Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Will you care about England as long as your club is doing well?

As Germany celebrate the deserved World Cup victory, it seems so long ago that England were eliminated from the tournament. It was actually 20th June (when Costa Rica beat Italy 1-0), the competition having started on the 12th. England lasted barely a week. The players went on holiday and will no doubt start pre-season training a little later than their non-international colleagues.

It will no doubt be just over a week before England fans forget about the ignominious World Cup showing and get down to the real business of supporting their own Premier League team.

And that's the problem.

If you want your team to compete at the top of the Premier League, you'll want it to buy the best players - and that probably means foreign players. At that point you don't care about the England team, only that your club is performing well in the Premier League.

I'm not sure we can have it both ways. Some might claim that Germany have managed it. But have they? They've won the World Cup as a nation, but are all their clubs' supporters happy with their club's showing? I don't know.

I do know that there's no quick fix for England's poor national team's performance. Greg Dyke might not have the perfect solution, but we should certainly give him credit for trying.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Gotze's volley gives Germany its deserved reward

Thank goodness for Mario Gotze's superb volley seven minutes before the end of extra time in the World Cup final last night. It saved us from the depressing spectacle of a penalty shoot-out which would have been an awful way to end an otherwise very good World Cup tournament.

There could be little denying that Germany deserved to win the trophy, although there was never any chance that they were going to put Argentina to the sword as they has done with Brazil four days earlier. Argentina put up a much stiffer test, although their inability to get a single shot on target - even with eventual Balon D'Or winner Lionel Messi in their line-up - suggests that they struggled to make any inroads into the German defence. However, that hides the reality of misses by Higuain, Messi and Palacio, as well as the dominating presence of Manuel Neuer in the German goal.

Gotze's chest control and volley on the turn were worthy of a World Cup final winning goal. It was just a pity a goal didn't come early to potentially spark the final into life. It never quite lived up to its billing.

Germany now join Italy on four World Cup wins and with this young team, there's no doubt at all that they will be challenging again in Russia in four years time. They also become the first country, apart from Brazil, to win the World Cup away from their home continent. Full credit should go to Joachim Low, but also to Germany as a whole for the rebuilding plan they put in place after the failure at the 2004 European Championships.

If only England would do something similar.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Referees are failing to apply the laws of the game

According to the BBC:

'Fifa vice-president Jim Boyce says referees have not been told to be lenient at the 2014 World Cup.
Some officials have been criticised for opting not to caution players during matches, with the average number of yellow cards per game just below three.
Boyce says: "I think the refereeing has been superb and it has not happened by chance.
"The referees have been told to only send a player off if they were 100% certain it was a red card, but nothing has ever been said about being lenient." '
The refereeing has emphatically NOT been superb at this World Cup and sadly, it is the delusion of FIFA that means that we have to suffer this poor refereeing on and on.
Quite simply, the referees do not apply the laws of the game. This leads to players taking small advantages, which become the norm, then the players try to take bigger advantages until they expect them to become the norm too.
A prime example is the ball in the corner quadrant. A few years ago this was changed so that the ball only had to overhang the quadrant line. This was as a direct result of players putting the ball outside the line. FIFA caved in and went with the players.
Here are some examples of laws which referees have ignored at this World Cup:
  1. Gain of yardage at throw-ins. About 15 yards seems to be the expected gain.
  2. Gain of yardage at free-kicks. Players stand where the offence took place and chuck the ball about fifteen yards forward (with minimal back spin).
  3. Not booking players for waving imaginary yellow cards. This was expressly stated by FIFA, yet has not happened in any single case.
  4. Encroachment of walls and players at free-kicks. Yes, we've all seen the magic spray, but the referees only ever draw it IN FRONT of the defenders. Why? Just walk the ten yards, draw the line and order the defenders to get behind the line. Oh yes, and BEHIND the line, not on it as some players have done.
  5. Diving and simulation. It goes on. We all know it goes on. Yet not one culprit has been punished.
  6. Time keeping (1). The added-on time is supposed to be a minimum, yet referees at this World Cup (indeed, all non-English matches), the time shown on the board is a MAXIMUM, with referees often blowing up before the time is up.
  7. Time keeping (2). Substitutions, as one example, are supposed to result in an extra thirty seconds being added on. Yet, if a player is substituted during added on time,we never get the extra thirty seconds.
  8. Time keeping (3). There has been a trend in this World Cup for goal celebrations to take up to two minutes. This is deliberate time wasting by the scoring team, and we never get this time back.
  9. Not putting the ball on the penalty spot. Based on the "overhang at corner quadrant" rule change, players now seem to think they can put the ball near the penalty spot, just so long as it overhangs the spot.
  10. Not booking players for foul play. There have been many examples. The Brazil v Colombia game was a farce.
  11. Not allowing corner kicks to be taken! Yes, the old "Ryan Giggs" corner kick has been disallowed twice in this World Cup - once by Howard Webb. WHY?
Some may argue that of these points are trivial. "Oh, it doesn't matter if he gains five yards from a free-kick," they may claim. To which I would say, "If it doesn't matter, don't do it!"

Referees do not allow free-kicks to be taken with a moving ball (quite rightly), yet they are happy to let fifteen yards be gained. WHY?

Not applying the rules leads to players taking advantage, which then leads to cheating. Rugby referees apply the rules in their sport. Why don't football referees?

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Argentina v The Netherlands - an inevitable damp squib

I suppose it was inevitable that the second semi-final would be a damp squib compared with the first. Nothing could match the dramatic happenings of Brazil v Germany on Tuesday.

It is nevertheless disappointing to see another 0-0 draw after penalties and the cop-out of a penalty shoot-out. This time there was no Tim Krul to save the Netherlands and Argentina progressed to their fifth World Cup final, and the third offering of a Germany v Argentina final.

