seems that the two semi-finals could not have been more different. one was a scoring assault where even the winners looked a little embarrassed by the end of the proceedings. the other was a dull crawl towards penalty kicks, which i maintain is a stupid way to end a game on this level. in the end, argentina snuck by with their [thus far unassailable] strategy of hanging back and keeping anything from happening for as long as possible. it does not make for great viewing, but it's kind of hard to argue when it keeps working.
holland have been great throughout the tournament and found themselves outdone by an argentinian keeper who wanted to show that he too could be a penalty-saving hero. today, they won the match for third place against a shattered brazil.
the two semi-final matches were as different in terms of cooking experiences as they were in terms of play. although you wouldn't think so at first blush, the cuisines of argentina and the netherlands go together quite smoothly, since both incorporate things like ocean fish and greens. i also thought that it would be nice to make something that came together quite quickly, just to offset the plodding pace of the game.
and what's always super-quick to cook? that's right, fish.
i used a combination of haddock and cod, although there's no meaningful reason to use more than one type. both of these are staples of the north atlantic, which means that they're well-known in places like holland. preparing is simple: just sprinkle your filets with salt and pepper and fry them in about a tablespoon of olive oil. fresh is always best, but in this case, it's absolutely necessary, since the flavour of the fish is right up front in the starring role. you can't afford to have your star player underperforming.
before you get around to doing that, though, prepare an argentinian chimichurri sauce, a green condiment that is ubiquitous in the country. it's extremely simple and can be done anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of hours ahead of time. it's like making a fine herb salsa, although i added a twist to this one. last "eat the cup", i prepared a dutch-style fish dish with mustard sauce and while i didn't want to do a straight repeat, i did like the dish enough that i wanted to try something like it. so i added a hit of mustard to the chimichurri. just a little, of course, because herbs taste delicate and mustard is anything but. i used:
1 cup parsley [chopped very fine]
1/2 cup cilantro [chopped very fine as well]
1 shallot [minced]
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2 tsps dijon mustard
you can prepare this in a blender or food processor quite quickly- blend the other ingredients first and then add the herbs. the herbs shouldn't be completely reduced to paste, but should retain a bit of texture. my preference, however, is to prepare this the old fashioned way, with a mortar. [meaning the kitchen implement, not the explosive. the explosive gives the herbs the wrong texture and ruins your mixing bowl.] to do this, combined the ingredients in a mixing bowl, then pound, mash, scrape and pulverize them slowly and with certainty. you might want to think about a team you really hate if you're preparing this for a world cup match. it helps with the blending process.
when the fish is cooked, serve a little of the sauce over it. you could have rice or potatoes or something if you wanted to add bulk, but personally, i went with a mix of greens- including several common garden herbs- in a light vinaigrette tossed with some chopped nuts. because this world cup has been just a little nuts, after all.
and thus are two national cuisines joined in less than the time it takes one to eliminate the other from competition.
and because that's such a refreshingly light meal, i trust you have room for
man candy of the match
one of the highlights of the match between argentina and the netherlands for me had very little to do with the play. it was seeing the return of argentina's top shelf man candy sergio aguero. he had a listless start to the tournament, probably due to the fact that he was nursing an injury. said injury got aggravated and he's been sidelined since the group stage, leaving his side significantly lighter on the man candy front.
unlike a lot of the men featured here, sergio isn't big on advertising his handsomeness. there are comparatively few pictures of him off the pitch, which makes me think that a lot of people have somehow missed just how cute this guy is. perhaps it's because, when you look at earlier photos of him, he looked vaguely like an awkward teen with a sloppy mullet. but that was long ago and a distinctive "punk-ish" take on the popular giroud-flip hairstyle that a lot of footballers seem to love, plus a few years for his elegant bone structure to emerge from his youthful babyface have turned him into quite the devilishly handsome young buck.
he's also pretty high on the adorable scale. aside from his looks and perfect [although rarely seen] body, his jersey bears the name "kun aguero", "kun" being a nickname he acquired as a child from his favourite kids' television show. that's like lebron james opting to wear the name "big bird". boyish adorableness check. and on his left arm, he has a tattoo of the words "kun aguero" written in the elvish language from lord of the rings. geeky adorableness check.
|that smile could melt steel|
|you must be at least this intense to carry off this hairstyle|
|one dimple to rule them all...|
|parting is such sweet sorrow...|
|but it makes it that much better that you're back.|
rumour has it that he's single, having split from his former wife, daughter of argentinian legend diego maradona, last year. how can that be?
kate and dom
pick guess the champion
so when it all comes down, who's going to be number one in the world?
dom has stuck steadfastly by team germany and certainly, after their showing against brazil, there would be no reason to doubt that. the germans have a deep and mostly healthy team that can put on a pretty dazzling offensive display and their defense is admirably solid and grounded with the man who may be the best goalkeeper in the world. there's very little reason to think that germany can't win. there's very little reason to think that they won't.
