The 2014 edition of the World Cup Finals will be remembered for a few telling moments, and while I pray my sloppy predictions aren’t among them, I fear this may well be a World Cup event preferred to be forgotten.
For the second consecutive World Cup, the champions have failed to progress beyond the group stages, and one of the world’s great footballing talents, Luis Suarez, suffered a moment of unadulterated savagery. But mostly this is a tournament that will be tragically remembered for the manner in which the hosts, themselves a world superpower in respect of football, were comprehensively humiliated and condemned to a crushing defeat on their home turf.
Twelve minutes separated Thomas Muller’s opener for Germany and Miroslav Klose rewriting the history books with his 16th World Cup goal. In the time leading up to Klose’s goal, Brazil sought to reassert themselves and level matters, but were simply not allowed to play their usual passing game, especially in the German half.
An additional four German goals in six minutes at only the halfway point of the first half left Brazil, and the football universe, shell-shocked. The worst of those goals though, in my opinion, came as a result of Fernando Roza’s naivety in dawdling with the ball before being pick-pocketed by Toni Kroos for his second goal in as many minutes.
Sami Khedira’s goal on the half-hour mark iced the cake for Germany and Brazil’s capitulation was complete as the teams went into the half-time break separated by five telling goals. Andre Schurrle’s second-half brace served only to rub salt in the host nation’s gaping wounds – made more apparent by images of tearful Brazilian fans.
Aside from Germany’s ability to make the most of the opportunities afforded them, and it indeed seemed everything they touched turned to goals, Brazil failed dismally to offer anything in the way of an adequate response. Then again, conceding five goals within 30 minutes will leave any team not knowing which way is up. Even Oscar’s late goal failed to restore any pride as it came and went without celebration.
Wednesday’s match between Argentina and Holland proved a much closer affair as both teams traded blows, but their respective defensive lines held firm. I thought Javier Mascherano, in particular, was in sublime form and his challenge late on to deny Arjen Robben a shot at goal sticks firm in my memory.
Only fifteen shots at goal between the teams over 120 minutes tells a story of how the teams cancelled each other out in midfield, and how well the respective defenses were able to deal with the occasional piercing run.
Argentina’s defense is clearly much better than most give them credit for as they kept Arjen Robben at arm’s length and managed to limit Robin van Persie to half chances only. Sergio Romero, much like Mascherano, was in a class of his own on the night, especially in the penalty shootout.
Having that said, I do question Louis van Gaal’s decision to allow Ron Vlaar, of all people, to take Holland’s first penalty. Surely either Dirk Kuyt, who did manage to score, Wesley Sneijder (who admittedly failed), Klaas Jan Huntelaar or Arjen Robben could have opened proceedings to put Argentina under pressure.
It matters little now as Brazil face the Netherlands in Saturday night’s 3rd/4th place playoff match. This is a match generally forgotton, but it’s the manner in which Brazil find themselves in this position that will be remembered for eons to come. Should Brazil fail to restore a modicum of pride and win this match, I envisage an angry (lynch?) mob, led by torches and pitch forks, seeking justice from Luiz Felipe Scolari and his charges.
I mentioned before that Netherlands probably had their best ever chance of winning a World Cup crown, but there is little shame in their semifinal exit, especially given the strength of their opponents on Wednesday night.
So between these two teams, it’s clearly Brazil who have the most to lose, and as such the Dutch hearts may not be in it quite as much. That’s not to say they’ll not want to claim third place at the World Cup, but Brazil simply need the victory that much more. So, at the risk of embarrassing myself once more, I’ll say Brazil will go on to win on Saturday night but not by much.
Sunday’s final between Argentina and Germany is much harder to read. The Germans are three-times champions of the competition and their current squad plays together beautifully. Every aspect of their game is executed with clinical precision and ruthless efficiency, from defense, through the midfield, and then their attack. This young team from the 2010 World Cup has certainly come of age.
Argentina, on the other hand, have passion on their side. Winning the World Cup in enemy territory means more to some of their faithful than life itself, and would be a fitting addition to Lionel Messi’s considerable list of honours.
These two teams have met twice before in a World Cup final (1986 & 1990) and each have claimed a victory over the other so it’s all square on that front, but where the Germans hold three World Cup crowns, Argentina have two – so there’s extra impetus for Messi and company to get on level terms with their European counterparts.
The Verdict: my head says Germany looks the stronger, more cohesive unit at this stage and are likely to win it. But my heart wants Argentina to win the Cup in Brazil because of what it would mean for the world of football, and there’s not a player on the planet more deserving of a World Cup winners’ medal than Lionel Messi.
Take your pick.