Goalmouth scramble: Five things we learned

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Netherlands' Ron Vlaar reacts after missing a penalty kick in a shootout at the end of the World Cup semifinal soccer match between the Netherlands and Argentina. Photo / AP.
Netherlands' Ron Vlaar reacts after missing a penalty kick in a shootout at the end of the World Cup semifinal soccer match between the Netherlands and Argentina. Photo / AP.

Herald journalist Steven Holloway looks at five things we learned from week four of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

David Luiz can't defend

Brazil centreback David Luiz wore a number of caps at this World Cup, but none were labeled 'good defender'. He acted as a publicist for James Rodriguez - proudly parading the Colombian star around the field with his seal of approval after their quarter-final, he led the memorial service for Neymar before the semifinal (who was injured remember, not dead) and he scored one of the goals of the tournament. But his defending was dreadful. His aggressive, mis-guided, irresponsible style of play was responsible for five of Germany's seven goals in the semi-final. He was caught out of position, unwilling to track runners, naive and lazy. Jose Mourinho made the sale of the century by offloading Luiz to PSG for $97 million before the tournament. His value will have significantly plummeted.

Football can be cruel
Spare a thought for Dutch centreback Ron Vlaar.

In the biggest match of the 29-year-old Aston Villa defender's career he was the best player. Forget Lionel Messi, forget Arjen Robben, forget Robin van Persie, this was Vlaar's night. He won 100 per cent of his tackles, 100 per cent of his aerial duals, he made 11 clearances, six interceptions and had 92 per cent pass accuracy. But all he will be remembered for is missing the Netherlands' first kick of their penalty shootout loss. Who decided to give a centreback first crack anyway?

Brazil weren't ever really that good
It took the Germans just 30 minutes to expose the charade. Brazil were not a good side, but we were tricked into thinking they were. They needed the ref's help to get by Croatia, couldn't score past Mexico, struggled against a weak Cameroon side, needed penalties to beat Chile and crawled past Colombia. They had by far the lowest passing stats (73 per cent completion) of the semi-finalists, but were top of charts for tackles, clearances and fouls. Jogabonito anyone? The attacking threat of Fred and Hulk was blunt while the back four (without Thiago Silva) was laughable. Despite having a significant home advantage, this weak Brazilian side may have actually overachieved?

Germany are the perfect team
Slowly but surely, the teams over-reliant on one player have been picked off. First it was Portugal (Ronaldo), then Brazil (Neymar) and now the Netherlands (Robben). Despite Lionel Messi being a non-factor in Argentina's semi-final win, the little man will continue to fly the flag for Team Individual in the final, because without his brilliance Argentina don't stand a chance. In contrast the Germans look like a perfectly balanced side. They combine clever individual play with well-structured team play and are all, equally, so comfortable on the ball that one and two touch play is an option, not a limitation. They have stability through Phillip Lahm and Sami Khedira, creativity in Toni Kroos, and a dangerous goal scoring threat with Thomas Muller and Miroslav Klose. No other squad comes close.

Fred was bad
Brazilian striker Fred had a 100 per cent pass completion rate in the first half of Wednesday's semi-final - from six kick offs. While that gag, circulating on Twitter on Wednesday, slightly overstates Fred's anonymity, there is no hiding from the fact that he was one of Brazil's worst performers of the tournament and he is now the nation's scapegoat. But is it really his fault? He wasn't responsible for any of Germany's seven goals. Fred would know he's been struggling. He would know he hasn't affected any game he's played in, but somehow, for some reason, he kept getting picked. I have no doubt Fred was trying as hard as he could, but his best simply wasn't good enough. The blame should be shared by the depleted Brazilian striker stocks and Luiz Felipe Scolari, who couldn't see what the rest of us could.

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