Posts Tagged ‘soccer’


Brilliant Germany, Hapless Brazil or a Bit of Both?

July 9, 2014

Vista busy cursor  It will take Brazil a long time, if ever, to get over their 7-1 World Cup Semi Final mauling by Germany.

Brazil built up the game to be all about passion, emotion, riding the fans’ wild support and “doing it for Neymar”. While about it they seemed to entirely forget about discipline, shape, organisation, patience, control. The Germans couldn’t believe their luck. Thomas Muller was quoted after the game saying every time the Brazillians got the ball they rushed forwards with it and left the Germans masses of space to get at their defence on the counter.

Taking nothing away from the Germans, they were awesome. Movement, passing, vision, pace. Wonderful. But not 7-1 worth of wonderful without a lot of help from their opponents. Would that German side have stuck seven past Costa Rica, who got to the quarter finals while only conceding one goal (penalty shoot-outs aside)? Costa Rica don’t have stars or flair players but they know how to set themselves up to be solid and competitive.


Brazil have been shown up as not that great. They do have some decent players but got further than they deserved thanks to the incredible local support, occasional bits of brilliance from Neymar and moments of luck. Without their two best players, with the weight of expectation upon them and up against a very good team they were unmasked as not up to it. Worse, their over-reliance on emotion rather than organisation allowed the Germans to start sticking the goals in, and the realisation they were undone broke Brazil’s spirit so that they went utterly to pieces and the flood-gates opened.




England players seeing red over Green

June 22, 2010

I go along with much of James Hamilton’s analysis of the current malaise in the England camp, leading to the abysmal showing against Algeria.

The key to it is clearly the awful and unsettling treatment of Robert Green. Like Hamilton, I saw Capello’s handling of the incident as nothing short of torture for the unfortunate keeper. Sure the mistake was criminal at this level and utterly inexplicable. But Capello should either have announced there and then that Green was being dropped or immediately given him his unequivocal backing.

Despite the seriousness of the error, the best option would have been to back him. How likely was Green to repeat the howler against Algeria or in any other match? How much better for morale to show the squad that he has faith in his players and will stand up for them, at least after a one-off mistake. Particularly bearing in mind how hard Green worked to atone for his error in his second half performance and the open, honest and brave way he spoke to the media after the game.

Instead, Capello heaped the pressure on poor Green by telling him he was on probation during training. This just dragged the whole episode out and put Green under intolerable scrutiny. No wonder he cracked, underperformed in training and had to be dropped. Worse than that, it sent a very unfortunate signal to the whole squad. It left them worrying that their coach was likely to disown them and hang them out to dry if they messed up even once during a match. Hardly a recipe for encouraging them to express themselves confidently on the pitch.

I also take on board Hamilton’s first point about Capello’s disciplinarian regime being tolerated during qualification but resented when it carried on into the World Cup finals themselves. But I think the players know Capello is that sort of a manager and was unlikely to suddenly turn blokey and become “one of the lads” on arrival in South Africa. They would have put up with the discipline if at least they could believe Capello was right behind them. But the treatment of Green after the USA match put paid to that.

What is happening in the England camp has its analogue with the French debacle which in fairness is far worse. The French squad have also reacted badly to what they perceive as unfair treatment of one of their number, in their case Nicolas Anelka, leading to a complete breakdown of relations between players and coach. There are differences. Domenech was already due to leave after the tournament so staying on the right side of him was less of a concern. And the French players have gone much further than their English counterparts, effectively going on strike. And with less cause. Anelka deserved to be sent packing and the players have a duty to their country which should have overriden their loyalty to any one team-mate. In contrast with the French players, the England team have too strong a sense of duty to their nation to engage in open revolt, but the effect on their morale is harder to shake off.

The French are a lost cause. Tant pis. As for England, well, in Capello’s shoes I would be apologising to both Green and the whole squad. He should be letting them know that he is there for them, aloof or not, and then getting on with the job.

