• Friday, February 27, 2015

Third Eye

The nights of wonder

Naimul Karim

You just cannot get to watch a simple game with a simple ending in this world cup, can you? Barring the game between Colombia and Uruguay which saw the 'Coffee Growers' ride on James Rodriguez's career-changing performance, every knock-out game has managed to create nail-biting endings.
No, that's not the best of news for sports journalists during the world cup in this part of the world -- for whom sleeping during the day and staying creepily sensitive to the slightest of motions at night has now become a matter of habit – however; it is because of intense game nights like these that many around the world have already rated this the most entertaining World Cup in recent times.
The game between Mexico and Netherlands, predictably, took centre stage on Sunday night.
Both teams proved their calibre in the group stages and while the odds were slightly against the Central Americans, the performance at Fortaleza once again proved what a difficult time bettors are going through.
While the game witnessed a neck-and-neck goalless battle in the first half, three minutes after the restart Giovanni dos Santos's spectacular drive from 25 yards out took them ahead. The stadium was abuzz and almost everything was going Mexico's way. They had another attack a few minutes later but after that it was all Netherlands.
Mexico's mistake, in this case, was to fall back and attempt to defend their way out against a strong Dutch attack. To their credit their strategy worked till the 85th minute. However, by then their defence had already looked a little weary and with the steaming runs that Arjen Robben was making down the right flank, it seemed as though a Dutch goal was bound to arrive.
And so it did in the 88th minute when consistent pressure led to the ball, during one of the many attacks, falling in front of Wesley Sneijder -- a few feet outside the box -- who saw a clear line and hammered low to the right of the keeper.

The Netherlands did not just stop there.  At one goal apiece, Mexico's defence was looking a lot more vulnerable and the dribbles from Robben continued to threaten. It was one of those spectacular runs from the right wing in the stoppage time that ultimately led to a penalty and completed the transformation of the game.
Robben, who was guilty of diving in the first half -- he apologised after the match -- played around inside the box and tempted defenders before Mexico captain Rafael Marquez fell for the bait. A cool Klaas Jan Huntelaar stepped up and took the Dutch through.
While the other game on Sunday was not as exciting, it did not lack in twists and turns. The only difference in the tale though was made by Costa Rica's keeper Keylar Navas. He was crucial in his side's progression to the knockout stages, and he was the reason behind Costa Rica's historic berth in the last eight.
Navas's magic began to tell in the first half when he saved a clear-cut chance from Greece's Dimitris Salpingidis. Navas then gave all his might to punch a goal-bound header in the second half of the extra time to keep the score 1-1. Having saved his side on a number of occasions, it was only fair that he had the last say in the match. His reflex save to deny Theo Gekas during the penalty shootout completed a brilliant day on the field for the Levante keeper.

Published: 12:00 am Tuesday, July 01, 2014

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