Festival of Samba Football

by Valery Villena © Valery Villena (May 18th 2014)

History

Brazil’s second World Cup is almost here. I can’t wait. CONMEBOL is a a giant of a federation with few members – an almost exclusive club that punches well above its weight. The first World Cup was won by the best team in the world at that time – Uruguay against Argentina in the football equivalent of the Battle of the River Plate.

Europe hosted the next two World Cups – both won by Italy. Brazil hosted in 1950 and were surprised by Uruguay who won their second and to date last World Cup. The tournament returned to Europe for West Germany to surprise the superb Hungarians of Ferenc Puskás and Nándor Hidegkuti. The only break in the hosting and winning pattern came when Brazil beat Sweden 5-2 in Stockholm in 1958.

South America hosted again in 1962. Chile achieved their best ever finish – third – while Brazil became the first and so far only South American team to retain the World Cup beating Czechoslovakia in the final. Four years later England hosted and won and then a CONCACAF country hosted for the first time. A sublime Brazil dismantled Italy 4-1 in that final. Twenty years after surprising football West Germany won again in 1974 – the first of the Netherlands’ consecutive defeats in 1974 and 1978. Argentina hosted and won controversially in 1978 – the last time our continent has hosted to date.

Spain hosted and Italy won for the third time in 1982. Colombia was due to host in 1986. México stepped in to become the first country to host twice. Argentina won again, inspired by one of if not the best player ever Diego Maradona. The result of the 1986 final against West Germany was reversed in 1990 in Italy.

The USA hosted in 1994. Brazil beat Italy on penalties in a dire final. France hosted for the second time in 1998, 60 years after Italy triumphed on French soil. Inspired by Zinedine Zidane. South Korea and Japan hosted in 2002. Both South America and Europe fancied their chances with Brazil prevailing over Germany in Tokyo. Germany finished third when they hosted in 2006 – all four semi-finalists were European and Italy beat France. The last World Cup was Africa’s first. Spain beat the Netherlands in the

final.

So what does this prove? The only teams to have won the World Cup are South American or European. I can’t see that changing in Brazil. European teams almost always triumph in Europe. South Americans have always won when hosted in Central or North America. It’s up for grabs in neutral continents Asia and Africa, but this World Cup is in Brazil – the most successful country in the history of the World Cup. I firmly believe that a South American team will win. So her’s my assessment of them.

CONMEBOL’s Finest

Brazil:A Selecção’ is a well-balanced team. Their talented midfield is tactically flawless and they may have the best defense on the planet. The creativity of Brazil is most evident in their lethal counter-attacks, and they have a certain Neymar, who is ready to explode. They are expected to win the tournament. Can Brazil handle the enormous pressure? Brazil may do that with aplomb.

Argentina:La Albiceleste’ is arguably the best attacking force in the world. Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuaín, Sergio Agüero and Ángel Di María can score against anyone. However, there are question marks on defense and midfield since these areas don’t come close to matching the quality of their colleagues up front.

At any rate, the defense isn’t too shabby, but it doesn’t promise any guarantees either. Obviously, reaching a good balance is the key for Argentina to succeed. They may reach the Final because Messi will probably shine more than ever before and this may be Messi’s World Cup after all, just like Maradona’s in 1986.

Uruguay:Los Charruas’ have excellent forwards in Luís Suárez, fresh from a superb season for Liverpool and PSG’s Edinson Cavani, a strong midfield, and an experienced defense. Diego Forlán can be a super-sub and change the outcome of the matches too.

Uruguay’s tactics in the World Cup will be very conservative; it will have a lot of players in midfield trying to steal the ball for a quick counterattack. They dream of another 1950, and they have enough inner strength and team spirit based on a solid defense and midfield, along with effective striking up front, to reach another semi-final, just like in 2010 is a distinct possibility.

Chile:La Roja’ is very good tactically; everyone knows his role to perfection and the team play really well. They like to press and win the ball back immediately. La Roja has some talented players who can breach the best defenses. They are capable of passing their adversaries to death and/or counter-attack with the best.

Nevertheless, Chile may be vulnerable to a physical side that’s very organized in defense. Such a team may stop them, although everyone this side of Brazil will find them extremely tough to beat. If Chile can win their group – thus potentially avoiding Brazil in the Round of 16 – they may go very far in the World Cup.

Colombia:Los Cafeteros’ are a good counterattacking team. They are most comfortable having nine men behind the ball. They defend with intensity and wait to pounce with swift counter-attacks by using their wingers. Radamel Falcao is out injured and may not be fully recovered in time, but they have capable replacements – Fiorentina’s Juan Cuadrado is in the shop-window. Expect to see the pacy winger move to a big club, especially if he excels in Brazil. Europa League winner Carlos Bacca is another to look out for.

This team is expected to win their group with few problems. However, their lack of success in previous World Cups could be a huge factor against them in the Round of 16 when they face an opponent with World Cup experience.

Ecuador: ‘La Tricolor’ is a solid team, tough to break down and well-drilled. They have a strong midfield that covers a lot of space. Jefferson Montero is a very important and highly skilled player, who may surprise, but Ecuador is an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

The key game for Ecuador will be their first against Switzerland; a win there, and they may be on their way to the Round of 16, where they hope to improve on their 2006 World Cup showing. They play England in Miami just before the World Cup starts.

 

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