I suppose it will be fitting to see one of the World's top players - Lionel Messi - gracing the occasion, but let us hope that Germany's brand of football prevails.

More importantly, let us hope we don't have to rely on penalty kicks to conclude proceedings. Nothing was as dreadful as the 0-0 final between Brazil and Italy in 1994, eventually ending with a Brazil shoot-out victory.

Argentina have some great players - Messi, Aguero, Mascherano, Di Maria - but their team has not quite come together during this tournament. Despite that, they have managed five wins and a penalty shoot-out victory - and that's a recipe for success.

Onward to Sunday's final, and we want better than this semi-final gave us.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Brazil's implosion is their "Kennedy moment"

Brazil 1, Germany 7.
Read it again. Astonishing.

Brazil's implosion in last night's World Cup semi-final will be a "Kennedy moment" for many people. They will always remember where they were when this happened. If you watched it , you will always remember where you were. For the poor Brazilians, both in the ground and watching on TVs around the country, they will never be able to forget it.

This was a Sunday morning park scoreline - in a World Cup semi-final (WCSF). Not since 1930 has a team scored six in a WCSF (both Uruguay and Argentina managed it their in 6-1 wins). Not since 1958 has a team scored five in a WCSF (Brazil 5, France 2). No team has ever scored seven in a WCSF.

Between 11 and 29 minutes Germany rattled in five goals against a Brazilian defence with about as much cover as a Copacabana bikini for an eponymous wax. It all got a bit embarrassing, unless you were German. The BBC commentators were amazed that Germany didn't sit on their 1-0, then their 2-0, then their 3-0 ... lead. Why go and score more goals? Good for Germany, I say. Attack, attack, attack. Let's hope this catches on. In the second half Germany added to their tally, making it 7-0 before Oscar scored what commentator Guy Mowbray scored "the most pointless goal in World Cup history" to make it 7-1.

Germany's tally now makes them the top scorers in World Cup tournament matches (223 in 105 matches to Brazil's 221 in 103). Germany might not win the World Cup (surely a stiffer test will meet them in the final), but they will always be remembered as the team that smashed Brazil.

Brazil were utterly humiliated. The nation must be in shock. Apparently there were some arson attacks in the aftermath, and maybe they'll get a bit angry tonight when it begins to sink in. I hope not.

They need to be realistic and take stock. This is a poor Brazilian team, which lost its two best players (Neymar and Thiago Silva) for the semi-final. Without them, they were a shambles. But having them in the other matches only disguised the truth.

In 2001 England beat Germany in a World Cup qualifier 5-1. The Germans had to beat Ukraine in a qualifying match to get to the 2002 World Cup. They did so and reached the final, losing 2-0 to Brazil in the countries' only other World Cup encounter. But they also went back to the drawing board to rectify problems with the national team. Spectacularly, they have achieved this.

Brazil now need to do the same.

As a footnote, so do England (but we all know that won't happen - reference 1-4 defeat to Germany in 2010 World Cup).

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

South America has the edge in semi-finals

And so we come to the Word Cup semi-finals.

South America v Europe in each case. As the competition is based in South America and no European team has ever won there, it would surely be foolish to call an all-European final. But are the South American teams good enough to beat their European opposition?

The truth is that no team has glowed consistently brightly throughout the tournament.

Brazil's results have been 3-1, 0-0, 4-1, 1-1 (won on penalties), 2-1.
Germany: 4-0, 2-2, 1-0, 2-1, 1-0.
Argentina: 2-1, 1-0, 3-2, 1-0, 1-0.
Holland: 5-1, 3-2, 2-0, 2-1, 0-0 (won on penalties).

No team has lost a game (which sometimes happens. Spain, for example, lost their first game in 2010, yet went on to win the trophy). But only Argentina have won all their five games. Sometimes late in the game!

Germany and Holland both started the competition with big wins, but have not been quite as impressive of late.

Argentina and Brazil have shown, shall we say, typical South American resilience, and buoyed by huge and loud local support, I'm going to go with them to make the final.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Lenient refereeing backs Brazil's niggling style

I'm not entirely comfortable with the way Brazil have progressed to the semi-final in this World Cup. This is certainly not the 'samba-style', free-flowing football Brazil of old. This team has no qualms about fouling, breaking up the game, niggling, and relying on support from the crowd, and, sadly, help from referees.

In my last point, I don't mean that the referees are 'crooked' in any way, but with 60,000+ supporters roaring at you, you can't help but be a little bit swayed - however much you try. The last Brazil game (v. Colombia) was, however, appallingly refereed by Carlos Velasco Carballo of Spain. He was so lenient that the game became almost a free-for-all, with Brazil being the worst culprits. Fernandinho's treatment of James Rodriguez was scandalous, yet the Brazilian - who should have been sent off - didn't even get a yellow card. To add ironic insult to injury, the referee did book Rodriguez for a contactless tackle.

Brazil were able to complain afterwards about how Zuniga caused the injury to their Number Ten Neymar, but the referee did play an advantage in Brazil's favour and to book Zuniga would have been contrary to his handling of the game.

Incredibly, the referee did book Brazil's Thiago Silva for preventing the the Colombian goalkeeper from clearing the ball and kicking into the Colombian net. Considering the number and type of fouls going on in the rest of this game, that decision was laughable. But it had the very serious effect of banning Silva from the semi-final.

I have no doubt in my mind that FIFA have told referees to book as few players as possible to try and ensure that the 'big players' remain available for the later rounds. Carballo will be in trouble for getting Silva banned.

For the good of football, however, it would be better if referees clamped down on fouling and got the dirty players removed from matches.