World Cup 2010 (The Quarters): Three Times a Charm? …

… Saturday’s 2010 FIFA World Cup quarterfinal between Spain and Paraguay probably ended as it should. After a flurry of penalties in the second half that I’ll discuss in a moment, Spain’s David Villa did what David Villa does, scoring the lone goal to put Spain into the semifinals with a 1-0 victory.

The win, combined with Germany’s 4-0 demolition of Argentina earlier in the day, left three European teams in the semifinals, joining Uruguay from South America.

As things played out, however, you can fairly question either way whether Spain’s 1-0 win was the right scoreline.

If you’re in the Paraguay camp, you have to be seething a bit this morning. It isn’t just that Óscar Cardozo badly flubbed his penalty, making for a somewhat simple save (such that penalty saves can be simple) for Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas. And it may not even be something their fans noticed right away.

But seconds later, when Spain were awarded a penalty after Villa was pulled down in the box, the potential inconsistency of referee Carlos Batres became clear. Initially, this appeared to favor Paraguay, as when Xabi Alonso put home the spot kick to give Spain the lead, Batres waived off the strike, for encroachment against Spain.

It was a ticky-tack call, but by rule, it was the right one. But upon further review, it left me to wonder why Batres suddenly decided to call such a rule by the book. Alonso’s second attempt was saved by Paraguay goalkeeper Justo Villar, who then knocked away a follow-up shot, and may have even been guilty of an infraction for tripping a Spain player amid the chaos. I never saw a clear angle to determine if there was encroachment either way on Alonso’s second attempt.

But that leaves the question on Cardozo’s penalty. When he struck the ball, there are two Spain players clearly inside the penalty area (it’s not even close). Batres chose to ignore this, however, instead of awarding Cardozo a second opportunity to beat Casillas. And who knows if he would have. Cardozo’s original effort left a lot to be desired.

It’s the slippery slope officials must deal with, because one such call as the one Batres made on Alonso’s penalty, while correct, makes it fair to wonder how it could have been ignored just moments earlier.

If the encroachment is not called either way, Spain leads, 1-0, on the hour, and likely goes on to win. If the encroachment is called both ways, Spain is held off the board, and Paraguay at least has a chance to take a 1-0 lead were Cardozo to get it right with his second chance.

We’ll never know what Bastres was thinking. And I don’t think he goes down as a villain in this situation. Spain were the better team, and much more fun to watch, and I think most of the world would rather see Germany play Spain in the semifinals than Paraguay.

But the whole thing made for a chaotic sideshow that we probably could have done without.

Speaking of chaotic sideshows, how about Argentina? My pick to make the final went out with little more than a whimper in the morning game, falling 4-0 to Germany. It’s hard for me to say where the blame lies in Argentina’s debacle. There were times where they were well in control of possession after they fell behind to Thomas Müller’s goal off a corner kick in the 3rd minute. Argentina were completely clueless defensively on that play, and I have to wonder if the possession Argentina enjoyed after that and into the second half wasn’t a willing sacrifice from Germany knowing they could strike on the counter.

And they did exactly that, tearing apart Argentina for three goals in the second half – two by Miroslav Klose – for the 4-0 victory. It was clinical, it was awesome to watch, and if you’re anyone else still left in this tournament, it was scary. Holland and Spain both like to knock the ball around. It would appear Germany would let either one do exactly that, lying in wait to ambush their opponents with a quick strike the other way. The injuries that plagued this German side in the weeks leading up to the tournament are just a memory now, with us only given a reminder by the mutliple camera shots of the perhaps now relic Michael Ballack looking on as Germany finished off Argentina.

Klose, meanwhile, now has 14 career World Cup goals, tying him with countryman Gerd Müller for second-most in tournament history, behind only Brazil’s Ronaldo (15). The argument of where Klose belongs among all-time greats is probably pretty short and wouldn’t end in Klose’s favor, but there’s no denying the impact he’s had as a goal scorer for Germany on the biggest stage. Were he to score twice to reach 16 in Germany’s final two games of this tournament, it would be an accomplishment well worth acknowledging. One more goal would give Klose at least five goals in three different World Cups. He would be the only player to have ever accompished that feat.

