Well, not even Paul the Octopus (of beloved memory) could have predicted that one – and certainly not the idiot who wrote Friday’s diary: Netherlands 5, Spain 1.
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For the first 44 minutes in Salvador on Friday, the Dutch played total something, but it wasn’t football. But then, from nowhere, a sublime pass by Daley Blind and an inspired header by Robin Van Persie changed the course of sporting history forever. Maybe. Soccer, bloody hell, as Sir Alex Ferguson would never have put it.
The hundreds of Israelis who chose to attend this match – no doubt inspired by all those Sport 5 screenings of La Liga matches over the years – came to praise Spain, but ended up having to salute the Dutch side, most of whom aren’t even household names in Amsterdam.
How apt that, in Salvador, the city that’s credited with inventing capoeira, Arjen Robben led the Spaniards to a merry dance. Now everyone’s expecting the Spanish inquisition.
Truly, it was a match that had everything. Pantomime villain (Brazil native Diego Costa, playing for his newly adopted country, Spain, and booed throughout by the locals); brilliant goals; comical goals and goalkeeping (understatement of the day came from Spanish ‘keeper Iker Casillas: “It wasn’t one of my best games”); and Dutch hard man Nigel de Jong occasionally kicking the ball instead of an opponent (we’d like to think there’s a Dutch country music song called “A Boy Called Nigel”).
The only bad news is that, two days in, we may have already witnessed the game of the tournament. The good news is Spaniards could laugh at their misfortune. #Casillas Abdicates became the No.1 hashtag on Twitter on Saturday morning, while The Observer uncovered this gem: "Holland has unemployment of 7% and a minimum wage of 1,486 euros a month. Spain's unemployment is 25% with a minimum wage of 645 euros. But what bothers us is that they scored give goals."
Of course, Friday’s games were overshadowed by television coverage of events in Hebron, which called to mind Liverpool manager Bill Shankly’s oft-quoted line about football not being a matter of life or death – it was much more important than that. If only. The torrential rain in Natal seemed more appropriate for Israeli moods than the bright sunshine over here.
Back to soccer. It was good to see Mexico overcome two wrongly disallowed goals and claim a thoroughly deserved 1-0 victory over Cameroon. If you’re looking for someone to support, just try and overlook that whole Mexican Inquisition thing from the 16th century and remember that Mexico is one of the few countries in the world with a growing Jewish population.
In the day’s final game, Chile started off looking like world beaters, surging into a 2-0 lead against Australia. After the Aussies pulled a goal back from Tim Cahill, though, the South Americans spent the rest of the game looking more like the current world champions from a few hours earlier. A last-minute goal gave the Chileans a flattering 3-1 win.
There are four games Saturday, and kudos to those planning to watch all four games “live” – especially the Ivory Coast-Japan match, which kicks off at 4 A.M., Israel time. Game of the day is undoubtedly the 1 A.M. start between England and Italy in Manaus, the remote Brazilian city situated deep in Amazonia.
The British press has already labelled the game the “bungle in the jungle” after pictures emerged of ground staff painting the pitch green to mask the lack of grass.
The stadium in Manaus cost the Brazilian government $260 million and has basically been built to host four World Cup matches. Little wonder the pitch is in bad condition, then – it must be all those white elephants grazing on it.
Colombia Vs. Greece, 7 P.M.
Ivory Coast Vs. Japan 4 A.M.
Uruguay Vs. Costa Rica, 10 P.M.
England Vs. Italy, 1 A.M.