WC Recap: Semis TimeBy: Juan Mesa
It’s hard to believe it, but there are only four games left in the World Cup—and one of them is for third place. The best things in life happen way too fast. So before it’s all over (the final is this Sunday), here’s a recap of the last matches and some insight on what lies ahead.
TEAM EFFORT PAYS: The main stars did not decide who advanced to the Brazil semifinals alone. Argentina, Brazil, Germany and the Netherlands may be the usual suspects in the final stages of the tournament, but they had to resort to their best collective effort to survive fierce rivals in the group stage and the Round of 16. Not convinced? Germany and Brazil moved on thanks to goals scored by none other than their defenders—Mats Hummels for the Europeans, Thiago Silva and David Luiz in the case of the hosts.
THE ORANGE UNDERDOG: Of the final four, the Netherlands are the only team who has never lifted the cup. The Dutch are also the only team who had to resort to penalty kicks in order to beat their quarterfinals rivals (Costa Rica). On their side, they have a glorious football tradition, the fact that they reached the final in 2010, the great coaching by Louis van Gaal and the talent of Arjen Robben—probably the most solid player in the tournament. But all of that may not be enough when you’re facing Argentina, and Brazil or Germany.
A STAR IS BORN: Colombian James Rodríguez left the tournament as the top scorer, one of the tournament’s best players and a global sensation. After Colombia’s elimination, Brazilian David Luiz asked the whole stadium to salute the new soccer maestro, while Adidas didn’t waste a minute before starting a full social media blast with his image. His stock is on the rise, and while nobody knows where it will stop, Madrid’s tabloids are telling their readers the Monaco player has Galáctico pedigree.
THE BUMMER: Neymar’s departure from the World Cup due to an injury was a shocker. A rough tackle from Colombia’s Camilo Zúñiga left him with a broken vertebra that will take two months to heal. Pelé has tried to calm his fellow Brazilians by reminding them that something similar happened to him in 1962 and Brazil still went on to win the title. But Brazil’s bench and overall performance make his words sound a tad too optimistic.
THE REGIONAL GIANT: Costa Rica could have been the first CONCACAF nation to reach the semifinals if it weren’t for those pesky penalty kicks against the Netherlands. The Ticos left Brazil without losing any game (on the field) and after topping Uruguay, Italy and England in one of the hardest groups of the competition. Many argue the squad coached by Jorge Luis Pinto was too defensive, but when they do so they probably forget the team lost starting players Bryan Oviedo and Álvaro Saborío right before the Cup.
THE ACHIEVER: Argentine Gonzalo Higuaín proved true strikers show up in key moments. While goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and the rest of the Belgian team had been able to keep Lio Messi under control, the center forward decided the quarterfinals game when he volleyed a bouncing ball in the first scoring chance Argentina got in the game. Until then, Higuaín was being resisted by fans and media—they accused him of being overweight, to begin with—but his goal put Argentina in the semifinals for the first time in 24 years.