Monday, July 28, 2014

The pressure on Lionel Messi

There was a very interesting article in Semana on Lionel Messi (it is in Spanish). It is about how the pressure on a shy young kid, who only wanted to enjoy playing football, is destroying the talent of this player. And as with myself, the writer admits that all of us football fans are to blame for this pressure on this young boy. And of course FIFA, who need their trained monkey for their selfish circus.
And like the article says: Maradona was the first player who refused to be their monkey, and he denounced them as corrupt power hungry despots, and for that he was denounced, when all he said was the truth.
Lionel Messi: please start enjoying football again!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Brazilian dinosaur

Brazilian football suffered a terrible humiliation in this World Cup, and with the exit of Scolari it was perhaps time to find some renewal in Brazilian football.
Not so. Brazil has not learned, and seems determined to continue its slide further down the modern and beautiful game, and losing more of its many admirers.
The new national team coach is Dunga, who as captain in 1994 symbolized the modern Brazilian player: hard working, physically strong and with a hard kick, but with little technique and flair. Dunga would have been a great Scottish player in the 1980s.
And Dunga has already coached Brazil: in 2007 he coached them when they won the Copa America, playing a style of football that Brazil is becoming infamous for: destroying the opposition's rhythm with a lot of small fouls and purely going after goals on set-pieces. The exact recipe that has stopped working because Brazil has stopped producing players that could play like Spain or Germany.
Be sure that under Dunga we will see more of the same negative football from Brazil, who may risk more humiliation in the coming 2015 Copa America, and perhaps even in the World Cup qualifiers.
Could it be a World Cup without Brazil??
Too early to tell...
Nevertheless, Brazil is like a dinosaur that refuses to change and learn from the outside. One would have thought that Germany had given the Brazilians a footballing lesson, but like a stubborn old man, Brazil refuses to learn.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Top ten best things of the World Cup

I guess after getting annoyed and writing a negative post on the bad things of the World Cup yesterday, I should write one of the best things of the World Cup, in my personal view.

10. Seeing friends and family during this World Cup: For me this World Cup was an excuse to travel and enjoy with friends and family, and I did so shamelessly. I saw the best people in the world in Rome, Brussels, S-Hertogenbosch, London, Copenhagen, Viborg, Nyborg, Berlin. I am the luckiest person in the world.
9. Faryd Mondragon: When the Colombian goalkeeper entered the pitch against Japan it was a beautiful gesture by coach Pekerman, and Mondragon went on to become the oldest player that has ever played in a World Cup. And he even made a save!
8. Algeria: A marvelous team, clever tactically, with great spirit. They gave us a wonderful display against South Corea and then took on the later World Champions of Germany in a match that they could have won. And their fans were amazing!
7. Tim Howard: I was not that impressed about USA not taking many risks in their matches, if not for their organization and goalkeeping. But they survived attacking waves by the Belgians because of "Secretary of Defense" Tim Howard, who amid a lot of brilliant goalkeepers in this tournament, had the most memorable match.
6. Memorable Goals: James Rodriguez goal against Uruguay, Tim Cahill's goal against the Netherlands and Robbie Van Persie's first goal against Spain stand out as the most memorable and fantastic goals of the tournament. I cannot choose between them.
5. Miroslav Klose: The German striker has gone over to the history books by becoming the most scoring player of all time in a World Cup. It was ironically in the trashing of Brazil that he scored the goal with which he beat Ronaldo.
Klose is not as brilliant as some of the players he has beaten, but he is a steady, solid, modern striker, and a fantastic person, a true gentleman of the game, of which there are few today.
Miroslav Klose is and will remain one of the greatest ever.
4. Costa Rica: The moral champions of the tournament, without expectations, they defeated two former World Champions, tied England to win the "group of death", and then was only eliminated in penalty kicks by the Netherlands after fighting like warriors and with a fantastic goalkeeper in Keylor Navas (who seems to be going to Real Madrid). They ended the tournament undefeated in ordinary games.
3. German and Argentine fans: Great fans know this is a game. The banter is there along with the mutual respect despite the emotions of the match. During this tournament I met Argentine and German fans, and they all rocked. And the atmosphere they created for the tournament's final was great. They are both champions.
2. Germany: Fantastic, fantastic. They played great, but also had to fight when it counted, like against Ghana or Algeria. A team of world records; the first Europeans to win the World Cup in South America. The trashing of Brazil has already gone over to history; it is still unbelievable. 
1. Brazilians: Surely the Brazilian football team was the worst in history. But Brazilians do not need to win in football to be the best in the world!
Despite their government, FIFA, and all the problems ordinary Brazilians face in their everyday life, they welcomed the world with their warmth, kindness and happiness, and that is why the World Cup was a success!
Brazilians rock.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Top ten worst things of the World Cup

I am back to my dull and boring life. Without anything useful to do besides changing a flat tire on my car, I have reflected on the top ten worst things of this world cup. There was a lot of shit to consider, from the social problems in Brazil that perhaps became more prominent during the World Cup. But more directly related to the tournament these are the ten worst (and believe me, it was not easy to limit it to ten):

10. Unfair play: Yes, there were a lot of dirty plays in the world cup. Diving; elbows; kicks. One thing is that the referees allowed it. Another is that FIFA did not discipline any player besides Luis Suarez. This World Cup was one step back from fair play, which had otherwise been improving since the horrible 1990 World Cup.

