Suarez did it again (but it's the English media's fault, obviously)
It's the English football media that you really have to feel sorry for. A whole season of the slow creeping realisation that they're going to vote for Luis Suarez as player of the year. A whole season of swilling that thought around and around their mouths, and it not getting any more palatable. A whole season of worrying: how on earth are we going to sell this one?
A month passes, and another and another, and he hasn't done anything particularly or notably dickish, but he has scored loads and loads of goals, and it arrives: redemption! That's what this is. It's redemption. Because he used to be a berk and now he isn't! He said sorry for that thing, and hasn't done it again. And he didn't say sorry for that other thing, but that was ages ago and everybody's forgotten about it and it's not nice to think about, because there are loads of awkward unanswered questions and we'll get letters and tweets. Yeah, redemption. That's the theme. That's the hook. That's the angle. That's the ... oh, man, he's bitten somebody else?
And then the Uruguayans have the cheek to blame the English media! Did Neil Ashton make Brazilian television show close-up after close-up after zoomed-in close-up? Did Henry Winter cover Giorgio Chiellini in ketchup? Did Oliver Holt season and marinate the Juventus man, before turning him regularly over hot coals until he was neatly browned? Or did we all learn, yet again, that being really good at football is not mutually exclusive with being really, really Suarez? We're going with the last option. Bye, Luis. It's been ... well, it's been.
When news emerged that Radamel Falcao wouldn't make Colombia's 23-man roster, pundits began dismissing the side, believing they were nothing without their ace striker. But those who'd paid attention to South America qualifying -- and to players beyond those linked with Premier League clubs -- protested. Colombia had Juan Cuadrado. They had Jackson Martínez. They had James.
James Rodríguez, just 22, plays his club football alongside Falcao at Monaco. Don't let his age fool you -- this pacey player is technically talented, certainly, but it's his intelligence, his off-the-ball-decisions, his quick thinking that make you realize this is one special player.
Tuesday's game wasn't the first time this tournament that James lit up the pitch, captivating everyone watching with his dazzling performance. In Colombia's first match, a 3-0 win against Greece, James managed to attract attention for something he didn't do: his dummy off a Cuadrado cross caught Pablo Armero unawares, but the defender still managed to bundle the ball in for Colombia's first goal. He also scored the final goal of the match, finding a bit of space to roll the ball in.
But against Japan, James managed to make himself man of the match*, despite only coming on at halftime. It took the attacker just ten minutes to split the Japan defense apart, sending in a perfect pass for Martínez, whose resulting finish put Colombia ahead once more. The two combined again for los cafeteros' third, but it was the fourth that was truly special. In the 90th minute, James completely confounded two defenders with his fancy footwork, then turned Japan's 'keeper inside out before neatly chipping the ball over his head to land in the back of the net.
*I am not actually sure that he was the official man of the match, but everyone watching knew he was, and that's what matters, ok?
It's possible that this young kid, playing in Ligue 1 and representing a South American nation that was meant to have no chance after losing its superstar, has already claimed player of the tournament honors.
Greece play football, get their reward
Greece. Greece Greece Greece. It's extraordinarily tempting to talk about the Ivory Coast right now, to say that they choked, that the golden generation of Éléphants , virtually handed a spot in the last sixteen, pissed it away for no reason once more, but although that's a worthwhile story to chase, talking about the losers rather than the winners seems somehow underhanded, as though we're trying to take away from their great triumph.
So let's talk about Greece. It's been ten years since they did the impossible and won Euro 2004, but this is their first time in the knockout rounds of the World Cup, and for almost all of the group stages it looked as though they simply didn't have a shot. A 3-0 thrashing by Colombia? Check. An early, very Greek red card against Japan followed by a very, very Greek defensive action? Double check. And then ... a last-minute 2-1 win against the Ivory Coast to clinch second spot and a place in the Round of 16?
There is, of course, much debate over the nature of the penalty call, as well there might be when an injury-time spot kick sees one side eliminated at the expense of the other, but that Greece even got to the 90th minute at 1-1 is remarkable. They had scored a total of zero goals all tournament, and, if we're being brutally honest, never really looked that much like scoring either. Greece weren't so much a counterattacking side as they were a 'defend and hope we don't lose' one, and they weren't very good at that either.
But against Les Éléphants, they looked awfully like a real team, inviting the opposition forward before exploding into the spaces left behind their defensive line. Greece hit the woodwork twice and scored the opener following a Cheick Tioté error; to claim that they were handed a place in the knockouts through a dodgy penalty is both entirely reasonable and somewhat disingenuous. They earned their place in the knockouts through hanging in there (barely) for two matches and then exploding into life in the third.
Greece didn't just play well against the Ivory Coast, they were downright watchable. If this is the side that we get to see in the knockout stages, they're a welcome addition to the business end of the tournament.