Embracing Technology – Archive

 

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 26th 2013 and modified on May 27th 2014)

Impartiality

There are only twelve élite umpires now and eight of them are ineligible for the Ashes series. That’s ten Test Matches to be officiated between the four remaining umpires. Put simply the mathematics and logistics of this simply don’t add up. Umpires are human and therefore fallible. It stands to reason that if only a few of them are available they will be more prone to making mistakes. The current system also begs the question of why two thirds of the élite group come from England or Australia – the reason they are ineligible – and what is being done to resolve the problem?

Simon Taufel had a distinguished 22-year career as an umpire. He is now the International Cricket Council’s High Performance Manager for Umpires. But he is Australian, begging another question. If the eight élite umpires from either England or Australia cannot officiate because they come from one or other of the competing countries, how can it be justified for Taufel to manage the performance of an Australian umpire?

New Challenges

Among the matches that he umpired was the unfinished match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 2009 when terrorists attacked the Sri Lanka team’s bus. Some felt the umpires were left to fend for themselves. “That day did change me personally”, Taufel said last year. “I learnt a lot on that day and it helped me focus on the priorities of my life”.

International cricket has not returned to Pakistan since that match in Lahore despite the impassioned pleas of then captain Younis Khan and also Misbah ul-Haq. It has had a terrible effect on Pakistani cricket, both for players and the cricket-loving nation.

Invasive Coverage

Taufel recently delivered the MCC’s Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture. It was a thought-provoking talk. “The investment by television companies in extra cameras, high-speed frame rates, computer software programs and military infra-red technology, plus high definition broadcasting has certainly given the spectator and participants a lot more information – there is no doubt we now have a lot more ‘arm chair’ experts in cricket”! Taufel said.

The scrutiny is intense and errors are amplified in a way previous umpires never had to face. “Today, everyone umpires the game by watching television”, Taufel continued. “The invasive nature of this broadcasting has a double edge to it – it does put more pressure on players and umpires. Not too much now happens on a cricket field that is not captured by a camera, a microphone or piece of technology. This has the ability to bring out the best in the game and also the worst”.

It also highlights umpiring errors with the consequence of causing erosion of confidence in the umpires. Before replays from every angle decisions, including errors were accepted. It was perhaps a more sporting era where batsmen were expected to walk if they got an edge, for example, especially one as blatant as the one Stuart Broad got to Michael Clarke in the first Test Match.

Technology and the Corridor of Absurdity

The Decision Review System (DRS) was established to eliminate howlers from the game. For some it’s a skill – judging when and how to use challenges, as two unsuccessful reviews mean that you cannot make any further challenges even if there is a blatant error by the umpire. While there needs to be some control to deter frivolous challenges, they can be lost on umpire’s call.

This allows a corridor of absurdity where the review shows that the umpire’s decision was actually incorrect, but because it was within the umpire’s discretion to have got it wrong a challenge is lost, which can lead to a wrong decision later being subject to review. It seems unfair that challenges are lost on umpire’s call. A potentially fairer result would be to be uphold the umpire’s original decision, but not cost the reviewing team a challenge, or get rid of umpire’s call altogether.

The Australians plainly hadn’t mastered how to use DRS well, but Aleem Dar’s failure to spot the clearest of contacts was just such a howler that DRS was designed to prevent. His umpiring partner failed to help him out and Broad brazenly stood his ground, taking advantage of a glaring howler. To some Broad was entitled to stand his ground – for others it breached the spirit of the game – In short, was cheating.

Australia had wasted their reviews, so they were powerless to challenge an appalling decision by an élite level umpire. Broad stayed and took advantage, perhaps changing the outcome of the Test Match. Clarke graciously accepted defeat, but such decisions have no place in sport. Errors are one thing but glaring howlers are hard to take. Everyone wants the correct decision to be made. In this case it plainly wasn’t and under the current system, there was nothing that could be done to correct it. Doesn’t that defeat the very point of DRS?

“Every movement of the player is under the microscope (on and off the field) and every movement of the umpire is also under intense scrutiny”, Taufel said. “There is at least one camera on the umpire all the time, every ball, watching his every move and facial expression, waiting to capture his decision for all to see (and be replayed as many times as the director sees fit)”.

It should be pointed out that Dar gave a brilliant decision on Jonathan Trott in that match, which the technology got wrong as it wasn’t switched on – he doesn’t get enough credit for that – but the Broad decision will be replayed many times especially in Dar’s head. The howler wasn’t corrected. There must be a better way.

