It is hard for me to continually write intros for these things. But this round of games, wow. It is rare that games incorporate excitement; open discussions of the ethics of punishment, utilitarianism, and the greater good; and brutal emotions usually not laid bare by such matters. So here we are, 4 teams left, every one of them gets 2 more games, although 1 of those games might be less important than the others. So come on in, and enjoy it, won’t you?
Uruguay v. Ghana: The Black Stars were vying to become the first African nation to ever reach the semifinals of the World Cup and holding the hopes of many on the continent on their shoulders (although rolling all African nations into one as many commentators have done seems like a particular form of Northern Hemisphere, or at least non-African, chauvinism to me–Ghana is, after all, a separate nation all together, just saying). Uruguay was attempting to become relevant against for the first time in 60 years, utilizing the smallest nation left in the World Cup. What followed was the 118 minutes of mostly boredom followed by the 2 most exciting minutes in this tournament, then penalties, then the most excruciating loss I can remember in sports.
Let’s cut to the chase here. Mutari’s goal in injury time of the 1st was spectacular and Forlan’s free kick special was a beauty, but this one did not get too excited until the 118th in Extra Time. That’s when Ghana played the ball into the box, Muslera made a poor clearance, which was knicked by a Uruguayan defender and rolled toward the net and would have gone in, until it was saved, by Luis Suarez (1 save). Then, a corner later Uruguay makes another poor clearance and a shot ricochets off Suarez’s (2 saves) leg on the line to Adiyiah who hit a slow shot that Suarez slapped away (3 saves), earning a straight red and a penalty to take for Gyan. He steps up, Suarez is in tears, Ghana is surely through (95% of penalties are scored), and the stadium is buzzing. Then Gyan shoots, high, Muslera guesses right, the ball clangs the crossbar and goes behind, the whistle blows, we are going to the shootout. To recount: 2 minutes, 4 saves off the line, only one of which was made by Muslera, a straight red that saved the game, a missed penalty by a player who had made 2 previously in the tournament and then to penalty kicks to decide a place in the semifinals.
Now comes the case of Luis Suarez v. Sportswriters, Pundits, Ghana, and the Weeping Masses: So this seems like as good a place as any to say my peace about Suarez, the red, and the ethics of crime and punishment in sport. First, it must be said that in games, as in life, decisions are made that may be openly punished, some of them are made in order to “save” other things that are held dear to the guilty party. Suarez violated the rules of the game in order to prosper and was rightly punished according to the rules of the game. Made to miss the rest of the present game and the next as well, the referee made the correct decision, just in this case, his team prospered more than normal. Another aside, in sports, decisions should be made and addressed by the reasoning leading up to them, not wholly by their results, since there are so many ancillary factors present when they are acted upon (see Bill Belichick’s decision to go for the first down against the Colts during the last NFL season).
Therefore, Suarez made a conscious effort to “cheat” according to the rules of the game, was punished according to those rules, and his team was punished (Ghana given the penalty) for Suarez’s transgression. At this point, carrying out the “punishment” was up to Gyan, who had a 95% (ish) chance of scoring the penalty, ending the game, and sending his team through. Therefore, according to the rules of the game and our modern conception of crime and punishment (in sport and life), everything went as to plan. A crime, a punishment, time to be served, and life moves on. This is where it ends. The fact Gyan hit the ball too hard, held his shoulders too far back, mishit the ball, or even if Muslera guesses correctly and saves it, does not mean the World Cup or football itself is flawed, it means Gyan missed his chance, but that Suarez was rightly punished for his actions within the confines of our beautiful game (if you want to attack Suarez’s, and Uruguay’s subsequent celebration based on ill-gotten means, well then well known ethicist Peter Singer has your ideal column).
