MOSCOW (Reuters) - South America will be absent from the World Cup semi-finals for the fifth time in the tournament’s history after the continent’s top players either failed to excel or suffered injuries at key moments during the tournament in Russia.
Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay and Peru all contributed to making the 2018 World Cup one of the most dramatic in history and there was rarely a dull moment when they and their thousands or colourful, vociferous fans were around.
Four out of five of them got through the group stage — a better percentage than Europe where 10 out of 14 teams progressed — and at one point, they rolled off seven wins in a row.
But it all ended in tears as Argentina and Colombia went out in the round of 16, the latter on penalties, while Uruguay and Brazil both lost their quarter-finals on Friday, to France and Belgium respectively.
France proved to be the bogey team for South America as they eliminated Peru in the group stage, Argentina and then Uruguay to remain unbeaten at the World Cup against teams from the continent in 40 years.
In several cases, a few centimetres could have produced a very difficult outcome such as when Thiago Silva hit the post early on against Belgium and when Mateus Uribe struck the underside of the bar with Colombia’s fourth penalty in the shootout against England.
And if any one of Peru’s numerous shots against Denmark had found the target, they could have made the knockout round and then found themselves in the easier half of the draw.
But if there was a recurring theme, it was that there was an over-dependence on big name players who either failed to make the difference or suffered injury at key moments.
The most obvious was Argentina’s Lionel Messi. The 31-year-old, who seems destined never to win the tournament, often looked detached from what was going on around him and did not seem to enjoy his fourth World Cup.
He was burdened by the responsibility of carrying the team and not helped by Argentina’s shambolic defence which leaked nine goals in four games.
But, while Messi was disappointing, Neymar was infuriating.
Brazil’s top player should have come out of the tournament as the victim of FIFA’s permissiveness towards tactical fouling, as he was tripped and pushed by rivals.
But his constant complaining, his theatrical tumbles and repeated attempts to win penalties earned widespread reprobation.
He wasted scoring chances by taking a tumble instead and there were moments when his histrionics distracted the team from the task at hand.
Colombia playmaker James Rodriguez was troubled by a nagging calf muscle injury and missed out on the second round match against England, although Jose Pekerman’s surprisingly negative tactics in that match were as much to blame for their defeat.
Uruguay, a country of 3.3 million people, performed heroically to reach the quarter-finals where they sorely missed the injured Edinson Cavani, who had scored two magnificent goals in the previous round against Portugal.
Without Cavani, his striking partner Luis Suarez was strangely subdued and Uruguay were simply beaten by a better team.
“We won our first four games but that means nothing now,” said coach Oscar Tabarez, who has been in charge since 2006.
“We tried to do the right things in this World Cup but today, our rivals overcame us. We have to recognise that and congratulate them.”
Writing by Brian Homewood, editing by Clare Lovell