The semifinals in this World Cup pretty much reflected what most American sports fans know and think about the Beautiful Game. They know it is gritty yet slow paced, with a lot of action and not a lot of scoring, that even a single goal can be a rare treat and some games, the ones the real fans call the best games, grind through all 120 possible minutes with no score at all, to be settled in the heartbreaking gut check of a penalty shootout. And they think “the rest of the world’s football” would be a lot better if somebody scored a whole lot of goals.
In the semifinal we got one of each. Yesterday’s long, rainy struggle between the Netherlands and Argentina went down to a shootout. And yes, my Oranje lost. But my man Van Persie (Dutch striker. Very handsome.) subbed out near the end of the game having run 11.23 K , some of it in the pouring rain, and everybody else on both sides worked just as hard to get that scoreless tie and it was really sort of epic. Even if I don’t really understand it.
And then there was Wednesday’s game. You may have heard about it? The one where Germany beat Brazil? Into the ground? 7-1? I was pretty confident I was seeing something rather special by the second goal, but when the Germans ended up scoring 4 goals in 6 minutes of clock time, I started feeling like I was in the presence of history. And according to the commentators, I wasn’t wrong:
“I hope the people in the United States are sitting and enjoying this game, because they will never see a World Cup semifinal like this for the rest of their lives. I am shell shocked.”
And these are old British football experts who have seen thousands of games in person and more on film and who know pretty much everything there is to know about the sport. Even if you could care less about the outcome it was worth watching to hear these jaded old guys trot out the really strong football related language:
- “If this was boxing, the referee would be stopping it to save Brazil from further punishment.”
- “Brazil has simply unravelled.”
- “You might as well just finish the game and walk off if you’re not going to run around.”
- “I keep saying ‘appalling’ but I’m running out of words.”
What happened to Brazil? Well, their star player, Neymar, was hurt, and their captain, and the core of their defense, was suspended for being shown too many little yellow cards. Maybe they were never as good as they seemed to be, and maybe home field advantage can only do so much. Maybe national pride and hope can become a burden rather than an encouragement. Maybe they simply unravelled.
It will be interesting to see who the thousands of Brazilian fans will support in the final– Germany, whose supporters seem to consist of Germans and the players’ moms, or Argentina, Brazil’s major sporting rival. Will hemispheric solidarity trump everyday hatred between the yellow and green and the sky blue and white vertical stripes? No European side has ever won a World Cup staged in the Americas.
My football-loving neighbor told me two weeks ago Germany was going to win it all. I’m afraid he may be proved right.