Archive for July, 2014

How come they win Four World Cups but lose Two World Wars?

Monday, July 14th, 2014

Congratulations to Germany for winning the World Cup for the fourth time and becoming the first European team to win the trophy in the Americas. The only way Argentina could defeat Germany was for Lionel Messi to produce a world class performance that his status as “best player in the world” demands.  Unfortunately he continued his indifferent form from the semi-final and at times looked disinterested.

To add insult to injury, he received the trophy for the player of the tournament which is a travesty. There are at least five players who were more deserving: Muller, Rodriguez, Shweinsteiger, Maschcerano, and Robben. Yes, he scored 4 goals in the group, but did very little to enhance his reputation in the knock out stages.

Both teams had their chances which you expect world class strikers to convert, but the match rumbled onto extra time, and a penalty shoot-out looked inevitable until (Super) Mario Gotze came on as a late substitute and scored the only goal to win the Cup for his country.

Many football writers have claimed that Brazil 2014 deserves the title of best World Cup of all time, but I have to disagree. The group stages provided entertainment and excitement with a record number of goals and some surprising results. However, several teams went into a defensive mode when they reached the knock out stage, and Columbia, Chile and Mexico missed wonderful opportunities to progress by affording their more illustrious opponents too much respect. Not the first time, the final was contested by previous winners which made the later rounds a little predictable.

Anyway, it was an enjoyable World Cup if not a great one, and there were memorable moments:

Quote of the tournament: Ian Darke, ABC commentator on the final: Chancellor Merkel is very familiar with the German players. She has visited them regularly in their dressing room.” Was that with or without their towels?

Best Performance: Without a doubt, Costa Rica who won their group by defeating Italy, Uruguay, and drawing with hapless England.

Biggest shocks: Holland coming back from a goal down and defeating holders Spain in the group stage 5-1, and Germany’s 7-1 annihiliation of Brazil in the semi-final.

Most heroic performance: Tim Howard versus Belgium; literally.

The Villians: Arian Robben for his Olympic diving and Vaudeville acting, Tim Krul for trash talking the plucky Cost Rica penalty takers, and inevitably Luis Suarez for his lame impression of Count Dracula.

The Heart-stopping moment: The instant Colombian defender drove his knee into Neymar’s back putting him out of the tournament destroyed the hopes and dreams of 200 million Brazilians.

The Night they drove Old Dixie Down Moment: The energy, excitement and momentum generated in America during the World Cup all but evaporated when USA were eliminated.

The Crass Moment of the World Cup: Pompous self indulgent FIFA officials making the Argentinian players stand forlornly for 25 minutes after losing the final, so the officials  could preen themselves for the award ceremony.

Players of the tournament: Definitely the camera crew who provided us with regular shots of beautiful women dotted around the stadiums.

The Most Enjoyable game: USA’s 2-2 draw with Portugal. We watched the game at a family reunion in Myrtle Beach, and the support for USA was amazing particularly when a number of family members knew nothing about football let alone soccer!

Most Boring game of the tournament: It has to be the semi-final between Argentina and Holland without a shadow of a doubt.




Feast or Famine

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

Hollywood could not have scripted  two more contrasting semi-finals than we witnessed earlier this week. Germany‘s 7-1 demolition and humiliation of hosts Brazil was breathtaking. The 18 minutes spell in the first half when the Germans scored 5 goals was staggering; silencing thousands of Brazilian shell shocked yellow shirted fans in the stadium and a whole nation in the process. In mitigation, Brazil’s two star players, captain Thiego Silva and talisman Neymar were absent, but their inclusion would have merely reduced the losing margin.

Remarkably, Brazil dominated the opening ten minutes, but once Germany scored their first goal in the 11th minute it was over as a contest. The body language of the Brazilians was so revealing, and any plans the coach had devised to compete against the Germans went out of the window. David Luiz, captain for the day, became the most expensive defender in the world a month ago when he was transferred to Paris St Germain from Chelsea for $85 million. He always plays a little “gung ho,” but he wouldn’t get a game on a Sunday morning local league team following his abject performance against Germany.

Nobody on the Brazilian team acquitted themselves with any semblance of a professional performance. The back four was ripped apart on the flanks, and the German midfield trio, Schweinsteiger, Kloos and Kedheira, poured through the middle at will. Brazil’s midfield was completely overrun by the impressive trio. The question remains: are the Germans that good, and are the Brazilian that bad?

On the day the Germans were ruthless in creating and accepting almost every chance that came their way while the Brazilians were diabolical and failed to perform the basics.

In the other semi-final Argentina and Holland played for 120 minutes (including extra time) and failed to score a single goal between them. Both coaching camps had apparently devised plans to nullify danger men Van Persie and Robben for Holland, and Lionel Messi for Argentina. The plans obviously worked because all three were on the periphery for most of the match. Van Persie did not have a shot on goal, but Robben did manage  some forays in extra time. Messi was reduced to walking pace for most of the match and at times looked disinterested.