but i'm thinking it anyway. argentina were always my pick to win and while i would actually prefer to see germany take it [the better team overall and it would make for a better game], i think it's telling that nobody has managed to find a way to siege the argentine fortress. if germany are to win, they need to break through and they need to do it early, or else argentina will fall into the same pattern that has won them every game thus far, slowing things down, taking their time and waiting for lionel messi to find an opening. if that happens- and i think it will- it'll be like 2010 all over again for germany. their tremendous firepower will be contained and their frustration will make them prone to tiny, crucial mistakes.
no matter what happens tomorrow, i do think that the tournament has produced some spectacular winners and losers thus far, so here's a quick recap of who those are [according to me]:
goal line technology :: this is the first world cup where it's been used, and it has been used, and it has been helpful. welcome to the twenty-first century, fifa. perhaps you could be persuaded to invest in clocks that stop when the action is halted.
concacaf :: the north and central american division is almost always the shabby also-ran of the world cup tournament, but this year, it finally made a mark thanks to excellent performances by mexico, the united states and dark horse costa rica. never has an american audience been so rapt with the proceedings, possibly indicating that the sport may finally be getting a foothold in the one country that had always shown supreme indifference. hey, if anne coulter talks smack about you, you have to be doing something right.
goalkeepers :: if there is more than one goal scored tomorrow, the 2014 world cup will go into the books as having the most goals of any world cup final in history. yet strangely, it's goalkeepers who have repeatedly stolen the spotlight with some breathtaking stops and shootout heroics: tim howard's record number of saves to keep his team in the game, manuel neuer's massive defensive range, david ochoa's aerial acrobatics, game-winning penalty saves by kaylor navas, sergio romero, julio cesar [before his defense deserted him] and the emergence of tim "the closer" krul. gone are the days of assuming that the guy playing nets was the one no one wanted on their team.
louis van gaal :: he may have had to settle for bronze, but van gaal has undoubtedly made a great first impression on english viewers, before he heads over there next month to take over managing manchester united. the introduction of the "penalty specialist" may be evidence that he really is a tactical genius, but what is definite is that he chose his players and positioning extremely carefully and almost flawlessly. if united fans were unsure about his appointment before, he seems to have earned their respect.
algeria :: their team went to the knockout round and came ever so close to providing the upset of the tournament. no one expected them to make it as far as they did, let alone come close to beating the germans, which is why they were greeted with such adulation upon their return. their reaction? they gave their earned bonuses to palestinian charities because "they need it more than we do". that, my friends, is a class act.
luis suarez :: for one brief, shining moment, suarez made it look like this was going to be his tournament. injured but undaunted, he swept his team to victory and the adulation of an entire country was bestowed upon him. and then the cannibalism kicked in... yes, he's been traded to one of the best teams in the world for an obscene amount of money and yes his talent is beyond question. but he'll be spending his first four months in barcelona watching his teammates on television. the conditions of his ban are so strict that if barca want to include him in their team photograph, they won't be able to do it in their arena. when he does get back, he'll be playing alongside the likes of lionel messi, which means that he's not going to be top dog of the team anymore. and he'll be playing for a team that expects to dominate, not something he's had to deal with before. plus, it has to sting just a bit that he's got a four month ban for nipping a guy's arm, whereas the colombian defender who broke neymar's back won't miss a minute.
arjen robben :: don't get me wrong, i think that robben will probably win the golden ball award and rightfully so. but his admission that he was guilty of diving after his team eliminated mexico has tainted everyone's view of him. [although it's not like it's the first time he's been suspected of embellishment.] as a result, he's become the target of ridicule despite his talent and the refs have shown their willingness to let him get brutalized before calling foul, which may have hurt his team. what's worse for him though, is that despite having possibly the best all-around performance of any player, he won't get to hoist the cup and, given his age, chances are he never will.
brazil :: i do not mean the people of brazil, who have been predictably gracious about the hordes invading their country, but there's no doubt that the country has received some spectacular black eyes. their miserable last two games, allowing a combined total of 10 goals, seeing themselves eliminated in the semis while archrivals argentina prevailed is terrible for a football-loving nation. but that's really just the cherry on the giant pile of poop. millions upon millions of dollars that could have gone to help brazil's desperately poor were diverted into a spectacle, after the people were promised that private enterprise would step in to foot most of the bill. amidst the excitement over the world cup, there has been a great deal of media attention paid to the plight of the poorest brazilians, so the image that has emerged of the country has arguably been more damaging than anything else. much less coverage has been dedicated to the government's draconian response to even the most peaceful protests, but brazilians are certainly aware of it and aren't likely to forget when they next head to the polls. moreover, it means that the scrutiny will be that much closer when rio de janeiro hosts the summer olympics in two years' time.
fifa :: no one has come out of the 2014 world cup looking worse than the group who organised it. implicated in the mass evictions of the country's most vulnerable in order to construct facilities, the story for the supervising body of international soccer has only gotten worse. rumours of corruption have always surrounded them, but this year the rumours have been drowning out everything else. they're fortunate that the tournament has been so entertaining because it has at least distracted people- temporarily- from outing fifa as a set of robber barons collecting vast sums of money from those who can little afford it while offering precious little. with the next world cup tournaments scheduled in always controversial russia and in qatar, whose winning bid has been so rife with problems that it's distracted people from the fact that russia is hosting the next tournament, the scrutiny on their activities is only going to get more intense.