Despite the fact that the favourites have progressed so far in every knockout match played, it’s been a tense affair so far. No side has been able to completely overpower their opposition side in terms of ability level, and what has followed has been intriguing tactical battles to get the upper hand. It has been so close in fact that of the 10 knockout games played so far, 5 have gone to extra time.
But what’s been truly amazing about these knockout matches so far has been the amount of late magic that have arisen. Moments that have either changed or potentially could have changed fate with the clock seconds away from full time. There have been goals to decide or save a game, and misses which have cost teams dearly at the end. Here’s a list of those memorable last minute moments so far in this knockout phase.
Brazil v Chile – Mauricio Pinilla
With Brazil controlling possession in the last 5 minutes of extra time and with Chile seemingly happy with taking the game to extra time, Chile take a goal kick. A long goal kick that Mauricio Pinilla receives about 30 yards from goal. He plays a 1-2, running across the box to receive the ball and unleashes a searing shot. Past the defenders and past a goalkeeper who can only watch. But not past the crossbar. Inches away from knocking out the tournament hosts, instead his team go home after losing in the penalty shootout
In the land of Christ the Redeemer, it would have been fitting for Pinilla, a journeyman bad boy whose career has been filled with controversy, to have achieved hero status in Chile in what would have arguably been one of their greatest ever results. Alas, it was not to be.
A moment like that would be seared into your brain forever. However, that wasn’t enough for Pinilla. He also went out got a tattoo of it. Guess that’s one way to remind yourself how close you were from being a national hero.
Netherlands v Mexico – Arjen Robben
With only 5 minutes remaining in the game, Sneijder produced a pile driver of a shot to equalise for Netherlands. 1-1 it remained going into injury time. Then disaster struck for Mexico.
Robben, running into the box, gets to the byline and then tries to cut back. Rafael Marquez sticks out his leg, which Robben then theatrically tumbles over. Penalty. Huntelaar steps up and buries it. 2-1 to Netherlands and Mexico are out.
After the match, the Mexican manager raged, claiming that Robben’s “penalty was invented”. However, it wasn’t. By the letter of the law, Marquez impeded Robben’s movement to the ball, and hence the correct decision for the penalty was made.
But I can understand Mexican frustrations at Robben. In 2006, Australia took on Italy in a Round of 16 match. Going into the last minute still at 0-0, Fabio Grosso had the ball in the box. Lucas Neill dived in, Grosso fell over, penalty awarded. Australia out of the World Cup. I was heartbroken. I hated the Italians at that moment. Dive I screamed for days, months, even years now. Despite watching countless replays suggesting that it was a legitimate penalty, I still claim it was a dive. And if the Mexican fans feel even half the emotions I felt, then Netherlands v Mexico could be a tasty encounter for years to come.
Costa Rica v Greece – Keylor Navas
The Greeks just wouldn’t die. Holding onto a 1-0 lead going into injury time, with 10 men on the field, the Costa Rican players would have been dying to hear the whistle blow for full time. Instead, Papastathopoulos equalised in injury time. And suddenly Greece, with the extra man and the momentum after the goal, looked like the favourites to qualify.
Up step Keylor Navas, my goalkeeper of the tournament so far. Later in normal injury time, Mitroglou diverted a long ball towards the goal, which Navas did well to deflect behind goal, keeping his side in the game. What happened during injury time at the end of extra time was even better.
With both teams dead on their feet, both teams scrappily losing possession as the time wound down to penalties, the ball comes to Mitroglou in the box. Goal, he must have thought, as he shot towards goal with the neatest of touches. But alas, Navas was there. The hero of Costa Rica spotting the danger, rushing off his line to close the angles and somehow managing to get a knee on the ball to deflect it wide of the goal. Saving his side from defeat and instead sending his team to penalties. And we all know what happened next.
If there has been one pleasant surprise from this World Cup, it has been the attention that has been placed on the goalkeepers. Keepers like Navas, Ochoa, Howard, Neuer have all had either match-winning or almost match-winning performances to match the likes of Messi and James Rodriguez. And if there is a football occupation that deserves its time in the sun, it’s the keepers. With relentless criticism coming their way whenever they make a mistake, it’s about time we appreciate the great performances as well.
Argentina v Switzerland – Blerim Dzemaili
Di Maria had just made it 1-0 to Argentina, after an inspired Messi run and pass. Switzerland were on their way out, seconds ticking down as they stare down the barrel at a World Cup exit. A corner comes in, gets cleared out by the Argentinian defence, ball lands to Shaqiri on the right, who then crosses it in.
Up step Dzemaili. Rising above the crowd, he gets a good head to the ball, steering it towards the goal as Romero, the Argentine goalkeeper, can only watch.
Alas, the ball does not find the back of the net. Instead it hits the post, rebounds off and hits Dzemaili in the knee as he stumbles, trying to regain control of his body. Alas again, the ball goes wide, and Switzerland’s last chance of survival is gone.
Belgium v USA – Chris Wondolowski
In the last minute of normal injury time, the ball lands in the Belgium box to Chris Wondolowski, 6 yards away from goal. Wondolowski, twice the Golden Boot winner in the MLS, was the perfect man for this opportunity, a poached goal for the ultimate poacher. Instead, he skies it, game goes to extra time and USA lose 2-1.
Landon Donovan was left at home, USA’s greatest ever goal scorer told he wasn’t good enough to make the best 23 of the USA. Wondolowski, the striker who took his place. A man whose fame does not lie much beyond the USA, with the chance to establish his name in the headlights of the World Cup. Instead, he will go home disappointed, a man who has made a career out of scoring goals unable to score the simplest of goals at the most important of times. Such is football.