As sad as it is, people who commit crimes for selfish means sometimes profit from them (either internally as a psychological buffer or through other means such as money, respect, etc.), this is part of life. Many times they are punished by taking them away, but in soccer, the punishment is a 95%, iron clad, means of punishment that should have punished Uruguay, they failed because of Gyan, not because of the game, the rules, or something else. As sad as it is, Gyan missed, everything else worked the way it should. Suarez, Uruguay, and their fans benefitted, were punished, will be punished (Suarez missed the Netherlands matchup), but in the end come out the worse for wear (even though Ghana had another chance to end this).
Therefore, the game did not fail. The referee got this right. The argument for ethics and whether Suarez SHOULD HAVE done this to benefit are questions for others to discuss. But as far as whether this ends the credibility of the game, it does not. Sometimes, this is how it turns out, as much as we may hate it. We cannot, as a matter of fact, assume that “soccer has failed” or that we are somehow teaching people that it is ok to cheat. In sports, where the analogy to the real world ends, the cheater is punished by the opposing team taking advantage of the opportunity given to them by the referee administering “justice” (a 15-yard penalty in American football, free throws in basketball, etc.). That’s just the way it is, I am sure you will have your opinions. Case Dismissed
The shootout begins. Forlan hits. Gyan, going first, shows some gigantic stones, and knocks his in, cooly. Victorino, good. Appiah, good. Scotti, good. Mensah, Ghana’s captain, takes an awful run up, and misses. But Pereira skies one, 20 feet over the bar. Then Adiyiah, who was stoned by Suarez in Extra Time, has his shot saved, leaving this to Abreu. Kingson, Ghana’s keeper, who had been bad all game and went the wrong way on every kick during the shootout, dives to his left, but Abreu throws out a perfect Panenka, and this one is all over.
Ghana experiences the worst loss I could ever think of. We get something to talk about for years to come. Uruguay 1, Ghana 1 (a.e.t.), 4-2 p.k.
MOTM: Suarez… sorry, I had to.
Netherlans v. Brazil: Contrary to some reports, Brazil never had a stranglehold on this game. Capitalizing on an early mistake by last-minute entry Ooijer, Robinho slotted home a ho-hum goal. After that, both sides had chances. Robinho abused van der Weil, which set up Kaka for an excellent bending shot saved by Stekelenburg (who has been incredible this tournament). Certainly the Samba boys had the Oranje on the back foot for a lot of the first half, but the chances began to come, and Holland gained a foothold on the possession battle, taking the advantage of it by the half.
In the second half, Sneijder came out like gangbusters, surprising absolutely no one. Brazil could not get anything going and Wesley knocked in a curling ball that slid off of Felipe Melo’s head, who kept Julio Cesar from getting there, tying the game. The goal was later given to Sniejder after originally being ruled an own goal, but even so, this did not end Melo’s bad day. Sneijder scored again in the 68th off a corner that was flicked on by Kuyt in the middle of Brazil’s vaunted defense. With Brazil able to mount very little in the way of counter and the Dutch controlling, Melo got heated, fouling Robben somewhat harshly, and then cleating Robben in the leg while he was down. Melo was subsequently given a red card and shown the exit. There were slight chances toward the end, but this one was over after the card. The favorites are out, Dani Alves has a decent, but not great tournament, and after a few beautiful moments, Brazil’s true colors are shown as they are unable to control against a very good team and crash out. The Oranje, well, they just keep going on and get a Suarez-less Uruguay. Netherlands 2, Brazil 1
MOTM: Sneijder. He was everything for Holland and produced the best chances of either side.
Germany v. Argentina: This one was not as bad as the final score made it out to be, but it was also everything wrong with Argentina, and Maradona as manager. Thomas Muller scored in the 3rd off an excellent free kick, running into the box unmarked, ending this one before it began. The Albiceleste had their moments from there on out, but they weren’t THAT close. In truth, the Argentine defense had no response for the moves of Ozil and Schweinsteiger and the runs of Klose and Muller, all of whom left Demichelis and Otamendi in the dust, and Heinze was of little help as well. As much as Messi and Tevez tried to keep runs and passing together, they could not do it alone this time with Higuain wasting possession and missing passes at every corner and Di Maria providing no width at all, and being utterly abused by Lahm. The game was a clinic in the fallacy of relying upon seemingly unstoppable attacking potential against a team with relatively few holes to speak of.
