First of all, what a game. What a game! My heart was pounding from the moment Robinho scored the first goal until the final whistle. It wasn’t the most beautiful game ever played, but it was so full of drama you could freeze it, wrap it, and sell it to Twilight fans (just try to tell me Giovanni van Bronckhorst doesn’t sound like the name of a vampire… or Robin van Persie, for that matter). I’m not telling anyone who watched the game anything they don’t know, but the Netherlands were dreadful in the first half. They gave Robinho a goal on a silver platter and he’s simply not a player you can present with that kind of opportunity and not expect to suffer. That said, the Dutch hiked up their orange underpants and solved the problem of how to beat this Brazil, which no team had managed to do so far. Their solution, run at their left flank and wait them to make mistakes. That’s not a brilliant solution , but in this case it worked. Felipe Melo’s own goal was, frankly, ridiculous, and Brazil looked shaken after that, and Holland managed to press their advantage and score another. Then Melo did his sneaky fouling thing not sneakily enough and got sent off. It was game set and match after that.
But, I want to point to another crucial thing Brazil was missing, Elano. Elano provided Brazil with another avenue of attack. In this game, their attack was Kaká, Fabiano, Robinho, and little else. They’re all great players, but there’s only so many ways these three can combine. Elano is very good at moving into dangerous areas, either drawing a defender creating space for the aforementioned three, or offering a goal-scoring opportunity for Brazil. Losing Elano to an injury he suffered in the Ivory Coast match hurt Brazil offensively. The basic idea with this Brazil team is that they don’t concede goals and then score one or two more than the other teams. That’s not a bad idea, but if you lack attacking options, trying to score when you’re behinf becomes very, very hard for a defensively oriented team playing another defensive team. With Elano, they could have gotten away with that, but without him they were too predictable. And thus the Netherlands, having figured out how to score against Brazil, could fairly easily hold on for the win.
Uruguay vs. Ghana
Heartbreak! Such heartbreak! There’s very little to say about this game, really. These were very evenly matched teams, Uruguay were luckier and more experienced than Ghana, and thus they won. Tactically both teams were very smart, and they made small changes to their formations which shifted the initiative. In the beginning of the first half, Ghana were playing with four defenders, and Uruguay had total control of the midfield. After about 20-25 minutes Pantsil started pushing up into the midfield and Ghana took control. Their goal came out of nowhere, but goals often do. In the second half, Forlán started roaming all over the field, taking control of the Uruguayan set-up, and Uruguay became much more dangerous. The goal, again, came out of little, a silly foul, and a goal from a free kick. Both goals probably wouldn’t have happened with a less wibbly-wobbly ball than the Jabulani but those are the breaks. In extra time, Uruguay had the better of it to begin with, but the fresh mind and legs of substitute Stephen Appiah started to put the hurt on dead tired defenders Fucile and Victorino, and Ghana overran Uruguay. And they should’ve scored, but Suárez did what every quick-thinking footballer would’ve done in a quarterfinal match in the World Cup, he cheated, and used his hands to keep the ball from entering the net. And the designated penalty-taker, Asamoah Gyan, injured, tired, young, blew his chance. And then Uruguay went on to win the penalty shootout.
It is with a sad heart I say goodbye to Ghana. I liked them in 2006, but they really won my heart this year. They have a young team and, historically, the smartest footballing association on their continent, so they should be excellent in 2014. But that won’t make them, the entirety of Africa, in fact, most everyone in the world who cares about football, feel any better about seeing them lose this match. My heart goes out to the Ghanaian team.
I will write about Argentina vs. Germany, but I will miss Spain vs. Paraguay, because I have my own sporting event to participate in at the same time.
Photo by Jimmy Baikovicius.