 

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Béla Guttmann – The Decline

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 25th 2010)

The Return

After his sojourn in Brasil Béla Guttmann returned to Europe in 1958. He joined Porto and coached them to the championship overturning a five point deficit to Benfica to achieve it in 1959. After winning the title for Porto he joined bitter rivals Benfica, winning the title, a Portuguese Cup and two European Cups.

However, he failed to win the Intercontinental Cup, losing to Peñarol in a play-off – goal difference didn’t count. Apparently that was not deemed worthy of a pay rise and Guttmann left in disgust, leaving the Portuguese giants in no doubt what he thought of it.

Cursed

After his departure Benfica lost the Intercontinental Cup again this time to Santos. No play-off was required. No doubt dismissing Guttmann’s enraged parting shot, Benfica lined up in the European Cup Final to prove him wrong just a year later. They faced another club who had treated Guttmann badly, AC Milan, although Gutmann was far from Angelic in his treatment of other clubs. The Italians won 2-1 despite Eusébio scoring. The Curse was vindicated for the first time.

Two years later Benfica was beaten 1-0 by Internazionale di Milano. The misguided President who had offended Guttmann enough to supposedly curse Benfica went in 1965, so Guttmann returned to Benfica for a season, which was not successful. The Curse remained in tact as Gutmann was denied the chance to qualify for the European Cup and break his Curse.

In 1968 Benfica took Manchester United to extra time before losing 4-1. A twenty year wait for another chance to win the European Cup ended in 1988. The Curse did not – in fact it seemed to extend to all European competition as Benfica had lost the UEFA Cup 2-1 on aggregate to Anderlecht in 1983. Five years later the European Cup ended in a 0-0 draw after extra time. Benfica lost 6-5 on penalties to PSV Eindhoven. The Dutch club won the treble that season.

Eusébio’s Pleas

They had one last try at The European Cup in 1990. Not even their greatest ever player and Guttmann’s protege Eusébio da Silva Ferreira could help. His prayers at Guttmann’s grave in Vienna failed to lift the Curse. AC Milan took the trophy thanks to a 1-0 win. Frank Rijkaard scored the winner. He later won it again with Ajax and as a coach with Barçelona. Eusébio waited the rest of his life to see the Curse broken. He lived to see the seventh attempt. Benfica lost 2-1 to Chelsea in added time in the Europa League, successor of the UEFA Cup in 2013. Branislav Ivanović scored the winner.

Eusébio died in January 2014. The Champion’s League Final was held in their stadium in Lisbon yesterday. Real Madrid beat Atlético de Madrid 4-1 after extra time. Atlético led by a Diego Godín goal until the fourth minute of added time. Sergio Ramos equalised and in the second period of extra time Gareth Bale, Marcello and former Sporting Club prodigy Cristiano Ronaldo broke their cross-town rivals’ hearts.

A similar thing had happened to Atlético 40 years ago when Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck’s equaliser for Bayern München after 119 minutes forced a replay that the German champions won 4-0, but there is no Curse on them. Atlético has won the Europa League and UEFA Supercup twice in the last four years. Meanwhile, Benfica had dropped out of the Champion’s League and into the Europa League. They reached the final in Turin, beating hosts Juventus in the semi-final.

However, the Curse was not prepared to let go. Unai Emery’s Sevilla beat them 4-2 on penalties after a scoreless draw. At least Eusébio doesn’t have to suffer the effects of Guttmann’s Curse any more. But there is so much more to Guttmann than the Curse.

Profound Effect

He made contacts that benefited Benfica previously. While in Brasil he coached a player who went on to have a profound impact on Benfica without ever playing for the club. José Carlos Bauer had played in the Battle of Bern for Brasil in the 1954 World Cup, but was at São Paulo when Guttmann arrived. He went into coaching soon after with the recently established Ferroviária. While touring Mozambique with that club he spotted a teenage sensation. He recommended the player to São Paulo, who passed on him. Bauer then mentioned him to Guttmann who quickly pounced.

