Before this tournament started, one would assume that a Spanish victory would confirm the current side's greatness, after their stylish success in Euro 2008. As we reach the semi-final stage, it seems that if Spain do win it, it will be greeted by everyone except the Spanish with a shrug of the shoulders. It would be their first World Cup win, but you'd be tempted to surmise that it just isn't as hard as it used to be to win the thing.
BRAZIL 1-2 HOLLAND
I'd been tipping Brazil all along, but they fell to pieces against a Dutch team who hardly even earned the victory. When Robinho scored early, it seemed that Brazil were breezing into the semi-finals. The Netherlands, who've been struggling for coherence but winning nonetheless, never looked much like making a chance, but elements of complacency crept into Brazil's play. Then, after the fluke equaliser, Brazil got dragged more and more into an ugly war of attrition with Holland's thuggish midfield duo of Van Bommel and De Jong. Sneijder nodded in from a Robben corner that Kuyt touched on, and before Brazil could gather themselves, the unstable Melo got himself sent off for a needless stamp on Robben.
Before the game, there had been talk by the two managers, Dunga and Bert Van Marwijk, about how football has changed, in response to barbs from Johan Cruyff about Brazil's dull style of play. They're right. Football today is rougher, uglier, more cynical. It's all about the result. Two teams with proud histories of elevating a sport to the level of art sullied those histories with an atrocity exhibition. But what do we expect with four limited holding midfielders battling it out? Brazil, while playing a cautious game, had produced the best moments of attacking play so far in the tournament, but largely on the break, and when they were left chasing an equaliser, they looked clueless. If they had emerged victorious in this disappointing tournament, Dunga's pragmatism would have been grudgingly praised. But sometimes there's an effect to be found in allowing flair and creativity its free expression. Brazil's impotence late on betrayed his failure to do that.