9. The Golden Boot to Lionel Messi: I do not know if Messi wanted it, but he received it. I do know that FIFA were completely disconnected with the rest of the world in giving it to a player that may have had a fine tournament, but played without heart or passion in most games. Messi is a great player, but he is what Samuel Eto'o once described him as: "a Playstation player". He is a machine. And many more players deserved that prize than him. In my opinion Arjen Robben, Javier Mascherano and Toni Kroos all deserved it more.

8. Spain: Perhaps not so much Spain as their coach, Vicente del Bosque, who chose an old side, bet on the wrong players, did not study his opponents, had no tactical responses, and did not resign his post. Luis Felipe Scolari is perhaps the only other coach who compares in poor management at the World Cup.

7. Luis Suarez: enough said. He bit an opponent! The FIFA punishment was fair enough considering what he did, albeit unfair in its inconsistency.

6. Referees: Referees were bad. Not in the sense that they were decisive for any matches (although Brazil had some help in some matches, but it was not decisive I believe), but they were consistently bad, with little authority, allowing players too much very often, and punishing at the wrong times. Spray or goalline technology (did we really have to wait to 2014!?) hardly helped. The first card for diving was given to Oscar in the penultimate match of the tournament in a situation when there was no diving! The referee between Colombia and Brazil allowed the match to degenerate. I know referees have it hard: but they choose to be there, and they should be the first in making recommendations for making the game better!

5. Brazilian defense: Of course Luis Felipe Scolari is the first responsible for what happened to Brazil. But at the same time one has to wonder what happened to defenders who play in Chelsea, Paris St. Germain, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid... Against both Germany and Netherlands the Brazilians defended as if they had never put their foot on a football pitch.
David Luiz' was one of the worst performances I have ever seen, while I frankly think I could have played better than Marcelo. The defensive midfielders were also pathetic, most of all Fernandinho. While the Brazilian fans took it out on Fred, they should perhaps have thought of taking it out on any defender.

4. Tickets: It was a labyrinth to get ticket to games at this world cup. And FIFA insisted tickets had to be bought through them; that no other sellers were authorized. And then it turns out that FIFAs own ticket agency is part of a ticket scam!?!? That a guy staying in the same hotel as FIFA executives is arrested for ticket scamming!?!? Empty seats in first round matches that were apparently sold out, and many opportunities for re-selling despite FIFAs denial. What about creating an honest and transparent system?

3. Sexism: this should belong further down in the list if one takes into consideration the abuses of sex workers in Brazil. But here I just want to focus on the fact that while racism may be unacceptable, sexism is not. This world cup saw commentators, sponsors, fans, players objectifying and degrading women.
Discriminating against women, of any race, religion or nationality, is apparently ok. At least in this, FIFA is consistent

2. Nationalism: I will repeat myself. Too many people who don't know a thing about football watch it because of their petty nationalism and desires to express it and be prejudiced against other people. These are also the bad losers, who invent conspiracy theories about referees, FIFA and so on (the referees and FIFA are just other idiots!), to justify their defeats. They delight in being xenophobic and discriminatory; in players from opposing teams getting hurt (I was particularly disgusted by some Colombians making fun of Neymar's injury. I would have thought that the country that saw Andres Escobar die because of football, would know better as to delight in others' pain).
Sadly, my impression is that Nationalism, of the bad kind, is becoming worse and worse in a world that is more globalised. While players across countries are friends because they play in same teams, fans are busy building ever bigger barriers between themselves.
In the next World Cup we will see people die because of Nationalism...

1. FIFA: Granted that FIFA does get a lot of bad press, and that the press is not always fair. However, FIFA doesn't want to change; doesn't want to be accountable! They can ask Brazil to change laws about serving beers in stadiums but cannot distance themselves from eviction of people from their homes because of a World Cup? They can say a lot of things about respect and tolerance when they do not practice many of the things themselves. They can discipline a player like Suarez because of the press, but cannot discipline players for violence. They do not respect women, normal football fans, or players, but want respect themselves (respect is something your earn!). They have thousands of volunteers and government workers to do most of the hard work, while they themselves live in million dollar hotels and apparently get money from obscure Qataris?
The beautiful game is beautiful despite FIFA. I am afraid FIFA will one day make it as ugly as itself.

I got angry from writing this!

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Day After the World Cup: Football Hangover

I had really wanted to go to this World Cup, but unable to get a ticket I did not go. Still, I enjoyed as much as I could, taking vacation for the entire tournament, traveling to seven countries and seeing matches in Liberia, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, England and Denmark. I spent time with great friends, met a lot of people, discussed football, cheered and celebrated no matter who won.
It was a lot of fun. And in the end the World Cup is and should be about that: fun and celebration.
Too many people take it too seriously. And this was surely one of the things I disliked a lot about this world cup: many people, who never bother to watch football between World Cups, got overly excited about the tournament. Too often people had opinions about matches that were more borne out of prejudices and conspiracy theories and not at all on football knowledge.

This World Cup was not bad. I do not share the opinion of those who say it was one of the best. It had some drama, moments and a couple of historical matches, but only a few more than the previous three world cups. It was a far cry from 1986, better than 1990 and 1994, and barely a bit better than 1998.
There were many goals in the first round, but not that many absolutely brilliant ones. Too many goals were from set-pieces or defensive errors. The knock-out rounds were more disappointing, with many teams that did not risk much in the offense (Netherlands, Argentina, USA, Costa Rica, Greece...). In my view only Germany and Colombia, and to a lesser degree Chile and Mexico, offered anything close to entertainment and willingness to take risk. In the end this is perhaps because of the disappointing performance of teams that we expected so much more from: Spain, Portugal, and most of all Brazil.
In the end it is a sad thing to remember this World Cup for: The worst humiliation ever of the great Brazilians. We will all keep speculating about what happened, but it did not give me any sense of satisfaction.

