Granted, it’s a fair distance from Donnybrook to Doha, but Liam Brady could at least have thrown a virtual comforting hug in the direction of Neymar after the poor lad had learned a harsh lesson at the Education City Stadium: that Croatia continue to be the pluckiest boyos in world football.
Instead, Liam, decidedly unimpressed by the fella’s efforts in Brazil’s defeat, declared that he wouldn’t even have Neymar in his top five of Brazilian players, the likes of Pelé, Jairzinho and Ronaldinho ahead of him, if not Fred.
“This guy is a large cod,” he said, a fish out of water, so to speak, in the pantheon of Brazilian greats.
Liam’s negative feelings towards Neymar might have been heightened by his revelation at half-time in extra-time that he and the RTÉ people had spent that entire first period picking out clips to show what “an absolute stinker” he was having. But then he scored a bit of a worldie, so all their work was for nothing.
Instead, the focus had to be on how you can sometimes forget he’s even on the pitch, but then he does something very good and you go, “God almighty”. One of those players.
Croatia? At half-time, Tony O’Donoghue wondered if it was a bit ageist to be fixating on Luka Modric’s age, him being “the Peter Pan of midfield players”, as Liam described him. By the end of the contest, Richie Sadlier echoed the point, it was time to forget about the date on his birth cert and just enjoy his excellence.
Liam agreed. But the Messi lad?
“He’s been overhyped, he’s been magic in moments, but for large segments of the games he’s just been walking around – he’s not the player he was.” Ageist.
But this was all possibly true. Gary Lineker, for example, has a tendency to lose his entire mind when Messi, say, taps a three-foot pass to a team-mate, that exuberance possibly rooted in his interminable tweety war with that Piers person over who is the GOAT, Messi or that club-less Portuguese sub.
Gary, incidentally, opened the BBC’s coverage of the Argentina v Netherlands game by talking about Dutch defender Denzel Dumfries and wondering out loud if “every Denzil’s surname has to be a town or a city”. “There’s Denzel Washington and Denzil from Only Fools and Horses was Denzil Tulser.” Gary pronounced Tulser as Tulsa, Pablo Zabaleta looking as lost as ourselves.
No matter, off we went. Messi encircled by orange most times he touched the ball. “He had five players around him there,” said Martin Keown, “he could control it in a telephone box, couldn’t he?” At which point young people turned to their parents and asked, “what’s a telephone box?” Ageist.
Then, along came the 35th minute. He might be overhyped, he might only be magic in moments, he might spend large segments of games just walking around, he might not be the player he was… but when you play a pass like that in to the path of Nahuel Molina, all of these deficiencies are perfectly grand.
And if we live forever, we’ll never figure out how he even spotted Molina because he was looking in the same direction as ourselves, to possible options on his left.
“His peripheral vision should be studied,” said Karen Duggan in the RTÉ studio at half-time, but back on the Beeb Rio Ferdinand held out little hope for the scientific community cracking his code. “That pass defies physics,” he said.
And then the little man converted a penalty, despite Martin noting that the Dutch goalie has “a wing span of 2.2 metres”, like he’s an albatross.
The Dutch get a consolation goal. All over? Hold yer horses. In the dying seconds, the cheekiest free-kick in the history of time. Wout Weghorst, what have you done? As Jonathan Pearce told us, “Two goals in 20 appearances for Burnley – two goals in 18 World Cup quarter-final minutes.” Football’s gas.
Extra-time. Penalties, again.
Messi made it. In to the semi-finals, defying physics and ageists along the way, the Orange lads crushed.
A breathless day.