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World Cup, day nineteen

Rais in flight
Rais in flight
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Monday at the Brazilian World Cup we saw two very entertaining games—France vs. Nigeria and Germany vs. Algeria—the matches underscored the great strides the sport has made in all corners of the world.

The Nigerians previously played Argentina, and today played France, even, for large stretches of games that were ultimately decided against the Africans, not because they lacked skill or athleticism or heart but simply because they lacked tactical acumen and longer-term experience at higher levels of competition.

Algeria, one of the cup’s technically superior teams, deserved to be in the Round of 16 and almost pulled off an upset. Imagine if Mesut Ozil’s insurance goal had not been scored. We would be in another penalty shootout with Rais M’Bolhi the hot goalkeeper.

The German sports daily Kicker had a front page article with a headline: “With Luck! A wild ride into the quarterfinals.” The headline in the Algerian El Watan was straightforward: “Algerians eliminated by Germans in World Cup.” The first sentence of the article stated “The Algerians did not bend in their match with the Germans and scored a goal of honor at the end.”

Today we also saw perhaps the competition’s best referee, Mark Geiger, who, with the exception of handing out a yellow card that could have been red, did an excellent job in the day’s first match.

Unfortunately, we also saw Sandra Meira Ricci’s poor performance in the second game, not so much for making poor calls that in and of themselves determined the game, such as we have witnessed often enough in this cup, but by making calls that allowed the favored Germans multiple, subtle, unfair advantages.

We also saw a number of stateside media outlets reconsidering several of the controversial plays of the past few weeks. We learned via several major television network news coverages that Luis Suarez apologized to Giorgio Chiellini via Twitter and that the Italian in turn responded that it was “no biggie” and he reiterated his previous comment directly to Suarez that he thought the FIFA ban was excessive.

Univision and ESPN Deportes dedicated entire football commentary shows to dissecting the Mexico- Netherlands match and the way Miguel Herrera coached (“He made too many mistakes in substitutions and tactics,” was the verdict). Others discussed whether Arjen Robben should have been given two yellows at least for his multiple dives (“He should not have been in the game by the time the final penalty was called,” was the consensus). ESPN, via commentator Alexi Lalas, said that it was Rafa Marquez’s fault the penalty was called as he was “aware of Robben’s reputation and intent” and thus the defender should have “laid back from the Dutch striker once he entered the Mexican area.”

Uruguayan and Chilean pundits and politicians were less cordial calling the proceedings that resulted in their eliminations a farce or worse. Italy’ Gazzetto dello Sport has moved on from criticizing the Italian team’s performance to doing a survey of the best ever World Cup goal with Maradona’s 1986 masterpiece garnering 46% and the closest rivals coming in at 18.6% for James Rodriguez goal against Uruguay, and at 17% Baggio’s 1990 goal against Czechoslovakia.

Tomorrow we have another great doubleheader: Argentina plays Switzerland in Sao Paulo and the USA plays Belgium in Salvador.