RIO DE JANEIRO—The irony of the name Soccer City is probably lost on FIFA. From the air, the stadium looks to be surrounded by nothing, a world apart, a huge bowl of money, a colorful tip jar sitting in isolation from the dichotomous reality of Johannesburg. FIFA is an increasingly savage and rapacious beast, gnashing its teeth at the slightest provocation. During the Holland—Denmark match, 20 female Dutch fans were forcibly removed from the stadium because they were suspected of engaging in some kind of guerrilla marketing campaign, when in reality they were just trying to have some fun.
Here in Brasil, the 2014 World Cup Local Organizing Committee (LOC), run by the mind-numbingly corrupt president of the Brasilian Football Federation (CBF), has decided that the Morumbi Stadium in São Paulo will not be used in the 2014 World Cup. The reasons were clear enough for anyone who has ever tried to go to a game there, but the final excuse was that São Paulo F.C. and the city couldn’t find a financing package for a project carrying a price tag that had exploded from an initial estimate of R$136 million to R$630 million. The transportation and tourist infrastructures of São Paulo are in no condition to receive the Shiner Circus, much less the World Cup. The decision to exclude the Morumbi could be a sign that logic is starting to enter the thinking of the 2014 LOC.
Argentina versus South Korea had me up at 7 this morning boiling water for mate and heating up some empanadas for the 8:30 kickoff. Argentina were dominant but Korea were strangely slow and didn’t look to impose themselves on the game at all. This World Cup has been very strange in that regard. There are a few teams that are impossible to play football against. If you try to play attacking football against Spain, Holland, Argentina or Germany, a loss is guaranteed. The best that South Korea could hope for was a draw and they set out their stall to defend like the goal was the 38th parallel. But Ángel Di Maria and Carlos Tévez used the space that Lionel Messi vacated and picked apart the Korean back line.
Messi was dropping into deep midfield positions to pick up the ball. In the absence of the injured Juan Sebastián Verón, Messi and Maxi Rodríguez provided the incisive passes to Di María, Tévez and Gonzalo Higuaín. The latter was probably the worst player on the field for Argentina yet he ended up with a hat trick. In the first 15 minutes of the game, Higuaín fell over when trying to control the ball and then blasted 15 yards over inside the box. His first goal (32nd minute) was abetted by the Korean keeper, the second he was offside (and the easiest goal of his life), and the third was more due to the brilliant passing of Messi and Sergio Agüero. Higuaín should have had six. The bad news (for Argentina) about the hat trick is that it hides Higuaín’s poor overall performance and means that Diego Milito will not see the field.
The good news for Argentina was Di María’s first half performance, the loss of the Messi-dependencia of the Nigeria game, the improved organization of the midfield, Jonas Gutiérrez’s improvement at right back (though he will miss the Greece game through card accumulation), and the massive improvement over the performance against Nigeria.
The bad news: a very worrying injury to center back Walter Samuel, Di María’s disappearance in the second half, Martín DeMichelis’ total lack of concentration as the first half was coming to a close, which gifted the Koreans a goal. Also bad: Maradona’s inability to make changes in response to changed tactics from the opposing manager. Korea were able to impose themselves much more in the second half and were very close to an equalizer on two occasions. Maradona was too slow to bring on Agüero, but when he did, the Argentines scored two goals in 10 minutes.
The Argentina commentators on DirecTV are brilliant, so much more pleasant than the burrosat OGlobo. Their final words of the game: Señores e Señoras, Argentina es candidato al título.
Chris is a visiting professor in the School of Architecture and Urbanism at the Universidade Federal Fluminense. His research and teaching focus on the urban and social impacts of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. His recent book, Temples of the Earthbound Gods, explores the history, geography and culture of stadiums in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. First World Cup memory was the 1982 Final. Watched Diego Maradona lift the trophy in Mexico from Portsmouth, England. Watched 1990 in Arlington, Texas and videotaped all of the games—since lost. Went to the six Dallas games of the 1994 World Cup. Rented an RV and drove around France in 1998. Got up at 2:30 every morning for weeks in Northampton, Mass. 2006 was a brilliant time playing ping pong between matches in Austin, Texas. This cup he is in Rio de Janeiro, checking out the FIFA Fan Fest as often as possible.