Of dead lions and live dogs
The good book puts it with charming clarity: "As long as we are alive, we still have hope, just as a live dog is better off than a dead lion." (Ecclesiastes 9:4). Certainly, that is how surviving teams in World Cup Brazil 2014 must be feeling. And who are the dead lions? Spain must assuredly be foremost in current reputation. Then, not far behind are Portugal, Italy and England among the mighty who fell ever so heavily. On reputation, in the recent World Rankings Spain listed at No. 1, Portugal at No. 3, Italy No. 9 and England No. 11. But, the World Cup has often been a place where prime reputations can be unceremoniously be topped rather speedily.
Spain, the defending World Champions, in the twinkling of an eye were ousted in their first two matches– obliterated 5-1 by the Netherlands who were rated as low as No. 15 and 2-nil by Chile No. 13 in the rankings. Portugal suffered similar abuse 4-0 at the hands of Germany who instantly labeled them as nonentities. An almost equal amount of disgrace fell on former champions Italy and England. What a shift in power! plummeting from the heights of glory to the abject misery of not making it to the top 16. What's more, all this happens in the most colorful and the most watched sporting extravaganza of all time!
Each and every match has been filled to capacity with spectators carrying extreme imagery of national colors, as expected from the geographical proximity of some ten countries bordering Brazil or closely positioned for easy transit of hundreds of thousands of team supporters. More than likely the world-wide television audience is well in excess of three billion. All participating nations have made the World Cup a formidable focus in promoting their image and identity.
Who is the latest in our roster of dead lions and live dogs? Host nation Brazil threatened to expire at the feet of fellow Latins Chile on what would have been a fateful 28th June at Belo Horizonte. The hot and humid location, supposedly 200 miles to the interior from Rio, must have taken on aspects or rigor mortis when Chile, refusing to behave as the polite guests they ought to have been, came back to snatch an equalizer in the 32nd minute through Alexis Sanchez. From a position of relative comfort, Brazil were exposed by Chile as content in their ability to play out time into the extra period of 30 minutes– and the dreaded proposition of a penalty kicks shootout!
Things could have been even worse for the five time World Champions who could count themselves lucky when a shot by a Chilean forward hit the bar in the 65th minute with the Brazilian keeper nowhere in evidence! Thus to an unproductive extra time period and the penalty kicks decider.
Brazil scored their first, third and fifth shots from the spot and had to be thankful that Chile, having missed their first two, also missed their fifth, allowing Brazil a 3-2 reprieve! anyway, a win is a win. Actually, they don't call it a win officially– only a decider, which is what it really is. The debate may go on forever about such a method of deciding matters. At least most people think it is better than the toss of a coin! Hence, Brazil our latest live dog and Chile our most recent dead lion! The one into the quarter– finals and the other to be cremated with a pile of memories.
What then for Colombia– perhaps the strongest nation in the last 16 who has still to win the World Cup? Their opponents at Rio were Uruguay, two time World Champions, but last time as far back as 1950. The privilege of winning carried the honour of meeting Brazil in the quarter finals. As if eager to display their giant killing capacity, Colombia through their somewhat unheralded striker James Rodriguez seized upon the 27th minute to register what could be the best goal of the tournament. James (pronounced HAMES) from 25 yards out, and in very tight space, chested the ball down to hit a volley with his left foot to make it 1– nil.
The young man makes his living playing for Monaco in the French League. If Monaco is the country with an inordinate number of lotteries, his next shot was no lottery in itself. Rodriguez showed he could make good with a relatively easy opportunity in the 50th minute making it 2-nil. And what do you know? Uruguay had become a dead lion perhaps largely owing to the fact that their striker Luis Suarez had been on suspension for biting an Italian opponent! Colombia 2 Uruguay 0.
What now for No. 15 and No. 19 in the World rankings, the Netherlands and Mexico? Neither has ever won the World Cup. However, Netherlands came ever so near– scoring first in two finals, only to be thwarted once against Germany and the other against Argentina. The venue in this round of 16, Fortaleza in the tropical east cost of Brazil, a resort city of three quarters of a million inhabitants. It could not sizzle more in temperature, the heat revving up to over 38° C or about 90° F in the shade—so much so and official water break was on offer in each half. Mexico forged ahead 1-nil in the 48th minute but undaunted Netherlands sustained its strong pressure during which ten corner kicks were endured eventually to gain the equalizer in the 88th minute. Was it going to ensue in extra time or even penalty kicks? Yes, a penalty kick resulted from Robbens being brought down in the Mexico box and introducing the Dutch winner 2-1 late in the match.
Many have expressed happiness with the introduction by FIFA of goal line technology to help arbitrate on close line calls. Yet, there are many football lovers hoping still for a means of determining veracity in countless instances of players going down in the hope of receiving the favour of referees. Robbens, prior to going down, was on rather exemplary behavior. He had skipped past a number of tackles– doing his very best to stay on his feet. Anyway, his reputation will always precede him. Mexico howled after the match. But this did not erase the 2-1 loss suffered to Netherlands.