"Soccer is illogical," said Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella
between semifinals this week. And who would
disagree? From the madness of Tuesday's Mineirazo to Wednesday's utter futility in Sao Paulo, we saw soccer's extremes. Brazil-Germany finished 7-1 for the Germans, but it could have easily been, oh,
12-5. On Wednesday, Argentina-Netherlands was never going to finish anything but like it did: 0-0 after 120 long and painful minutes.
Until he stepped up to convert his penalty kick and
give Argentina the lead in the shootout after Ron Vlaar
missed for the Dutch, Lionel Messi
had no impact on the game.
The stats provided by the statistical service Opta showed Messi made 40 passes, completed 32 (almost half the average of 61.5 completed by Michael
in his four games for the USA). Messi created two chances -- for Marcos Rojo
that he mis-hit badly at the end of the first half and for the open
in the 116th minute that was saved easily -- but he never once penetrated the penalty area.
The Dutch marking on Messi was tight --
midfielders Nigel de Jong
(until he went off) and Wesley Sneijder
were always no more than a few yards away -- and
occasionally rough -- Bruno Martins Indi
got carded for decking Messi in the 44th minute -- but nothing like their infamous stance to systematically shut down
Spain in the 2010 World Cup final. The few times Messi got up a little head of steam, Vlaar easily snuffed him out.
''We didn't see Messi,'' said Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal
Not that we saw Messi's opposite number, Arjen Robben
, either. In previous games, the left-footed Dutchman ran riot
on the right wing, cutting to his left or moving to the end line and cutting to his left -- always cutting to his left -- but the Argentines planted three players in a two-line block on their left
side and Robben never penetrated..
For a good part of the first half, Ezequiel Lavezzi
found space on the wings but nothing so much as to worry the
Dutch. The Oranje's attack? Nonexistent as Robin van Persie
was again no factor and came off "exhausted," according to van Gaal, in overtime.
Van Gaal, who gave new meaning at the World Cup to the phrase "tooting your own horn," was to his credit equally blunt in his assessment of his team's attack.
''We didn't create very
much,'' he said.
In contrast to Tuesday's game, which set a record for goals in a semifinal with eight, Wednesday's game set a record of another sort.
produced the first scoreless draw in 34 semifinals. (No semifinals were played in 1950, 1974 and 1978. Germany-Italy in 2006 ended 0-0 after 90 minutes but the Italians won 2-0 in overtime.)
Far from the excitement of the group stage -- the Netherlands' 5-1 win over Spain or its 3-2 win over Australia seemed like ages ago -- Wednesday's match in Sao Paulo -- which ended with a 4-2
shootout win for Argentina -- was the logical conclusion to a knockout stage marked by increasingly conservative play.
Tuesday's Brazil-Germany match aside, the 13 matches in the knockout
stage produced four 2-1 games -- two of them scoreless after regulation -- two 2-0 games, three 1-0 games, two 1-1 games and two 0-0 games.
If you exclude the Brazil-Germany match, the
five matches in the quarterfinals and semifinals produced a grand total of five goals, the sign of a tournament running out of steam.
And not exactly the thrills we had come to expect
from Brazil 2014