Saturday in Brazil’s World Cup Neymar taped a “goodbye and thank you” video letting the Brazilian fans know he is on the mend if still clearly—given his bedridden stance, shaky voice, and teary eyes—not in any shape to do anything but get bed rest. He will be watching the rest of the World Cup from his home.
For his part, the villain in the knee-in-the-back-with-fractured-vertebra scenario, Colombian Juan Zuniga, felt a response of a somewhat contrite nature might be the route to take, a day later, given the Luis Suarez experience and the fact that FIFA is thinking of investigating the incident given the social network outcry. But his response was not so contrite, it instead argued it was “a common football play that may have included some rash or misjudged act on my part, but there was clearly no intention.”
Most tweets argued that Zuniga’s punishment should simply be to be suspended from all football activities until such time as Neymar was back, at competitive shape, and on the pitch.
The poor referees continued to rule as the officiating in both games was poor and played a role in assuring that the favored teams had an easier ride than they had earned by their play. FIFA has a big series of jobs to deal with come the end of the cup—how to deal with the global referee issue, the Qatar 2022 issue, the global match-fixing issue, and the Sepp Blatter reelection issue. How those issues are addressed will go a long way toward rebuilding the severely wounded reputation of our game’s governing body.
Our two games of the day were dissimilar in that Argentina barely produced two-to-three chances and scored on a gift goal, while the Dutch created myriad opportunities against a tougher opponent and were unfortunate to have to reach the penalties stage to progress. The games were similar in that they were entertaining and in that what has brought Argentina along, so far, good fortune and Messi magic, and what has brought the Dutch along, strong play and outstanding coaching, won the day for each team.
In the Argentina-Belgium game, a 7th minute Gonzalo Higuain strike from close in, off a bobble which landed perfectly for his shot, won the game for the South Americans. For Holland, a series of brilliant Louis van Gaal decisions again ended up turning the tide for his team at the penalties stage.
Belgium coach, Marc Wilmots, in his post-match press conference said he was “not impressed with the very ordinary Argentine team.” He also had no good words for referee Nicola Rizzoli who he felt “gave Argentina, and in particular Messi himself, an easy ride with his calls.” For his part, Argentine coach, Alejandro Sabella said “We played as a team should play, we met our minimum objective, now we will see what comes next.”
On the Holland-Costa Rica game, van Gaal said: “We thought this through beforehand. So all of us are a little bit proud that this trick has helped us through.” Louis van Gaal three, Chile, Mexico, and Costa Rica, zero. Costa Rica coach, Jorge Luis Pinto, who before the match was worried another Robben dive might settle the match, said after the game: “We’re not a world power. We work with what we have. We’re going home unbeaten at the World Cup.”
Our semifinals are set: Brazil plays Germany in Belo Horizonte and Argentina plays Holland in Sao Paulo. Three of the top four expected contenders and the team that replaced the fourth have made it after all. We even have the classic continental divide represented to ensure all broadcast time zones are equally benefited. This status quo was reached despite the surprises and upsets we witnessed throughout the cup--and that outcome may be the biggest surprise of all.