SAO PAULO – Sometimes a game is bad because the teams are bad. Sometimes it is bad because the teams are usually good, but they just play bad. And sometimes it's bad because they're too good.
The latter is pretty much what happened on Wednesday, as the World Cup semifinal between Argentina and the Netherlands, the co-second most important game on the planet for the next four years, turned into a snoozefest.
Argentina clinched a spot in Sunday's final and was mightily grateful for it, but it didn't power its way over the line. Instead, it backed in at a snail's pace after winning 4-2 on penalty kicks after a 0-0 tie following extra time. The Argentines will play for the world title against Germany having scored two goals in 5½ hours of play during the knockout phase.
Before the thrills and spills of the shootout – which featured Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero's heroics – the game looked like the worst semifinal ever. It was certainly the first scoreless semi in World Cup history.
As for the Dutch, the team that was swashbuckling in Group B with 10 goals in three games, they head home having failed to hit the net in their last four hours of action.
In case you need a reminder, Germany racked up four goals in six minutes in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday, seven total. Perhaps that destruction of Brazil 24 hours earlier used up the semifinal round's allocation of offense. Perhaps there were nerves. Perhaps no one wanted to face the Germans.
Whatever the reason, this was pretty painful to watch.
"We didn't create very much. In all of the other matches, we created a lot more chances," Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal said. "Now, that says a lot about us and it says a lot about them.
"Van Persie, Robben, Messi, Aguero, Lavezzi … despite all the great players on the field, there weren't many chances. And that speaks to the tactical brilliance on both sides."
I'm not one of those soccer haters who will whine and gripe every time it is a low-scoring game. I am a lifelong soccer lover, and while goals are what make the sport tick I can appreciate a tight, defensive contest, provided it has a reasonable share of chances and some excitement, pace and energy.
That wasn't the case here. This was a game of outstanding technical efficiency and brilliant passing. And not a whole lot more.
"We had clearer possibilities to get a score, but it was probably a deserved result," Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said.
Both Argentina and the Netherlands controlled the ball brilliantly, stringing together pass after pass and effortlessly maintaining possession in a way that Jurgen Klinsmann's United States, for example, can only dream of.
But the passing took place in their own half or in midfield. Once things got to where it was more crowded and more organized, the attacks on both sides inevitably broke down. Time and time again.
That is where the bit about being too good comes in. There was simply no way through either backline. Each defense had numbers to cover with the timing and poise to intercept and ready to move over in support.
Either team could have taken a more aggressive approach, thrown more men forward and allowed itself less protection. Yet by doing so, the teams would have put themselves at a severe disadvantage. How did that ploy work out for Brazil?
In the modern game, the very best teams in the world counterattack with such speed and mastery that it really demands a strong measure of caution. This tournament's group stage was wonderful for all its goals, 136 of them in all, only nine fewer than the entire 2010 tournament and the most since the event went to a 32-team format in 1998. But things slowed down as soon as it got to the round of 16 as the safety-first mentality kicked in.
Argentina doesn't care about style points right now. It is going to the final and has a shot at winning its third World Cup.
But let's hope for something more exciting, more fitting and more explosive Sunday at Maracana Stadium. Soccer, and this tournament, deserves that.