The second half saw a few more flashes by Argentina, but Messi was suffocated by Khedira, Mertesacker, and the combination of Ozil and Schweinsteiger. Tevez could not hold off everything up front and eventually the defense failed again and again to Bastian, finding Klose and showing why he’s up there with Xaviniesta in the world of holding and distributing mids. This was a clinic in passing, spacing, width, depth, defense, and overall play. Without someone to take the heat off of Messi in the midfield, Argentina had nothing, and even being the best player in the world, he could not do it alone (and before someone goes there, saying Messi is somehow lesser because he couldn’t win with a team with no other possession players, a bad coach, and him playing out of position; Run of Play has your rundown). A sad exit for Lionel that left him in tears and the World Cup without the best player in the world. But the best team won and are likely the favorites now. Germany 4, Argentina 0
MOTM: Sweinsteiger. Without him, this match is much closer. Easily the best player on the field.
Spain v. Paraguay: One thing we can say for the South Americans is that they know how to plan around a team and play some damn good defense. And if the Luis Suarez Affair wasn’t exciting enough, this game more than made up for it. The game was defense all the way, with the greater amount of the chances in the first half going to Paraguay. A goal was disallowed after being headed in because another Paraguayan player who was offside attempted to interfere with the ball coming into the box. A tough call, but the right one according to the laws of the game. Paraguay’s pace was frenetic and with Spain attempting to hold them down with possession, the game turned into a middle third affair for a while.
After the half, things got really interesting. Both sides had chances, but on a corner in the 59th, Cardozo was yanked down by Pique (who had a very poor game, by any standard) for a blatant penalty, and a yellow for Pique. But Casillas guessed rightly, saved the shot and kept the ball. Merely two minutes later, David Villa is in the box and about to shoot before Alcaraz knocked Villa off the ball, yanking him down. Some have called this a dive, but looking back on the play again, it seems to be a clear case of taking him down. For some reason Xabi Alonso steps up to take it, and easily slots it home. But what is this game without some excitement and a re-kick is called for as at least 3 Spanish players encroached in the box before the kick is taken. Of course, this gives Villar saves Alonso’s second effort (the first time 2 penalties have been saved in one game since 1930) and on the rebound Fabregas is thrown down in the box, with no foul called, and Ramos has a shot saved off the line by a Paraguayan defender. The game looked headed to Extra Time until, in the 83rd minute, Iniesta danced through 3 or 4 defenders to the box, passed to the right to Pedro who was open and hit an excellent shot that banged the left post, falling to Villa who shot, hit the right post, rolled across, hit the left, and then dinged in. Paraguay could not recover for all their trying, even though they played excellently. Spain 1, Paraguay 0
MOTM: Villa, Casillas, Iniesta. Take your pick from the goal scorer who gave depth and runs, the keeper who saved a penalty and stoned two other great chances, or Iniesta who help everything together throughout (Xavi wasn’t too bad either).
Netherlands v. Uruguay: July 6, 2:30 pm EST
Spain v. Germany: July 7, 2:30 pm EST
FC Barcelona Players in the Semifinals
Spain: V. Valdes, Busquets, David Villa, Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro, Puyol, Pique
Uruguay: Martin Caceres
Golden Boot Leaders (still active):
David Villa: 5
Miroslav Klose: 4
Thomas Muller: 4
Wesley Sneijder: 4
Diego Forlan: 4
Luis Suarez: 3
Golden Ball Candidates (my guess):
David Villa – Spain
Mesut Oezil – Germany
Thomas Muller – Germany
Andres Iniesta – Spain
Diego Forlan – Uruguay
Wesley Sneijder – Netherlands
Bastian Sweinsteiger – Germany
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