He did manage to convert Argentina’s first penalty and set the tone for the shoot out in which they outscored the Dutch by 4-2. Holland’s central defender surprisingly was appointed to take their first penalty and duly missed. It emerged the following day that two of Holland’s designated penalty takers had refused to take the first penalty.

I’m not too sure what to believe about Holland’s coach Luis van Gaal. Many football observers hail him as a tactical genius. Manchester United obviously think so having appointed him as their new manager for the new season. However, they failed to score in the quarter  and semi final matches, relying on the penalty shoot out each  time. They luckily defeated Mexico  with two late goals, one a very dubious penalty via Muff Diver Robben, so I’m not joining the van Gaal bandwagon.

Who will win the final on Sunday? If the results in the semi finals are anything to go by Germany need only to turn up to claim the trophy. Football is a funny old game, Harry, and can be very unpredictable. In the World Cup in 1954 Hungary defeated West Germany 8-3 earlier in the tournament, led 2-0 in the final playing the same opponents, and eventually lost 2-3 to West Germany.

The Germans may have peaked against Brazil while Lionel Messi has one great performance left in him. As an added incentive, if they needed one, Argentina would dearly love to complete Brazil’s humiliation by winning the World Cup in their bitter rival’s backyard. I’m taking Argentina to defy the odds and win a close encounter over a very good German team.

South America versus Europe.

Monday, July 7th, 2014

We are now down to the nitty gritty, and once again it’s the usual suspects. There are four teams remaining in the 2014 World Cup and the semi-finals to be played in the next couple of days are:

Brazil (5 wins) v Germany (3)

Argentina (2) v Holland (finalists 3 times)

Brazil defeated Columbia 2-1 in a bruising encounter and with great cost. Neymar,their superstar in the eyes of the Brazilian adoring public, fractured a vertebrae in his lower back following an unceremonious knee jerk from a Colombian defender, and will miss the rest of the World Cup. They didn’t play like choir boys themselves and kicked lumps out of Colombian striker James Rodriguez.

The quarter finals on the whole were very disappointing,  and didn’t provide the level of entertainment and excitement that we enjoyed during the group stage of matches. Holland scraped through via a penalty shoot out, but didn’t win any friends by allowing their goal keeper to behave like a complete moron. The Dutch Coach sprung a surprise by substituting his goal keeper for the understudy Tim Krol two minutes from the end of extra time who he believed was better at saving penalty kicks. His record in the past three seasons in the Premier League didn’t support the Coach’s theory because he only managed to make 2 saves from 20 spot kicks. Nevertheless he made two saves in the penalty shoot out which gained the upper hand over gallant Costa Rica. Maybe Arsene Wenger will give Joel Campbell a game at Arsenal next season.

Germany showed their usual machine like efficiency against France. They scored early in the 13th minute and placed a strait jacket on their opponents for the remainder of the match. Similarly Argentina scored in the  8th minute to remove the sting early from their opponents. Belgium abjectly managed only one shot on goal compared to the 28 they showered on USA. Different day, different opponent, I guess.

Brazil v Germany could be a classic encounter between two giants of international football comprising 8 World Cup wins between them. Brazil has the advantage of being hosts with fervent fan support. However, a greater loss to the team than Neymar  could be their Captain and star defender Silva who is suspended after receiving two yellow cards. Does Germany have a weakness? They had glaring ones in their back four until the coach made some subtle personnel changes for their quarter final match. Germany’s goal keeper Nuer is arguably the best in the World Cup  and it will take something special to beat him. I’m picking the Sauerkrauts over the Brazil Nuts.

Holland has become more defensive minded since the group stage, and their 5-1 trouncing of holders Spain is a distant memory compared to  the dour encounters they have supplied in the knock out rounds. It is fairly evident that no team deserves to be described as great, but Argentina has the only great player remaining in the World Cup, Lionel Messi. Argentina could also be accused of being unimpressive on their way to the semi-finals, but they now appear to have found their shape and looked and performed like a team in their quarter final against Belgium. The loss of de Maria was a body blow, but I believe the Corn Beef will overcome the Dutch Cheese. Holland’s cynical gamesmanship in the shape of Robben’s incessant diving and Krul’s trash talking has lost them many friends, and it’s time for them to go home.


United States of Anomolies

Monday, July 7th, 2014

I meant to write this post some weeks ago, but was a little distracted by one event or another. I was inspired, if that’s the correct word, by the dubious actions of Barak Obama, commander in chief of the US Armed Forces and weekend golf hacker. Anyway, below is a list  of what I consider American Anomolies:

