Heroes & Villains : Saint Cesar and penalty pain
The plucky ex-Porto star took to the stage against a Uruguay side shrouded in arch-villain Luiz Suarez’s controversy, and illustrated just how a true sporting hero deals with the fate of a nation resting on their shoulders.
Rodriguez made history by blasting Colombia into the quarter finals with an almost super-human volley, and also kept his teeth firmly to himself.
With five goals and two assists under his belt so far, the Monaco man has emerged from the shadows to eclipse established superstars Neymar, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, as well as replacing Radamel Falcao as the Coffee Growers talisman.
A story of sporting redemption has been enacted by Julio Cesar so far at this tournament, as he played the unlikely hero for the host nation, in a team full of bright young stars and established big names.
Emerging from the football backwaters of Toronto to rescue his international career, and Brazil’s World Cup hopes, the former Inter Milan number one prevented Chile from netting what would have been a devastating late winner. Cesar was not finished there though, as the flying goalkeeper induced emotional scenes by saving two penalties under incredible pressure.
With tears streaming down his face and a Man of the Match award to take home, Cesar, hailed as saviour of the Samba Boys, will be hoping this memorable match can help him put a season to forget firmly in the past.
If Wesley Sneijder was a hero for the Netherlands, firing them level with a bullet strike, Robben was his super-sidekick, forcing a penalty in the closing stages. On reflection, however, the latter half of the heroic Clockwork Orange duo was the biggest villain on the pitch. By throwing himself to the ground twice in theatrical style, sans cape, the Bayern Munich superstar committed the ultimate footballing sin, and one unbefitting of his talents.
In a surprising move, there was redemption on the horizon, as Robben apologised for diving, but his contrition will come as little consolation for Mexico, who will pack up their sombreros and head home feeling distinctly hard done by.
Nothing creates instant villains and heroes like a penalty shoot-out. Some love them, whilst others hide behind their sofas until the nail-biting tension has subsided, but the fact remains that spot kicks are an incredibly unfair way to decide a football match.
Chile and Greece have become the first victims to succumb to shoot-out elimination in this tournament, with two of the first four last 16 clashes resorting to what amounts to footballing Russian roulette.
With Jorge Sampaoli’s sensational side crashing out of the World Cup, despite a heroic performance against Brazil, only denied by the woodwork and San Cesar’s blessed gloves, the true villain here is the pressure of the penalty.