left foot. Watch for it.) The Netherlands is a team that likes to counter-attack -- much like Argentina -- and while its exceptionally young defense has matured over the course of the tournament, it’s never faced the likes of Lionel Messi before.
While the nature of the wins has not been exactly convincing, you won’t find the Dutch lacking in confidence. They were a karate kick away from beating Spain in South Africa four years ago, and although their pedigree dates back to the 1970s era of Johan Cruyff and Total Football, they’ve never brought the trophy back to the Low Countries. The Oranje have a decent shot this time around.
After yesterday’s debacle, Argentina suddenly finds itself heading into the match with the weight and expectations of the entire South American continent on its shoulders. A European team has never won the World Cup on South American soil, after all. There’s no love lost between Brazil and Argentina, but much like many Americans gravitated towards confederation compatriots Costa Rica after the USA lost to Belgium, most South Americans would rather see Argentina win the World Cup than have it go to either the Dutch or the Germans.
While Holland has Van Persie, Argentina has, of course, the undisputed best player in the world in Lionel Messi, who has finally shrugged off the burden of World Cup underperformance and is having a marvelous tournament. While the Argentines are without the injured Ángel Di Maria, they could welcome back Messi’s strike partner Sergio Agüero, who has been sidelined with a muscle injury since the group stages. Argentina also likes to counter and rely on the speed of their attacking midfielders to score.
The key for Argentina is the same thing that has plagued the team for the majority of the World Cup -- putting the individual puzzle pieces together to make a unified team. There’s no denying the talent on Argentina’s squad, it’s why they were in the pre-Cup discussion as favorites to win. But despite making it to the semi-finals, they’ve looked, well, unconvincing as potential champions, preferring to watch Messi make something out of nothing over cohesive teamwork and solid play. A win over the Dutch might help abrogate that perception.
This has the potential to be an exceptionally open match... or it could bog down into a boring nil-nil midfield possession match that will go to penalties... again. We don’t know. What we do know is that whichever team escapes from this match is probably going to have to bring its A+ game to knock off the Germans, who at this point look like presumptive champions.
If you like home town continent narrative, you might want to consider pulling for La Albiceleste. If you’re a Europhile, are Mennonite with low country roots (there are lots of us!), or just like the color orange, maybe you consider Holland.
Either way, there are only two matches left in this World Cup. Both should be pretty darned good.
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