Well, not exactly a whirlwind of action and excitement but the great thing about single knockout is that there has to be some drama at some point. So the Dutch got the penalty shootout they were looking for all afternoon but found they tempted fate one too many times. Obviously some questions will be asked, strangely enough, about not making a goalkeeper switch. But since I learned that Tim Krul is far from a penalty specialist (stopping just 2 of 20 for Newcastle) I have even more respect for Van Gaal’s decision against Costa Rica. It seems that he was just trying to get in the Costa Ricans’ heads, not to mention that I expect all potential shooters put in some time studying the opposing keeper’s tendencies and were probably a little flustered when finding themselves facing someone new. Aaanyway, as for this particular shootout I would never quite go so far as to blame the keeper in that situation, the odds being so stacked against them, but it sure looked like Cillesen could have kept one or even two of those out considering he got his hand to them. And Ron Vlaar first? Another gutsy Van Gaal move, but with far from the same result. And kudos to Romero, a keeper I’ve always considered nerve-wracking to watch but who did a great job the few times he was called on in regular play and made two huge saves in the shootout.
As for the previous 120 minutes of actual soccer, well, you have to hand it to both teams for flawlessly executing their managers’ very conservative game plans. In the aftermath of Tuesday’s bloodbath, clearly neither team was about to let the same thing happen to them. Mascherano was amazing all night and got just the tip of his toe on what could very well have been Robben’s game winning goal with just minutes left. Plus, he was almost definitely playing the entire second half and extra time with a concussion. Meanwhile, Zabaleta soldiered on with a mouthful of gauze and even Demichelis played a strong game, although he still had no idea what to do if he ever accidentally found the ball in his possession. Likewise good performances by De Jong and Jaanmaat and Blind and Vlaar, etc. for the Dutch.
In fairness to the managers, if there were ever two teams designed to sit 7 men back defensively and let the 3 up front fend for themselves, possibly creating something out of nothing with their talent, it was these two. Messi, Higuain, Lavezzi and Robben, Van Persie and Sneijder are all capable of making something out of nothing. Now, is there any chance that strategy works against the roaring Germans or a furious and humiliated Brazilian team this weekend? Not that I can imagine, but we’ve certainly seen stranger things this World Cup so you never know.
One last note: is there a worse nightmare for Brazilians than the spectre of Argentina raising the trophy on their hallowed ground? I mean, besides Thiago Silva watching from the stands?