Saturday, July 5, 2014

2014 FIFA World Cup: Quarterfinals

Germany 1 - 0 France
In case you haven't noticed, Germany have become the new Italy -- right before your narcoleptic eyes. Like the Azzurri did so brilliantly en route to winning five World Cups, Joachim Low's boys have mastered the art of sucking the air out of a game once they've taken the lead. It may be mind-numbingly tedious to watch, but it's ruthlessly effective, as France found out Friday.

A playmaking midfielder through his first four matches at the 2014 World Cup, Germany captain Philipp Lahm was switched to right-back against France as several of his teammates succumbed to a virus. The result was an immediate improvement in what had been a problem position.

Die Mannschaft's grinding 1-0 victory propelled them to their fourth consecutive World Cup semifinal. Given the cagey, risk-averse nature of the game, it was only fitting that the decisive goal was scored by a defender, Mats Hummels, and that it came from a dead-ball situation.

Brazil 2 - 1 Colombia
David Luiz, the newly-acquired Paris Saint-Germain defender, was an inspired performer for Brazil on Friday. Not only did he pass for high efficiency and win all of his aerial battles, but he also scored what proved to be the winner against Colombia. Moments after James Rodriguez had fouled Hulk, Luiz released a dipping free kick that beat goalkeeper David Ospina to the near corner.

As the Brazilian poster boy for this World Cup, Neymar had carried the hopes of 200 million countrymen on his back. It is the kind of impossible pressure that would buckle most mortals, let alone a 22-year-old whose build is only slightly more formidable than Victoria Beckham's. Yet through five games, Neymar not only held up under the weight of expectations, he flourished, scoring four goals while personifying what may be the last vestige of Brazil's inimitable samba-style soccer. Which is why the broken vertebra he suffered Saturday against Colombia is all the more ironic. And tragic.

Yes, it was the direct result of Juan Camilo Zuniga ramming his knee at high speed into Neymar's back in the 87th minute. But the bone-rattling tone was set 77 minutes earlier -- see: David Luiz barging into Juan Cuadrado from behind -- and would escalate into 54 fouls (31 of them by the Selecao). For that, Brazil has only itself to blame -- along with referee Carlos Velasco Carballo. Meek or near-sighted or both, Carballo badly misjudged the level of competitive fury on the field and handed out a mere four yellow cards.

Colombia's young, dynamic team possessed in James Rodriguez the breakout star of the tournament; his five goals before the quarterfinal, featuring a ridiculous swiveling screamer of a volley against Uruguay, were the most to that point in this World Cup. Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari knew: As J-Rod goes, so goes Colombia.

Bleacher Report:
Argentina 1 - 0 Belgium
Against Belgium it was Gonzalo Higuain who stepped up — the 26-year-old Napoli striker latching onto Angel Di Maria's pass and beating Thibaut Courtois with the single, accurate swing of his right foot.

Javier Mascherano was Argentina captain at the 2010 World Cup, and while it’s Lionel Messi who now wears the armband, the Barcelona midfielder continues to provide important leadership in 2014. It was Mascherano who called for improvement ahead of Argentina’s quarter-final showdown with Belgium, saying “The moment of truth has arrived. Now we have to maintain the level and get rid of the mistakes.” Then, in Brasilia, the 30-year-old smothered the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard out of the contest while efficiently moving the ball upfield.

As jubilant as they were over La Albiceleste's 1-0 lead, they instinctively knew that an injury to Di Maria played havoc with their dreams of winning their first World Cup since 1986.

Netherlands 0 - 0 Costa Rica (4-3 in penalties)
Arjen Robben didn’t find the back of the net against Costa Rica. But he didn’t lose the slightest bit of pace or energy over the 120 minutes of normal and extra time, either. The 30-year-old, who has already developed a reputation for big-game performances, drove the Ticos defense crazy in Salvador.

Against the Netherlands, Costan Rican defensive midfielder Yeltsin Tejeda ran himself ragged mopping up his teammates’ mistakes, and he also made a vital goal-line clearance to prevent a Dutch winner in the second half. Given his showing in Brazil, it’s no wonder the likes of Everton and Fulham are keen to sign the 22-year-old Saprissa midfielder, as per Sky Sports.

Of all the heartbreaking ways for plucky little Costa Rica to go out of the World Cup, few expected it to be in another nerve-shredding tiebreaker. Certainly the Ticos themselves didn't anticipate losing in that fashion after going a perfect five-for-five from the spot in their life-affirming round of 16 victory over Greece.

The rest is World Cup history, as Newcastle's Tim Krul swaggered onto the field, all 6-foot-5 of him, and brashly informed the Costa Rica players not to waste their time taking their PKs because he already knew which direction they were going to kick and he would be there to smother their shots. Which, of course, is just what happened twice, ending Costa Rica's magic carpet ride.

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