Steve Braunias' World Cup Diary: day 17
WHAT’S ON TOMORROW AND WEDNESDAY
France vs Nigeria, Tuesday, 3.20am, Sky Sport 5
Everyone is already talking about a France vs Germany quarter-final on the eve of tomorrow’s two games featuring Europe vs the Thirdish World. Expect the expected; the World Cup is due a routine day.
France, collectively, are no great shakes, but they’re a solid no-great-shakes collective, one for all and all for Karim Benzema, their star striker, a big ox who is in form and more than capable of barging past the talented Nigerians, and consigning yet another African nation to the departure lounge.
But football is never just football. Nigeria’s exit will be another cause for misery and disappointment for a country driven mad by the extremists from Boko Harum. Nigerian writer Chika Unigwe, in the Guardian, sets the World Cup in context.
As for Uruguay, their exit is all about Suarez. President Jose Mujica appeared on a television debate in the weekend with none other than that paragon of reason and sagacity, Diego Maradona; both slammed FIFA for the ban on Suarez.
Mujica said it with more exuberance and even less reason than Maradona. Mujica’s speech, in part: “FIFA want to punish us because we are Uruguayans and we’re small… And they are also after this lad because he does not have a university degree, he doesn’t have a proper education. But he carries deep inside all that rebellion and pains from those who made their way up from down below.
The great genial players are born in the guts of the people… FIFA don’t have a clue what’s going on, and don’t have mercy on him.”
Would Suarez have made much of a difference to the game against Colombia in the weekend? Yes. He’s Suarez. But Colombia were without their own great goalscorer, Falcao, through injury. That didn’t make any difference.
What a brilliant and exciting performance they gave, inspired by the amazing James Rodriguez, but also by Juan Cuadrado, who gave maybe the best exhibition of out and out dribbling at the World Cup. Arsenal want to buy him. Can they afford him?
Germany vs Algeria, Tuesday, 7.20am, Sky Sport 5
“There’s been lots of light, but also plenty of shadows,” German coach Joachim Low has said about his team’s performance at the World Cup. Thrashing a 10-man Portugal 4-0 was one thing; being held to a draw by Ghana was another.
There’s something not quite right about a team which looks so right on paper. They should at least dispatch the Algerians, and it would be nice to see another goal by Miroslav Klose, making him the highest goalscorer in the tournament’s history. What a strange player. He never seems to do anything except score goals. Football’s greatest somnambulist – he sleeps 11 hours every night – only awakes near the net.
Holland, too, are a team of light and murk. They were poor against Mexico. The heat got to van Persie, and he had to leave the pitch; Robben just kept on going, and so did Dirk Kuyt, that industrious veteran who was all over the field. The two of them were crucial as Holland drew level and won the game 2-1 in the dying minutes.
But it was a fairly average game of football. That was true of all the round-16 games. The World Cup is slowing down; the afternoon kick-offs are murder; the “cooling breaks” are quite possibly a matter of life or death for the players, but a nuisance to have to tolerate at home.
Belgium vs USA, Wednesday, 7.20am, Sky Sport 5
This is the game most likely to go to penalties, and most likely be a bore to watch up until then – like this morning’s Costa Rica-Greece game.
But three cheers and more for the Costa Ricans, who are so easy to love. There they are, unknowns, led by two English Premier League flops (Joel Campbell of Arsenal, Bryan Luiz of Fulham), playing swift counter-attack football, who have beaten Uruguay and Italy – I was only joking when I wrote two weeks ago of England: “They have the potential to seriously embarrass Costa Rica, and snatch a draw.” It came to pass.
Argentina vs Switzerland, Wednesday, 3.20am, Sky Sport 5
Switzerland have had 500 years of democracy and peace, Argentina have Messi.
The Swiss will roll over; Argentina’s quarter-final opponents will be either Belgium or USA, which isn’t saying anything; Argentina’s semi-final opponents should be either France or Germany, which is saying something but probably not enough; in the final, they will most likely play either Holland or Brazil.
Brazil, plainly, embarrassingly, were pants against Chile. They were saved by the post and by their incredible home support, who howled at the Chileans at the penalty shoot-out; the best they could offer was the strong running of the credible Hulk, and the ingenious but restrained contributions of the hobbling Neymar, who got kicked in the air after five minutes.
In short, Argentina will win the 2014 World Cup.