In the Bible, the locust is a symbol of bad luck or punishment, or so they say. Was the appearance of a huge cartoon-like locust on James Rodriguez’s shoulder a sign that good fortune was about to run out on the host nation? With Thiago Silva and Neymar now sidelined, it would seem that Brazil have been deprived of their two key players at a vital stage of the tournament.
Sometimes, you just know that when so much expectation or publicity is heaped upon an individual that it’s all going to end in tears. It doesn’t just apply to football, although we have seen the life and times of Diego Maradona end in disaster, the calamity that was Gazza, and the Suarez affair. Away from the game, there was always a touch of the femme fatale about Princess Diana and Amy Winehouse. Their lives were a drama and they ended in drama. Neymar’s early exit from the World Cup, with an injury that could have serious implications for the future of his career, has just a hint of inevitability about it. It’s sad for him, disappointing for the Brazilian people and also dilutes the closing stages of what has been an absorbing World Cup.
Brazil against Germany promises to be a fascinating contest. Germany have been fairly low-key in their progress, but they now have the chance to upset the locals and get to the final – with Neymar out of the way, they have a great opportunity against a crestfallen nation.
There’s also a great opening here for Argentina and Lionel Messi. If it was battle between Neymar and Messi to be the star of the tournament, now the impish Barcelona man has the way clear to make the headlines. Like Germany, Argentina’s route has been unspectacular but steady.
Argentina are keen to prove they are more than just a “Messi vehicle”, although given his contribution so far, it’s hard to truck with that view. Everyone’s waiting for an excellent display from Argentina to underline their credentials to win the competition. It might just come against a Belgian side that also has a 100% record but have also failed to excite.
The two sides have met before in the World Cup – in 1982, Belgium beat holders Argentina in the first game of the competition in Spain. And four years later, Maradona’s two goals beat Belgium 2-0 in the semi-finals in Mexico City.
In the other quarter-final, the Netherlands should account for Costa Rica, who have already dramatically exceeded expectations. The Dutch have scored 12 times in Brazil 2014, more than any other nation. It should be Argentina v Netherlands in the semi-finals in Belo Horizonte next Wednesday.
We need a stirring couple of games to maintain momentum in the competition. The goals-per-game rate in the knockout stage is just 2.2, much lower than the 2.83 from the group stage.