In the end I think this World Cup has further confirmed what I knew already: the four-year event is a show appealing to nationalist passions, and the drama it engenders is the only reason for the event.
In footballing terms it has lost its way.
The best football is what you see in the big European leagues. Club football out-shined national football a long time ago.
And the majority of players, global citizens of today, also know this...

As a spectacle for football fans the World Cup is also losing its way: this was not the world cup of football fans, but of rich nationalistic blood suckers of the people. Greed and power rules FIFA, who showed their enormous distance to fans by its inconsistent disciplinary standards, giving prizes where they were not justified, and inexcusable excuses for excesses.
FIFA not only exists in a glass house; that glass house is on another world, totally disconnected from what happens on planet Earth.
But the show must go on. And the show will be on again in Russia in four years...

Germany World Champions

In what was surely one of the greatest footballing feats of all time when Germany won the World Championship in Brazil. It compares to the great victory of the Germans against Hungary in 1954 at "The Miracle of Bern", but this was less a miracle than a foreseen victory of what proved to be the result of hard work and skills.
When the tournament began all odds were against a European side in South America, but the Germans were the best prepared team, tactically, physically and mentally, as well as the only team that combined clever tactics with skills and flair. On their way to the final they did have some problems against Ghana and Algeria. Against Ghana they played what remains the best match of the tournament, but they defeated some of the great teams of the tournament in style, such as Portugal, France and most notably Brazil.
In the last-16 match against a wonderful Algeria the German's high defensive line was exposed. Argentina also tried to take advantage of this, but with an Higuain who cannot score, a Sergio Aguero without skills and a Lionel Messi who seemed to want to be somewhere else, Argentina forgave the chances that came their way. Although 0-0 it was not a bad match; there were chances on both sides, spirited fight, intensity with fair play and tactical confrontation.
Like four years ago it had to be in extra time when one player outshone the rest: Mario Gotze, who at a young age already shined for Borussia Dortmund, gave Germany their deserved title with a splendid goal. I only wish I had been back in Berlin, where I watched a few matches in this World Cup, celebrating with the many great German fans!

Two matches in this tournament are bound to go over in history (and become part of my list of greatest matches): Germany's trashing of Brazil in the semifinal and this final.

The great Germans

I am a bit hungover right now. But just want to say that Germany are the right champions, the best team in the world, the greatest fans in the world, and I am delighted they won, if only a bit disappointed Argetina lost.
But losing to a great team is never a shame.
The only shame was that Lionel Messi got the golden ball. A joke, and an insult to many great players in the tournament.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The final: Germany

Germany has us all in awe. As a football fan they are impossible not to like. And I like them. Had it not been that they are playing Argentina, I would probably have been supporting them against anyone else.
It has been a joy to watch Germany develop its football over the last 12 years. They threw away the tight discipline and hierarchies that had given them so much in the 20th century, and developed a football that fit into the Germany of the 21st century; organized and tactically well-founded, but at the same time with flair and offensive pressure. They took the best of the Spanish tiki-taka and assimilated it into the German style, something that Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich have been practicing.
Watchers of the German league will know that it is a league with a lot of attacking, goals, and young talent. In the early 2000s German football implemented a plan to develop youth talents with a  focus on skills rather than muscle. The mayor clubs all signed up for it, and the result was a wave of European u-17 and u-21 titles. In 2009 they won the u-21 European championship in awesome style defeating England 4-0 in the final. Six players from that team are playing today: Ozil, Khedira, Neuer, Howedes, Hummels and Boateng (as an anecdote, Fabian Johnson, now playing for USA, was also part of that team).
At the same time they have some of their former greats in Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinsteigger, who both played the World Cup final of 2002, and so they build bridge between the old and new Germany.

Germany have been splendid throughout: they started with a complete trashing of Portugal, which was basically enough to win them the group, despite struggling against Ghana and winning 1-0 against the USA in a match where the Americans were more than happy to be defeated. They struggled against Algeria, who showed some of the German weaknesses, but were then systematic in defeating France with relative ease (the French never really threatened them), and then the historic trashing of Brazil has made them the best team of the tournament.
The Germans know they are favorites, but they also know they need to concentrate against a well-organised Argentine side with players who can decide a match in a moment of brilliance. Mats Hummels has been a fantastic defender ahead of Manuel Neuer, whom I rate as the best keeper of the tournament (closely followed by Sergio Romero). Phillipp Lahm should be back as right full back, with Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteigger and Toni Kroos, supporting the flow of Ozil and Thomas Muller, surely form the best midfield of the tournament, and could completely dominate the Argentine midfield, although it is not likely they will penetrate as easily the Argentine lines as they did with Brazil.
Germany must remain concentrated to win. If anyone can do it, it is the Germans. At the same time, they could lose, but if they do, they should still be admired for what they have done.

As an Argentina fan, I will be disappointed, but know there is no shame to be defeated by such a splendid Germany, and I would celebrate with all German fans!