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England football team promoted to the bigtime

September 10, 2009

I remember writing a distinctly gloomy piece about the England football team after the ignominious defeat to Croatia, at Wembley in  November 2007, which finally took the  Euro 2008 finals out of reach.  It was called “England football team relegated to the wilderness” and speculated about how the resulting fall in world rankings and consequent lower seeding in future qualifying tournaments would add significant extra hurdles to England’s chances of making it back to the final stages of major international football competitions such as the World Cup.

England have now banished that fear by qualifying for South Africa 2010 (and in some style, it being Croatia’s turn to suffer a bit of ignominy) but I don’t think I was wrong to write what I did.

Without even coming close to the mess they made of Sven Goran Eriksson’s departure and choice of successor, they might easily have replaced Steve McClaren with another inadequate appointment.  If they had then it is not hard to see how England might by now have found themselves wandering in that wilderness, occasionally bumping into Scotland, Wales and N Ireland.  I guess the FA deserve credit for settling on Capello but, as I explained in a comment to this post, they rather lucked into a situation where the outstanding candidate had helpfully just been fired by Real Madrid and was on the lookout for a high profile International appointment so he could end his career on a high.  All the FA had to do was stand firm in the face of the misguided media baying for the appointment of Jose Mourinho.

And my faith in Capello was entirely justified.  He may or may not win the World Cup next year (for starters, Spain and Brazil will not roll over for anyone) but he has got the best out of the remnants of our “golden generation” and blended in a bit of the upcoming platinum generation in the likes of Lennon, Defoe, Milner, Walcott.  We’ will not disgrace ourselves.

Interesting that in that post I wondered about whether Capello would play “British football”, the same point controversially raised by Croatia coach Slaven Bilic before last night’s game.  He accused Capello of changing England’s game away from their traditional style.  Quite possibly Bilic is right, and we have our answer.  Capello has either moved away from or redefined “English football” depending on how you look at it.  Not a problem so long as we win with confidence.  And also by playing good football, laying another of my fears to rest.

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Dutch Dilemma

June 15, 2008

Holland have already won their group in Euro 2008. Better than that, they have a golden opportunity to dump both Italy and France out of the tournament. All they have to do is let Romania win in their final group game in Berne on 17 June.

If Romania beat Holland in that game they are guaranteed to finish second, and both Italy and France will fail to qualify for the knock-out stages, whatever the result of the contest between them in Zurich on the same day.

It must be oh, so tempting for Dutch coach Marco van Basten. France and Italy may both have struggled in the tournament so far but they both have the potential to prove a far greater threat to Holland in the closing rounds than do Romania. So easy to get rid of them both at a stroke, to turn the battle between them into a meaningless, futile struggle.

But how could Marco get away with such a thing? To be seen to be deliberately letting Romania win would result in cries of foul play from Italy and France. Holland might get into serious hot water over it.

It is not like Portugal playing a weakened team and losing 2-0 to Switzerland tonight. Even if Switzerland had won 200-0, Portugal would still have topped their group and the Swiss would still have finished last. The game was academic, of no consequence.

For Holland to contrive a defeat against Romania would deprive France and Italy of an opportunity to progress in the tournament. So Marco would have to think of a very clever and subtle way to do it. To make it look like his team were trying really hard to win but somehow manage to lose. Giving away a penalty would be too obvious. Same thing with the goalie diving spectacularly over the ball, or strikers missing open goals. Sure to attract accusations of match fixing.

Marco can’t really trust to his players’ acting skills. He’d do better to leave out 2 or 3 of his best players (justifiable given the group is won – he is entitled to rest them and protect them from risk of injury in those circumstances), motivate the team on the day to play to the best of their best abilities, but pick a formation or choose tactics which he knows will not work well against Romania. It can’t be too outlandish, but he should be able to set up some advantages for Romania that will prove decisive over the course of the match. He’s a clever guy. He’ll think of something, and make it look like Romania just played a blinder.

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Chelsea manoeuvre into position to ditch Grant

May 23, 2008

No this is not turning into a football blog. It’s just topical right now.

