02 July 2010

World Cup 2010, Match Day 20

First, before getting into today's matches, some (over?)intellectualization (not that any of that ever happens on this blawg) on law, football, ethics, and technology from Professor Madison that is a lot more astute and realistic than what I've been hearing/reading from purported "knowledgeable commentators" about this edition of the World Cup. But I could only put things off for a single sentence...

Brazil 1:2 Netherlands — A thoroughly deserved thrashing of the Brazilian Way that wasn't as close as the scoreline indicates. This was Streetball Legends v. Ball State... and Ball State deservedly won. I have little but contempt for the way that Brazil approached this game, which was with contempt for its opponent (epitomized by Melo's deserved red card for a deliberate stamp, but that was just cardable contempt). Brazil tried to rely on moments of individual brilliance, and got a goal out of that in the first half. I have nothing against individual brilliance, but I like it tied to teamwork, and the only move I recall involving more than two players during the entire first half was the Robben-Fabiano-Kakà dance along the touchline that resulted in a fabulous save from Stekelenburg... and meanwhile, the rest of the Brazilian team was static, waiting for their respective turns to play one-on-one. The flip side of relying on individual brilliance is the individual mistake, and Sneijder's tying goal epitomizes the traditional overrating of Brazilian goalkeepers ("He plays for Brazil, he must be good!"). And the winning goal... a well-choreographed set play (from a corner) that had an obvious counter but resulted in an uncontested header.

There was an unattractive arrogance to Brazil's performance at this World Cup, reminiscent of Dunga's own playing days... or of Notre Dame/Oklahoma/Alabama football, to put it in a more US-centric perspective. Combined with tactical ignorance in the wide players of its preferred 2-7-1 (the players who must be the most tactically aware), the result seems almost inevitable in the face of a team that won't talk to each other off the pitch and talks to each other effectively on the pitch. In particular, even on that attractive Robben-Fabiano-Kakà move, the Dutch players were covering for each other effectively and forcing the individual brilliance. The referee was invisible when he needed to be; visible when he needed to be; and constantly in position to deal with a high-energy match. This is the third excellent performance I've seen in the middle by Mr Nishimura, who on his present form must be a leading candidate to referee the final. C+/A-/A

Uruguay 1:1 Ghana (Uruguay 4-2 on penalties) — not nearly as entertaining a match, as it was harmed by injuries to two Uruguayan defenders. There was certainly an element of luck to Muntari's goal... and further proof that 100% of the shots you don't take don't go in; it came through an understandable goalkeeping "error" (an error only with the benefit of hindsight and an overhead view of the shot itself). The answering goal from Uruguay was much "nicer" from an aesthetic point of view. And otherwise, it was pretty dire; I'm not a fan of boxing in the first place, but this largely resembled two overweight fighters going at it toe to toe, with little effort to outthink (or outflank) the opposition. The referee had a number of shaky moments in the match, but largely kept control.

And so, for the second match in a row, Ghana ends up going to extra time, and both teams decided to play for penalties at the beginning of extra time, which tilted Ghana's way as fatigue started inhibiting the Uruguayan midfield. And that led to the insane finish: The entirely justifiable red card past the 120th minute, followed by a missed penalty, leading to penalty kicks. In the end, the missed penalty at the end of extra time proved fatal... Ghana missed more than half of the penalties it had the opportunity to take, and that's not a winning percentage (as, typically, about 85% go in). B-/B-/B

That sets one semifinal. The Netherlands will meet Uruguay on Tuesday in Capetown. I'm guessing, but I suspect that England's Howard Webb will referee that match, or possibly the other semifinal... the farthest an Englishman has gotten in this World Cup (or, indeed, the last few tournaments) by a considerable margin ;-).