The final: Argentina

I support Argentina and I am wearing my Argentina shirt today. It will be a long-held dream to see them again lift the trophy, as I still remember their last triumph with nostalgia. 1986; when football became my passion.
That said, I have been very critical of their play in this tournament. They are not that offensive side that many expected with the players they have. Perhaps it is understandable: this tournament has proven that headless attack is not a way to go, and Argentina has unfortunately, much before the tournament, been struggling with defensive weakness. In fact, I always thought that defensive weakness would be their problem. However, they have proven far better, if not careful, in defense. Marco Rojo and Martin Demichelis have been surprisingly solid, and Sergio Romero in goal has been one of their best players. Besides this Javier Mascherano has come out as one of the best players of the tournaments, playing splendidly as a holding midfielder.
The apparently strong attacking has been more of a problem. While we have seen glimpses of brilliance in Lionel Messi, he still looks tired, far from his best form, where he would be fearful to the Germans (remember his five goals against Bayer Leverkusen in 2012?). Sergio Aguero's eternal injuries has made him into a non-player in the tournament; not only absent, but even poor when he has come in. Ezequiel Lavezzi has been a better replacement, and worked harder in the last matches than in the first, where he seemed to think he was still on vacation. The same came be said of Gonzalo Higuain, who worked like a horse against the Dutch and scored the winner against Belgium. However, Higuain is still a poor striker; he was in Real Madrid, and he still is one who needs ten chances to score a goal. You don't get ten chances in a World Cup final!
Angel Di Maria has been one of the better Argentines, and his absence will be felt, although Benfica's young Enzo Perez has been a strong replacement. He does not provide the same offensive prowess as DiMaria, but has given the defensive midfield depth, giving space to the attackers.

Although I support Argentina, Germany are big favorites. But they do have weaknesses, and the team that exposed them most in this tournament were none other than Algeria, a side that fought bravely and had a style that is somewhat similar to Argentina.
Germany has played the entire tournament with a high defensive line. This also gave Ghana golden opportunities in the first round, and forced the brilliant Manuel Neuer to play almost as a sweeper. It worked but it was risky. Throughout the tournament, Argentina has faced very compact back lines that have given little space to their strikers, perhaps except for Nigeria. The Argentines do have the potential to exploit the high German defensive line.

Anything can happen in a final! I hope Argentina wins, but know it will have to be the match of their lives! The Germans are an amazing team!

The worst Brazil ever and the great Dutch

Too many people will be saying this for years to come: this is the worst Brazil side in history. I really thought that it could not get any lower than the 1-7 loss. While they may "only" have lost 0-3, the lack of commitment, belief, ideas, not to say a complete lack of basic defensive skills, were appalling to watch. A disgrace.
After apologizing for the defeat to Germany they should have shown better against the Dutch, but they did not, and no apology should be accepted.
It is sad for Brazilian football, and as I have said before, I hope they can recover, not least for their fans, who showed true greatness by clapping the Dutch players off. 
Most fans in the world would not have done that.

In the meantime, congratulations to the Dutch! I experienced their fantastic fans and support firsthand during this World Cup, and for that I will always be a fan of their side, even though I am still disappointed that we are not seeing more of the marvelous Dutch of yesteryear. This is a more cynical and result-oriented football.
Lucky for them it is impossible not to love the orange fans!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The disappointer's final

Netherlands and Brazil will be facing none another in the unnecessary fight for third place in this year's world cup. For both sides this is a huge disappointment considering their expectations before the tournament, but they can really blame nobody else.
Brazil is there after crashing wildly on the expectations and their lack of preparation and focus. The humiliation by the Germans could give the players an incentive to try to get a bit of honor. On the other hand the huge level of disappointment at not playing the final could result in a poisonous lack of motivation.
The Dutch started the tournament flying against Spain, but steadily worsened. Already in their second match they struggled to defeat Australia. In their third match they played cynically to defeat a Chile side that was not nearly as good as people said. The Dutch then made it to the semifinal with a controversial win and an unimpressive penalty win against Mexico and Costa Rica respectively. Against Argentina they were unable or unwilling to take a risk and only had one meager shot on target.
With the offensive traditions and capabilities of Dutch football, this World Cup has continued the Dutch national team slide into boring result-oriented football that we saw in 2010. One of the most likable teams in the world has become one of the least unlikeable defensive side in the world.

The match today will be the fifth time the two sides are facing one another. In 1974 they played for the first time in a match where the Dutch won 2-0, exposing a violent and poor Brazilian side. This in fact led to a revision of Brazilian approach to youth development that still resonates today.
In 1994 they played what is perhaps the best match between them in the quarterfinal. Brazil was ahead but Netherlands equalized to 2-2, before the great Branco scored on an angry free kick to give Brazil the victory.
In 1998 both sides met again in the semifinals, in a match that went into penalty kicks. With Cocu and Ronald de Boer missing for the Dutch, Brazil made it to the final against France, which until recently remained their heaviest World Cup defeat!
The two sides lastly met in the quarterfinal of the 2010 World Cup. Netherlands came back from being 1-0 down to winning 1-2 on two strikes by Wesley Sneijder. The Dutch did not win many friends and went on to lose the World Cup final to Spain 1-0.

