Call me a snob about football. But, I think I’ve been in and around long enough to know what I see. Yesterday, another pair of quarter finals matches were played. Argentina looked better than Belgium throughout and got a 1-0 win with an quick volley from Higuain, whose form had been in question. Asked and answered. We watched the match by Copacabana Beach, in a restaurant with a good crop of Argentine supporters.
Next up was Holland-Costa Rica. I’m pulling for the Dutch, who are nation which has been to the final game the most and never won. It was what I would caught a hard-fought match. Costa Rica looked content to defend tightly and break away when they could. The Dutch looked to attack constantly, and snuff out counter attacks. Los Ticos were very well organized, and goalkeeper, Navas, was in great form; call him Howardesque’, performing similar heroic saves as the USA keeper had a few days ago on the same ground against Belgium. Maybe, it’s the grass. The posts and crossbar was playing for them too. The Dutch had good enough chances to score, but didn’t, and the match went to a penalty shoot out. Never my liking as a player, coach, or spectator. I would always prefer to see more play, with reduced numbers.
But, this shoot out would different. A minute from the end of extra time, the Dutch made a substitution. They brought on goalkeeper Tim Krul. “That’s an insult!” said my daughter-soccer coach. Not at all, I said. Krul is a great shot blocker, with excellent form in shoot outs. A bold move by coach van Gaal. This bringing on of a penalty saving specialist had never happened before in the World Cup finals. Bold the move proved to be, as Krul saved two shots and the Dutch won the shoot out 4-3. That set up the classic encounter with them against Argentina. You can look up the history of that contest, but let me just say the record shows epic battles.
Now, why did I mention snobbery? Some people thought the match had been pedestrian or boring. The latter came from its lack of goals. Since when has that been the measure of great football? It’s like saying that chess matches are boring because they end in stalemate. The countering plays of each side is THE game. Goals may come, but luck plays a big part. Instead of the woodwork being hit, we could have seen at least one stunning goal, which would have been memorable. But, football is also much about the agonizing near misses. So, put away your nonsense about boring and get back to reading about cuticle removal.
The game being pedestrian is trickier to deal with. It’s open to several views, depending on how literal one wants to be. I thought the match was played at a fast pace, considering the conditions, which we know to be hot and humid. But, it could refer to the style of play. The Dutch tried to weave their way through Costa Rica’s covering layers, and often found the way to hola blocked. The Costa Ricans played balls forward quickly, trying to catch the Dutch exposed in defence, but often finding their lone striker couldn’t get past the last defender. At least one commentator thought the Dutch moved the ball too slowly. Relative speed of play may matter to some, so I won’t bang hard against pedestrian. But, each team plays to its style and rhythm. The Dutch have Arjen Robben, who, though 30-something, was clocked at 37 kilometres per hour (23 miles per hour) during Holland’s 5-1 rout of Spain – a new record for a footballer. He is surely not pedestrian, except when lying prone on the ground.
Two thrilling semi finals to come, which will be played however each team feels best to shift the delicate balance of top-level play in its favour. Au Jeu.