Thus, Benfica managed to steal the late great Eusébio from under the noses of their rivals Sporting Club, despite the young prodigy playing for Sporting’s feeder club in Mozambique. Benfica, ironically knew they had to pay to get Eusébio’s services and did. Fearing that Eusébio would be kidnapped he was spirited away in Portugal and kept under wraps until Benfica was ready to let the teenager show his class, but when Guttmann wanted a pay rise, despite bringing unprecedented and since unequalled success the club refused, unleashing the famous Curse of Guttmann.

 

Béla Guttmann – More Than The Curse

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 24th 2010)

The Return

Pioneering coach Béla Guttmann had proved a footballing nomad – in two decades of management admittedly interrupted by World War II – he had never stayed at the same club for more than two seasons. He had won titles, walked out on clubs in a fit of pique, or been sacked despite results, such as at AC Milan. However, Guttmann had influenced the play of one of the greatest international teams of all time, the Mighty Magyars before returning to Hungary and Honvéd.

After an uneventful spell in charge of Vicenza Guttmann rejoined Honvéd – a team he walked out on previously when his instructions were ignored – understandably. He found a team that was developing into a great side, containing many of the Mighty Magyars. Despite their previous differences Guttmann and Ferenc Puskás found a way to co-exist. Honvéd also boasted the talents of Zoltán Czibor, Sándor Kocsics, József Bozsik, László Budai, Gyula Lóránt and Gyula Grosics as well as the legendary Puskás. It was an exceptional team, but it was overtaken by events.

An Historic Decision

Honvéd was drawn to play Athletic Bilbao in the European Cup. Political events overtook the tie as the Soviet Union sent tanks into Hungary to crush the Revolution. There were immediate ramifications for football as the Hungarian Football Federation was taken over by the Soviet Union. Honvéd’s players found themselves in an impossible position.

They narrowly lost 3-2 to Athletic in Spain and insisted that the return leg was not played in Hungary. They hastily the ‘home’ leg to be played in Belgium at the Heysel Stadium. They drew 3-3, which meant they went out 6-5 on aggregate, but that started a new chapter for the very talented team and Guttmann. The team refused to Hungary, preferring to tour Spain, Italy and Portugal instead. FIFA strongly objected. This was not FIFA’s finest hour.

Hungarian football – the country too – had been hijacked, but FIFA sided with the oppressor. Despite the strong condemnation of FIFA and the Hungarian Football Federation which was little more than a puppet to the new masters of the country, the players and Guttmann stood firm. They were determined not to return and did not. Instead they embarked on an unofficial tour. They played Spanish giants Barçelona and Real Madrid, acquitting themselves well.

So Wrong

FIFA ordered them not to use the name Honvéd and banned them. This should not have happened. This was a clear case of political interference in the administration of football. Subsequently other Federations have been suspended for far less and that should have happened to the Soviet Union’s Football Federation at that time too. Instead players were punished and a great club side and indeed national team was broken up, but for Honvéd there would be a swansong.

México invited Honvéd to join their league and offered them asylum too. Honvéd declined preferring to play Brasilian teams Botafogo and Flamengo instead. Once that tour ended the players returned to Europe. Honvéd was finished as a major force in European football before they had the chance to establish what a truly great team they were.

It should also be noted that Hungarian football had tolerated political interference that culminated in a pre-arranged atrocity five years earlier to prevent players trying to leave the country. Újpest defender and Hungarian international Sándor Szűchs was tricked and black-mailed by the State Police1 into a plan to flee. He was arrested and judicially murdered by the Hungarian State on June 4th 1951. It was and remains a crime against humanity. We shall highlight his story soon.

Influence

Puskás and his team-mates eventually joined other teams in Europe, or returned to Hungary. Some like Grossics played for other teams in Hungary. Having profoundly influenced Hungarian football Béla Guttmann remained in Brasil. He joined São Paulo, coaching them to the Paulista Championship in the season of 1957-58. Among the players he coached was future World Cup winner Dino Sani and Mauro Ramos, who was part of the 1958 Brasil Squad and lifted the World Cup in 1962.

The attacking style of football favoured by the Mighty Magyars under the great Gusztáv Sebes and at club level by Márton Bukovi and Guttmann led to Bukovi trying a new and revolutionary formation 4-2-4. Sebes adopted it for the national team and Guttmann used it too. He brought it to South America. Guttmann used it to win the Paulista Championship in his one season with São Paulo. The Brasilian national team under Vicente Feola who had been Guttmann’s predecessor and successor at São Paulo adopted the tactics. They succeeded and a footballing dynasty began in Sweden, thanks at least in part to Guttmann. The football world was at his feet. He would not disappoint.

