What must an average day in the life of Dutch winger Arjen Robben be like? As an elderly lady brushes past him in the supermarket, does he throw himself theatrically to the ground? And when he walks into a bar, is he immediately looking for an outstretched leg to fall over? It’s got to be said, he is certainly susceptible to the particular ecoystems of football stadia, with the slightest of drafts liable to send him plummeting to the floor.
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The penalty he earned to help win Netherlands against Mexico on Sunday was typical Robben: a brilliant piece of wizardry to get deep into the heart of the Mexico penalty area to draw a foul, but then exaggerate it so much that even referees in a different time zone can spot it.
Robben did apologize for diving after the match; just not for this particular dive-exaggeration. He would be well advised to avoid Acapulco for his holidays for a while (better give it a few years – say, 50), even though his dives would fit in perfectly at this particular Mexican resort.
The 2-1 defeat was especially hard on the Mexican players, who for two-thirds of the game had actually been the better side. The hot and humid weather was clearly more in keeping with Mexico City than Amsterdam, but it was pretty horrible for both sets of players and fans. (Have you ever seen a game where so many supporters seek shelter from the sun, at the back of the stand, rather than sit in their seats?)
With the temperatures hitting 38 degrees Celsius, the game saw the first-ever official water breaks (how long before someone sponsors those?). And it was here that shy, demure Dutch coach Louis van Gaal recognized an opportunity to demonstrate his self-declared genius. “First I changed from 4-3-3 and then we created a lot of chances. Then I moved to plan B. I did that in the cooling break – that is a clever way of benefiting from these breaks," he said afterward, demonstrating the ability to talk and pat himself on the head at the same time.
We’re really sorry to see the Mexicans go out. The Greeks? Not so much. You know how there’s always someone at a party whom you can’t remember inviting, and who then proceeds to completely outstay their welcome, even though they contribute nothing to the entire evening? And they don’t even bring a bottle of wine. Well, that’s me. Sorry, that’s Greece.
There must have been a collective groan all around the world when the Greeks equalized in the last seconds of normal time against Costa Rica on Sunday night, prolonging the agony as two average teams huffed and puffed in vain. Like Godzilla after one tequila shot too many, it wasn’t pretty. To be fair to the Costa Ricans, they were down to 10 men, but even so this was one of the tournament’s poorer games.
It was a major surprise when the game actually became more entertaining as the players got ever-more tired. Poor Costa Rica forward Joel Campbell started to resemble Bambi on ice as the extra 30 minutes took their toll. And when he started walking to take a penalty during the shootout, you feared he wouldn’t muster the strength to kick a ball 12 yards. Yet, ironically, he was the one to summon Herculean strength to score, along with all his team-mates.
You sensed this wasn’t going to be Greece’s night when, in the final few minutes, they counterattacked with an unbelievable 5-2 overlap – basically, the kind of thing you last saw on your school playground (when the scorer would inevitably stop the ball on the goalline, kneel down, and head the ball over the line – the ultimate insult). Yet the Greeks messed it up, like they messed up most of their attacks. It just doesn’t come naturally to them.
At least the game helped us solve the mystery of why the Greeks are broke. Just look at the scorer of their goal: Papastathopoulos. Do you have any idea how expensive it is for a fan to put that name on the back of their replica kit?
Netherlands and Costa Rica will meet in the quarterfinal on Friday, when van Gaal will get to dazzle us with his genius yet again. He’s going to fit in perfectly at Old Trafford when he starts managing Manchester United, after this World Cup is over.
France vs. Nigeria, 7 P.M.
Germany vs. Algeria, 11 P.M.