MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Soccer fans this is it, your weekend. Brazil and the Netherlands face off for third place at the World Cup on Saturday and Germany will play Argentina in the final on Sunday. Millions of fans around the world are expected to tune in for the final matches. We wanted to help you get ready but we also wanted to touch on some of the important stories that have been going on off the field or rather the pitch as they say in soccer as well. Joining us once again from Rio de Janeiro is Ricardo Zuniga. He's Latin America's sports editor for the Associated Press. Ricardo welcome back, thanks for joining us again.
RICARDO ZUNIGA: Hi, Michel. Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Also joining us Greg Howard. He's editor of Deadspin's soccer website Screamer and a writer for Deadspin. Greg, welcome to you as well.
ZUNIGA: Hey Michel, how you doing?
MARTIN: I'm good. So, Ricardo let me start with you 'cause Brazil was really in mourning after that 7-1 defeat by Germany earlier this week. What's the mood like in Brazil now? Are people still interested?
ZUNIGA: I think they've lost a lot of interest in the tournament. Obviously their main goal was to reach the final and not only reach the final but win it all. And after such a demoralizing loss against Germany, it really dampened the mood over here. No one is really interested either in playing or watching this third-place game and the fact that Argentina, Brazil's main football or soccer rival, is in the final is even worse for them. It's like rubbing salt on the wound. So, they will be watching Sunday's final but the interest will be for them to - for Germany to win, even though Germany - beat them so badly, they would rather see Germany win than Argentina.
MARTIN: Well you know, the team faced two enormous hurdles at the later rounds. I mean Neymar badly hurt in the quarterfinals against Columbia, took him out of the tournament. And then the captain, Thiago Silva's suspension. Will Silva be back for the final? Does Brazil have a chance to take third, even though as you said, the kind of, the wind is out of the sails at this point.
ZUNIGA: Yes, Silva is back. He had just a one game suspension because of accumulation of yellow cards. And right now it's up for grabs. That third place match - Netherlands coach, Louis van Gaal, already said after losing to Argentina in the semifinals, that they did not want to play that match. I think Brazil has at least some motivation to win it. So they don't leave the tournament with such a sour taste in their mouths, and they at least leave a good last impression with their fans. So, I think Brazil obviously has some advantage there, they also have an extra day of rest. And you got to remember that the Netherlands played their semifinals on Wednesday. Brazil played theirs on Tuesday. And the Netherlands also played 30 extra minutes. So Brazil has several advantages over the Netherlands for that match.
MARTIN: Greg what's been the big story of the tournament for you?
GREG HOWARD: You know, besides Luis Suarez, I think the Brazil match against Germany and them getting thrubbed(Ph) the way that they did, is probably going to be something people talk about for years actually. I mean, it was the most shocking thing I think anyone has ever seen in the sport.
MARTIN: You know, you mentioned that the Luis Suarez, we're talking about- this the Uruguayan player who was thrown out of the games for biting another player, this is not the first time that he's done this. But you know the uglier side of the game has been on display in this tournament. I mean, the fact that Neymar was hurt so badly because he would kneed in the back and he reportedly couldn't feel his legs after the injury. And then of course there are the concussions, which you also wrote about. Do you think that this might be an inflection moment, where this side of the sport gets more attention?
HOWARD: It's hard to tell, especially with concussions. I mean, I think it's a big story here because of American football but I don't know. I mean, Ricardo probably knows better than I do. If they're talking about concussions in Brazil, in Uruguay where Alvaro Pereira, you know, he's hit on the head and back to that game, really hard. One time he was knocked out and had to - he actually yelled downed the team doctor to put him back in the game. I don't know how it is in the rest of the world but in America I think that's one thing people are talking about. A lot of this is probably due to the fact that we are more aware of the danger of concussions due to American football.
MARTIN: Ricardo what do you think? What do you think? I mean, as we mentioned these kinds of incidents have happened- happen all along. But they - as we mentioned in this country, in the U.S., this has been the most-watched tournament, you know, ever. It's been in huge numbers. Do you think that this kind of worldwide focus on this kind of injury will perhaps be a game changer in some way?
