2014 FIFA World Cup: What we learned, Day 23
Germany opened the day by advancing to the World Cup semifinals for the fourth consecutive time.
At the end of each day of action, our writers weigh in on what we learned from the day's matches.
Brazil's style isn't flashy: This isn't the Brazil of World Cup's past. It doesn't dazzle the eye or embarrass its opponents. Strong, one-touch sequences show promise and then flame out. Aside from Neymar, there isn't as much flash with Luiz Felipe Scolari's squad as is typically associated with the yellow and green side. It beat Colombia on Friday in a gritty 2-1 affair, whose fluidity was marred by awful refereeing.
Its first goal was an easy finish from Thiago Silva just inside the six off an early corner kick. It was much more the result of a Colombian defensive breakdown than anything special that Brazil's target men did. Neymar didn't have a strong game before he was kneed in the back and forced to leave, and when he's not involved, the offense essentially falls to left striker Hulk. For all of his struggles, he was excellent today and he'll be relied up even more now that Neymar has been ruled out vs. Germany. He had a few solid chances on the left edge and created a few others as well. Hulk, as his name would suggest, is known for his power and strength inside the box. He's not exactly lithe like Neymar. This Brazilian team doesn't leave defenders in their tracks as much as it works the ball up the field, slowly building towards a dangerous area. And with a semifinal appearance looming, that's just fine with them.
Referees tarnished this quarterfinal match: This was probably the worst performance from a referee in the entire World Cup. Spain's Carlos Velasco was tasked with arbitrating Friday's match and instead of policing it, he let it run rampant over him. There were 54 fouls called (31 on Brazil), but the calls were so inconsistent and seemingly arbitrary that it lead to numerous instances of flopping and ref-baiting. The game was bound to be physical given what was at stake, and at first Velasco let everything ride. And then, once it got too ridiculous, Thiago Silva ran into Colombia's keeper as he was punting because he probably thought he wouldn't get a yellow for it. He did ultimately draw a yellow -- the game's first after more than 60 minutes of awful challenges.
The referee interrupted play, allowed Brazil's players to stall during James Rodriguez's penalty kick, and called it so inconsistently that players eventually sought to take advantage of his whistle. It's no coincidence that Neymar was injured as a result of a terrible knee to the back. Two of the goals came off fouls as well. Velasco lost control of this game, and that shouldn't be the case in a game of such magnitude.
James Rodriguez is still phenomenal, even if Colombia lost: No player earned more deserved praise this World Cup than James Rodriguez, Colombia's roving midfielder. He converted the late penalty kick on Friday, which marked his sixth goal of the tournament. He's the second-youngest player to ever score six goals in a World Cup. Only Pele was younger. Some of his goals, yes, that volley against Uruguay, were gorgeous and he's got an incredibly bright future. Brazil's defenders locked him up for the most part, but you saw flashes of touch and creativity that make you think he will be a megastar in Europe. Keep in mind, he's only 22.
Germany is still pretty good at this whole soccer thing. The sun rises in the east, anything multiplied by zero is zero, Nickelback sucks and Germany advances to the semifinals of the World Cup.
The Germans will play in the semifinals for the fourth consecutive World Cup, meaning it hasn't failed to get at least this far in any World Cup since 1998. Think about where you are in your life right now, and then think about where you were in 1998. A lot has changed in your life since then, hasn't it?
Well, not in soccer. Germany is still good.
Not every soccer game is filled with excitement. While this World Cup has been one of the most exciting in recent memories, with close games and upsets galore, today's match between the Germans and French was actually rather boring. It may have been the heat beating down on both teams, but this one had more of an international friendly feel to it than that of a World Cup quarterfinal.
Germany took a 1-0 lead thanks to a header from Mats Hummels only 13 minutes into the match and then it was content to just hang back and hold on. France, meanwhile, had plenty of quality chances to square things up, but none of them ever really seemed very threatening.
In fact, the only real time it looked like France would score was in the final seconds when Karim Benzema had the ball by himself to the left of the net, but German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer got his right hand up in time to deflect the ball away and stop the shot. A few seconds later the final whistle blew.
There still is no dominant team in this World Cup. Germany may in fact be the best team remaining, but by no means has it looked dominant as of late. Sure, the Germans destroyed Portugal to open group play, but since then it's been rather ordinary, just doing as much as it needs to get by and no more.
Of course, that could just be German efficiency at work.
Still, you have to wonder if Germany is going to turn it "on" at some point. If it does it might be the most unstoppable side in Brazil right now. If it doesn't, any one of these remaining teams could end its quest for another World Cup title.
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