The match for bronze between Brazil and the Netherlands today, will be between two sides that have strayed away from their football roots; two sides that after being admired for decades, are now largely seen as shadows of their former selfs. I hope that I am not the only football fan out there that hopes that the match today will be the first step in both sides returning to their former glory, and to the admiration of football fans all over. Football Total and Jogo Bonito have given the world of football so much that I hope they return to their roots.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Another comment on Brazil

The 1-7 debacle of Brazil against Germany will be discussed in and out for a long time. I still find it hard to believe: yes, Brazil were looking weak; yes, Brazil have not played beautiful football for many years; yes, many teams have done more to develop the game for a long time; yes, Germany are strong...
But all these things do not explain the pounding they received.
The legendary Zico made a strong comment on the match:

Implicit in this is a certain arrogance by Brazilians, but also the immense pressure they put the players under. Players who play for great clubs in the best leagues, but who were drugged with the adrenaline of nationalism and expectations, and could not focus on what they were there for.
In 1974 Brazil lost to the Netherlands and concluded that they needed to change their game, make it more "European", physical and result-oriented. This did lead to results. But the problem is that the 1994 and 2002 World Cup titles led Brazil to forget their footballing roots. Their identity should not just be about winning, but also about playing with the beauty and joy that Brazilians have in life.
Other great football powers have a clear idea of what they are and what they want to be. Brazil has lost that.
On and off the pitch Brazil is changing. It is such a wonderful country with such wonderful people, and I think they will find their way back, even though it will take some soul-searching and link back to their roots, just like Zico says in the article.

Forca Brazil!

Day 28 of the World Cup: Copenhagen, Denmark

Denmark did not qualify to the World Cup, but this has not dented world cup fever in this small Scandinavian country. In fact, it is nice to see the world cup with fans without a dog in the fight, who nevertheless understand the passion and enjoy to discuss the game.
On top of all this, it was a lovely sunny day in Copenhagen; one of those days where the streets are full of music, beer drinking, beautiful women and cheerful crowds. No city in the world is as wonderful as Copenhagen on a day like yesterday. It was the perfect build-up for the semi-final.

I must admit that after yesterday's Brazilian debacle (it is still hard to believe) I was not optimistic regarding Argentina's prospects in the semifinal against the Dutch. The Argentines have given a lot of space and have taken pace out of their matches. It seemed to me that Europe would totally conquer South America.
So that is why I decided to play it safe and not wear my Argentina shirt (four years ago I wore it for the Argentina-Germany quarterfinal in a bar full of Germans in Brussels, and that was not a good experience).
After the great day I went with a group of friends to watch the match at a beautiful area by the harbor of the city called Islands Brygge. This is where Danish TV, Danmarks Radio (DR), has set up a World Cup fan area with giant screens and beer sales. It is from there that the DR football pundits, led by the former player Peter Moller, comment on the matches.
This has also, during the tournament, become the place to watch matches with fans of all nationalities coming through Copenhagen. Yesterday was no exception with a large crowd of orange Dutchmen and another large crowd of noisy and partying Argentines, who sang and screamed their way through the match. I could not help to get more and more smitten by their passion, and was fully immersed in the match as it progressed.

The Dutch have been strange in this tournament. After their flying start against the Spanish World Champions, they became steadily worse throughout the tournament: it was as if the fear of losing won the farther they got, playing more defensively and lacking creativity in attack. We saw it in their controversial last minute win over Mexico and their disappointing 0-0 with the Costa Ricans, where they continuously ran into off-sides.
Against Argentina they did not seem to have improved, although a strong Argentine defense, that has grown throughout the tournament, must be credited. Javier Mascherano played a fantastic match as holding midfielder, and hopefully Barcelona is watching.
Argentina were indeed the better team, creating the few chances of a very tactical match. In the end it was the first 0-0 semi-final in World Cup history (we have had two historic semi-finals!), and penalty kicks were perhaps predictable. 
Argentina have always been good at penalties, and this time looked as good as every other, with Sergio Romerio saving two penalties. The Monaco keeper has been one of the stars of Argentina in this tournament, and hopefully he will find a new club and get more games after the tournament.
Yes, Argentina play boring, but this is not equal to playing badly. Rather it means that the Argentines do not risk much. And when their (for some) fearsome offensive power is marked closely, as it has been throughout the tournament, they look boring. 
But they are in the World Cup final; without playing violently, without referee help, without controversy. It has all been about hard work, concentration and consistency for Argentina. Germany are favorites after their trashing of Brazil. But this is not to say Argentina are without chances, and that Germany should underestimate them. Argentina will work hard and fight to the last drop to get the title in Brazil.

And I will be wearing my Argentina shirt for the final.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

European rule

Brazil being destroyed 1-7 was beyond everything that could be imagined could happen to Brazil. It is so beyond belief one cannot help but think of some kind of match fixing...
But ok, this was without a doubt the poorest Brazil side in history. Some players today were an utter disgrace for the proud yellow shirt; Fred continued to be a joke; Marcelo did not put one foot right; David Luiz must be causing nerves in Paris; Dante... Well, he does play in Munich...
What a joke! 
This match will likely lead to serious soul searching in Brazil, who over the last decades has given up on its football identity to be more result-oriented; to be more like Europe.

