CHICAGO --It's my birthday and you would think that the Belgians would have given me a better present. Friday I predicted they would upset Argentina but instead of birthday wishes granted, it's a lump of coal.
Argentina was magnificent in sending the Red Devils back home to Brussels with dreams of a World Cup dashed. And it did not take long for the men in Carolina blue and white to advance to the semi-finals. In the eighth minute, the great Lionel Messi displayed some of the greatest footwork these eyes have ever seen on a football pitch. He kept three Belgians occupied, then passed to Angel DiMaria who sent the orb on to Gonzalo Higuain and he beat Thibaut Courtois to the left corner of the net. There was not much controversy at all, just a few yellow cards and the typical nagging injury discomforts associated with high drama soccer. One small hiccup for the winners, DiMaria suffered a thigh problem in the 32nd minute and was replaced. He should be available for Wednesday's semi-final matchup.
And the Argentines will face the Netherlands. They had to go to overtime to advance to the final four. Saturday afternoon at Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, another sold-out crowd bathed in Orange and the Red, White and Blue of The Ticos, Costa Rica. 26 degrees Celsius and 81 percent humidity under partly cloudy skies greeted both teams. The man of the match in my eyes up to the overtime was Costa Rican keeper Keylor Navas, who made six saves up to the overtime, some of them of the lucky variety. He frustrated Dutch superstar Robin Van Persie on two occasions in the final five minutes. The 30 minute overtime session produced a few good saves but no goals, so it went to a penalty kick shootout. Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal changed his keepers from Jasper Cillessen, who played 122 minutes, for the taller Tim Krul, a 26-year-old who became the hero for the Dutch. He stopped Bryan Ruiz on the Ticos second penalty kick shot, and then stopped Michael Umana, who kicked fourth, to win it. And Krul was smart in chatting up each shooter he faced, a brilliant psychological trash-talking move. All four Dutch shooters, Van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, and Dirk Kuyt, made their shots and The Netherlands wins 0-0, 4-3 on the shootout, and will face Argentina on Wednesday in the semi-final.
So now we move forward to the semi-finals. On Tuesday, Brazil will face Germany. The men in the yellow jerseys will be without two of their best players. Thiago Silva is out because of an accumulation of yellow cards. He is one of their best goal-scoring defenders. And Brazil will be without perhaps the best player in the tournament, the great Neymar Jr., who suffered a fractured vertebrae in the win over Columbia. Can Fred come through? Does Hulk (my favorite name player) have the bulk to carry Brazil on his broad shoulders? Is Julio Cesar up to the task of back-stopping his country into the finals against the team I think is going to win it all? Germany goes into this game hale, whole, and feeling very good about their chances. Manuel Neuer is playing great in the goal. Thomas Mueller and his mates have loads of experience and Joachim Lowe has a steady hand on the rudder. Now there is a chance of Germany getting over confidant. Sorry samba nation, Germany is still my pick to win.
As for the other semi-final, I picked against Argentina last time and was wrong. I will not make that mistake again. Lionel Messi and crew will send the Netherlands packing despite the physical problems Angel DiMaria might have. The men in Carolina blue and white will prevail.
Like the final four teams, I'm taking Sunday off and will be back with last-minute thoughts concerning Tuesdays first semi-final game on Monday so be sure to visit this website.
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Since joining ABC7 in 1982, Jim Rose has become a major force in Chicago sports broadcasting. He currently serves as sports anchor/reporter for ABC7 News in Chicago's top-rated 4:00 and 6:00 p.m. newscasts. He is an avid fan of the World Cup! Learn more about Jim