Five out of eight quarterfinalists. Three out of four semifinalists. That is a damn good prediction rate. Anyone who could come out of this tournament, one of the wildest and most unpredictable of all time, with that kind of percentage? That person deserves praise and adulation.
God knows I didn’t have that strike rate. I would have had the five quarterfinalists, but England went and beat someone in penalty kicks. I have two of the four semifinalists, but my predicted winner is out.
Actually, for this tournament? I called two of the four semifinalists, and…eh, the Croatia bandwagon was pretty big, wasn’t it? I think people were in love with Belgium before the tournament, too. I can see a BUNCH of brackets having shaken out with three out of eight quarterfinalists – and then three out of four semifinalists, both finalists, and the winner.
Sure, I called Russia-Spain almost to the letter…in the wrong bracket. And my whole “might as well have had Bob the Builder ref that game, because it was FIXED” doesn’t really explain that amazing save Akinfeev made in the penalty shootout.
Oh, right, penalty shootouts. Yes, it’s time again for the quadrennial whine about the best way to settle tied matches.
Because this has been a delightful and enjoyable World Cup – maybe it’s us? Maybe we should stop going? Worth looking into – even the games that end up in penalty shootouts have been exciting and well-played. One swallow, however, does not make a dinner. Penalty kick shootouts give an unearned life preserver to the less talented, less creative, more fearful, and more cynical.
I believe extra time games have been more enjoyable because FIFA finally came to its senses and allowed extra substitutions. We are so very, very close to a workable solution – golden goal after 120 minutes, with still extra substitutions every, say, fifteen minutes or so.
Yes, I’m the guy who refuses to understand why they got rid of golden goal. I don’t believe teams are owed the right to equalize in a set period of time – that was what regulation was for. But I’m willing to compromise with golden goal after the two periods of extra time. Any team upset at a “fluke” goal should have handled their business during the previous two hours and five substitutions.
If golden goal seems unfair, then play to the end of whatever fifteen minute period the goal was scored in – silver goal, I think was the term for it. I am completely deaf to the complaint that both teams did not play for an equal time in equal directions – the teams were tied after two hours! There’s no difference in which direction they were playing in!
Let’s say Russia had survived the shootout against Croatia. Exactly how would any Russia-England semifinal have ended? Either penalty kicks or polonium poisoning, both of which England traditionally has seen the worse of.
And exactly how do you imagine a World Cup final between Russia and whichever VASTLY more talented team would have played out? We’ve already had the less talented team penalty their way to a World Cup, in 2006.
Or, what if after Colombia, England decides they are now good at penalty kicks? Yeah, we think they’re going to get stomped by Croatia. And if not, they’ll get double-stomped by either Belgium or France. No one in their right mind thinks it’s coming home. But what if, WHAT IF, Gareth Southgate has managed to teach Englishmen how to kick a stationary object into a net?
By the way, I’m not mad at Italy for their tactics in 2006, and I wouldn’t be annoyed if England tried to bunker their way to knighthoods. The rules are there to be exploited. I would expect Bruce Arena, or any American coach, to make the same decision if faced with Modric and Vida, followed by either De Bruyne and Lukaku or Griezmann, Pogba and Mbappe. FIFA should not give no-hope, loser nations like England and the United States any sliver of hope. Penalty kick shootouts have got to go.
“But Dan,” says the straw person I have painstakingly constructed, being certain to give it an annoying nasal whine, “what if the game keeps going and going and never stops?”
Well, what if the penalty kick shootout keeps going and going and never stops? Huh? What if both goalkeepers get injured, and it’s just player after player after player kicking a ball into an empty net?
….what IS the rule if a goalkeeper gets injured during a penalty kick shootout, I wonder.
All right then, I have an alternative. If, after two hours, the game is still tied? The rest of the game is played under 1863 Football Association rules. No more substitutes. No crossbar. No goalkeeper. No referee on the field. Catching the ball allowed for any player. No forward passing. No nails protruding from boots.
….wow, those Victorians were hardcore. I’ll bet they argued about that one. “You can’t have a proper game without giving the other fellow a good stabbing! A little lockjaw never killed anyone!”
Remember, these were upper class amateurs. “Will you be at the match, Sir Trevor?” “Indeed, once I finish putting nails into my boots!” “Oh, Sir Trevor, you are a caution.”
