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World Cup, day eleven

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The eleventh day of the Brazil World Cup brought continued surprises on and off the pitch and the last two days also brought reminders of cups and records past.

Sunday was the anniversary of Diego Maradona’s Hand of God goal, which occurred on June 22, 1986. We also note that Saturday Miroslav Klose scored his 15th World Cup goal, against Ghana, tying Brazil’s Ronaldo, and whose 15th was also scored against Ghana in 2006.

In the first game of the day Belgium beat Russia 1-0 in a thrilling match that had many great plays, good defense and goalkeeper saves, and a pretty goal as the decider.

In the second match of the day, at the Estadio Beira-Rio, in Porto Alegre, the Algerian team was just too big and tough, but also more skilled than their opponents, and they outplayed the team from the Korean Republic to obtain a 4-2 win in a game that offered three goals a half.

But the big match of the day, though, was the final one, USA-Portugal playing for Group G’s second pass to the Group of 16, joining Germany who already progressed with two wins in hand. The game would feature many injured players attempting to play not least the really out of form Cristiano Ronaldo.

The game, played in humid and hot Manaus, featured a water break at the 38th minute, and some good play by both teams. The Portuguese were able to capitalize on a missed clearance when Nani pounced on the rebound to put his team ahead at the fifth minute. At the 64th minute, Jermaine Jones scored a 25-yard boomer that hit the side netting inside Beto’s goal, without the goalkeeper having had a chance to react. Then, at the 81st minute a good USA attack down the left wing left Clint Dempsey running into a cross and using his chest to push the ball into the net for the lead. But Ronaldo had a last gasp assist left up his sleeve and his perfect cross with time expiring was met straight on by midfielder Silverstre Varela for a diving header equalizer.

But aside from the fan fun, heat and humidity, poor officiating, and surprising play, there is another theme emerging—teams are playing injured players. From Spain’s Diego Costa to Croatia’s Luka Modric, and from Chile’s Arturo Vidal to Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, players and coaches are taking huge risks.

Yes, this is the World Cup, and the players want to play, and their countrymen want to see them, and the fans have paid to watch them, but in Portugal’s case tonight, for example, Bento’s substituted players, defender Andre Almeida, striker Helder Postiga and midfielder Raul Meireles, left the game because they tried to play but seemed unfit to do so. Frankly, despite the result of his effort, Ronaldo seemed unfit to play tonight too.

The choice to play these walking wounded has kept the likes of Portugal and Uruguay in the tournament. But what happens if the teams get through, do we wait to see their players clobbered, again, by the next opponent? At what point is that risk no longer worth it? It would be a shame to put the health and careers of these players in jeopardy.

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