Argentina 1 Belgium 0
Dear Mr Tyler, proselytising does not suit you, especially at 2:15 in the morning our time or whenever it was you decided to have a go at I think it was Javier Mascherano who was having a go at the ref, bullying him from early on, and I had meant to pick you up on this issue from an earlier game, but who has the time and who can remember anyway? But Mr Tyler you almost wailed about the impact that this would have on potential soccer audiences where soccer is not the chief sport, as if that one moment of harassment would undo the great action or supersede every other heinous act already committed at this World Cup, or perhaps even in the entire history of football. More unnerving was the fact that you took up the missionary position (snigger) in the first place; you, the highly regarded king of football commentary, a man of subtlety and sophistication, who became momentarily flustered about the fact that football has yet to duly and completely take over the heathens of the USA and Australia and proclaim veni vidi vici, and if you don’t know what that means go and read some Asterix or ask Christopher Pyne, but don’t count on sending your sprog to an elite Catholic private school where they already study Latin, because as I found out last week someone else’s sprog who is taking Latin at such a school didn’t even know his own school’s heart related Latin motto let alone old Uncle Gaius’ famous words. Anyway, Mr Tyler, you later undermined your own indignation by pointing out that winning is the most important thing, and isn’t that what Mascherano was trying to do? Isn’t that what Maradona did in 1986, a situation which you, Mr Tyler, seemingly can’t help but bring up every time you call an Argentinean World Cup match? As it turned out, a mediocre Argentina were better at winning than The Curriculum’s current poster boys the Belgians, who really offered very little of goalscoring worth, but at least provided much mirth for those who hold cynical views of Australian attempts to mimic overseas trends and produce production line players, as the men in red chucked a whole bunch of really tall players on late and started bombing the ball to them. It didn’t work, and Argentina went through thanks to a poacher’s instinctive strike from the edge of the box.
Netherlands 0 Costa Rica 0 – Netherlands win on penalties
If Cristiano Ronaldo is a villain due to his own self-regard and the unavoidable fact of his simply not being that nice young man Lionel Messi, and Luis Suarez is a villain for being an unreformable street urchin, and Brazil are villains due to their apparently unbecoming and increasingly extreme and unpunished (unless you count Neymar’s injury) football cynicism, then the Dutch are the game’s cartoon villains; outlaws so absurdly sinister, and so in tune with their own rated G for a general audience brand of dastardly behaviour, that it’s actually OK and appropriate for them to be simultaneously called out on it and for them to not shy away from the fact that this is who they are now – and yes, while they can still play some very good football, they would rather now win a championship with a mix of good and evil and not just being purely good; being purely good enough with nothing to show for it having become a tiresome business over the journey, so why not add a dash of evil to the mix to get them over the line at long last? Of course once you cross that line there’s no going back, so the evil takes over now, and even good deeds and good football are tarnished by your evil thoughts and acts, as the unselfish and pure motives of wanting to win but only if done the right way give way (so to speak) to the notion of how far should we go, not realising of course that having crossed the threshold there’s no going back. And if the Dutch have taken upon themselves with a sort of pragmatic glee the role of the media’s current favourite two dimensional crooks and scoundrels, then Arjen Robben at least is attempting to put some thought into that artifice, even going about using artifice as one of his weapons, becoming closer to cat stroking, secret volcanic Caribbean island lurking Bond villain; not just evil but smart, too, and plotting deeds so fiendish they make people write angry reams of prose on the internet or spew forth barely controlled hatred on talkback radio, and in one instance even have me receive a call after this match from a slightly distressed fellow traveller (from many walks of life) to try to get me to explain what it is that Robben is trying to do, when the answer to me seems fairly simple. Robben, in his diving and drawing out of free kicks, is merely exploiting a glitch in the game like any avid video game player has learnt to do, because the game itself is so weighted against the player, even the talented ones – and there’s little acknowledgement of that amid the argle bargle – that to neglect it would be like boxing with an arm tied behind your back, or playing chess without your queen. The glitch here – and there are two of them, so it really should be glitches – is the refusal or inability of referees to hand out punishments for diving, and perhaps more importantly the fact that opposition defenders are too stupid to combat Robben’s knack of knocking the ball away from himself and drawing the foul from a carelessly left on the front doorstep stray leg. And it’s here where Robben crosses over from Bond villain to pro-wrestling heel, with his exaggerated facial expressions, arm movements and flailing, combined with his disregard for the moral consequences – winning being the thing of most importance – only adding fuel to the fire of the increasingly hostile crowds both in the stadium and in front of the television. Robben has thus truly turned sport into theatre; where other players of his echelon are content to be seen as not much more than circus sideshows with pretty tricks, Robben is building a narrative for himself, aware that if he were a less skilful player we would not care so much, perhaps even be more likely to forgive. All of this, and a mountain of possession can’t get the Dutch over the line in the ninety minutes, or even the 120 minutes, but the karma that so many fans are hoping for never eventuates, as a substitute goalkeeper brought on especially for penalties – and the only time I can remember that happening and working was Yanru Zhang coming on for Wenxia Han when China beat the Matildas in the 2006 Asian Cup women’s final at Hindmarsh – and his adoption of some sort of hackneyed bullying psychology of the opposition penalty taker seemingly taken straight from the classic 1998 film BASEketball, conspire to keep the Dutch pantomime going for another few days.
Illustration by Ilya Meshkovskiy taken from Flickr.