Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pele: Birth of a Legend

On a recent flight from Monrovia to Brussels I had the pleasure of spending some of the boring time in a plane by watching the in-flight movie "Pele: Birth of a Legend", about the legendary Pele and his coming from humble backgrounds to win the World Cup in Sweden in 1958.
The movie does not have a deep character development, although it works in creating the great image of Pele for football fans, by tracing his difficult uprising, the challenges he faced as a talented youngster and relations with his family. A nice part of the movie is when the Brazilian players play around in a hotel in Sweden before the 1958 World Cup final (a scene that reminds a bit too much of a Nike commercial though) and then the excellent recreations of the final in Stockholm amid a hostile Swedish crowd and unlikeable Swedish team.

It may work for football fans, but the film's big disappointment is that it only superficially touches on some issues wider than football: Brazilian national identity (in the film, following the defeat in the 1950s World Cup final, Brazilians want to be like Europeans, rather than dwell into their mixed Brazilian identity), as well as racism and class differences (with Mazzola representing the higher classes of Brazil against the young Pele). The film would have been much better if it had managed to put it more into context, and even relate it to today's Brazil, where it seems that Brazil has completely lost its football identity: there is hardly a team further from the "Ginga" style than Brazil's team of the last ten years, in particular represented by Dunga, the most anti-Ginga Brazilian ever.

In footballing terms I was most disappointed that the film simplified some aspects of the 1958 World Cup: Brazil were not considered a decidedly weak side, their group was considered the Group of Death, and Brazil won it in style. It was correct that Pele only entered in the last group match against the USSR, but the big star of that match had been Garrincha's dribbling skills (in all, the film gives much less credit to the legendary Garrincha than he deserves). Disappointingly, the film totally skips Brazil's quarterfinal against Wales, which really made Pele a superstar: with his first and only goal of the match, he put Brazil in the semifinals. I find this strange, as Pele himself has described that goal as the most important in his career. It is true that the semifinal against a magnificent French side was a great victory for Brazil, but one must remember that France played most of the match without the captain and defense icon Robert Jonquet, who had broken his leg in a clash with Vava (Jonquet heroically stayed on the pitch, as substitutions were not allowed), something that greatly facilitated (still) Brazil's splendid victory.
The best part of the film is the final, where Brazil stunned a Swedish side, coached by the Englishman George Raynor, who had no respect for the Brazilians.

As a football fan the movie is ok, a bit disappointing for what it does not show, but very poor as a film describing the deeper relations between football and society.

Friday, July 22, 2016

He can only surprise positively

Sam Allardyce as new England national team manager is one of the most obscure appointments in modern time. Just like Brazil, England's FA is one that does not want to think in new ways.
"Hey, we are the best in the world anyways..."
In any case, Sam Allardyce can only surprise positively, as expectations to a new manager can never have been lower in football history!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Portuguese tears... of joy!

It is only grudgingly I congratulate Portugal and their fans for their in all manners surprising victory against France in the final of the Euro 2016.
Of course a team that wins a tournament of 24 teams, over seven matches, are to be congratulated and shown respect for their achievement, but indeed Portugal's way to the title was less than glamorous. The only reason they got past 1st round as best 3rd placed team (behind unglamorous Hungary and Iceland) was because there are now 24 teams in the tournament. In the last-16 they won a historically boring match against Croatia (first match without shots on target), and only beat Poland on penalties in the quarterfinals. Indeed, their defeat of Wales in the semifinals was their first (and only) regular victory of the tournament.
The final was an enormous disappointment: the first ever 0-0 in 90 minutes of a Euro final. France started well, but were a disappointment of nerves and lack of pace in front of a rather lame home crowd.
With an early injury for Cristiano Ronaldo everything seemed to be stacked against Portugal, but two  things happened: the team seemed better organized without Ronaldo, and manager Fernando Santos made some brilliant choices to re-adapt his team during the match. Eder, who entered late in the second half instead of the young Renato Sanches (youngest player ever to play a final), scored an excellent winner in the second half of extra time as the match was seemingly on the way to penalty kicks.
Cristiano Ronaldo cried when he had to leave the pitch, but when the match ended he joined the rest of his team in tears of joy for a victory as unlikely as the one suffered by Portugal itself in the final of Euro 2004.
Congratulations, grudgingly, to Portugal.

Friday, July 08, 2016

France-Portugal: the final

The final of the European Championship 2016 is ready after a lot of mediocre, and a few not so mediocre matches.
France, the home side, deserve to be in the final. Despite a friendly referee they were overall the better team against the German world champions, and Antoine Griezmann is a deserved star. France has only won tournaments when they are at home (Euro 1984 and the 1998 World Cup), and I certainly hope they win the tournament yet again!
Portugal... I am personally not impressed. Their first real victory were against a Wales team who was there mainly because of weak opposition. Their second final ever; their first one was a memorable home loss to Greece. And certainly they will be up against real opposition against France!
But the great thing (and the sad thing if you support France) is that in a final anything can happen, and even Portugal could win...
No matter what happens on Sunday, Iceland are the real champions of this tournament.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Germany-Italy football history

Finally some real matches: Germany-Italy in the quarterfinal of the Euro 2016. Another chapter in one of the greatest rivalries in football.
The sides played for the first time in 1923 (with an Italian 3-1 victory) and have since played one another 33 times, with 15 victories for Italy and 8 for Germany. Their first important match was in the 1962 World Cup Group stages (0-0), and their second important confrontation was in the 1970 World Cup semifinal, one of the greatest World Cup matches of all time, when Italy won 4-3 after extra time, and went on to lose the World Cup final to the greatest Brazilian side of all time.
In 1978 the sides again played 0-0 in the World Cup Group stages, but four years later came another legendary clash in the 1982 World Cup final, when Italy won 3-1 (and who does not remember Marco Tardelli's celebration?). In the 2006 World Cup, in Germany, Italy defeated the hosts in the semi-final 0-2, and went on to become World Champions.
Germany has never defeated Italy in a World Cup.
Their Euro history is much more recent: first time they played was in the 1988 group stages, when it ended 1-1, and in the 1996 group stages it ended 0-0 (and Germany later won the tournament). In the 2012 European Championships the two sides clashed in the semifinals, and Italy won 2-1 on two goals by Mario Balotelli, and then went on to lose the final to Spain.
Germany has never defeated Italy in a European Championship.

History is against Germany today. But if any side has defeated history in the last two years it is Germany. That said, they will be facing an Italian side that has all odds to continue having the upper hand against the Germans.
Whatever happens, it will be football history.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Portugal/Wales in the final!?

Either Wales or Portugal will be in the Euro 2016 final. I am not even going to bother with watching the semifinal between these two unlikeable sides. The real final will be in the other semifinal, and if Portugal or Wales wins, it shows how little the Euro is still worth.