No World Cup for underdogs – and other tournament talking points

By Antoinette Muller 7 July 2014

The semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup are upon us. It feels like just yesterday when Costa Rica won fans all over Ghana after they beat Uruguay. The tournament has left us with much to talk about throughout and the quarterfinals are no different. ANTOINETTE MULLER picks some highlights from the weekend.

The quarterfinals are here and, despite so much excitement in first two rounds of matches, the contenders ended up being somewhat predictable. Some of the games have been quite underwhelming, but that is to be expected after the buffet of tantalising treats the first stages of the tournament dished up.

The semi-finals could very well end up being “protect not attack” football yet again, as the reward becomes greater. For now, the focus is on what happened in the quarterfinals – and the talking points are endless.

No World Cup for underdogs

Sport, we are told, is often great because it mirrors life. Part of that mirror reflects the ability of performing beyond expectation and breaking the mould of what we are told is possible. It gives us hope, inspiration and makes us hold onto some sort of belief that we are greater than the sum of our circumstances. That’s what we are told, anyway.

Yet here we are with Argentina, Germany, Holland and Brazil in the semi-finals of the 2014 Soccer World Cup. None of these teams were underdogs at the start. None of them have a particularly adverse history and none of them are “the little team that could”. There are many tales of individuals overcoming struggles, from Ricky Lambert working in a beetroot jarring factory to Luis Suarez escaping terrible poverty and Yaya Toure not owning a proper pair of boots until he was in his teens. These all tug at the heartstrings and serve their purpose in isolated cases, but teams who are considered to be working against the odds do not win World Cups.

That is because, beyond quarterfinals, the so-called underdog doesn’t stand a chance. The law of averages might dictate that the odds can be defied early on and boy, were they defied this year, but beyond that, fortune does not favour the brave – or the underdog.

Gotta be Krul to be kind

That wily old fox Louis van Gaal might have had an inspired moment to substitute Tim Krul for the penalty, but he was hardly the first to do it. During his time with Nigerian side Enyimba, Vincent Enyeama used to be subbed for penalty shootouts almost every single time. It does require some massive cahoonas, but managers in that position rarely have anything to lose. Their penalty takers play as import a role as the saver. Krul, with all his intimidation tactics, did make two stops, but those taking the kicks held their nerve too and should not be overlooked.

Brazil’s kicking of Colombia and the lack of controlling the game

Neymar has suffered a terrible injury which has ruled him out of the World Cup. During their quarterfinal clash against Colombia, it was pretty clear that part of the strategy was going to be to kick chunks out of James Rodriguez. The response of the referee was pretty tame. He kept blowing his whistle, but seemingly forgot his cards in the dressing room. There were 54 fouls committed in the match and most of the tackles were pretty nasty. There’s nothing wrong with playing hard, but if you are going to kick one team – and the ref is not going to respond – you can should expect them to kick back. Neymar’s injury is terrible and unfortunate and it was a pretty nasty tackle, but it was merely a symptom of the events leading up to it.

Argentina not quite there, but they have the clutch

Argentina haven’t been performing as well on the pitch as the names put down on paper suggest they should. Every single game there has been something abysmal that has held them back. Then, it has taken one moment of individual brilliance to propel them forward. It’s often said that that sort of thing is the mark of a class team: being able to come out on top even when you are not playing at your best.

Robben and the art of diving

The internet, in all its greatness, has come up with some fantastic memes of Arjen Robben doing the best ballet moves and swan dives from high up the plank. He has earned himself a reputation as being one of the most pesky divers of the sport. It’s something which has divided opinion. As a player, he should do whatever he can to give his team the best chance of winning. Winning a penalty or a free kick is a way to enhance a team’s chances at victory. Whether that is done with a little bit of theatrics or not is irrelevant for some. Of course it’s not irrelevant; it’s cheating and it’s unnecessary. But in Robben’s defence, until these things are better policed, it’s going to be part of the game. Sure we all want to build sugar puff castles in the sky of sportsmanship, but the game reaps what it sows and it has sown the seeds of allowing a platform for players to cheat with its refusal to embrace video technology. DM

Photo: Arjen Robben of the Netherlands reacts during the FIFA World Cup 2014 quarter final match between the Netherlands and Costa Rica at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil, 05 July 2014.


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