 

1The headquarters of the ÁVH – the State Police – had previously been that of the fascist Arrow Cross Party. Between October 1944 and March 1945 the Arrow Cross thugs were responsible for an estimated 15,000 murders and 80,000 deportations to concentration camps. Its leader was tried and executed as a war criminal. The building that housed both vile organisations is now a museum demonstrating the brutality of both political systems.

 

Béla Guttmann – The Making of a Football Legend

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 24th 2010)

Curses

It is an injustice that so few have heard of Béla Guttmann and most of those who have remember him for cursing Benfica to a century of heartbreak in European football. Guttmann led Benfica to break Real Madrid’s domination of the European Cup. The Portuguese giants won the trophy in 1961 and retained it against Real Madrid the following year. Guttmann asked the new President Antonio Carlos Cabral Fezas Vital for a pay rise – he had earned it – but was refused.

Guttmann not only left the club in acrimonious circumstances, but cursed them to a century of failure in European competition. The Curse has held firm. Whenever Benfica play nearby flowers are placed on Guttmann’s grave – Vienna. Not even the intervention of perhaps Benfica’s greatest ever player Eusébio da Silva Ferreira could lift the curse.

In 1990 Benfica reached the final of the European Cup. They faced another of Guttmann’s former clubs AC Milan. Now there was a club who deserved a curse for their treatment of Guttmann. He was bizarrely sacked with his team top of Serie A. Eusébio tended to Gutmann’s grave and prayed for him to left the Curse, but Guttmann remained unmoved. Eight defeats in finals and 52 years on Benfica remain unable to break the Curse. Not even a statue of Guttmann holding the two European Cups he won at their stadium has appeased Guttmann’s Curse.

Influence

Domestically, it is a different story. Benfica has won 45 domestic trophies since Guttmann pronounced his sentence of 100 years in the European wilderness – the Primera Liga 22 times, Taça de Portugal (Portuguese Cup) 14 times, Taça da Liga (league Cup) five times and Supertaça Cândido de Oliveira (equivalent of the Community Shield) four times. Nevertheless European success eludes them.

Their greatest player Eusébio scored an incredible 474 goals in 440 matches for Benfica, but not even he could end the Curse. He had been recruited by Guttmann following a recommendation by former Brasilian international José Carlos Bauer who had played for Guttmann when the Hungarian managed São Paulo in 1957. Bauer had played in the infamous Battle of Bern – a match that could have permanently soured relations between Brasil and Hungary.

Both sides played attacking football, but this was a niggly exhibition of all that is wrong in football. Nevertheless, close ties emerged. Guttmann was one of the young breed of managers that helped Hungary become the Mighty Magyars. Gusztáv Sebes managed the national team and benefited from the tactical formations played by Guttmann and Márton Bukovi. The latter’s innovative use of a deep-lying forward was used to great effect by Sebes during Hungary’s routing of England in 1953 and 54. The formation developed into 4-2-4.

Having helped Sebes to develop Hungary into one of the best sides ever to play the beautiful game, Guttmann helped to launch an international football dynasty. Brasil had threatened to deliver great things without quite managing to fulfil the promise – 1950 being the classic example. But the nomadic existence had plenty of travelling to complete before Guttmann set foot in South America.

Spreading the Word

Guttmann walked out on Kispest (Honvéd) after Ferenc Puskás tried to get another player to ignore his instructions, although he had some justification. Guttmann was unimpressed with the performance of Milhaly Patyi and ordered him not to go out for the second half. Puskás, who already had a strained relationship with Guttmann told Patyi to ignore Guttmann. He did and the fiery coach walked out during the match.

Italian football was next on his list. Padova had just been promoted to Serie A in 1948. Guttmann coached them in 1949-50. Triestina had a season of Guttmann before he left Italy for Argentina in 1952 and a very brief spell with Quilmes who remained in the second tier of Argentinian football. Guttmann joined APOEL in Cyprus that year, leaving the following year for Italy again and the chance to manage a great team, AC Milan.

Gunnar Gren had left, but Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm remained and the World Cup-winning Uruguayan great Juan Alberto Schiaffino joined. AC Milan sacked Guttmann after 19 games of the 1954-55 season. They were top of the table and went on to win the title. Gutmann left with a bizarre but memorable parting shot. “I have been sacked even though I am neither a criminal nor a homosexual”, Guttmann said. “Goodbye”. Rather than issue a Curse – perhaps a good thing given that AC Milan won Serie A that season – Guttmann had a clause in future contracts. He could not be sacked if his team were in first place.

