Forget everything you thought you knew about this World Cup.
It was supposed to be South America’s tournament, with four of the eight quarter-finalists hailing from the continent. But three of those four have now crashed out, with the fourth advancing in less-than-glorious fashion.
It’s just the latest in a series of unexpected events which have given this World Cup life. The pre-tournament favourites, Spain, went and lost to Switzerland first up. All of a sudden, the boring, defensive teams were going to dominate; only, that didn’t happen either. Germany looked like world-beaters after crushing Australia, only to then succumb to Serbia. Then the German domination was supposedly more of an indictment upon the poor opposition provided by Australia and England, but that too changed with a 4-0 destruction of the previously unstoppable Argentina.
Now the Cup looks as good as theirs… which almost certainly means they will find a way to lose it.
But in the meantime, they can revel in the glory of a performance that made Diego Maradona’s side look second-rate – and spared the world from seeing Argentina’s coach do a nude lap of Buenos Aires. A third-minute goal from Thomas Müller started the rot, and while Argentina briefly looked capable of equalising early in the second half, Miroslav Klose ended their resistance. Arne Friedrich and a second to Klose completed a rout which elevated the status of every Group D performance: Ghana, for only losing by one goal, Serbia for actually beating them and of course the Socceroos who not only matched Argentina but went on to best Germany’s conquerors.
To be fair, this wasn’t the same Argentina that rolled over the competition like they were Judge Doom. Maradona was exposed to early pressure for the first time since arriving in South Africa and had no answers, while Joachim Löw’s team executed their gameplan with typical German efficiency and heretofore-untypical German flair. The remaining teams would have shuddered like they’d just met the toon that killed their brother.
That even includes their semi-final opponents, Spain, who snuck into their first semi-final with a 1-0 victory over Paraguay. Once more, the Spanish proved themselves to be on another level technically but failed to dominate on the scoreboard. One needn’t be a tactical genius to realise that relying on David Villa to do all the scoring probably isn’t the greatest idea.
The superb Villa has five of Spain’s six goals so far with Andrés Iniesta getting the other. And it was Iniesta who created the winning move late in the game, setting it up for Pedro only for the Barcelona forward to hit the post. Their advancement to the last four only came when the rebound fell to Villa.
Earlier, spot-kick shenanigans enlivened what had for the first hour been a yawn. Gerard Piqué committed the second-most blatant foul of the tournament when almost ripping Oscar Cardozo’s arm off to concede a penalty, but Iker Casillas pulled off a brilliant save. Less than a minute later Antolín Alcaraz brought down Villa and Xabi Alonso converted, only for the effort to be ruled out for encroachment. This time Justo Villar saved, but his R-less namesake’s strike would later ensure it was Cardozo and not Alonso who was inconsolable after the final whistle.
The Spanish win also prevented another nudie run – as Paraguayan Larissa Riquelme had become the second-most attractive person to promise nudity should an unlikely event actually occur. The internet’s most famous fan had ramped up her publicity campaign by promising to strip in Asunción should Paraguay defeat Spain. Apparently she decided her earlier condition of the Albirroja lifting the trophy was too unrealistic, exposing her as too realistic to be a proper fan. And so it has been reported that Riquelme’s oh-so-subtle mobile phone pouch was all just a marketing ploy. As outraged as the world is at such a publicity stunt, it just goes to show that in this World Cup, nothing is as it seems.
MUST-SEE: Ninety minutes of despair for Diego Maradona – although at least he was stayin’ alive.
EYEBROW-RAISER: Speaking of the devil, Luis Suárez has suggested he is now the possessor of the tool that Maradona utilised on the way to victory in 1986:
‘The ‘Hand of God’ now belongs to me. Mine is the real ‘Hand Of God’. I made the best save of the tournament.’
Meanwhile, coach Oscar Tabarez went a step further, calling it the ‘Hand of God and the Virgin Mary’.
It’s one thing to win dirty, but quite another to take pride in it. At least Thierry Henry was contrite in the days after. Suárez and Tabarez are shaming their country.
REASONS TO CHEER ON URUGUAY:
TONIGHT: The first semi-final doesn’t get underway for another two days, leaving tonight free to catch the Wimbledon final between the last two men to defeat Roger Federer on grass. Rafael Nadal’s conquering of his long-time rival two years ago was the first step in revealing the arrogant side of Federer, which was laid bare after his loss to Tomáš Berdych in the quarters. OK, this isn’t a tennis column but it’s the Wimbledon final and the last time Nadal was there, Spain had just defeated Germany in the final of Euro 2008. Omen? Nadal in three.
Evan Harding is co-producer of The Contenders Daily Bite, a daily World Cup short which can be seen on Tribal Football. A Master of Global Communication student at La Trobe University, he is an upstart editor armed with a month’s supply of coffee and a Spanish chance to still make back the money lost on an ill-conceived bet. Previous World Cup columns can be found here.