|No redemption: Brazil's defeat against German saw their|
most famous landmarks head off for greener pastures
In keeping with this topsy-turvy tournament, the teutonic Germans stunned us all with a record 7-1 victory over the hosts before the Argies barged their way to a goalless victory over Holland and edged through on a penalty shoot-out.
Tuesday night in Belo Horizonte reduced Brazil to a sea of tears, after 29 minutes Joachim Loew's men had scored FIVE and a record 35.6m tweets helped record the world's utter surprise. Wednesday night in Sao Paulo reduced the entire football-speaking globe to tears; after 99 minutes Holland managed their first shot on target and a record billion yawns greeted their woeful exit.
There were those who claimed the first semi-final was an eight-goal mis-match. Not a contest. And there were those who felt the second was a fascinating battle of tactics.
That, of course, is utter rubbish. Tuesday night was a magnificent footballing occasion. Wednesday will have had the newly-converted Yanks switching off in their thousands.
And the truth is this: One extreme led to the other. Brazil and Big Phlop Scolari will NEVER recover from the ignominy of that record defeat, the chorus of boos, the almost apologetic non-celebration of the German sixth and seventh goals. The Selecao may point to the back fracture suffered by top-scorer Neymar and the suspension of captain Thiago Silva, but in truth they were a team of chronic bad backs and Fred, perhaps the weakest striker ever to wear the famous shirt.
Scolari sent them out unprepared; Silva's deputy Dante looked like he'd never met stand-in captain David Luiz and as the Germans fired at will, Julio Cesar looked like a goalkeeper incapable of getting a game with Harry Redknapp at Queens Park Rangers and the world fell apart: the Samba became the Sombre.
O Globo, the Rio sports newspaper, gave EVERY member of the team 0 out of 10 for their performance, Scolari admitted it was the worst night of his life and Luiz was one of many of the Selecao reduced to simply apologizing to a nation threatening to boil over in anger. And of course, we had a few nice pictures of Neymar, presumably happy not to be there, in a recent 7-Up lemonade advertisement.
Utter devastation. There's no coming back from 7-1. That's just unthinkable. Losing is one thing. Getting obliterated is another.
So the next night, having seen a nation self-destruct in 90 minutes of mayhem, both Argentina and the Netherlands knew exactly what NOT to do. Attack. Both sides set up to avoid defeat at all costs. Perhaps wary of what the Germans might do to them on Sunday, they almost seemed to invite the opposition to score first.
The Dutch, who neither scored nor conceded a goal in the last four hours of their World Cup saga, were simply appalling. Arjen Robben produced little of note, Robin van Persie played despite stomach problems and it showed. He was KAK. Set plays came straight out of pub football, passing movements broke down like Putco buses and oranges played like lemons.
Argentina were little better, reducing the great Lionel Messi to a deep role that saw him trouble the penalty area just ONCE in the second half, let alone the goal of Jasper Cillessen.
And how apt that Cillessen, spectacularly replaced by Newcastle's nondescript goalkeeper Tim Krul in the memorable penalty shoot-out win over Costa Rica, failed to save a penalty in the shoot-out as Argentina roared home after failures from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder for the Dutch.
Sergio Romero, the workmanlike Argentine stopper, will get the credit for those two saves and rightly so. But with eight goals in six games, the much-vaunted striking combinations have simply failed to impress. Kun Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been little better than Fred and Hulk.
So we go in to Sunday's showdown with Germany the clear favorites given their incredible semi-final triumph. And this despite the fact a European nation has NEVER won the World Cup in Latin America.
Argentina may spring a surprise. But remember the Italia 1990 final? Then, too, a below-par Argentina somehow clawed their way to Rome and succumbed 1-0 to the Germans. It was one of the worst games of football you could hope to witness, with referee shoving rather than goals apparently the priority for Maradona's men.
But they could yet turn this around. If Messi is freed to work his magic, if the little flea finally gets the chance to prove he CAN thrive in the biggest game of all, this World Cup could yet get the finish it deserves.
The magic against the machine. Let it be so, Mr Sabella. For football's sake.
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