 

Béla Guttmann – A Football Pioneer

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 24th 2010)

At Their Feet

The Champion’s League Final takes place tonight at the Estádio da Luz – now known as the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica. Adorning the stadium is a statue of Benfica’s greatest manager, Béla Guttmann holding the two European Cups that his teams won aloft. The Hungarian coach had led Benfica to back to back successes, beating Barçelona in 1961 and Real Madrid in 1962.

The football world was at their feet. One of football’s all-time greats Eusébio da Silva Ferreira had made his breakthrough into Benfica’s side and both he and Guttmann held each other in very high regard once Eusébio had proved his worth. Real Madrid dominated the early years of the European Cup, winning the first five until Barçelona broke the trend before losing to Guttmann’s Benfica.

It was no one-season wonder either as Guttmann’s team beat a Ferenc Puskás inspired Real, despite a hat-trick from the Galloping Major. Puskás was so impressed that he gave the Mozambican-born Eusébio – hailed by many as the greatest ever African footballer – his shirt. A dynasty should have followed, but Benfica have never won a European trophy since.

The Curse

Guttmann is probably best known for the curse that bears his name. Having guided his team to two successive European Cups, the Hungarian coach wanted a pay rise. He had earned it, but Benfica’s new President Antonio Carlos Cabral Fezas Vital foolishly refused. Guttmann, never one to stay put for long – his three years at Benfica was the longest spell in management – left the club acrimoniously.

According to some he cursed Benfica. The most popular version of it is this: Not in 100 years from now will Benfica win a European Cup”. And to date – 52 years and counting – they haven’t. Guttmann had built an exceptionally talented side, playing thrilling attacking football. The victory over Real Madrid established their credentials to build a footballing dynasty. Instead an exhibition of crass short-sightedness robbed the team of its tactician and ushered in half a century of failure. But there is so much more to Guttmann than the curse.

Origins

Guttmann began his football career with MTK in 1919, winning the league title in 1920 and 1921. Magyar Testgyakorlók Köre Budapest FC (usually called MTK) was the dominant team in Hungary at the time. They won the league every season from 1917 until 1925. He made just four appearances for Hungary. His international career ended abruptly when he protested the accommodation facilities and that there were too many officials by hanging dead rats to their hotel doors.

Two years earlier he was forced to leave the country of his birth by rampant anti-Jewish racism. Guttmann was born in the dying generation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Hungary had secured co-empire status in 1867. It lasted until defeat in the First World War

Gutmann’s career began in an era of massive upheaval. The Hapsburg Empire had collapsed – the compromise that resulted in the dual monarchies (Austro-Hungarian) lasted just over half a century. It resulted in political uncertainty. A communist coup led by Béla Kun had seized power in 1919, ushering in a Red Terror, which was countered by an even more brutal counter-terror and reactionary regime.

Former war hero Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya became Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary until he was overthrown in 1944 and detained by the Nazis. He never faced charges for his wartime collaboration. The White Terror that followed the overthrow of Kun was led by Pál Prónay de Tótpróna et Blatnicza a military colleague of Horthy who revelled in the Sadistic cruelty of the torture he inflicted. Anti-Jewish brutality was a feature of the White Terror.

It resulted in some Jews fleeing Hungary. Guttmann had to flee the persecution. He played for Hakoah Wien (Vienna) – a Jewish club. Hakoah toured extensively including the USA. In 1926 Guttmann stayed in the USA, suffering losses in the Wall Street Crash of 1929. He returned to Europe three years later. A year later his playing career over Guttmann forged a new a career – one that would define his contribution to football  –  coaching.

The Coaching Nomad

Hakoah were the first team to employ him for two seasons. Dutch club FC Twente (now known as Twente Enschede) hired him for the next two seasons in 1935 before he returned to Hakoah. It should be remembered that Austria’s Wunderteam played the type of attacking football Guttmann believed in – a prototype of total football at this time. Guttmann was an advocate of uncompromising attacking football, saying he didn’t mind opponents scoring as he always believed that his team would score. With Europe drifting towards war Guttmann won the Hungarian championship with Újpest.