ZUNIGA: Well first of all I agree with Greg, in the fact that with the concussion story, it has been more talked about the states and then over here in Latin America. The football culture in Latin America is very much a macho culture. So for a player to go out of a game because he got, you know, got knocked down and he lost consciousness for a second, they would never do that. So, in a way it's, I guess it's fairly similar to the, what we call American football, quote, unquote, "NFL Culture" in the states. Where, you know, players usually wouldn't come out of a game because they got knocked down. But now they have a concussion protocol over there, which FIFA is supposed to have but they sometimes just don't abide it. Over here like you mentioned the, Alvaro Pereira case with Uruguay. For the Uruguay people and the Uruguay media, they couldn't believe that they were such a big issue, that people were talking about why did they allowed Pereira to go back when for us looking at that from the outside, it was probably obvious that he needed to come out of the game. I'm not really sure this is going to change. It would have a - there would have to be a culture change, not only - because not only the rules, the doctor, the team doctors they have a vested interest in the player going back. They didn't respond to an independent body that oversees the well-being of the players. They respond to the coach and the coach needs that player to go back to the field and the player wants to go back to the field. So like what you said with Pereira in the Uruguay match or like you say with Mascherano in the Netherlands match. Mascherano was also taken after taking a head-to-head hit and he went back on the pitch and actually he played probably his best match of the tournament after that. He saved Argentina from losing at the very last second, when he deflected a (Unintelligible) shot on goal. So, you know, I don't think it's going to change much even though it has gotten a lot of attention.
MARTIN: So let's - Ricardo a couple minutes left. I wanted to get your take on how Brazil has done as host country. As we mentioned the total bill will reportedly be around $11 billion and as one analyst said, that's $1 billion for every goal Brazil scored so far. Before the tournament began, you know, people were very - there was a lot of discussion around whether this was an appropriate use of state dollars, whether this was really worth all the money. What do you think is the sense of it now? What do you think the conversations are going to be after all the visitors leave?
ZUNIGA: Yeah, I think the conversation will be that some of the stadiums that were built were unnecessary and the money spent on them could have been spent on better things for the common people. Especially the four stadiums that are going probably become white elephants and they cost, the total cost for those was $1.6 billion. Those are the ones in Brasilia, Natal, Manaus and Cuiaba. Those four cities, they don't have major professional teams, so they are already looking at what uses they can give to the stadiums. But these are facilities that cost upwards of 300 or $400 million and they're probably going to become white elephants. So in the coming years, as we see these - all these facilities not being used, I think there's going to be some outrage over here on the money spent on the World Cup.
MARTIN: So, Greg let's turn to the final game, Argentina versus Brazil. Germany of course coming off just its pummeling of Brazil - I'm sorry Argentina versus Germany. So what's your take on the final match? Who has the advantage?
HOWARD: I think Germany does. I think they were - they've been the best team in the world for probably the last year and even though, you know, the tournament's been, you know, the tournaments been, you know, a drag for a lot of people especially, you know, you hear people saying that, no great (Unintelligible) in a great performance. But you know, Germany has a better team and they are, they're coming in off a destroying Brazil. I can't look past them over Argentina. Argentina (Unintelligible) this tournament. I think it will be tight for that reason but I really can't imagine any other scenario than Germany dominating the game and, you know, they might win 1-0 or 2-1. I think it'll be close but I think Germany will - they'll dominate the, you know, most of the play and I think they're going to, you know, hoist the trophy up in the end.
MARTIN: Ricardo what about you?
ZUNIGA: Well if I had to pick with my brain, I would pick Germany like Greg does. I'm going to go with my heart and I think the fact that Argentina has the best player in the world, and who is looking to become probably the best player ever and he just needs to win a World Cup, that's Messi . So I'm going to - I say Messi sinks the balance towards Argentina, 1-0.
MARTIN: He does, Messi - you say him alone. So, I guess that he better get wrapped in bubble wrap, right, before - for the weekend and make sure that he's taken care of. Nobody touch him. Nobody with a cold go anywhere near him, right? Ricardo Zuniga is AP's Latin America sports editor. He joined us on the line from Rio de Janeiro. To Greg Howard is the editor of Screamer, that's Deadspin's soccer site. He was with us from New York. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.
ZUNIGA: Thanks for having me, Michel.
HOWARD: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.