So, who you got? I’ve been led to understand that constant World War II references are no longer in good taste, which kills a whole series of jokes about picking your favorite semifinalist by how much you’d collaborated while occupied – sorry, England. I’m also guessing that picking a team based on fewest colonial atrocities is also contraindicated – sorry, Croatia.
Anyone who doesn’t want Napoleon references from now until Sunday at the rate of 1,800,000 per second is probably really, really cheering for Belgium. Belgium’s only flaw seems to be that they tend to look past Iowa State and ahead to Oklahoma. Yes, I’m going to be that guy. Belgium didn’t respect Japan, and it nearly cost them. Belgium didn’t respect the United States in 2014, and it nearly cost them. That doesn’t mean the United States was a respectable team, as subsequent events proved.
In other words, don’t get too comfortable on the Japan bandwagon.
You’d think I’d come to my senses and support Belgium, since after all they handled the team I thought was going to win. But I literally predicted this matchup in this semifinal, and I predicted France would win, so I might as well stick by what’s left of my guns. I do think the winner of this game wins on Sunday, no particular disrespect to Croatia. Disrespect to England, I guess, but who cares.
Now, if this tournament had been in England, like it should have been, I’d probably have a little more faith that it would be…well, I guess in that case it would have stayed home, or not left? Won’t miss “it’s coming home” references for four years, I can tell you that much. But England hasn’t….played anybody. Croatia, France and Belgium have all played fantastic teams, played nerve-wracking games, and came through under pressure. England beat Colombia without James. And they lost to Belgium. They’re the only semifinalist who has lost a game this tournament. England makes a terrible excuse for a Cinderella – only Russia was worse – but they’re not the favorites.
I realize England has had a good record in Russia since 1856, but Florence Nightingale isn’t on the training staff this time, and neither is Lord Tennyson in the booth.
It occurs to me that maybe I should be in favor of an England-France final. The historical references will be a chore, but the Shakespeare should be excellent.
I was going to say reputations will be made or broken this week, but that’s already happened. Neymar’s redemption tour ended up making things worse.
In a way, Neymar was wronged. In a small way. In a way where it’s mostly Neymar’s fault. Like, ninety percent or so. But he was wronged in a way. Neymar didn’t exactly invent diving in the World Cup. Every tournament – every round – heck, almost every game has some example of hideous cheating. Just as every game has an example of brutal fouling. I’m old enough to remember when a player for Brazil was fouled out of the game against Colombia, and the team completely fell apart the next game against Germany.
So I absolutely understood why Neymar took extra precautions to make sure there would not be a similar semifinal embarrassment this year. I would even defend the rolling, because rolling your way out of a fall is a good way to diffuse momentum and prevent injury.
I would even say that some of the backlash against Neymar was an attempt to work the refs to neutralize his effectiveness, but I’m not sure the Belgian national team has the sort of international reach to control the soccer zeitgeist.
Neymar, correctly, concluded that Brazil would go no farther than he would take him, and further concluded, correctly or not, that he should take extraordinary steps to make sure he was there to take Brazil along. His sin wasn’t diving – or at least, his sin wasn’t any worse than any of the dozens of other hackers and cheaters out there. His sin was losing.
I don’t know whether the criticism got to Neymar between Mexico and Belgium – he has not yet chosen to confide in me. But he was much less assertive and much less effective. It’s just barely possible that Belgium has a better defense than Mexico, of course. And I’m well aware how tired, brainless and disrespectful it is to say that a team “choked.”
But Japan choked, and so did Brazil. Brazil made a stunning amount of passing errors. I would say that most of this was because Belgium was expertly coached and prepared for the offensive strategies that Brazil would bring, but, um, I think a random Everton fan would be happy to explain why that is unlikely. Belgium has a terrific team, probably their best ever. But this isn’t the first Brazil team to crack under the pressure of being Brazil, and it won’t be the last.
Also, now is the time for the US men’s national team to seriously pursue one of the many international coaches who either had unexpected and undeserved setbacks, or whose contracts have simply run out. The names put forward so far make Daddy want to cry himself to sleep, though. If Carlos Cordeiro is trying to make me happily settle for Dave Sarachan, the best way to do that is to threaten me with Juan Carlos Osorio.