From a sixteen year old English perspective, the semi-final stage of a World Cup is a completely alien environment. That the idea of my country being 90 minutes away from the most significant event in modern sport is something that I envisage during my many daydreams at school with a serious amount of detail. But, a bit like an equinox or spending a night with Cara Delevingne, I won’t be able to actually experience that level of surrealism and importance. So, if your country remains in this tournament then well done. Secondly, enjoy it. This doesn’t come around very often (unless you’re German)
So, how have the remaining 4 Manchester United players fared in the last eight?
The first red on display was Patrice Evra. I was fairly disappointed with his performance and equally upset with the lack of French courage and conviction they showed when they were chasing the game in the final stages. It reminded me of those 1 goal losses to the likes of Newcastle and West Brom at home last season. The usual onslaught was replaced with cautious zonal play and a severe lack of commitment. Evra had a tough game; Thomas Muller and Miroslav Klose were employed to both operate in a centre forward position, meaning Evra had to keep one eye on their incessant movement as well as being mindful of the prominent figure that is Philip Lahm on the right flank. It was an arduous afternoon for the French fullback, who was often pulled out of his comfort zone by a very malignant and disciplined German attack. Surging runs that we see so often at Old Trafford became increasingly uncommon as the game wore on, although he’ll have regrets and deliberations about the way he went out of the tournament, Pat can be proud of the maturity and poise he showcased throughout the finals. The French were victims of a typically un-pretty, but screw turning display of German conviction. My pre tournament favourites play Brazil on Tuesday.
It hasn’t been a great few days for Marouane Fellaini. The speculation regarding his Manchester United future came under magnification when it was rumoured that Louis Van Gaal believes that the Belgian midfielder isn’t Manchester United quality, at first I dismissed this as mere conjecture, but the vast number of sources suggesting that this is the truth leads me to believe that there is some fire to this smoke after all. Secondly, Fellaini is heading home following defeat to Argentina in Brasilia. Once again, he was utilised incorrectly as a deep lying central midfielder. For a good 70 minutes, he was continuously humiliated by Lionel Messi, who wreaked havoc in the Belgian defence. Although Fellaini did place a header just wide of the goal after some good work from Kevin Mirralas, he had little joy in the form of attack. His game was far more fixated around neutralising Argentinian attacks and breaking up play. Unfortunately, this proved a difficult task and the big belgian wasn’t really aligned with the speed of the game for long periods. That being said, he did commit himself forward in the closing exchanges and made his presence felt. His endeavours were to no avail, however. Adnan Januzaj didn’t get to come off the bench, yet Nacer Chadli did. Which it is quite laughable if you really think about it.
If there were any doubts regarding whether Louis Van Gaal had the bottle to be Manchester United manager, they’re extinguished now. Firstly, he implemented a different formation. To counteract Costa Rica’s rigid 5-4-1 formation, he used a 3-4-3 shape which looked to provide width at the top end of the pitch as well as depth in midfield. Although it was goalless after 120 minutes, Van Gaal’s plan had certainly had its effect on Costa Rica, who became desperately fatigued, the Netherlands were terribly unfortunate, hitting the woodwork on 3 separate occasions. Most significantly, the substitution of goalkeepers just before a penalty shootout was managerial brutality at its absolute finest, Tim Krul replaced Cilissen, who then saved two spot kicks to take his country through to the last 4. As a manager you must be able to make harsh decisions and upset people occasionally if you want success. If theres one thing I learnt last night, it is the unswerving fact that Coach Van Gaal is the boss, and everyone in his team knows that. The Manchester United squad needs to be wary, Mr Van Gaal doesn’t take any prisoners.
Credit where its due, Costa Rica were excellent. The courage and discipline showcased last night left them a penalty shootout away from the semi final, the number of times Robin Van Persie was caught offside was a testament to the hard work put in by each Costa Rican, who managed to eradicate the power of the Dutch front 3 that contained Van Persie, Depay and Robben. Van Persie was inches away from netting an injury time winner, but his shot was mis-kicked onto the crossbar. All of Netherlands penalties were successful, Van Gaal and co go up against Argentina in Sao Paolo for a place in the final next Wednesday.