The feverish excitement surrounding the group stages and last-16 led to arduous claims that 2014 was well on its way to becoming the ‘best-ever’ World Cup.
So, in response to the overly used ‘best-ever’ adage, fate decided to strike down….with moderate vengeance.… as three of the four quarter-finals matches failed to live up to their lofty expectations.
However, the last four standing are true world football heavyweights.
Germany 1-0 France
It all started at the Maracana.
In a hugely anticipated match-up, Germany and France last met in the World Cup almost 30 years ago—in both the ‘82 and ‘86 semi-finals. Match previews drew inspiration from the former clash which was a 3-3 World Cup classic. Back then the Germans prevailed on penalties in Seville—the first-ever penalty shoot-out in a World Cup.
The match however is synonymous with two names for wrong reasons: Schumacher; and Battiston. The unforgettable moment of that game — following an exquisite pass from Michel Platini as he picked out his compatriot — occurred when Battiston chased down a through-ball just outside the German penalty area. He arrived momentarily before Schumacher and in doing so produced a first-time shot which went just wide.
Despite the ball having left the vicinity, the German goalkeeper continued his charge, jumping just before he reached the Battiston. The result was an unconscious Frenchman—along with three of his teeth scattered across the Andalusian turf.
Amazingly the German wasn’t sent-off. Or cautioned. In fact, not even a foul was awarded. As the Frenchman lay comatose, Schumacher casually placed the ball down for a goal-kick and waited for the whistle to recommence the match—he would go on to become the hero in the shoot-out.
Fast-forward to 2014 and there was no drama of the sort in the Maracana.
The contest was effectively settled within the opening 10 minutes as Mats Hummels headed in a Toni Kroos free-kick. Les Bleus lacked any conviction in their finishing as they chased the game.
Despite some scares the French could not capitalise and Die Mannschaft held on become the first country in World Cup history to reach four successive semi-finals.
Brazil 2-1 Colombia
This match was the only entertaining game of the four as it was played in typically furious Copa America fashion.
The hard tackles were all-too frequent but it was refreshingly admirable to see players seldom complain and continue with the all-important objective of winning the match.
The referee rightly or wrongly received criticism for not dishing out the cards early doors, which may have saved Neymar from a cruel challenge which broke the Brazilian’s back.
That said, hugely respected and South American expert journalist Tim Vickery, described that the Selecao, through their ‘tactical-fouling’, reaped what they had sown given the challenge which ended Neymar’s World Cup.
Brazil’s excessive foul count of 31 was their highest in a match since World Cup statistics began to be gathered in 1966.
Unsurprisingly, Brazil appealed Thiago Silva’s yellow card, his second of the tournament, which suspends him from their next match against Germany.
One of the world’s best defenders, Brazil’s captain led by example. He scored the opener from a corner and despite already being on a caution from earlier in the tournament, gave his all for the cause.
David Luiz scored a brilliant free-kick to double the Selecao’s lead before the brilliant James Rodriguez scored a consolation penalty to equal Rivaldo’s 2002 record of scoring in the first five games of a World Cup.
Colombia could not find the equaliser they craved which now means the weakened hosts face Germany in their last hurdle if they are to reach their own World Cup Final.
Argentina 1-0 Belgium
Gonzalo Higuain gave his side the lead after only eight minutes and it seemed viewers were in for a treat.
Despite Messi displaying moments of almost-clairvoyant ability, where he anticipated his opponent’s lunges before they had even moved their own legs, this was another forgettable match as both sides were predominantly risk averse.
Belgium may feel that they have under-performed at the 2014 finals but given this was their first major tournament in 12 years, their so-called “Golden Generation” would have gained invaluable experience for the 2016 European Championships.
A silver-lining for Belgium’s goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was that he continued his fine form against Messi, boasting a record which not many other goalkeepers can brag about.
Holland 0-0 Costa Rica (Holland win 4-3 on penalties)
Louis Van Gaal gambled with his last throw of the dice in the final minute of extra-time in Salvador, as he replaced goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with Newcastle United’s Tim Krul.
His change was attributed to clouding the Costa Rican players’ judgement as Krul who, based on his Premier League record is not an expert penalty goalkeeper, guessed correctly for all five penalties—saving two.
Holland were thoroughly deserving winners having struck the woodwork on three occasions, in addition to Keylor Navas regarding producing important blocks to keep Le Oranje at bay.
The Dutch would have feared the worst going into the shoot-out as they had a penalty record comparable to England.
Brazil and Argentina are no strangers to World Cup semi-finals having contested 13 between them. However the 2014 World Cup is the first, where both countries have made it to the last four.
Tuesday 8th July—Germany vs Brazil (9pm GMT)
Wednesday 9th July—Holland vs Argentina (9pm GMT)