Being a Jew in Nazi-sympathising countries meant Guttmann’s life was in peril again. He lost relatives, but survived World War Two. Guttmann preferred not to talk about those experiences. After that war Guttmann returned to football, helping to change the way football was played. His first job was in Hungary at Vasas SC. His next stop was also brief – the Jewish club Maccabi Bucureşti (now known as Ciocanul)  – before returning to Újpest.

His Way

He was a very gifted coach, but things had to be done his way and only his way. At one of these clubs he insisted on being paid in vegetables due to food shortages. His tenure ended quickly when that club’s President tried to influence team selection. He walked out, After Újpest Guttman joined Kispest (now known as Honvéd), but despite no shortage of great talent, it proved to be an unhappy first spell in charge of this team.

He left abruptly after the young Ferenc Puskás was overheard telling another player at half-time to ignore Guttmann – Puskás had cause over this though. Guttmann had had a fractious relationship with Puskás previously. His instructions ignored Guttman went to the stands, disinterested in the rest of the match. He walked out on the club for that. Guttmann had succeeded Puskás’ father as coach. He was appointed again after Guttmann left. In 1962 the Galloping Major found Guttmann’s tactical nous was not bad after all when Benfica retained the European Cup at the expense of Puskás’ club Real Madrid. He also found that despite their differences Guttmann stood up for his players in 1956.

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.

 

Trophy Drought Ends

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 17th 2014)

Relief

Arsène Wenger ended almost a decade without a trophy with a 3-2 defeat of Hull City after extra-time victory over Hull City at Wembley this evening. It was relief and happiness because of course we were under severe pressure to win today”, Wenger said. “Hull started stronger and we were hesitant, then we made a demonstration of how to respond to being 2-0 down and also how not to start the FA Cup final”.

Image

Wenger committed his future to Arsenal after his fifth FA Cup triumph – the sweetest of them. “This team has a special togetherness”, he said. “In the end, it finished well, so it is a big, big moment of happiness. We waited for a long time with that, and it is sometimes linked with the suffering we had to wait for. It was an important moment in the life of this team, because to lose today would certainly have been a major setback. It was more important today than all of the others”.

Reeling

With less than 10 minutes played Steve Bruce saw his unfancied team race to a 2-0 lead with goals from James Chester and captain Curtis Davies. It could have been three if Kieran Gibbs hadn’t cleared Alex Bruce’s header off the line.

Less than four minutes into the match Stephen Quinn’s corner found Tom Huddlestone on the edge of the area. He either shot badly, or intended to pass to Chester who diverted it wide of Łukasz Fabiański’s dive to send Hull’s fans wild with joy.

Four minutes after taking the lead a free-kick taken further forward than it should have been led to Hull’s second. Quinn received the ball on the opposite flank and crossed. Bruce’s header beat Fabiański, but not the post. It rebounded to Davies who scored from close range.

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Arsenal were reeling until a free-kick needlessly conceded by Bruce gave Santi Cazolrla the chance to bring Arsenal back into the match. His shot from 25 yards out gave Alan McGregor no chance. Despite efforts from Huddlestone and a move down the left flank where Mikel Arteta squared for a tap in for Cazorla who somehow failed to make contact.

Destiny

Needing to break the drought before it became a Béla Guttmannesque curse Arsenal had the better of the second half. Cazorla and Giroud had penalty claims waived away by referee Lee Probert. Arsenal created the better chances as Hull tired, trying to defend what they had. The pressure paid off as Laurent Koscielny turned Cazorla’s corner in from 8 yards out.

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Arsenal could and perhaps should have won in normal time. Gibbs wasted a glorious chance, blasting over from just inside the area. Shortly afterwards Olivier Giroud was thwarted by McGregor’s fine save. Extra-time beckoned.

Hull had acquitted themselves well, but were tiring. Man of the Match Aaron Ramsey – Wenger thought he should have been in the team of the season – came into his own in extra-time. He had contributed superb distribution previously, but in extra time threatened Hull’s goal. In the first 15 minutes he was denied by a fine save by McGregor and the side-netting.

Ramsey netted the winner in the second period of extra-time following a sublime back-heeled assist from Giroud. The long wait was almost over, but there was still time for Fabiański’s rush of blood to almost cost his team dear. Substitute Sone Aluko clipped a through-ball down the left flank, but with the goal gaping clipped his shot wide. It was Arsenal’s day.

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