The View from Rio De Janeiro: Previewing the World’s Biggest Football Tournament Finale
It seems like only yesterday that Brazil defeated Croatia to kick off the world’s biggest football tournament and greatest month of nationalistic sport way back on June 12. Where did the time go? Brazil has proved itself a worthy host over the course of the last four weeks, putting to bed all of the pre-tournament panic that dominated news headlines for the two years leading up to this moment: The stadiums were gorgeous, the travel infrastructure didn’t collapse (in fact, it was efficiently glorious!) and the protests drifted off with a whimper after the tournament’s first week.
There were some truly wild moments, surprising and bizarre moments: The USA’s group matches against Ghana and Portugal provided the two most dramatic games in the group stage, the latter ending with the most nail-biting goal of the tournament when Portugal’s Silvestre Varela equalized with 30 seconds to go in extra time. The USA came out of the Group of Death anyway while Portugal, along with European powerhouses Italy, Spain and England, booked flights home. If anything, this tournament represented a possible changing of the guard, with teams from the Americas (Costa Rica! Colombia! USA! Chile!) ripping the baton from the hands of normally dominate European teams and sending them packing with wink and wry “Adios!” (save Germany and Holland, who we all know aren’t men, anyway, but rather machines!). And then there was Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, who just couldn’t keep his teeth to himself against Italy. The international soccer association dished out the hurt to one of world’s top strikers, handing down a nine-game suspension for biting and a four-month ban from football. Uruguay was quickly and decisively handed its walking papers in their next game against Colombia.
We wouldn’t have another football villain until the quarterfinals, when Colombia’s Camilo Zúñiga took Brazilian superstar Neymar out of the tournament altogether with a wildly inappropriate knee to the back that not only went unpunished, but broke a vertebrae in Neymar’s back. With Neymar out of the tournament, it wouldn’t be three days later that Brazil would be absolutely brutalized by a relentless German team, sending home the host nation in their greatest and most humiliating loss (7-1) in the history of tournament and their first official (non-friendly) loss on home soil since 1975. Let’s all think about that for minute: 39 years! Brazilians have spent the rest of the tournament in stunned silence (except when given the opportunity to taunt Argentines).
The next day, Argentina prevailed in a rather dull yet again historical match against the Dutch (no previous semifinal had ended in a goalless draw after 120 minutes), despite ending in a penalty shootout that saw Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero save two penalties and secure Brazil’s continental brethren through to the final.
So, it all comes down to Argentina and Germany, who will clash at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã stadium this afternoon. In other words: Brazil’s worst nightmare. The only thing that could possibly worsen this national disaster is an Argentine win on Brazilian soil. It’s unthinkable. The atmosphere in the city isn’t what it would have been – take the non-partisan foreigners out of the equation and you have mainly Brazilian fans doing anything and everything they can to break up the Argentine party, shouting chants touting Pelé and highlighting Diego Maradona’s colorful past. But no matter what they say, they cannot talk their way onto the pitch at Maracanã this afternoon.
But they can root for Germany, all 198 million of them!
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