Who could have predicted the all European semi-finals? How the mighty South American’s fell from the tournament on European soil. In a gritty quarterfinal opening, the hosts were able to stay close for the entire game, clawing a matching goal to draw even and pushing Argentina to the dreaded penalty kick lottery. In the end, Coach Klinsmann’s keeper choice, guessing the direction of all four Albiceleste shooters he faced, courtesy of a now infamous note, stoning two key players so that the fifth wasn’t even necessary. While not the greatest of contests it did have its dramatic moments, most of which seemed to adversely effect the South American side, including an injured goal keeper that cost a key substitution. As good as the Argentineans were in the tournament, I have to admit that I was definitely happy that the Nationalmannschaft prevailed.
As expected, the Italians made easy work of the Ukrainians. It took them a little while to get started, but, once things got rolling, the Azzurri looked their most impressive to date in the tournament, which is a dangerous sign as they prepare to square off with the hosts today. Hopefully, this will be the kind of match that goes down in the lore of this cup.
In a match that made almost every attempt to kill any excitement, Portugal bested England. The most notable event in their tilt was hothead Wayne Rooney’s getting sent off for rucking a the groin of a Portuguese opponent, then subsequently shoving Man.U teammate, Cristiano Ronaldo, when he arrived on the scene to appeal the case of the cleat castrated Carvalho (see below). Mind you, all of this was done with the referee less than two yards from the evolving spectacle. It was a less than shining moment for the player that was widely considered England’s golden boy. Now he, like another previous “golden boy,” David Beckham, becomes two of the three Queen’s men ever to be sent off in a World Cup, a rather inauspicious dis-honor, to say the least.
Finally, in the stunner of the round of eight, the boys from Brazil make an earlier than expected exit. Having not last a World Cup match since the last clash with France, the match sized up to be one of the more intriguing of the entire tournament. France, still fielding a handful of the key players from their championship run, seemed to have Brazil’s number. From the whistle France jumped on the South Americans, taking the game directly to them and sending them reeling for answers. Although, it would seem that even before the match France had penetrated the Brazilian psyche, as Carlos Alberto Parreira benched striker Adriano, in favor of a fifth midfielder, Juninho, in an effort to tame Les Bleus. Yet, nothing seemed capable of slowing a rejuvenated Zinedine Zidane, who was positively brilliant in nearly every facet of the game. Also a former two-time footballer of the year, the wily veteran who had gotten off to such a faltering start, managed his side and the game with mesmerizing grace and grit, leaving anyone who watched with nothing but questions about current world footballer of the year Ronaldinho. It would seem as though age and treachery were no match for the youth and exuberance. Even Kaka, the brightest of the Brazilians during the tournament, seemed without answers. By the end Brazil seemed to unravel in haste and panic as they attempted to level the score.
So now the semi-finals are an all Euro affair. My picks are Germany and France to meet with a not so quiet Western Front. Even though Portugal’s golden generation have survived, it seems as though France has found their stride and are simply insanely inspired by Zidane’s inevitable curtain call. Yet, Deutschland uber alles! As Sean Wisely recently put it in National Geographic magazine’s feature on the World Cup, “There’s a weird power in home-team advantage. Hosts find a level of success disproportionate to their talents on paper, triumphing over stronger teams, as if exerting a gravitational pull on the game, causing it to be played the way they want to play it, as if, to carry this metaphor to its inevitable conclusion, God were on their side.” I only wish I had written that!
Finally, happy Independence Day!