What a fantastic quartet of Last Eight matches. They had everything – shocks, drama, red cards, controversy, goals, own goals, penalty’s, penalty misses, penalty shootouts. And after all the talk of the South American countries dominating this World Cup (even predictions of the semi finals being an all Latin affair) the semi final stage has a very European flavour.
First up Holland shocked everybody’s favourites, Brazil, who lost their cool and lost the match 2-1 from a winning position. Felipe Melo was dismissed for a cynical & nasty stamp on that cheeky chappy Arjen Robben and the Samba Stars imploded under Dutch pressure. Wesley Sneijder validated my decision to drop him from my dream team by scoring two, although one was definitely on OG so how FIFA can give it to the Dutchman is a mystery.
Following this first shock came Africa’s last Togel hope, Ghana. The vuvuzelas were in full cry and Sulley Muntari turned them up to eleven with a long range cracker just before the break. That man Diego Forlan hit back with a sweet free kick that caught Kingson out and the 1-1 draw was played out through extra time with the match ebbing and flowing as each side applied the pressure.
Both teams had chances in extra time but nothing could prepare them for the drama that unfolded as the clock hit 120 minutes. One last assault from Ghana saw Luis Suarez earn this tournament’s “Hand of God” accolade as he batted the jabulani away with his hands. He was off and Asamoah Gyan was handed the opportunity to write himself & Ghana into the history books. This he duly did by smashing his penalty against the bar as Montevideo breathed a sigh of relief.
Gyan admirably tucked away the first penalty in the shootout for his own immediate “Psycho” moment but he was inconsolable as the Uruguayans won it 4-2 to reach their first semi final for 40 years – Sebastian Abreu’s winning penalty was as cool and cocky as you will ever see under such pressure.
With one of the favourites out it was the turn of another, Argentina, to step up to the plate and restore some South American confidence. Nobody read the script to Germany though…again…and they hammered Maradona’s men 4-0 in a result that makes England’s look reasonably good.
How do the Germans do it? Time after time after time. After time. In the 17 World Cups they have contested they have reached the quarter finals or better in 14 of them, appearing in six finals and winning it three times. They look the most likely champions again as Spain stutter along and Holland might just come up short.
Germany’s defence is miserly as usual but it is their attacking play that has been jaw dropping at times. They counter attack with such speed, fluency and precision that teams have folded under the onslaught. With a midfield supremely marshalled by Bastian Schweinsteiger and propelled by the creative flair of Mesut Ozil, it is a bedrock that their deadly strikeforce can revel in.
Miroslav Klose is on course for the Golden Boot for the second tournament in a row and is one short of Ronaldo’s all time record of 15. He has been Germany’s main threat with Lukas Podolski who between them scored 9 goals for the club last season. Couple that with Thomas Muller who had not scored for his country before the finals and now has four, and you wonder how they manage to peak at just the right time, every time. Germany have now scored four goals in three separate matches. The mind boggles.
Nobody wants to take on the Germans but if any team has the confidence and ability it is Spain. They narrowly passed their test again with a scrappy 1-0 win over a solid & unspectacular Paraguay but it could have been so different. Spain have yet to spark in this tournament and are grateful to their talisman, David Villa, for his five goals that have carried them through and put him out front in the Golden Boot race.
Villa got the winner once again in the last ten minutes but the match hinged on a dramatic few minutes on the hour mark in which Paraguay were awarded a penalty following Gerard Pique’s best Hulk Hogan impression in wrestling Oscar Cardozo to the ground. A nervy looking Cardozo dusted himself off and tickled the ball into Iker Casillas’ hands.
Spain went straight up the other end and won themselves a penalty through David Villa which was coolly put away by Xabi Alonso. However the ref had spotted encroachment and ordered a retake which Alonso switched to the opposite side and was out-guessed by Villar to keep the score a 0-0. In the melee, as Paraguay scrambled the ball clear, Spain shoud have had another penalty as Villar tripped Cesc Fabregas but the ref inexplicably ignored Spanish protests.
In the end it mattered not as Spain got the job done with the aid of their main goal threat and three posts. Pedro was set up cleverly by Andres Iniesta but his shot cannoned back off the post, into Villa’s path who scooped it onto the other post. The ball rolled across the line, hit the left hand post again and finally trickled into the net to put the favourites through to a German showdown. That match will be a belter.