So Brazil are one step from actually getting to the final, which is either totally predictable or a complete miracle given how they have played most of the tournament.
This time they deserved the win, brushing aside a desperately disappointing Colombia who never really got going, and (with a little help from the referee, for a change), won their quarter final 2-1 and sparked the biggest party yet in the Salvador Fanfest, where thousands of people spent the entire night either dancing the night away, or staring at me attempting to do the same.
Standing in their way will be the ever-efficient Germans, who reverted back to stereotype yesterday afternoon to beat fellow Europeans France 1-0 with a beautiful early headed goal, then sat back and soaked up the French pressure and, in the end, probably deserved the win. Bizarrely, this will be only the second time in World Cup history, (after the final won by Brazil in Japan in 2002), that these two powerhouses have met.
The game will be a real challenge for the hosts, given that star player Neymar Jr. has been ruled out with a fractured vertebra, received in the lsat minute of the match in an aerial challenge which looked innocuous and didn’t even draw a foul. They will also be without suspended captain Thiago Silva, who picked up a second yellow card in the match. With these two key players out, and Brazil playing less the beautiful game than the foul-the-other-team-a-lot game, (they fouled every three minutes on average last night), this game is going to be tough for the locals.
Silva had earlier opened the scoring when left totally unmarked from a corner, (how many corners have Brazil scored from this tournament, and how un-Brazilian is it to score so few goals from open play?), before a second-half screamer of a free-kick from outstanding defender David Luiz.
I confused the crowd by wearing my swapped Germany jersey whilst cheering for Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris, (who had a great game), and swearing in French quite often, but the crowd was equally mixed, as I met Brazilians in French face-paint, Germans in Brazil jerseys, and Scots in kilts. Again.
I was also thrilled to pick up one of the four nationalities still missing from my ‘Photo With Each Coutntry’s Fan’ quest: a Greek!!
Today, after three days of sun-soaked gorgeosity, the storms have returned.
As I type this the skies are grey and the sea is acting like a petulant player demanding a yellow card, (yet again, this went unpunished by the referees all day yesterday, as did standing in front of a free-kick you’ve just given away and almost causing a fight as a result, and Thomas Müller diving right in front of the referee failed to produce a caution. These are the some of the legacies of this World Cup, which will only get worse over time).
I will eventually venture out to meet friends and make the last journey to the Salvador stadium, where we will mingle with crowds of fans one last time and sip stupidly cheap street beer, (I met a Dane and a Norwegian at the game yesterday who were thrilled to discover that beers cost a mere 10-reais for three, (around £3)…until they discovered they were being ripped off, and that everywhere else they were half that price!)
We will also watch a slightly befuddled Argentina face a growing Belgium team in what could be a fascinating match: will Messi pull his team through yet again and continue both the dream of a Brazil vs Argentina final, and to end the debate over whether he is the world’s greatest player despite not having won the biggest prize of all.
These are the two remaining teams with the worst shots to goals ratio, which means either they are terrible shots, or are shooting too much, or something may come together this afternoon and we will see a goal-fest! Interestingly, with Thibault Courtois in goal Belgium are undefeated in a staggering 21 matches, but maybe more interestingly in the six matches he faced Messi in during the La Liga season, Atlético Madrid were not only undefeated, but the diminutive Argentine failed to score once.
At 5pm though I will be inside the Arena Fonte Nova for a World Cup match for the sixth and last time, (sniff), as the tournament comes full circle and the Dutch return, (after opening their account here against Spain all those seemingly years ago), to take on minnows Costa Rica. The Dutch are the highest scoring team in the tournament with twelve goals so far, but the Costa Ricans have the joint best defence, having conceded only two goals, so it may not be as one-sided as many people imagine.
There have been a fair few Central American fans mingling around town in the last day or two, so it will be interesting to see who has brought the biggest support. The colourful, fun Dutch tend to attract neutrals to their party, but I wonder if there will be an American influence on locals.
I personally will be cheering for Costa Rica to send home diving Robben and co, which means that they will almost certainly win, and probably set up a Holland vs Brazil final, since they are two of the teams I think least deserve to win it.
James Rodriquez ended the game in tears but with a penalty to add to his total is currently two goals ahead in the Golden Boot race with six goals: can Messi catch up with him this afternoon? Will Müller find his form again in his last game or two? Will the Dutch score a hatful and throw the race wide open?
Stay tuned for the answers to all these questions, and more…
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