Now, why wouldn't they want to be more like European teams? This match is proof that the World Cup belongs in Europe. This is likely to be an all-European final. South American football has more trouble looking for results and fighting against each other than to threaten European dominance.
7-1 was something far beyond a German victory. It showed that the future of football is in Europe and in the USA, which is adopting Germany's style under Klinsmann.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Brazil-Germany: the evolution of the game

Brazil and Germany are the two most winning sides in the history of the World Cup. Brazil have played six finals and won five. Germany have also played six finals, and won three. The final of 2002 was between these two sides, and it was surprisingly also the first time that the two sides met in a World Cup!
In 2002 Brazil won 2-0 to become world champions.
It is therefore a special match tonight as the two greatest footballing nations in terms of history play one another for a place in the final at a World Cup in Brazil.
And the German have every reason to be optimistic: they have played well if not spectacularly, pacing themselves with the tournament. They are confident and well prepared physically and tactically.
In the meantime pressure is growing on the Brazilians, who must also be feeling a bit of nerves having lost two of their best players for the semifinal: Neymar is out with his fractured vertebrae and Thiago Silva is out with a suspension. Neymar has been the creative player for the Brazilians while Thiago Silva has held the feeble defense together. It seems Dante will now play alongside David Luiz in central defense. Dante, from Bayern Munich, will know the Germans well, but the Germans will also know that while both Dante and David Luiz are great players, they sometimes have a tendency to make silly mistakes.
One mistake can be decisive.

Brazil has been criticized a lot for not playing "Samba" football. Many people have short memories. When did Brazil play the style that they became famous for last time? In my view 1986, with the last breath of the team that had delighted the world with a stunning team, if not a somewhat naive 4-2-2-2 lineup that the clever Italians knew how to handle in the now legendary 1982 match.
In 1994 when Brazil became world champions for the first time since 1970, they certainly did not play entertaining football in any way. Instead, they were defensive, with holding midfielder Dunga in a central position and depending on Romario's incredible scoring abilities.
In 2002 Brazil almost did not qualify, and midway through the tournament Scolari decided to substitute Emerson in the midfield with the more offensive Kleberson, who gave Brazil more offensive depth and fed balls to Ronaldo. It was offensive efficiency, well played, but still not the type of samba we connect Brazil with.
Scolari is a clever man. He knows that you cannot waltz your way to a title, but you need cynicism as well. And certainly against Colombia he showed that he can play tough as well. But of course, with the pressure they are under, Brazil cannot afford to throw everything into playing football that pleases the eye. This Brazil rather plays on getting the free kick balls, a solid defensive, and occasional burst of brilliant creativity. This is much more what many connect with the Germans of yester-years. And ironically, the Germans are perhaps playing a more offensive game, more reminiscent of Brazil in 2002, than Brazil itself!

As everything in the world (and most people seem to be ignorants of this), football evolves. Brazilian and German football have both evolved into something different than they were in 1970, 1982 or 2002. That is part of the fascination of football.

Monday, July 07, 2014

RIP Alfredo di Stefano

Alfredo di Stefano, one of the greatest players of all time, has just signed for the team of angels in heaven, where he will play along other of the greats, but will surely be among the greatest.
Alfredo Di Stefano was born in Argentina, and developed his skills in one of greatest football generations ever, when Argentina in the 1940s had developed some of the best football in the world at the time. He won two leagues with River Plate before going to Millionarios, in Colombia, where he also got a few matches in their national team.
He finally went to Real Madrid, where the legend was born. Twice European player of the year, he also led Real Madrid to five European champions titles, scoring in five finals in a row.
After his retirement he was both a pundit and manager for various teams, and ended as honorary president of Real Madrid. 
Alfredo di Stefano was not only one of the best players the world has seen. He was a man of the world, having played for three national teams that he never forgot, but showed that love for peoples and countries does not have borders. He knew football moved passions, but that it is nothing more than a game. From this came his strong sense of humility and fair play.
At a time when we are playing a World Cup that contains the worst elements of nationalism, narrow-minds, greed and filth, the memory of Alfredo di Stefano should remind us of what football should really be about: a beautiful game between friends.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Fantas-Tico warriors are out

Nobody expected Costa Rica to get this close to a semifinal. It took penalty kicks for the Dutch to defeat the Ticos, who held on to 0-0 with hard fight and commitment. No teams have fought their hearts out like the Ticos. If teams like Spain, England or even Argentina fought just a fraction of what the Ticos do, they would be title contenders.
That said, Netherlands deserved to be in the semifinal from a purely football perspective. While Arjen Robben's antics and diving may be disgusting, he creates a lot, and is proving one of the best of the tournament. And this has nothing to do with him being dislikeable. Many people do unfortunately not distinguish.
At one point Costa Rica only had the great Keylor Navas and luck to not get behind in the face of Dutch attacks. At the same time the Dutch attack was poor in the sense that they did not know the off- side rule (the Netherlands has never in their World Cup history had so many off-sides called). Also the defense looked quite ordinary in the face of the few Costa Rican attacks.
Louis Van Gaal is perhaps one of the tactical geniuses of the tournament; he is surely a genius compared to Alejandro Sabella, whose only tactical order is "pass it to Messi". That is why the Netherlands are huge favorites against Argentina. On the other hands the Dutch have shown defensive vulnerabilities which a great team could exploit. 
But could Messi do that? (and the reason I don't mention any of the other Argentina players is because they could only if they fought like Costa Ricans, but they seem totally unable to do that).

But Costa Rica is out. No matter what, this tournament will be remembered for Costa Rica. The World Champions of Spirit, Commitment and Sportsmanship. 
And that is the only real World Champion. 

