World Cup 2010 – A Week's Difference

A week ago, the South American contingent was being hailed as the leaders of the World Cup. Certainly, at the time, it had merit as the only losses suffered by a South American member both belonged to Chile against Spain and Brazil (not exactly anything to hang your head about, mind you).

After Saturday, only one of the four in the quarterfinals made it through and it took a bit of unscrupulous play to make that happen. The bigger question is, what happened between then and now?

The easy answer is:…I haven’t a damn clue.

Brazil, for as dominant as they looked without being Brazil-like, panicked in the second half against Holland and allowed themselves to self-destruct and look petulant in front of the viewing audience.

Argentina, for all the attacking talent on display, failed to figure out the German backline and certainly could do little to stymie maybe the most awe-inspiring attack in this World Cup.

Paraguay, who certainly cannot be faulted for their effort, can be faulted for not having an attacking player that scored. Salvador Cabanas really meant something to this team up front and no one could fill that void, even if they did push la furia roja to the brink.

Uruguay has had the defense to make life frustrating for anyone playing them and the attacking talent to make defenses sweat, even if they will be enemy number one of many neutrals now.

The competition at this level is obviously much better now, but is it that much better?

Brazil had played against the attacking extreme of Chile and the defense extreme of Portugal, yet looked lost when someone actually breached their defenses. This was the prequel to a sudden rash of bad attitude, exemplified by a Felipe Melo stamp the might let Sani Kaita off the hook for the “dumbest red card” of the tournament. What was more disappointing was the sudden crybaby attitude of the Brazilians, who complained at every turn at every decision, as if they expected everything to go their way on a course to their eventual comeback win that never happened.

Argentina, after giving up an early goal, seemed to be getting back into the swing of things throughout the first half, if still wary of the German attack. Even here, however, there was a pervading sense that the Argentines had developed the same crybaby attitude that pervaded Brazil late in their contest. After the Germans began to rip the defense asunder, however, it went from pouting to dismal to completely unrecognizable. Messi, for all his brilliance, has to go down as a failure in this World Cup because, no matter how much he creates, he is expected to do it all (that includes scoring) and when the chips were down, he became anonymous in the fabric of a contest where his teammates needed him most.

Paraguay’s tactical measures of starting six players that didn’t start the knockout round match actually worked for an hour. Spain was pestered into mistakes that turned into self inflicted mistakes that turned into frustration and bellyaching, something that, no matter how bad Brazil and Argentina looked, will never be topped by another nation. What happened starting in the 57th minute was epic in its ability to make someone go, “Wait, what?” Penalty, penalty miss, penalty, penalty retake, penalty miss. In five minutes, there was enough absurd play that it took the next five minutes to process it all.

Even the goal was not exactly classic material. The run from Iniesta was very good, aided by the only defensive error committed by Paraguay in the contest, though it took three hits of the post before the ball would cross the line. Even then, Spain nearly gave Paraguay a chance to make amends, though some speed up front (I.e. anyone but Roque Santa Cruz) would have surely given Paraguay a shot.

None of this, however, really answers the question of how the Southern half of the Western Hemisphere suddenly went haywire. Certainly the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain are the elite of Europe, but were they really that much better? Spain seems to have gotten off the hook a couple of times now where their ball possession has been the only thing keeping them in contests by preventing the other side from establishing any rhythm at all. The Netherlands have not been their flashy selves, but have certainly been getting the job done with the van Bommel/de Jong combo keeping the opposition in check. Germany have been the most outstanding side in the tournament and only dodgy officiating could keep them down against Serbia.

Perhaps it is the management that has brought them down. Both Brazil and Argentina were very whinny in their losses, something that both Dunga and Maradonna both were well documented for. To say that this rub-off effect, or a combination of that and a feeling of entitlement, might have played a role when both sides went down is not to far fetched an idea.

It is quite possible, however, that Uruguay might well make it into the finals as they have been just as stingy as anyone, with a formation alignment that relies heavily on Diego Forlan and two others to attack while seven are back to defend and clog the midfield. Diego Lugano must be healthy, though, as he really is the lynchpin of the back for la Celeste.

Regardless of what Uruguay accomplishes, however, the Sunday headlines will be far less anticipated than the Sunday headlines of a week ago.

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