  • Barak Obama exchanged Sgt Bowe Bergdhal who was held captive by the Taliban for five of their top commanders held at Guantanamo Bay. Don’t you think the exchange ratio is a little unbalanced in favor of the Taliban? Furthermore, six American soldiers were killed attempting to rescue Sgt. Bergdhal. To put icing on the cake of mismatches, Bergdhal allegedly deserted from his outfit.
  • On 4th July every year ESPN televises the annual hot dog eating contest from Coney Beach New York. The winner devoured 61 hot dogs in 10 minutes.  I’m not sure whether the TV executives consider hot dog eating a sport, but it is certainly a repulsive practice which doesn’t deserve any air time.
  • There are four major sports in America. Ice Hockey and Basket Ball are winter sports, but the playoffs and finals are played in June. Alternatively, baseball is a summer pastime, but the World Series is played at the end of October with players having to endure near freezing temperatures.
  • Baseball is obsessed with statistics, more so than the gentlemen’s game of cricket. However the media is obsessed with home runs, and to accommodate them, new stadiums are smaller than their older counterparts to make home run hitting easier. Similarly the pitchers’ mound rises and falls like the Syrian Empire rendering comparisons of stats between the modern era and the Golden Age as meaningless.
  • The fast food Chain” Waffle House” declared they would not be serving “Belgium (not Belgian either)waffles out of respect for the USA when they played Belgium in the quarter final of the World Cup. There’s one teeny weeny issue overlooked here; Waffle House doesn’t sell Belgium (nor Belgian) waffles at any price.
  • Americans don’t get it.204 countries compete in the FIFA World Cup which truly renders it a global affair. Major League Baseball has the World Series in which only two countries (USA and Canada’s sole representative, the Toronto Blue Jays) participate.
  • In the USA a man or woman can serve in the armed forces, die for his/her country, vote for the next president at  the age of 18, but can’t be legally served a drink until the age of 21.
  • Contrary to perceived public opinion, most Americans do not regard the Brits as “bosom buddies” despite being close allies in two World Wars and exchanging rock ‘n roll mantras. Somebody on ESPN recently referred to England as “that little island  nation off the west coast of Europe” which places the “close” relationship in perspective.

The Eight Survivors

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

It just seems like the other day Brazil and Croatia played the opening fixture of World Cup 2014, and here we are at the quarter final stage. The surviving teams provide a mix of cultures from two continents:

  • France v Germany
  • Brazil v Columbia
  • Cost Rica v Holland
  • Belgium v Argentina

Columbia looked the most convincing in defeating Uruguay to reach the quarterfinals. Germany, Argentina and Belgium were taken to overtime to overcome their opponents. Brazil and Costa Rica won on penalties, Holland required two late goals, one a dubious penalty provided by  Olympic diver, Robben,  and France struggled to defeat Nigeria.

There are some intriguing match ups; pitching together two European giants, France and Germany. Anyone with a little knowledge of World Cup history will remember or read about the infamous clash between the two countries in the World Cup 1982. Germany’s goal keeper, Schumacher almost decapitated the advancing Frenchman Patrick Battiston who had fastened onto a through ball provided by the exquisite Michel Platini, and wasn’t even penalized. Schumacher remained on the pitch and helped his team defeat France on penalties.

Two South American teams face each other with a mediocre Brazil  undeniable favorites; mainly because they are the hosts with an overwhelming fan support. Columbia have proved to be the better team in this World Cup, but will they freeze playing against the mystique of five time winners Brazil? Ironically this week is the 20th Anniversary of the murder of Andres Escobar, Columbia’s former captain, who was murdered after his own goal at the World Cup  USA 1994.

Costa Rica have exceeded all expectations. Nobody gave them a cat in hell’s chance of surviving the group stage let alone win it outright against so called football giants England, Italy and Uruguay; combined winners of  the World Cup 7 times . Holland were a little fortunate to defeat Mexico, but every winner needs lady luck and I believe they have too much experience to allow the game to slip from their grasp.

Belgium and Argentina is also tough to call. Lionel Messi’s presence turns the Argies from a good team into a very good one. Belgium has a 100% record in the competition, but haven’t reach their full potential. Belgium can win this one providing they keep Messi quiet. I don’t think they can.

Key players for the quarter finalists:

Brazil: Neymar (4 goals)

Columbia: James  Rodriguez (5)

France: Benzema (3)

Germany: Muller (3)

Costa Rica: Campbell possibly, but it really is a team effort.

Holland: Robben (3) and to a lesser extent Van Persie (3)

Belgium: de Bruyen because Hazard has disappointed so far

Argentina: Messi (4) supported by de Maria.

Special mention must be attributed to Tim Howard for his magnificent rearguard action against Belgium. He made 16 saves, which is a record for a World Cup match, defying the advances of a superior team until the levy was breached in extra time. Nevertheless, strikers win matches while goal keepers save matches, so it’s no coincidence that the key players highlighted above are mainly strikers.

I would love to see Costa Rica win it all, but fairy tales don’t come true in football very often. Columbia have been the most entertaining team to watch, and I wouldn’t begrudge them  a World Cup. Similarly the Beneloux countries Belgium and Holland deserve a  World Cup for all the entertainment they have provided in years gone by. I have yet to see a great  team emerging in this competition, but maybe one of the remaining teams will step out of the shadows over the weekend.

However, I am not allowing my heart to rule my head. Therefore the four teams I believe will reach the semi-finals are: Brazil, Germany, Holland and Argentina.