By Martin Hearnden
After 24 days of a FIFA world cup to remember we arrive safely at the semi-finals and not a heck of a lot has changed in the world order with Brazil vs. Germany and Argentina vs. Netherlands the line-up. After a fascinating tournament that promised and often delivered great football, the big boys will decide the outcome. Yet again the usurpers have been repelled; romance has no place at the main table.
During the round robin and into the last 16 we were deluged with comment along the lines of “anyone can win…” or “the big teams are not impressing me…” – as we were beguiled by Chile, Colombia and plucky little Costa Rica, not to mention a French side full of joie de vivre and those coming kids, Belgium. Heck, even team USA won us over. And yet here we are again and the only (minor) surprise package are the Netherlands who I expected to fail to get out of their group. (How many of you predicted such an implosion by the Spanish?)
Argentina have almost flown under the radar, hardly flashy but mighty efficient and with the ever present threat of Messi waiting to win the game in a moment. The Netherlands have a major task on their hands and will require all the vaunted tactical nous of Van Gaal to negotiate their way into a final. Argentina for me, penalties not required.
Brazil have coped an awful lot of flak for their methods, not all of it justified. Scolari knows a thing or two about winning World Cups; he is also aware of the limitations of his squad and painfully aware of the intense scrutiny and weight of expectation placed on them by the adoring public of Brazil. A pragmatic approach, tinged with thuggery was always the way forward. Failure to at least reach a final is simply not a Brazilian option.
Germany is in the highly unusual position of being the neutral’s team of choice in this one. Thanks to Bayern Munich they are a very recognizable bunch playing pragmatic football but with an edge. This is going to be a tumultuous match, expect a large dose of controversy as the lucky bloke selected to referee the encounter will struggle to block out the influence of the home crowd. I see a Brazilian win, red cards and penalties may well be needed.
The winner thus far has been the tournament itself. This is what you get when the event is staged in a country that has football coursing through its veins. It was always going to be a success, Brazil has not disappointed. It probably is not advisable to remind yourself that in 4 years Russia are the hosts…and as for Qatar, someone’s idea of a right laugh.
The overall winner? Argentina, but they may not get out of the stadium alive.
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