Argentina in the semifinals

Argentina are in the semifinals after defeating Belgium 1-0 on an early goal by Gonzalo Higuain. Although Argentina played well the first half hour, second half saw them holding to the result, defending well against a rather toothless and disappointing Belgian side.
So Argentina did not impress, but have now made it the furthest they have made it in a World Cup since 1990. They will be seriously weakened though: Angel DiMaria went out with an injury and will be out for the remainder of the tournament. With Aguero out as well, Argentina will miss more pace. They already play very slow and players other than Messi are not keen to take on more responsibility.
I can still not get Argentina making it, but they have made it this far, and with this I only become more hopeful...

Day 23 of the World Cup: London, England

After a lovely day without football (there is a life!) in Paris, I took the famous train under the English channel to make it to London, England, to see fantastic friends.
Of course, since England was eliminated, there has been much less interest in the tournament, and there was a certain resignation, although the interest for the World Cup remains unabated in the country that, despite it all, remains the home of football.
I watched both quarterfinal matches in Brixton, a lively and diverse neighborhood in the lively and diverse city of London. 
Germany-France is a match between two sides that England would like to compare themselves to, but in the current state of the game, are actually quite inferior to. The clash between the two European sides was in many ways disappointing, considering the great matches previously seen between these two countries. But there was no doubt that the best side won, repeating what they had done to France in 1982 and 1986. With Mats Hummels back, it is not only the German defense that looks stronger, but certainly also the attack, with Hummels scoring the winning goal.
France has been a good team and will surely take a lot with them from Brazil, and will certainly be a team to watch for Euro 2016.
So it came down to Colombia-Brazil to decide who would face Germany.
There are many Colombians in Brixton, and the yellow shirt was seen a lot in the street. With my Colombian background I prepared with some Colombian beers and even an aguardiente before going to a the Local Brixton Come Together. It was a good mixed crowd of Brazilians, Colombians and other nationalities, all there to enjoy the football amid songs and friendly taunts.
Brazil played the best they have played in the tournament, and went ahead 1-0 after some dreadful defending by Colombia. Even though they tried, Colombia did not get to dominate midfield in the first half, just as they had done in previous matches. The second half started a bit later in Brixton as it started raining and the TV had to be taken inside. However, we did manage to see Colombia go forward more, but Brazil take a 2-0 lead with a fantastic 2-0 free-kick goal by David Luiz.
David Luiz is going the opposite way as I did these days as he leaves Chelsea to go to Paris St. Germain. I must admit I doubted whether he was worth it, but I take it back.
Colombia did everything to get back, and almost did it. James Rodriguez made it 2-1 on a penalty kick, and were denied a 2-2 goal by Mario Yepes in a somewhat strange situation, where an off side call was only given belatedly after a strange situation.
For their last pressure Colombia could have deserved an equalizer, but in the end Brazil won the match on a strong first half and solid defending. The referee was highly criticized by the Colombians (Colombians always need conspiratorial excuses for any defeat), and he was indeed very bad, but not decisive for the match. Indeed, in the worst attack of the match, where Juan Zuniga fractured Neymar's vertebrae, was not punished as severely as it should have been.
Neymar is out of the World Cup and that is a loss to all fans of great football out there.
A pity for the Colombians, but the semifinal between Brazil and Germany is the semifinal of legends, between the two greatest sides in World Cup history facing one another in what should be an epic match.  That said, with the few goals we have seen in the knock-out stages, it is perhaps more likely to end 0-0 and go to penalties.
I hope not.
In the end everyone had a great time in Brixton. So did I, and was happy to see a place where people of different nationalities can get together and enjoy a game where 22 men chase a leather ball in great spirit and friendship.
I am afraid this is rather the exception than the rule in most of the world.

Friday, July 04, 2014

France-Germany in World Cup history

France-Germany are playing today in a World Cup quarterfinal that has all the elements of going over to history. Both teams have proven themselves to be favourites to win the tournament. Both have scored many goals and have shown strength in adversity. Both have proud European nations, with a lot of football tradition, behind them.
This will be the third time they play in a World Cup (Germany as West Germany). In 1958 they played the bronze match, after they had lost to Brazil and Sweden respectively. In a spectacular match France won 6-3, with the legendary Just Fontaine scoring four goals, to complete 13 goals, making him the all-time most scoring player in a tournament.
In 1982 the two sides met again in the World Cup semifinal in a match that is still considered one of the most dramatic of World Cup history. Ordinary time ended 1-1. France went ahead 3-1 in extra time, but the Germany equalized, and went on to win on penalties. The match is also remembered for one of the most disgraceful cases of violence when the German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher viciously attacked Patrick Battiston, who was hospitalized. Schumacher did not even receive a card or a suspension from FIFA.
It was the case of West Germany, the villain, winning and making it to the final.
In 1986 the sides met again in the World Cup semifinal. It was a French side that had played one of the best matches in history in the quarterfinal against Brazil. It was a German side that had defended themselves to the semifinal. It was a German side that won 2-0 destroying the dreams of one of the greatest sides in French football history.

Today both teams will again be making World Cup history.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

UEFA 2-Concacaf 1

Another UEFA-Concacaf tie when Belgium played USA. USA were not convincing, but played with heart and spirit, and that always wins friends. I do think they need to take more risks; go more forward, instead of relying so much on defense. That said, great defense, and not least a fantastic Tim Howard! The first round of this tournament has been all about the strikers, but these knock-out stages have been largely about the goalkeepers, with some incredible performances. In my view, Tim Howard's was the best.
Belgium are now in the quarterfinals where they face and Argentinean side they should hardly fear and barely respect.
In the meantime one UEFA-Concacaf match remains, where Netherlands and Costa Rica will clash. UEFA will likely make it 3-1 to complete the routing of Concacaf.

