The more things appear to change, the more they actually stay the same: Teams from Europe were wilting under the hot Brazilian sun. The gap was closing. A new world order was coming. When several of Europe’s heavyweights—Spain, Italy, England and Portugal—bowed out in the group stage alongside a host of their European cousins (Croatia, Bosnia and Russia), too many rushed to write the continent’s epitaph. Social media was flooded with posts about UEFA’s poor winning percentage in Brazil compared to CONCACAF teams. The inference was clear—Europe was a spent force, no longer the dominant power in the world game. It proved to be grossly premature.
The Netherlands’ shootout win over Costa Rica on Saturday ensured that UEFA has at least two of its members in the semifinals, and that the final four would be comprised strictly of European and South American nations for a third straight tournament. Only twice in World Cup history have nations outside of Europe and South America ever qualified for the final four, not including the years when the World Cup didn’t have proper semifinals: South Korea in 2002 (on home soil) and the United States (in 1930). It’s a bitter pill to swallow for CONCACAF supporters pushing for 4.5 berths (sorry, the confederation doesn’t deserve an extra space), but Europe and South America are still the two greatest and most powerful footballing continents. That’s not going to change anytime soon.
That’s not to say COCNACAF shouldn’t be proud of how its members did in Brazil. It should be proud—very proud. Mexico and the United States survived difficult groups and both gave as good as the got against European opponents in very tight Round-of-16 matches that they could have easily won. Mexico’s display, after such a troubled qualifying campaign, was especially inspiring in this competition. Costa Rica has been one of THE stories of this World Cup, going unbeaten to win a group that included Italy, England and Uruguay, and becoming only the fourth CONCACAF nation to reach the quarterfinals (don’t forget Cuba in 1938). But CONCACAF nations still can’t break through the glass ceiling that they keep bonking their heads on at the World Cup. The confederation’s top nations gave the very best teams from Europe and South America a scare on the world’s biggest stage, but once again fell short like they always do. Respect was earned. To really make the rest of the world stand up and take notice, though, CONCACAF is going to have to send at least one team through to the semifinals of a World Cup. Until then, the suggestion that CONCACAF is closing the gap is just wishful thinking.
2014 FIFA World Cup: Sportsnet.ca is your home for in-depth coverage of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. TV viewers can watch all 64 games on CBC and Sportsnet from June 12 to July 13. Be sure to watch Connected every night on Sportsnet for all of the latest news and analysis. And check out Sportsnet magazine’s team profiles of all 32 nations.
Stat of the day
1 – This is the first time in World Cup history that #ARG and #BRA have both reached the semi-finals in the same World Cup. Titans.
In the eighth minute, Lionel Messi fended of several Belgian markers and retained possession before feeding Angel di Maria out wide. The Real Madrid star’s pass took a deflection but landed at the feet of Gonzalo Higuain who lashed a perfect shot from the edge of the box just inside the far post past a helpless Thibaut Courtois.
Save of the day
Minutes before halftime, Arjen Robben stepped over the dead ball and Wesley Sneijder struck a curling, dipping free kick over the wall. Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas read it all the way and made a sensational one-handed diving save to deflect the ball away.
Best moment of the day
Gonzalo Higuain’s near miss in the second half prompted this comedic scene on Argentina’s touchline:
1) Gonzalo Higuain: The Napoli forward scored the winner with a lovely finish, and routinely worked himself in dangerous positions. 2) Keylor Navas: Another fantastic effort from the Costa Rican, who has been the top goalkeeper in this tournament. Made some big saves to keep Los Ticos in this one. 3) Tim Krul: The Dutch goalkeeper was subbed in late in extra time so he could be in net for the shootout where he made two stops. Can’t ask more than that.