The quarterfinals have come and gone, with a whole lot of drama if not as much action as the previous rounds! There have been penalty shootouts, early dramatic goals, late dramatic saves and even some unfortunate news.
Let’s start with the good news first. In a battle of Western Europe, France were defeated b 1-0 by Germany, at the Estádio Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro. Les Bleus were unable to withstand Die Mannschaft, in what older fans would recognize as the “old Germany” . There was little flair, but their was the characteristic efficiency that the Germans have displayed in tournaments decades past that earned them 3 previous World Cups. A man-of-the-match performance by Matts Hummels started with a precise header in the 13th minute, and several key tackles and itnerceptions from there on. The Germans calmly soaked up everything France had to give and then hit them on the counter. France’s tournament lifeline was slowly but steadily strangulated as the clock ticked down. It hadn’t been pretty but better team had won the day.
On to the bad stuff! For those people supporting the hosts during the tournament, Brazil’s encounter with Colombia had a bit of everything – good and bad. The good news is that, despite not exhibiting the kind of flair Brazil became renowned for during the 60s,70s & 80s the team held off an impressive Colombia outfit to reach the semifinals with a 2-1 victory in what I like to call the Fisticuffs of Fortaleza. The victory however was bittersweet as in the process they lost their talisman Neymar in what was the culmination of a game which the Spanish referee lost control of. Ironically it was Brazil who did most of the fouling that ultimately paid the price. It was an obvious strategy to disrupt the metronomic passing of James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado and company. And it worked – Colombia never really got in their usual stride and Brazil picked them off on two set plays with goals from captain Thiago Silva in the 7th minute and David Luiz in the 80th. As the game wore on however and the targeting of particularly James Rodriguez increased with nary a yellow card to be seen, the Colombians fought back with similar dirty tactics being focused on Neymar, resulting in Juan Zuniga knee fracturing Neymar Jr’s verterbra and ending his tournament. The latest (good) news it that he should be back playing within the next 2 months but that will be too late for Brazil. James Rodriguez was able to score a consolation penalty in the 80th, but it was too late for Colombia. Having also lost captain Thiago Silva to a 2nd yellow for the tournament during the match, they now have to navigate a difficult semifinal meeting with Germany, having lost two key players.
The 3rd quarterfinal pitted Argentina against Belgium in the Estádio Nacional de Brasilia, Brasília. Argentina started the game at full throttle and Gonzalo Higuain pounced on a loose ball in the box to volley home the game’s first and only goal in the 8th minute. Eden Hazard and his Belgium team-mates huffed and puffed for the rest of the match but could find no way past the Argentinian defence protected by the tireless Javier Mascherano in front of them. Having the advantage, Argentina were content to sit back and counter the Belgians at every opportunity. Europe’s Dark Horses had been put out to pasture, and if not for the gigantic frame of their goalkeeper Courtois might have lost by at least one more goal. His quick actions snuffed out what looked like a certain Messi goal near the end of the match and kept the scoreline to a one-goal margin. Argentina had finally made it back to the World Cup semifinals after a 24 year hiatus! Belgium seemed to have played their best against the USA and ran of out ideas and time.
The last quarterfinal saw surprise package Costa Rica pitted against the resurgent Netherlands in Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador. As has been the case with both of these teams in the cups o far there was drama to follow. In what can only be called a one-sided match, Oranje battered Los Ticos like the big, bad wolf trying to get into the little piggy’s home – but this home was obviously made of bricks! Costa Rica seemed to have a force field in front of their goal as no matter what the Dutch did they could not score! If it wasn’t one of the tournament’s most outstanding keepers in the form of Keylor Navas denying them, it was the frame – hitting it 3 times during the match! The game went into Extra-time where it was still mostly one-way traffic with goalmouth scrambles, and a steady bombardment of free kicks and shots whistling across the Costa Rican goal but they would not be breached! Los Ticos even nearly stole the game with a quick counter near the end, with Dutch keeper Jasper Cillessen sparing their blushes with a fine save! Right before the end of extra-time, Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal made his last substitution, a move that is now considered a masterstroke – bringing on reserve goalie Tim Krul for Cillessen to compete in the penalty shootout! Whether it was luck, science or psychology the substitution worked. Costa Rica had scored all 5 spot-kicks flawlessly in the previous round vs Greece, but this time Krul saved shots by Bryan Ruiz & Michael Umaña! The Dutch scored all 4 of their attempts (van Persie, Robben, Sneijder & Kuyt) – Holland had won 4-3 and the recent Dutch curse in the penalty shootouts was broken. The Oranje are on the way to a meeting with Argentina!!
Next time we’ll see which two teams will be going for the ultimate prize in world football, and who will be simply going for 3rd place!