Chelsea Chief Executive Peter Kenyon has been making remarks to the press which look designed to pave the way for Avram Grant’s exit as Chelsea manager, probably a kick back upstairs to Director of Football.

OK, so he exceeded all reasonable expectations, including taking Chelsea further than ever before in the Champions League (losing out only to a John Terry slip in the mud for which Grant bears ultimate responsibility).

avram grant

But he doesn’t smile much, no-one had ever heard of him before he was appointed and he’s unfashionably Israeli.

And oh look, he didn’t actually win anything! (Even though he got much much closer than Wenger or Benitez.)

Best get rid then.

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Moscow also winners in Champions League final

May 22, 2008

I mean the city. Much was made of the absurdity of having two English teams and their respective hordes of fans go to the trouble and expense of traipsing to Russia to contest the Champions League final, not to mention the environmental impact of all those extra flights.

We were told how it would be impractical to change venue at such a late stage (ie after the semi-final results established that both finalists would be English teams) because it takes months of preparation to stage such a big final. Well I don’t entirely buy that argument. A team in the Coca Cola Championship that squeaks into the play-offs on the last day of the season has very little time to organise the home leg of the play-off semi-final, but still manages it even though large numbers of fans can be expected to attend. OK, this does not quite compare to a Champions League final in terms of the surrounding pomp, media interest, etc but I don’t believe it is a question of logistics.

The reason that the final was not taken away from Moscow is that cities regard it as a matter of great prestige to act as hosts. They apply to UEFA years in advance and fight off competition from other candidate cities for the honour. It is a great privilege to be awarded the opportunity to stage a high profile final, and it would be unfair on Moscow to deny them their big day on the world stage at late notice.

The final at the Luzhniki stadium meant a lot more to Moscow than just hosting a football match. It was a massive PR opportunity. It was a chance to make a statement to the world. We are an important city. We can not only stage a big event, we can do it with style, polish and aplomb. We can change your mind about Moscow. You think it is a cold, forbidding place, riddled with spies and brutal secret police. We’ll show you Moscow’s warm and welcoming side – happy faces, a warm party atmosphere, glitter and razzmatazz. Smooth, trouble free and supremely competent organisation. Lots of people from overseas welcomed and having a great time. We’ll show you Moscow is a great place to come visit.

Well they achieved all that. The final was a great success in every respect (except the result from the Chelsea perspective). No trouble. No riots. No stabbings. No police brutality. No travel crises, no traffic jams, no-one stranded.

Just a big party and a night to remember. Well done Moscow.

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Galactic divide between the Big Four and the rest

March 16, 2008

The Premiership is the richest and the best football league on the planet. There’s no doubting that, or the huge divide between it and the next tier down, the football League Championship. Just look at how hard it is for promoted clubs to survive just one season in the Premiership, however much money they throw at it. And it is all about money, television money that sucks in the best talent from around the world.

But even within the Premiership there are leagues within leagues, differentiated again by money. And the Premier Clubs within the Premier League are the Big Four: Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. Make no mistake; the gulf between the top four and the rest is far wider even than between Premiership and Championship.

Never was there a starker illustration of that than the results of the Champions League and UEFA Cup matches to decide the quarter finalists in the respective competitions.

As last year, the Champions League has been dominated by English clubs and indeed the same four English clubs. All the Big Four Premiership teams are through to the last 8 in the Champions League.

But is this English dominance echoed in the UEFA cup? Not a bit of it. Spurs, Bolton, Everton all failed to progress. Last year was little better, Spurs making it to the quarter finals and Newcastle falling in the previous round.

So our top four are better than the whole of the rest of Europe, the odd good performance by AC Milan or Barcelona apart, but all clubs below that are fairly easy meat for the better teams in Germany, Spain, Italy and Portugal.

It must be even more exasperating for the ambitious clubs in the upper reaches of the Premiership trying to break into England’s cosy clique of Champions League regulars than for Championship clubs hoping to escape into the financial paradise that is the Premiership.

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