Wheel of fortune

Some great teams have been eliminated from the World Cup. Not Argentina. They are now among the world's eight best; a side where they hardly run (except DiMaria), and just wait for Messi to do something with the ball. Football is not just a wheel of fortune where you hope the ball lands on Messi! You cannot win a World Cup this way, and the Swiss were largely unlucky not to prove it.
Four years ago Argentina had a great side that played beautiful football. Maradona let himself be carried away with it, and made tactical choices that cost dearly in the quarterfinal against Germany. But they were still a great side. This Argentina, under Sabella, has not shown any greatness, and if they continue relying solely on luck and on Messi, they will fall as hard against Belgium as they did against Germany.
I miss Maradona. 

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Belgium-USA, 1930

Belgium and USA have played a World Cup match before: in 1930, at the very first World Cup. USA won 3-0. One of the goals was scored by Bert Patenaude, the first player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup (against Paraguay).
USA made it to the semifinals.
Can something similar happen today...?

Day 19 of the World Cup: Paris, France

The sun was shining in Paris, France, before their last-16 match against Nigeria. It was a city that nevertheless seemed to have more in itself; it was not draped in flags just as Belgium or Netherlands. Still, you could clearly see that the city would leave the cafes, restaurants and galleries at 6 PM.
I did some tourism and went to the Pantheon, where men and women who have contributed to the French nation are interred. Voltaire, Rosseau, Emile Zola, Alexandre Dumas and so on and so on. If France had a Pantheon of footballers it would also be full of greatness.
France is a great nation both on and off the football pitch. And one of the reasons I like France is that they know that winning a football World Cup does not make you a great nation. It is great fun to win it anyway!
I watched the match in a cozy small pub full of French fans in the Latin Quarter. Some fans sang the national anthem with pride and some reluctance. The extreme right has hijacked national symbols in France, and in much of Europe. While football remains one area where nationalism can be expressed across the political spectrum, overtly open expressions are done with reluctance.
The French suffered; Nigeria started best. But I think that the French were patiently waiting until their better form got them into the match. In the second half only poor striking and a fantastic Enyeama were making the French suffer.
And suffer they did until Paul Pogba released all the repressed frustration of the French fans with the first goal. When Antoine Griezmann made it 2-0 at the end, the entire bar was celebrating, and they even started to play Queen's "We are the Champions".
Talking about overdoing their celebrations...
It was fun, but there is one thing to dislike about France: their violence. Mamadou Sakho should have been expelled and suspended for the rest of the tournament against Ecuador. And today Blaise Matuidi joined that list by an outright brutal tackle on Ogenyi Onazi that saw the Nigerian being carried out with a serious injury.
Matuidi did not get a red card, but if FIFA is serious about fair play, he should also be suspended.
But FIFA only suspends Luis Suarez...
I asked a Frenchman whom they preferred to face in the quarterfinals: Algeria or Germany? He said "Algeria" without hesitation. When I asked whether it was because they thought they could beat him, he just laughed and did not reply. I was in a pub called "The Bombardier", and most people supported Algeria. It could also be because Algeria has so many players who are French-born.
Could France have defeated that fantastic and fighting Algerian side that was eliminated by Germany? We will never know. But truth is that it was one of the best 0-0 matches I have seen, not least because of two outstanding goalkeepers: Rais M'Bolhi and Manuel Neuer. The former had many impossible saves, while the latter acted as much as a sweeper, saving the slow Mertesacker against the pressure of the Algerian players.
You could see the relief of the Germans when Andre Schurrle scored. While the Algerians tried to push forward you could sense that they had no more energy after their heroic match. The last two goals for Germany and Algeria respectively, were more an expression of how tired everyone was.
The French fans are satisfied nevertheless. Everyone is proud of what Algeria achieved. And certainly, they softened up the Germans before they are to face France!

What a great football day in wonderful Paris!

Europe 2-Africa 0

Today's two matches saw clashes between two European powers and the two remaining African teams in the tournament. Sad for Africa, both African sides were eliminated. But they can leave with their heads held up high.
Nigeria played well against France, who steadily worked themselves into the match and capitalized on their big chances only in the end with a 2-0 victory. This is not the last we will see of this Nigeria side, although coach Stephen Keshi has just announced that he will leave. But if Nigeria manage to build on what Mr. Keshi has built, Nigeria will continue to steadily improve and take over its rightful position as one of the football powers of the world.

Germany had much more trouble defeating a brave Algerian side that fought their hearts out. It was impossible not to support them. It was also incredible that the first 90 minutes ended 0-0, as the match had many chances, but also two outstanding goalkeepers. In extra time it was clearly Germany who had more energy. Andre Schurrle made it 1-0 on a heel goal that was a clever combination of brilliance and luck. Mesut Ozil made it 2-0 in the last minute before Algeria got one up in the final second of the match.
The Algerians were understandably disappointed, but they have given fans a great world cup.

Germany and France will make one quarterfinal, so at least one European side will be in the semifinals. With Netherlands also as favourites to go through, and Belgium and Switzerland both with good chances, it does look that this will be a European World Cup, yet again. At least Europe beat Africa today.