I Know What You Did in Brazil that Summer. And I don’t care How You Did It!

I heard a rumour there was a game of football scheduled for this morning. That it was a World Cup Semi-Final, no less. I tuned in to see the starting lineups from Argentina and the Netherlands lustily belting out their respective national anthems.

That was where the passion ended unfortunately. After the referee blew his whistle to get the ‘party’ started, until he waved a finish about 120 minutes of action – and I use that word loosely – later, the depth of feeling exhibited by the nominal competitors, was about as passionate as an epic poem reading by Elliot Goblet.

And there was no proper football played either.

After seeing what happened to Brazil the day before, one imagines each team with their collective nuts twisted in a vice-like grip, terrified of the same happening to them.

While the poor commentator, the legendary Martin Tyler, tried to wax lyrical about the prospect of tactical nouse being employed …

… Well what’d ya want him to talk about?

NOTHING was happening on-field!

Anyway, Mr. Tyler – as is his way – kept trying to look on the bright side of the impending possibilities. All the while, the twenty-two players on the field each took turns ‘mooning’ his optimism with the dark-side of their endeavour.

Or lack thereof.

It was a bracing night in Sao Paolo. The threat of more rain everpresent, when it wasn’t coming down with enough force to soak through Argentina Coach, Alejandro Sabella’s ‘lucky-suit’.

And the re-comfirmed ‘tactical master’ Louis Van Gaal came up dry as a dead dingo’s donger, in the game. Nor did he have any last minute heroic substitutions up his sleeve this time either.

Thanks to the doubtful fitness of both Captain, Robin van Persie and midfield bulwark – and sometime kung-fu villain – Nigel de Jong, Van Gaal had a nightmarish goat-track of balance to walk, in managing his team through the game.

The aggravation of yet another existing injury, to Martins-Indi, just before half-time, necessitating his replacement after the break, pretty much negated Van Gaal’s ‘Ace-in-the-Hole’ tactic, given he needed the other two substitutions to manage his two more high-profile injury worries.

Which is why Holland’s passivity was so mystifying throughout, especially late on. More than that, for a team so adept at adapting, the blatant lack of ambition from Holland, was only amplified by the monochromatic assault on the footballing senses any attacks they did muster, were best representative of.

Creative paragons like Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, were reduced to the tactical insanity of woodpeckers with sore beaks, being asked to cut some ‘murder-holes’ into an Argentinean defensive framework, best represented by a seasoned Redwood.

Again and again they pecked and poked and prodded. Over & over, making the same run – to be sidetracked by wary defenders on the unsure footing of a slippery pitch – trying the same looping ball – only to continually overhit it.

You were waiting, watching for that light-bulb moment to shine a light on this dreary blizzard of ‘pass-the-parcel’.

You thought Robben had it sussed in the 91st minute, when an imaginative backheel from Sneijder gave him space and opportunity to burst into the box, and shoot past the otherwise unoccupied Argentinean goalkeeper.

Instead Robben was caught unprepared by such blatant creativity and took one unnecessary touch … then another, as he tried to re-open the shooting room now filled with the desperate, lunging presence of Javier Mascherano.

As always seems to happen after pregnant pauses in these situations, the moment was lost. Mascherano successfully diverted Robben’s shot out for a corner.

And the last minute decider, that perhaps was Van Gaal’s ‘secret strategy’ of THIS match, went the way of the dodo, condemning viewers to another thirty minutes of uninspired time wasting, void of any ingenuity or, originality.

Kind of like an Australian Political Party Election Campaign, only with less intentional earnestness.

And so we came to penalties again.

And this time it ended for the Dutch, as it had so many times before … Their successful streak of Penalty Shootout Achievement cut short, at ONE.

Well. At least it’s not a daunting record for them to look at emulating in the future.

What is daunting is what awaits Argentina in the storied Maracana of Rio, on Monday morning. Their conquerors in the last two World Cups – Germany. With their last Mundial encounter, a 4-0 obliteration in the 2010 Quarter-Finals , one hopes Argentina don’t continue to fear the moment, as much as both teams did today.

They have already been responsible for the worst World Cup Final ever – their rancid 1-0 defeat to West Germany, at Italia’90. Now they can add the World Cup Semi-Final most devoid of action, after this morning.

One hopes that’s all the negatives any participant in ‘the beautiful game’ could aspire to. Problem is, it is entirely likely that winning the World Cup in your hated adversary’s inner footballing sanctum, with your rivals and hosts having been humiliated by your Final opponents en route …

… This is a case of ‘It matters not how you play the game, but if you win or lose’.

After all, History is almost always about ‘IF’ & ‘WHERE’ & ‘WHEN’, before we even start to think about ‘HOW’.

I’m afraid the first three are going to be more than enough for Argentina. That’s why I expect nothing but ugliness when I go to Rio, Monday morning.

I can only hope Germany find a way to smile at me, with some football, when I turn my TV on to take me there.


  1. I hope David Zampatti is not reading this. It was the sort of horrid spectacle that could give Ross Lyon new ideas.
    I don’t understand the Dutch. They dazzle Spain and the world in the Elimination Rounds then shut up shop. And there reward for the “Ugly Game” in both the 2010 final and today is humbling losses.
    Could they do any worse by letting players like Robben strut their creative stuff?
    As in AFL I think the coaches/managers get in the way more than they enhance team prospects with their control freak obsessiveness.

  2. Tom Riordan says

    Great piece, Greg.
    You’re spot on about van Gaal, his “magic touch” that kept being mentioned was about as present as Brazil’s defending yesterday.

  3. Gregor Lewis says

    That’s what makes it even more curious Peter.
    Van Gaal is about necessary offence. He’s been that way his whole career.

    When my Greek team Panathinaikos jagged an upset in a Champions League semi-final Away fixture, in Amsterdam, against his mid 90’s powerhouse Ajax team, Van Gaal got asked in dread tones … ” You lost your Home leg 1-0. What will you do now?”

    His response?

    A simple, “That’s alright, we’ll win 2-0 or more Away, in Athens.”

    Ever the attacking pragmatist was Louis. That’s how he made his bones. Now everyone is criticising the Dutch performance against Costa Rica as well, forgetting they were inches and an inspired goalkeeper away from winning that with at least a handful of goals to spare.

    That there was tactical perfection, in opening up a sound defensive unit AND denying them the rhythm & space to counter.

    It was this specific match that was mind-blowingly devoid of any characteristic adjustments. As Tom said above & in his splendid piece earlier, waiting & commenting on Van Gaal’s ‘genius’, was assuming facts not AT ALL in evidence TODAY.

    Did he bottle it?
    Or did events just catch-up with the unnecessary risks he took on talismanic players that weren’t really up to it today?

    Completely unnecessary given the ready replacements he had who were fully fit.


    Thanks for the feedback lads & here’s hoping we get something worth watching in the Final, Monday morning.


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