… What will stand out for you most on this Friday at the World Cup?
* Brazil scoring its first own goal in 97 World Cup matches?
* Wesley Sneijder’s header that gave the Netherlands their 2-1 lead and eventual win over Brazil?
* Brazil’s Felipe Melo becoming the first player in World Cup history to score an own goal and get sent off in the same game? Of note, Melo also lost Sneijder on the aforementioned header, and assisted on Brazil’s lone goal.
* Luis Suárez nearly throwing a potential Ghana winning goal off the line in the final seconds of extra time, getting sent off, only for Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan to miss the ensuing penalty?
* Sebastián Abreu’s cheeky chip that ended a penalty shootout and advanced Uruguay to the World Cup semifinals for the first time since 1970?
There were no shortage of talking points in the two games today, both entertaining and both showing the great and the ghastly of our game. To go through all of them would require about 4,000 words, and I don’t want to bore you with all that.
In the early game, did you get the same bad feeling I did that it might turn into a rout when Robinho scored in just the 10th minute? Due to a late injury, the Dutch were required to start Andre Ooijer in central defense – a player I’ve long felt was among the worst defenders at the international level in the world. I really thought at that point Brazil was going to run off and hide with the game, winning 3-0.
But they couldn’t add on before halftime, and in the second half, Brazil were not the Brazil we had seen earlier in the tournament. Their team defending that had been excellent to this point faded, and their attack sputtered, coming close to the target on multiple occasions, but never adding another goal. The defense/goalkeeper error that led to Melo’s own goal early in the second half was defensive comedy we had not seen from Brazil to this point. Their complete unawareness as a team of Sneijder on the corner kick that eventually won the game was damn near criminal. Sneijder was able to simply step a yard away from Melo and get the second touch on Arjen Robben’s corner kick and put Holland ahead, 2-1.
Robben was quality when he stayed on his feet, which wasn’t often on this day. There was a good bit of diving and play-acting in both games today, and it was disgusting on all parts. But with Robben down in the late going, Melo stomped on him needlessly, earning a straight red. Brazil were basically toast. It was a cowardly moment likely created by frustration, a blemish on a shining star of a team that everyone seemingly were backing to move well beyond this point this year.
Today could be the day we look back on years from now as the one where Dutch football finally crossed into the championship class. Two tough games await, against Uruguay, and then one of Germany, Argentina, Spain, or Paraguay. But how can you not like their chances? They took an early shot to the jaw from the legendary five-time champs today, then fought back and stung Brazil not once but twice. They should not lack for confidence from this point on. They can, in fact, beat anyone in the world. The only question facing them now is, will they?
Ghana were mere inches away from the semifinals later in the day, but Gyan’s penalty kick – literally the last kick of the ball over 120 minutes, banged off the crossbar, in what served as a crushing blow for not only the nation but the continent. All of Africa’s representation in the 2010 FIFA World Cup has now been eliminated. Gyan had the spot kick after an astonishing scramble around the Uruguay goal box, which saw one shot saved, another blocked off the line, then a third handled by Suárez to prevent a goal – an easy penalty call and ejection.
You could say Suárez cheated, and hoped to escape unseen, but he was caught, and while he seemed surprised when he saw the red card, he couldn’t have had any real doubts in his mind. He was walking down the tunnel with Uruguay on life support when Gyan famously missed, and Suárez celebrated, turning to the field for a moment, only to remember that he could not return.
On one hand, he had committed what would have gone down as the ultimate act of World Cup deceit had he not been caught – and there would have been no apologies for it. Or, if you believe it another way, he took the last available action to him, knowing the consequences, but knowing that in that moment, Uruguay still were level and still had whatever slim chance there was of Gyan missing the penalty.
That small chance came true, and after winning the penalty tiebreaker, 4-2, Uruguay are more than alive – they’re two wins away from winning their third World Cup, but first in 60 years. They’ll be massive underdogs vs. Holland on Tuesday afternoon, especially with Suárez suspended. But that doesn’t matter to Suárez or any of his teammates now. Whether he knew what he was doing, or whether it was merely a non-premeditated reaction, Suárez made the play that saved Uruguay’s tournament. Gyan had his chance to punish Suárez for it, and famously failed.
It is to Gyan’s credit that he scored his penalty in the first round of the shootout, but you had to know that even with that, Ghana were somehow already beaten. Theirs is one of the more catastrophic losses a team will ever suffer at this level. It continues a run of late, late deciders in this tournament that have given it a feeling of March Madness rather than summer soccer. It is the most cruel part of the World Cup for Ghana that today’s shocking defeat can’t be erased from their minds for at least another four years.
Uruguay and Holland, however, have no such concerns. One will play in the World Cup final on July 11. Holland stand two wins away from erasing forever their decades of frustration. Uruguay, meanwhile, are just two wins away from recapturing a glory long since forgotten – and in some cases never learned by the younger followers of the game. They may not be the two that everyone picked to get here, but there’s no lack of interesting plot lines for either.
Meanwhile, Ghana and Brazil go home. One, coming about as close as a team can to winning before being eliminated; the other, failing to close out a game because they didn’t do the things that had gotten them to that point.
We can only wonder what tomorrow has to offer, with Argentina vs. Germany kicking off at 10 a.m. Eastern, followed by Spain-Paraguay at 2:30 p.m.
I can’t wait.
Argentina 3-2 Germany
Spain 2-1 Paraguay
Today’s Record: 2-0.
Tournament Record: 33-25.