Some random observations from the quarterfinals:
France 0-1 Germany: these neighboring nations have a contentious history that spilled onto the futbol pitch at the 1982 World Cup semi-finals when German goalie Harald Schumacher delivered a brutal hip and shoulder check on French star Patrick Battiston knocking him unconscious, fracturing some of his ribs, and knocking out a few of his teeth. In only their second World Cup contest since then, the match proved to be more slugfest than the beautiful game. The Germans started the game with Philipp Lahm back at his natural right back position instead of the midfield where he had not seemed completely comfortable in earlier games (despite good play there for his club team). Neither team developed much rhythm as nearly every pass, header, or dribble was contested and both teams committed a lot of fouls. While Germany, as it has all tournament, led the possession battle, it was France that dominated in the final third on offense. Les Bleus tried to expose the high back line of the German defense with runs on the flanks and deep balls into the box, but could not finish. The Germans made the most of an early set piece when Toni Kroos delivered a perfect kick to just outside the six yard box where Mats Hummels placed a header off the crossbar and into the goal. Apropos of the style of this game, Hummels used a forearm shiver to drive off a defender and get to the ball. The Germans made this goal stand up, withstanding some near misses by the French offense. It wasn’t a pretty match, but Germany advances to its fourth straight World Cup semi-final.
Brazil 2-1 Colombia: Unlike the earlier France-Germany game, this one was played at a higher gear with both teams playing with a great deal of urgency. Both teams found a lot of space to work with and pressed their attacks with Brazil able to dominate possession and create the better opportunities. The failure of Colombia to protect the back post on a Brazilian corner kick allowed Brazilian defender Thiago Silva to knee in an easy goal early in the first half. Midway through the second half, fellow back David Luiz put the game away with a 30-yard searing free kick into the upper right of the goal. On the kick, Colombian goalie David Ospina set up his wall to protect the left side of the goal, set himself up to protect the right side of the goal, and then inexplicably drifted back to the left side as Luiz began his run up for the kick. Colombia did not go down without a fight though, playing with renewed passion after the second Brazilian goal. A breakaway led to Brazilian goalie Julio Cesar taking down a Colombian in the box. Tournament sensation James Rodriguez then stutter-stepped his away to an easy conversion on the penalty kick. Colombia continued to press, but could not find the back of the net again. It was a physical game with lots of fouls committed but nonetheless both squads showed much fluidity in their attacks, making for an exciting game to watch. However, one particularly brutal foul late in the game resulted in a broken vertebrae for Brazilian superstar Neymar Jr., who will now miss the rest of the tournament. This dampens Brazil’s chances to win against a very tough and disciplined German team in the semi-finals.
Belgium 0-1 Argentina: This game was dominated by Argentina in the midfield, both offensively in working their attack up field and defensively in cutting off the Belgian passing lanes. Early in the first half, a tipped pass found Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain at the 18-yard mark and he pulled off a brilliant spin and volley shot that the Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois had no chance at. The Belgians have been strong on set pieces throughout the tournament, but their services on free kicks were poor on this day. With time running out, Belgium pressed a desperate attack, but the Argentine back line was able to repeatedly step up and catch the Red Devils offside. As with other teams, the Belgians focused their defense on Lionel Messi, who nevertheless nearly scored at the end when Belgium over-committed on offense. A quick counterattack found Messi one-on-one with Courtois, who managed to stuff Messi’s shot. Courtois, who tends goal for Chelsea in the Premier League, only allowed 3 goals in 5 World Cup games, but the one given up to Argentina was too much.
Netherlands 0-0 Costa Rica (4-3 aet): To see the final score, one would think this was a hard fought, tight match. In fact, the Dutch so thoroughly dominated possession that the Costa Ricans had no shots on goal until there was five minutes left in the second extra time period. Los Ticos seemed content to sit back on defense, clog the shooting lanes, and run their offside trap, which they did to perfection. The Dutch used the flanks well playing a wide attack, but their usually reliable scoring duo of Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben could not find the finishing touch. Costa Rica was thrice saved by shots off the goal posts as Clockwork Orange was relentless on the attack. What little offense that was mustered by Costa Rica was frequently interrupted by sloppy passing on their part. In the second overtime, the Dutch brought on another striker, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who converted the penalty kick that beat Mexico, and back-up goalie Tim Krul, clearly with an eye toward the looming penalty kicks. The Netherlands had nobody to blame but themselves for failing to convert numerous scoring opportunities. The Costa Ricans, who nailed every penalty kick against Greece in the Round of 16 had to view getting to penalty kicks as a huge win. However, Louis van Gaal’s maneuvering proved to be the difference as Krul stopped two penalty kicks while his teammates converted all the kicks they took. This match should not have gone to penalty kicks given its lopsided nature. Costa Rican goalie Keylor Navas deserves a lot of credit for giving his team a chance against the Dutch onslaught. Although they won the game, the Dutch have to be disappointed that they could not put this game away earlier. They will not be able to similarly dominate possession in their semi-final match-up with Argentina, so they will need their scoring touch to return to have a chance.