But the quarterfinals have been a rollercoaster, spinning us into a few heart-thumping loop-de-loops and casting the security of pre-tournament (even pre-game) predictions to the wind. The apparent dominance of the South American nations has been filed under M for myth; three of the four semifinalists are European. As we've been thrown about in this direction and that, there's no denying it's been an exhilarating. A quick look at some observations from the quarterfinals:
The Netherlands versus Brazil game sent the carriages rattling into the first hairpin bend, and by the end of it, a technically sound but rather dull Dutch side was heading for the semifinals while Brazil coach
Though the Dutch had come into the tournament off the back of a 19-match unbeaten run, their play since arriving had been effective but uninspiring.
But after the break, and having failed to put more than a single goal on the board while in control of the game, things unraveled in spectacular style for the Brazilians. For a team that had distinguished itself defensively -- and particularly at set-pieces -- Brazil suddenly looked astonishingly amateur. There was an impatience to Dunga's men as the Dutch pushed harder on the gas in the second half, but while the indiscipline of Bastos (booked) and Melo (sent off) wasn't exactly a huge shock, Brazil's handling of the resulting free kicks, and its movement and awareness defending corners, was.
If you live by the sword, you die by the sword, so the saying goes, and Dunga was impaled when his slick and stylish counter-attackers couldn't outwit the Dutch, who had already notched up four wins that relied on holding onto the ball more than they did on terrorizing opposition defenses. Its progress is as remarkable as Brazil's implosion.
Other than the surprise demise of another South American side tasked with overcoming a deficit for the first time in this tournament, the parallels between Argentina's 0-4 defeat at the hands of Germany and the Netherlands-Brazil quarterfinal 24 hours beforehand are few. Argentina's defense fared far worse against a German team that has looked more like a Dutch side than the Dutch themselves.
Nigeria and Greece had looked to keep things tight in the group and offered nothing like the forward-thinking of the Germans, but for the first time Argentina's possession of the ball was nine parts toil to one part thrill. An hour passed between Germany's first and second goals but Argentina looked surprisingly short of ideas in the final third. The success with which
Joachim Löw's team will now have to overcome Spain, which beat Paraguay today as the rollercoaster hit a plateau with Spain managing a fifth game in a row looking sluggish. What life there might have been in the first hour of the game was throttled out of it by Paraguay's limited attacking ambitions, but once again
Spain finished the match on top and
As a footnote, one of the most stomach-churning twists as the tournament has progressed has been the willingness of players to dabble in the dark arts. Credit to the Dutch for extending their fine run, but theirs was a victory given more than it was earned, unless Robben would like to take credit for repeatedly overreacting to challenges with such flamboyant exaggeration that eventually Melo lost his marbles entirely and gave him a few studs to the leg worth writhing around for. He is not alone in trying to kid the referee, far from it, but he has surely enjoyed the most success.
The biggest furor has surrounded
"I made the best save of the tournament," he said, with seemingly scant regard for the ethics at stake. "Sometimes in training I play as a goalkeeper so it was worth it. There was no alternative but for me to do that. Now we are in the semifinals -- although I was very sad because no one likes to be sent off. " Not many teams like to be denied a winning goal, either. Ghana probably made enough of its own mistakes to go out, putting more shots off target than Uruguay managed in total, but Suarez would be wise not to revel so publically in the manner of Uruguay's success.