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Dublin: 4°C Saturday 26 September 2020
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Letter from Brazil: A little romance goes a long way as Clare and the Netherlands survive

Neymar and James Rodriguez’s departures from the World Cup left us needing to be cheered up.

People celebrate as they watch the Dutch team win after penalties in the World Cup quarter-finals.
People celebrate as they watch the Dutch team win after penalties in the World Cup quarter-finals.

MIKEY STAFFORD reports for TheScore.ie from Rio de Janeiro

AFTER THE LOSS of Neymar and James Rodriguez we were desperately looking for romance in all the wrong places yesterday, namely Ennis and Salvador.

Clare and the Netherlands crushed the dreams of the underdogs, and while the Wexford hurlers get another crack at the All-Ireland champions, Costa Rica are heading home with their carry-on luggage over-flowing with global goodwill.

At least Lionel Messi is still with us. Before, during and after Argentina’s 1-0 win over Belgium we were treated by Brazilian TV to footage from the Selecao training ground of Neymar crying in a wheelchair, Neymar being stretchered on to a helicopter and repeated viewings of the knee in the back that fractured his vertebrae.

FIFA are contemplating taking disciplinary action against Juan Zuniga but the Colombian has already been tried in the court of public opinion. It has not gone well for him.

So with Neymar injured and Rodriguez’s Colombia eliminated the World Cup needed Lionel Messi to prevail against Belgium. The tournament needed its only fit and remaining superstar to advance to the last four, even if Argentina’s two World Cups and the average quality of its current vintage mean that, outside of the Barcelona magician, they are short of romance.

Between the footage of Neymar’s pain, we saw Argentina huff and puff their way to victory over Belgium — Messi illuminating a dull match by repeatedly making Marouane Fellaini look like an eejit.

After the umpteenth time Messi had drifted past him as if he were a afro-topped lamppost, the Manchester United midfielder looked fit to burst but if there was any Flemish rant of frustration I didn’t hear it as the television was muted, with the iPad tuned to South East Radio for their coverage of Wexford’s All-Ireland SHC qualifier against the All-Ireland champions at Cusack Park.

Despite never trailing in 70 minutes Liam Dunne’s scrappy underdogs conspired to draw in regular time and were luckier to finish level again at the end of extra-time. What’s the Flemish for “f*** it anyway”?

Seadna Morey scores a goal Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

(Clare’s Seadna Morey scores a goal during the final moments of the match to deny Wexford)

Romance comes in many forms, of course, and we missed the start of the Netherlands and Costa Rica due to an unusually lengthy sojourn to a shoe shop in Botafogo.

However with the correct size of strappy black shoes finally located and purchased we were home in time to see enough from Arena Fonte Nova to realise that Costa Rica’s best hope of joining the brigade of former World Cup winners in the semi-finals was another penalty shootout.

With the incredible Arjen Robben once more proving that Northern Europeans are not only able to survive in this climate but physically thrive, the Dutch looked the likeliest winners. They hit the woodwork twice, Keylor Navas was once more incredible in the Costa Rican goal and had Robin Van Persie been less terrible in front of goal the match would surely not have required its penalties tie-breaker.

Having conceded just two goals in five games without loss all the romantics were on the side of Jorge Luis Pinto’s team, who were representing the smallest nation remaining in the tournament.

Louis van Gaal does not have the look of a man who puts much stock in romance. He surely broke Jasper Cillessen’s heart when he replaced the Ajax goalkeeper with Tim Krul of Newcastle — a charmer of the highest order who, when he is not taunting opposing players, does a fine line in saving penalties.

Costa Rica’s spot kicks against Greece were superb and it was no surprise when four of the five takers from Recife again stepped forward — Christian Borges taking the place of the substituted Joel Campbell.

Winger Bolanos scored the fourth but, despite the other four takers switching their aim from the win over Greece, Krul guessed correctly on each occasion, saving Bryan Ruiz’s penalty before diving low and to his left to block Michael Umana’s kick and win the game.

So we have four semi-finalists who, between them, have contested 21 finals and the Netherlands — they of the superbly talented but diving superstar Robben and trash-talking penalty kick specialist — are the only one of the quartet to have never won the tournament before.

There was romance in the total football pioneers who contested and lost the 1974 and 1978 finals but this year’s edition, like the Netherlands side who contested the final four years ago, are harder to love.

But that is sport and, while we would all like to be dancing at the crossroads we learned yesterday, in Ennis and in Salvador, that sometimes romance means sitting for an eternity in a shoe shop.

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Mikey Stafford

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