Let’s play a little game called ‘You are the defender’, shall we? A picture of your surroundings, first. You are your team’s captain and central defender, in a side with an otherwise paper-thin resistance. Your fellow defenders are closet strikers, who are nowhere to be seen as the opposition’s playmaker has made a free-run towards goal. As his blade-like feet chop past you (you are the last defender, remember) and towards an empty box just inches ahead, what will you do?
Here are your options. A) Rush in with a tackle from behind and hope like hell that your feet connect with the ball? Or will it be B) Let the nimble-footed rascal soar past you and pray like hell that the goalkeeper can sweep up at the back? Whatever you choose Brazil’s Thiago Silva sure didn’t.
Just a coat of varnish away from the vacant box, Brazil’s captain and lone defender — a man whose absence played a massive role in Germany’s deserved win but bloated semifinal scoreline — chose to stop Holland’s Arjen Robben with a tug of his shirt. Now, Robben usually doesn’t need even a flimsy excuse to go down in a heap. And when he felt Silva’s fingers claw at his blue, number 11 jersey, the Dutch winger didn’t wait for a second invitation. He somersaulted dramatically and crash-landed in Brazil’s box.
At this point, all of 140 seconds had passed in the game. And everything that could’ve gone wrong for Brazil had already fallen apart — including the refereeing. Algeria’s Djamel Haimoudi should have sent Silva off with a red for his move and sprayed his can of vanishing foam just outside goalie Julio Cesar’s box to indicate a freekick. Instead, he flashed a yellow at Silva and pointed at the penalty spot.
Perhaps the only person who didn’t find Haimoudi’s decisions appalling at the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha in Brasilia, the venue for this most irrelevant third-place decider, was the only man standing over the ball — Holland skipper Robin van Persie. With his sickle-like left foot, van Persie whipped the ball to Cesar’s left and watched it scream past his fingers and rustle the back of the net.
As van Persie yelped with happiness by the corner flag, the broadcast cameras panned hungrily at the crowds, hoping to catch a school boy or two weeping his sorry little eyes away. When the zooming lenses found them, these school-kids in Brazil’s yellow were found giggling instead. So bad were the Selecao now that it was almost ridiculously good.
For decades now, kids around the world have believed themselves to be Brazilians when striking a ball on a patchy field or a recess corridor. They could be fans of Italy or Germany or Argentina, but when they kick a round object, they believe that they’re kicking it like the original masters of the beautiful game. Today, the Selecao reciprocated by playing their football much like a bunch of school-kids.
Following van Persie’s goal, Brazil hopelessly chased the ball in packs. And in the off-chance that it was successfully hounded down, like Jo did in the 7th minute, he gunned for glory from 45 yards away. Seated in the dug-out for the first time since his injury, Neymar Jr covered his face in his palms. Brazil were going nowhere, except another goal down. That happened soon, when Jonathan de Guzman collected a Robben cross to the right of Brazil’s box.
De Guzman crossed it in, hoping to find a Dutch head or two in the scramble ahead. He found something better in David Luiz’s mop. The ball bounced off the back of the new PSG defender’s head and squirted to the edge of the D, where Holland’s Daley Blind stood all alone. Almost for fun, he chested down the rebound, tapped it up once in the air with his toes and thundered it into the top-left, exactly where van Persie had landed his penalty.
With Brazil down 2-0 in 16 minutes, betting sites around the world received a fair amount of money on a repeat, 7-1, scoreline. But for that to occur, the Selecao needed to score a goal. And that wasn’t going to happen in the first half, during which Brazil didn’t have a single shot on target.
Unintentional, but that elusive goalward motion of the ball occurred in the 63rd minute of the game when Ramires, having cut in to the inside left of the Holland box, looked to find midfielder Hernanes at the other end. But a bored and greedy Holland goalie, Jasper Cillessen, intercepted it with his palms, causing the stadium to almost erupt with happiness.
When Ramires was substituted by coach Luiz Felip Scolari ten minutes later for Hulk, the Dutch box smiled. Their goal was now safe, perhaps even without a ‘keeper in it. So one-touch Cillessen was removed and replaced by Michel Vorm, a substitution that ensured that all 23 Dutch players in Louis van Gaal’s squad had participated in this campaign.
Brazil, who conceded one more to Georginio Wijnaldum to make it 0-3, though, would have felt like each of those 23 Dutch players had taken the Brasilia field all at the same time.