After the whistle blew after the second overtime in the Brazil Chile game and I knew it was going to penalties, I flipped a coin. Heads: Brazil, Tails: Chile. It was heads. I predicted a Brazil win and Brazil won.
The penalty shootout has nothing to do with how the two teams played in the 120 minutes leading up to it. If soccer was like boxing and they could give a technical win after the ref blew his whistle, Chile could have come out on top. They were one of the surprise teams for me in the tournament and I hated seeing them go out.
Paulinho wasn’t in the lineup for poor performance but Fernandinho didn’t do much better. Neymar kept wasting chances by wanting to get the ball on his right foot. And did David Luiz even score his goal? Oscar was ineffective and Jo was miserable as a sub for Fred. Hulk was the only Brazillian who seemed to want to fight to win. He was making runs and trying to force chances. Perhaps it was to make up for the weak back pass that found it’s way to Vargas to Sanchez that led to Chile’s equalizer in the first half.
Chile seemed to be playing for the shootout and Brazil was playing sloppy soccer. Even so, when the penalty kicks came, I felt a lot of anxiety. I pictured myself in any one of their places, taking the ball up, putting it on the spot. I imagined how wobbly my legs would feel, with the nerves and 120 minutes of running behind me. My thoughts would be racing. “Just pick a place to shoot and shoot there. Just pick a place. The odds are in my favor. But what if he guesses right? No, just pick a place. Do I look the keeper in the eye? What if he psychs me out? No, just pick a place and shoot there…” Fifty thousand people would be watching me in the stadium, not to mention the countles millions around the world.
I was scared for Brazil. Not the soccer team, the country. There were riots just for the World Cup being there in the first place and if they went out, who knows what could have happened? At the very least, an entire country would be devastated.
All of it came down to what amounts to a coin toss and, with that, Brazil was through.
Apparently, though, penalties are even crueler in extra time. Apparently, The Dutch don’t like their team, which strikes me as odd. They beat Spain 5-1. Robin van Persie an Arjen Robben are on fire. But Johan Cruyff? Not impressed.
But watching them play Mexico, I started to see why this wasn’t a Dutch team for the Dutch to get behind. Typically the Dutch want a team that plays with skill and style, results be damned. But this team was not playing with style. They were just playing boring soccer.
When Giovanni dos Santos scored, I thought the Dutch were done and I thought they deserved it. But Sneijder stepped up. His strike was perfect. I thought they deserved to play out the game in extra time.
But it wouldn’t get there.
Arjen Robben is a flopper. I don’t mean that he dives. He flops like a fish on a dock. He manages to get several convulsions into a dive before he hits the ground. In injury time in the second half, he got the penalty that he had been begging for all game on a move that could barely be called a tackle. But the ref pointed to the spot.
Klaas Jan Huntelaar took the penalty beautifully but he shouldn’t have had the chance. I’m not a Mexico fan but they deserved better.
As for the other teams this weekend…
Ten man Costa Rica beat Greece in yet another penalty shootout. Costa Rica took their spot kicks perfectly (but man, if I could have, I would have given Theofanis Gekas a hug). Germany took extra time as a kick in the ass (Algeria did, briefly as well) and managed to avoid spot kicks, making it through looking pretty far from the team that many are picking to win the whole thing.
James Rodriguez took care of my hated Uruguay. Now Colombia takes on Brazil and I’m over my empathy for the people of Brazil. I’ll take the emergence of a star like James over the pride of the Brazilians.
And I can’t tell if France won or if Nigeria lost.
I don’t remember if the games were like this last World Cup, with so many draws going to extra time and resulting in shootouts. It wasn’t until the fifth day of the tournament, eleven matches in, that there was a draw in the group stages. In the round of 16, half of the games (so far) have gone to extra time.
I expected Brazil, The Netherlands, France and Germany to all dominate in this round but they aren’t. Maybe it’s nerves. Maybe the fact that the expectations of their nation rest on their shoulders is finally sinking in. Maybe their opponents are just playing defense for their lives, trying to avoid the inevitable. But it would seem that the change in stakes has changed these games as well. There are no 4-0 or 5-1 or 5-2 scorelines. Now, teams are merely “finding ways to win” as the commentators remind us. And frankly, if you lose, you’re lucky if you go out like Nigeria or Uruguay – 2-0 in ninety minutes. Other teams lose on dubious penalty calls or they’re forced to choose five tributes, Hunger Games style, to take one shot each for their team, country and themselves.
Seriously, has FIFA even considered the coin toss?