Monday, July 07, 2014

Fair Play: Hobbled South Americans vs. Europeans

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu's July 7 issue)
LET me gloat a bit. In a previous column, I picked Brazil over Colombia, Germany over France, Argentina over Belgium and the Netherlands over Costa Rica and so far, I’m 100 percent correct. I even guessed it right that James Rodriguez would score and that Colombia would still lose to the host.

If you say that those were just lucky guesses, you are right. Besides, those were easy picks made by my spirit-fueled crystal ball. I was hoping, though, that I’d be wrong in the Costa Rica vs. Netherlands match and that the Cinderella run of the South American country would continue.

Who wouldn’t want to cheer for the underdog in football’s greatest stage?

But in a cruel twist, the favorites Brazil has sort of become the underdog after that tough quarterfinal win that saw Neymar stretchered off. Who wasn’t affected seeing the Brazilian star in pain after that knee to the back fractured his vertebra?

We all thought it was just one of those “Ooops, he fell again” moment. But when we saw the replay, we knew it wasn’t.

Neymar’s World Cup stint has been ended by a knee to the back and now, more than ever, fans who cheer for Brazil want the team to go all the way to win it for the injured star, and some neutral fans whose teams got eliminated are also rooting for the home team.

But against a disciplined Germany squad in the semifinal? And without Neymar and captain Thiago Silva, who will be suspended for accumulated yellow cards, the hosts have the odds against them, right?

By the way, here’s a curious stat I just learned. Brazil and Germany have eight titles between them but the semifinal meeting is only the second time the two will meet. The first one? In the 2002 final, with Ronaldo scoring twice in the second half.

Perhaps, all Brazil needs to win the semifinal is have one of their players sport that ridicilous half-moon hair cut the great Brazilian had 12 years ago.

In the other semis, you have Argentina against the Netherlands, and history seems to favor the Orangemen. Ever since losing the 1978 final to the then host, the Dutch haven’t lost to Argentina, sending them home in the quarterfinals in France 98 and drawing them, 0-0, in the group stage in Germany 2006.

So far, nothing seems to go wrong for the Dutch, the runner-up in 2010 to Spain. They got an injury-time penalty in the round-of-16 that sent Mexico home, and against Costa Rica, Louis Van Gaal’s master stroke of sending Tim Krul in for starting keeper Jasper Cillesen paid hugely.

Keepers are only changed when they are injured, but it seems Van Gaal has been thinking about that move days before the match.

Also, like Brazil, Argentina is hobbled as Angel Di Maria’s campaign seems to be over after the crafty winger picked up a thigh injury against Belgium.

A Germany vs. Netherlands match in the final? That would be the first time a final would feature an all-European showdown in a South American country.

Though that’s what I think would happen, I hope I’d be wrong. Who wouldn’t want to see Brazil face traditional rival Argentina in the final?

THEY SAID IT: “We all thought that Tim Krul was the best keeper to stop penalties. He is taller and has a longer reach. We prepared for the Costa Rica penalties just as we prepared for our own penalties.” Louis Van Gaal.

I never saw something like that. But they were right, he did his job.” Costa Rica midfielder Celso Borges on the goalkeeping change.

No comments: