With the inside of his soaked shirt, Martin Demichelis, Argentina’s central defender, wiped off clumps of wet grass and stains of brown water from the surface of the ball.
Then he caressed the clean Brazuca in his palms and placed it carefully at his goalkeeper Segio Romero’s feet. Goalkick.
All that careful planning couldn’t stop Romero from slipping on the drenched Arena Corinthians soil as he thrust the ball skyward. But Dimichelis’s efforts sure did cause one of the most fascinating periods of play in this match.
The squeaky clean ball, mistimed by Romero, descended near Ron Vlaar, Holland’s hulk of a centre-back, who looped the ball to his right and to the scurrying feet of Arjen Robben.
Holland’s number 11, who usually dribbles ahead in squirrel-like movements, took two lurching steps ahead to gallop down his flank, only to cut in centrally with another horse-like leap. Now, Robin van Persie was in sight just ahead of the box, although he was standing in a crowd of defenders.
When the Holland skipper shrugged away from the Argentine defence’s clasp and collected the ball with his raised and arched right foot, the crowd gasped. This was the Denis Bergkamp moment all over again or at least had the makings of it.
Sixteen years ago, when these two teams had met in the quarterfinals of France ‘98, Dutch striker Bergkamp, who had done nothing for 90 minutes, collected a pass quite like van Persie had tonight, with the tip of his genius toes, only to slot in the differentiator and one of the greatest World Cup goals of all time.
Van Persie had done nothing all day too, but his attempt at greatness ricocheted off defender Ezequiel Garay’s shins and caused a great chance at the other end.
On the rebound was Lionel Messi, who had sprung into life with a run to the edge of the Holland box. While still very much in motion, Messi’s radar-like vision noticed obstacles ahead.
So in one smooth flow, the Argentina captain flung the ball over and above a group of Dutch defenders, through whom Gonzalo Higuain slid on his backside and booted the ball into the side-netting.
For a second there, a deceived stadium erupted, hoping rather than believing that the ball had indeed found the back of the net. But there would be no such luck in this match. There hadn’t been any goals for the previous 74 minutes and there wouldn’t be any for the remainder of the game, including the thirty added minutes.
For the first ever time in a World Cup semi-final, a game had ended nil-nil. We should have seen it coming, though, when all of Holland failed continued…