For Argentina, despite all the good they did in this tournament, the scope of this loss to Germany makes me think they are almost going to have to restart from the beginning. Fair or not, this result will make many think that the Diego Maradona experiment did not work. Others will question Lionel Messi’s lack of scoring in this World Cup – though he did help create goals on mutliple occasions for his teammates. Messi will continue to wow us on the club level for Barcelona, and at 23, he probably has at least two chances to shed the memories of this World Cup. Damage to his long-term reputation is slim to none.

For Maradona, it is perhaps a different story. It’d be hard to see what his next chance would be to erase this ending. I can’t see any way he stays on as Argentina’s coach, and I don’t know what other nation would be crazy enough to bring him on. Perhaps he can still coach at the club level in Argentina, but the effects of this loss will be most hardly felt by him, a fact many will enjoy, fair or not.

The semifinals start Tuesday, with Holland vs. Uruguay, followed by Wednesday’s match between Spain and Germany. Both games kick off at 2:30 p.m. Eastern.

Share your thoughts below on the quarterfinals, or anything else that strikes your mind about this World Cup so far – one that now has just 4 games remaining.

TUESDAY’S PREDICTION:
Holland 2-0 Uruguay

Saturday’s Record: 1-1.
Tournament Record: 34-26.

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4 thoughts on “World Cup 2010 (The Quarters): Three Times a Charm? …

  1. I can’t argue with your Tuesday prediction; sounds right to me.

    At this stage, I am just happy that this World Cup has turned out so much better than the last one. Any possible scenario would be a better result than that excruciating final between two teams I actively disliked (Italy) or could have cared less about (France).

  2. True, but it didn’t get him any closer to that hallowed “best player in the history of the game” discussion. Right now, it is still the preserve of Pele and Maradona, with cameo appearances by Cruyff (knock: lost his cool in the ’74 World Cup Final, and couldn’t rally a superior Dutch team to overturn a 2-1 deficit), Best (never got Northern Ireland to a big tournament), and Zidane (comparatively few accomplishments at club level).

    Depending on who’s coaching Argentina when they host the Copa America next year, though, Messi will have a golden opportunity to finally win something important with his country.

  3. If you want to look at the glass half full thing, Maradona made little impact at age 22 in the 1982 WC so in that sense Messi isn’t necessarily in bad company…after Messi’s own “Hand of God-ish goal,” followed up with his own version of THE Goal in a Spanish Cup game against Mallorca (I think), you can still draw some notable parallels between Diego and Messi’s career so far. We’ll see if Messi single-handedly leads a modest Argentina to victory in 2014.

    As far as Diego coaching anyone, for now the press is saying that both players and fans in Argentina are asking him to stay, but that is probably driven more by emotion than any rational thought as to who would be best suited to lead this team. If he does stay, Diego needs to realize that no one on this team has his (playing) genius (probably not even Messi), so he needs to stop setting the team up to be led by the “genius” of any individual player. Just because he did it as a player doesn’t mean anyone he has out there is capable of repeating those feats, especially in the modern game which has evolved into being much more organized (not really sure what word to use here, but today’s game is certainly a little less “chaotic” than it once was).

    Earlier in the tournament there was talk of Diego one day coaching Napoli, a move which (at the time) the countless Maradona-lovers in Naples welcomed. But again, I think this thought-process was also driven primarily by emotion and not rational thought. As a Napoli fan, I still get goose bumps when I think about him sometimes, but it doesn’t mean I want him sitting on our bench…

  4. not sure how you can leave zidane out of a discussion for best player of all time based on your criteria (if you’re being that picky, pele never even played in europe). zidane won everything there was to win in the game, save the golden boot if you want to get a bit pedantic. he beat brazil twice in the world cup by absolutely taking over the games, scored best goal ever in the champion’s league http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/b…s-league-goals, world player of the year three times. zidane is or should be in everyone’s best 11 all time, no question. he’s one of the few players who could simply will his team to victory, even when he was considered past his prime.

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