Happy July 5th! It's...well, it's not so much a holiday as it is a national "get over your excess drinking booze/eating heavy food/overexposure to the sun" sort of day. Or maybe you have self-control, in which case please keep the noise down for the first couple hours today so that the rest of us can gracefully cope with our hangover.
Of course, even the disciplined may feel down today after watching yesterday's tense but disappointing matches. Germany barely had to get into third gear to overcome a strangely flat France side, while the Brazil vs. Colombia match saw both James Rodriguez and Neymar knocked out of the tournament. Rodriguez and Colombia were eliminated by the home side, while Neymar suffered a vertebrae fracture and will play no further part for the Seleção. It was a real wet blanket of an outcome, quite frankly. We lost the most entertaining team in the whole tournament, as well as Brazil's most fun-to-watch player.
On the plus side, we have some games today that will hopefully be as high on quality as they are on tension. Lionel Messi and
the random dudes he picked up on the way to the stadium Argentina should offer Belgium their biggest test of the tournament thus far. Then in the afternoon, we'll see if Louis van Gaal's ability to change his tactics on the fly will come up trumps against Costa Rica, who are the darlings of everyone who has forgotten all the batteries, coins, lighters, beers, and bags of urine their fans have thrown towards the USMNT during the qualifiers of the past. What, me bitter? Never!
Argentina vs. Belgium
Kickoff Time: 12:00 Noon EDT
Venue: Estádio Nacional de Brasilia, Brasília
TV/Streaming: You have a ton of options here. ABC will carry it over the air, but it will also be available on ESPN2. Univision will have the game in Spanish. WatchESPN and Univision Deportes are your streaming options, though it should be noted that - starting with yesterday's games - Univision Deportes began requiring authentication through an approved cable provider.
Cliff's Notes: These two teams are still alive despite not meeting the lofty expectations most people had for them coming in. Argentina were supposed to be right there with Spain and Germany in the group of teams with a real hope of knocking off the hosts. Belgium, meanwhile, were supposed to get the hipster cred Colombia ended up snagging instead.
For the Argentines, the starting eleven appears to be predictable, even if hard workers like Pablo Zabaleta and Javier Mascherano will need a rest at some point. Ezequiel Lavezzi and Rodrigo Palacio are fighting for the right to join Gonzalo Higuain in the role of decoy runner who makes room for Messi up front, while it appears that Jose Basanta - a full-time center back at club level with Monterrey - will start at left back for Marcos Rojo, who is suspended (and is also a center back at Sporting CP in Portugal). Yes, somehow one of the world's great talent exporters has a left back situation like the one we now have here with D.C. United.
Belgium, meanwhile, has consistently gotten better play out strikers Romelu Lukaku and Divock Origi off the bench than starting. At this point, coach Marc Wilmots might actually be better off starting the player he's less confident in before sending his top choice in as a sub. It's been weird. Oh, and Belgium also doesn't have a real left back either. Jan Vertonghen looked pretty good there against the US at least. Parents: Teach your kids to use their left foot!
Who Should I Root For? If you are a holder of grudges like me, you're probably tempted to go against the Belgians. Sure, they were the better team for all but 15 minutes in the round of 16, but who cares? We're out, and they're why.
Or, if you deal with your issues in a healthy manner rather than letting the anger fester, think about it this way: If Argentina crashes out, the tournament loses Messi - who has been spectacular - as well as the potential for a Brazil-Argentina final. Didn't we lose enough brilliance yesterday?
Netherlands vs. Costa Rica
Kickoff Time: 4:00 pm EDT
Venue: Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador
TV/Streaming: Make sure you switch over to regular old ESPN if you're watching on TV, or just stay on Univision if that's your bag. WatchESPN and Univision Deportes are your streaming options.
Cliff's Notes: The Dutch have, at least to my eyes, gotten progressively worse as the tournament has gone on. To be fair, their 5-1 hammering of Spain in their opener was among the great one-off performances in tournament history, so it's no surprise that their level has decreased. However, that doesn't excuse nearly losing to an Australian team that had no players that could get into the Dutch roster, nor does it excuse needing a late, great escape against a Mexico team they're clearly better than on paper and on the sidelines. They'll also need to sort out how to replace defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong, who will play no further part in this World Cup.
That said, Costa Rica have benefited as much from the powers in their group overlooking them as they have from playing particularly well. I don't mean to say that the Ticos have stumbled blindly into the quarterfinals by any means, but since ambushing Uruguay and Italy they've gone a bit flat themselves. Coach Jorge Luis Pinto is in a tough spot: He doesn't have the depth to rotate his squad, but his regular eleven is probably too tired to play at the level they reached in their first two games. I mean, Roy Miller is on this team. Roy Miller! Two-time MLS washout Michael Umana starts for them? What's even going on here?!
Who Should I Root For? Oh sure, everyone's talking about the underdog Ticos and the great story that a semifinal run would be.
I say screw that. As has been established, I hold grudges like I was Beatrix Kiddo. Therefore, the USMNT's past history with Costa Rican fans and the endless Hans Backe-style whining about the "Snowclasico" has made my choice easy here.
Plus, as I've said in previous World Cup open threads involving Australia, one of these teams contains a Red Bulls player (even if this one is easily my favorite Red Bulls player of all time thanks to his ability to ruin everything for his team). I hope for the Dutch to score at least 15 goals, all via a series of nutmegs.
This is our open thread for today's World Cup matches, but feel free to discuss other World Cup-related issues. Maybe you're fascinating by the dream-like Oscar Niemeyer architecture in Brasilia? Or perhaps you want to share your hangover cure* with the group? Either way, go for it in the comments below.
*Two glasses of water, omelette with no more than two toppings, at least two cups of coffee, and then some Gatorade in front of the TV with the sound low and the shades mostly drawn. I also recommend leaving your phone in another room. This probably won't work if you have kids.