Well, it was fun while it lasted. What was shaping up to be the year of Latin America in the early rounds of this year’s World Cup will see two European teams fighting for the championship on July 11. The best that Latin America can now hope for is a 3rd place finish for Uruguay. That’d be a terrific result for Uruguay, of course, the best finish for that nation since they last won it all in 1950. But for Latin America as a whole, the result is underwhelming.
Brazil’s surprising defeat at the hands of the Flying Dutchmen, Germany’s wipeout of Argentina and Spain’s close call with Paraguay ensured that Uruguay, which defeated Ghana in penalty kicks, would be the regional standard bearer in the final four. Tiny Uruguay outlasted the region’s soccer giants, and started off well in its semi-final match, tied 1-1 with the Netherlands at half time. Alas, their luck ran out with two superb quick strikes from the Dutch in the second half that put the game out of reach, despite an injury time goal that closed the gap to 3-2 and a furious final rush from Uruguay at the end. Throughout the tournament, Uruguay proved to be a highly skilled and creative team, particularly effective on dead balls in the final third of the field. For their part, Holland has tied its best previous finishes, in 1974 and 1978, when it lost championship games to West Germany and Argentina, respectively. Will they finally be successful in 2010?
As I previously wrote, the knock out rounds of the World Cup are almost like a separate tournament from the preliminary round. It’s win or go home; there are no ties. Anything can happen, and it often does. On any given day, team A can beat team B. Brazil can suffer a let down for a half, and find itself wondering, “what if?” Argentina can allow a goal in the first five minutes and have to change its game plan from the very beginning, creating openings in an effort to equalize that a quality team like Germany can exploit. Paraguay can have a goal called back that would have changed the strategy of the game with Spain. And so on. That’s soccer, and that’s what makes the game so agonizing and so entertaining.
The final storyline of this year’s World Cup remains to be written. It won’t be about the return of England, or the rise of African soccer or the year that the United States outperformed. And despite early possibilities, and fully half of the teams represented in the round of eight, neither will it be considered the year of Latin America after all.