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eat the cup 2014, part eight :: sneaking one in

it's still been stiflingly hot here, which hasn't made me want to rush into the kitchen, no matter how many awesome cultures i have to catch up with in eat the cup, however it also occurred to me that this might be an opportunity to share a recipe from another blog that fits with the theme and represents a culture that i haven't yet covered: argentina.

it might come as a surprise that argentina have won every single game they've played, even if, like me, you've watched each of those games live. that sounds odd, but for a team tipped by many [me included] to win the entire tournament, their play has been listless [insofar as running about ten kilometres up and down a grassy pitch in the heat and humidity can seem listless] and in every game, they've relied on their superstar goalscorer lionel messi to wear out the three or four defenders charged with containing him. it's a strategy that produces 90+ minutes of mind-numbing boredom, with one to three minutes of edge-of-seat tension. but it has a 100% success rate thus far and winning is, after all, what counts. every game has seen them sneak through and i figure if they can sneak one in from an unexpected angle, then so can i.

a little while back, my good friend martin rouge did a post on his blog hungry, smart and poor about cooking a matambre.  [i should add that his post has absolutely nothing to do with the world cup and that he pretty much detests everything to do with organised sports. his post has to do with the fact that he writes a food blog. that is all.] matambre is a beef dish that looks pretty spectacularly complicated when done, the perfect thing to show off at a dinner party, or when you want to convince someone that they owe you a really fancy dinner in return. however, if you read through the instructions on the blog, you'll see that it's really just slow-cooked beef with vegetables, with a really nice presentation. the presentation, is also functional, in that it would allow for the food to be more easily transported. this would have been a concern to the gauchos, from whom the recipe descended.

gauchos are the argentinian equivalent of the american cowboys and have the same romantic image associated with their lifestyle, but even more so. gauchos were independent men who rode the grasslands [pampas] in the northern part of the country, cultivating herds of cattle, either escapees from domestic flocks or their wild-raised descendents. as a result, their diet relied heavily on meat, or beef [in northern argentina the two terms are often used interchangeably] and this remains a central feature of argentinian food, in the same way that the gaucho has remained an important feature of argentinian culture.

in a way, señor messi is a little like one of those fabled heroes, biding his time on the grasslands, always on the move, capable of working independently at all times, a figure indifferent to laws like physics. whatever others may make of him, he is there to do is own thing and he is deadly when he needs to be. so you see? even what looks lazy or sneaky is really part of an overall plan. [<<<< metaphor alert]

of course, matambre isn't the only thing on the menu for "eat the cup". there's also...

man candy of the match

i feel like i've been a somewhat remiss on a few fronts with the man candy. i haven't featured anyone from a south american team. and i haven't featured anyone under six feet, which makes me feel like i'm betraying the trust of millions of diminutive people like me. and it's not like options haven't been staring me in the face [which they could do more easily than those who tower over me]. for instance, probably the hottest property at the world cup, the host nation's golden boy, standing a respectable but not giant five feet nine inches, neymar da silva santos jùnior. you can call him neymar. everyone does.

they also call him the guy who is almost single-handedly ensuring that brazil makes a decent showing in the cup they're hosting and the reason your teenaged niece has suddenly become a huge soccer fan.

some have criticised neymar as being overly cocky, but surely that could just be the side effects of being a 22 year old professional footballer with one of the most storied teams in the world. it's also possibly a side effect of the facts that he's both ridiculously talented and really, really, really hot.

he also projects an undeniable boy-man adorableness, the sort of charm that lets some people talk their way out of anything. i'm pretty sure he could get caught doing 250 with a car full of drunken teenagers and the only thing he'd get from the cop who stopped him is a phone number.

the perfect level of not-taking-self-too-seriously-ness
and goofiness that doesn't quite distract from those amazing green eyes
here he is distracting even straight men from gisele bundchen
... and making them question their sexuality
here he is consoling chilean forward and erstwhile barcelona teammate alexis sanchez after the brazil-chile shootout
and here he is instilling lust in the hearts of all who behold him, for obvious reasons

how can you not feel just a little bit like god thinks you're extra special when you get graced with a bankable talent and look like that? you can't. it's impossible. 

and finally in parting...

kate and dom [just possibly] predict the winners!

well, if you remember our projections for the knockout round [if you don't, you can always just go look at them now], you'll realise that against all odds, we actually called seven of the eight matches correctly. wow, we must really know what we're talking about. 

not really. it was just that we thought that it was likely that the stronger sides would prevail in all but one case and, as it happens, the one time where we went against the odds, we were wrong. which is sort of depressing, but that's how the game can be. so here are our thoughts on the quarter-final matches and, just to spice things up... we have some differing opinions this time!!!!!!

brazil vs colombia
dom backs brazil on this one, which is the sensible choice when you look at the odds. having the world cup in your own country can be a blessing and a curse. sometimes, the pressure becomes overwhelming [e.g., germany 2006] and other times, it can carry you over the top [e.g., france 1998]. he's betting on the latter. 
i'm of a different opinion. i think colombia have been unbelievably strong and while you can argue that they've had the easier opponents thus far, they've been less reliant on a single performance [not that james rodriguez hasn't been stellar] and have functioned better as a unit. sorry, neymar, but i think your number's up with this one.

france vs germany
dom thinks this is germany's year and looking at their lineup, it's easy enough to see how that could come about. on paper, germany are a stronger team than france, no question. 
i think that germany have just somehow failed to gel. yes, they were in the toughest group, but they were arguably the best team in the toughest group and, with the exception of the mauling they gave portugal, they didn't really look it. then they took a full two hours to find a way to score on underdogs algeria, which should have been their easiest win of the tournament. that said, france looked a little out of sorts themselves at their last outing and we haven't really seen what they can do against a top flight team. i think this one's a very tough call. i'll put it this way: i absolutely believe germany can beat france, i'm just not convinced that they will

netherlands vs costa rica
we're in agreement on this one: cinderella's coach is about to turn back into a pumpkin. costa rica have everything to be proud of. they have absolutely been the dark horses of the competition. but the netherlands have rolled over everything that's encountered on their path. or is it that they rolled over on the path of everything they've encountered? the netherlands will win this and, unless they have some kind of death wish, they need to do it without even a hint of controversy.

argentina vs belgium
as i mentioned, argentina have been overwhelmingly underwhelming in this tournament. they have one trick: keep passing the ball to messi and wait for him to find just the slightest opening in the wall of defense that the opposition puts around him. it feels like a letdown for certain. but dom and i both think that they're going to win this one. why? because their plan has actually worked extremely well. 
it's true that they had an easier ride than most teams left [except france], so we haven't necessarily seen whether their own defense can hold against a team that can score a lot, which the belgians definitely can. belgium are fresh off their best game by far, much better than anything we've seen from argentina, but this game, like every one that argentina is in, will be about messi. and what we've learned thus far is that if the game is about messi then messi is going to win.

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