Okay, perhaps they succumbed to fate rather than were robbed by it. Or were dealt their fate.
Fate does its thing: it always has and it always will. But in two close matches this weekend, with historical underdogs thrilling the world, it’s probably hard for Mexican or Chilean fans not to feel robbed—they were so close. Considered by many the two best teams coming into this year’s World Cup, few would have expected heavyweights Holland and Brazil to be scrambling to stay alive against Mexico and Chile.
In the first half of the Mexico-Netherlands match, Mexico came out swinging. They put the Dutch defense on their heels, playing harder, faster, hungrier than their opponents. In the second half, Giovanni Dos Santos hit a ringer outside of the eighteen and brought a nation to its feet. Cantinas across the country exploded. Mexico was going to win. You could feel it. You knew it.
They deserved to win. They were playing so beautifully, so heartfully. But then the Dutch, feeling the pressure of their tournament coming to a close, started attacking. That was when the Memo Ochoa show began. He body-blocked a hard kick from Robben, deflected another ball against the post. But then, with only a few minutes until Mexican victory, the Dutch tied it. Fatefully, in the 94th minute, Robben took what looked like a dive in the box. The referee awarded the penalty. Huntelaar buried it into the corner. Mexico lost. The 100,000 fans who had gathered in the zócalo in Mexico City dispersed within ten minutes. Millions of Mexican were left with a long Sunday to sulk through.
The day before, Chile came out with just as much spirit as Mexico, trying to knock out Brazil. The Roja squad came from behind (after an own-goal), controlled the ball, ran faster, hit harder, out-passed, outran, out-wanted Brazil, and yet the game finished 1-1 after Chile’s Pinilla cracked one against the post in the 90th minute. Another tense, scoreless 30 minutes of overtime, and somehow, even after their first two players missed penalties, Chile still had a chance: Brazilians Willian and Hulk both missed. To tie and force the game into sudden death penalties, Chile’s Gonzalo Jara needed to net one more. But his shot hit the post. Brazil snuck through.
Both of the underplaying favorites, Holland and Brazil, snuck through. The world was not turned upside down. The Goliaths did not fall.
Mexico and Chile were knocked out.
Feeling robbed by fate is part of what makes soccer so thrilling. Simon Critchley compares the sport to Greek tragedy. And what else is Greek Tragedy about than the intervention of fate, than Gods descending from Olympus to blitz, favor, curse, kill, or send our heroes home? Mexicans and Chileans may feel robbed, but this is how the game, and life, unfortunately works. The favorites usually win. The gods are usually cruel. And very few of us, in the end, will be left celebrating.