A Nice Message

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 27th 2014)

Ospina Seals Move

Both Arsenal and OGC Nice confirmed that Colombian World Cup star David Ospina Ramírez has joined the Gunners for an undisclosed fee, believed to be in the region of £3.2m. Ospina spent six years on the French Riviera. He was a notable absentee when Claude Puelʼs young Nice team lost 3-2 against Brentford at Griffin Park yesterday.

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He was a good player, a good keeper”, former team-mate and OGC Nice defender Kevin Gomis told us. “He played very good for this club and I think itʼs a big message for Nice and we have a good keeper in Mouez Hassan and Yoan [Cardinale] is there”.

Stars are Born

Ospina was part of Colombiaʼs team that made history by reaching the quarter-final of the World Cup. But for excessively lenient officiating los Cafeteros may have gone further. Nevertheless, the football world has belatedly woken up to Colombian talent. James Rodríguez Rubio left Monaco for Real Madrid and Radmael Falcao García Zárate may follow him. Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello is coveted by top clubs too.

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Gomis was impressed. “For me it was a revelation”, Gomis said. “Good player [Juan Fernando] Quintero [Paniagua], James Rodríguez. He played there for Monaco. I played against him. He is a very good player and for me, itʼs not a surprise”.

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Brentford Beat Nice

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 26th 2014)

A New Start

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Brentford gained a morale-boosting 3-2 win against Ligue Un outfit OGC Nice at Griffin Park this evening. New signing André Gray gave Brentford the dream start in their friendly against OGC Nice. A few minutes later Neal Maupay replied for the Rivieraʼs finest. Alex Pritchardʼs brace restored comfort for the Bees before Lloyd Palunʼs tap-in set up the second half.

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Niceʼs defender Kevin Gomis was impressed with what he saw. “I donʼt know this club before we play against them”, he said. “Itʼs a good club. They are committed this season and I think they can do good things in the Championship”. Brentford was promoted to the Championship last season. Manager Mark Warburton is looking for more than just survival and on this eveningʼs showing it would not be wise to bet against him.

Frenetic

Warburton has made some acute signings and loan deals to strengthen his squad. All the goals were scored by new players and another contributed greatly. Moses Odubajoʼs pace will frighten many defenders. Having come through Leyton Orientʼs youth structure speculation mounted. Described as the best player to come through Orient for years, other clubs were told it would require a Kingʼs ransom to get him – Brentford secured his services for £1m. It looked a bargain.

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Warburtonʼs team attacked from the start. The speedy Moses Odubajo made an immediate impact. His first contribution was a fortunate assist. The ball spun off him into the path of André Gray whose impressive performances in the Conference for Luton Town earned him a move to Brentford. Gray pounced on the fortunate assist to open the scoring. Claude Puelʼs Nice countered immediately.

Alexy Bosettiʼs free-kick was parried by Brentfordʼs goalkeeper David Button to Lucas Rougeaux, whose shot was blocked by Nico Yennaris. The rebound was converted by Maupay.

Promise

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Midway through the first half Jonathan Douglasʼ shot went just wide. Odubajo then spotted former French Under-19 keeper Yoan Cardinale off his line and attempted an audacious 40 yard effort, but it cleared the bar by some distance. Ten minutes later Alex Pritchard, on loan from Spurs, took centre stage.

Niceʼs defence, shorn of Colombian World Cup Star David Ospina Ramírez, who was on the verge of joining Arsenal, were at sixes and sevens. Cardinale could do nothing about Pritchardʼs superb 20-yard free-kick, which beat Cardinale at his near post after 37 minutes. Within five minutes Pritchard harried Timothée Kolodziejckzak into an error.

Cardinale was helpless as Pritchard chipped in from close range. However, the two-goal cushion was short lived. Bosetti found Éric Bauthéac on the left. He pulled it across the goal for Palun to score from a yard out. The scoring was over, but Nice found the net once more. Shortly after the restart Bosetti hit the post and Palun followed up. Button saved the first effort, but Palun scored the second. His celebrations were cut short by an offside flag.

Less than ten minutes into the second half Odubajo was thwarted by an excellent save by Cardinale from close range. Odubajoʼs last contribution was a delightful flick to free Jake Bidwell on the left flank. His cross deserved better, but the chance went begging.

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With less than a quarter of an hour remaining Toumani Diagouraga missed a golden opportunity as Cardinale raced off his line, forcing Diagouraga to lob over the bar. With two minutes left a magnificent move finished with substitute Jordan Amaviʼs shot from just outside the area. Brentford had a good test and came through it. “We just need to play together to play good, to play well and thatʼs it”, Gomis said. “We want to work with young players and itʼs more difficult for us to stay in the top premier league”.

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The New Dynasty

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 13th 2014)

The Tactician

With the spectre of penalties looming Bayern München’s Mario Götze’s spectacular goal ended Germany’s 18 year wait for a trophy at the Estádio Maracanã tonight. Joachim Löw’s strategy and patience had finally been rewarded with the ultimate triumph. With eight minutes of the second period of extra time remaining a quick throw-in down the left flank released Chelsea’s André Schürrle.

His cross was chested down and volleyed across the Monaco’s second choice keeper Sergio Romero for the goal that won the World Cup. It was a strike worthy of ending almost two decades of pain and a decade for the clinical tactician Löw. There was a typically German meticulous attention to detail to Löw’s planning that required unusual patience to bear fruit and deliver the foundations for continued success – domination even.

The Next Generation

Eight years ago Löw took over the Mannschaft from Jürgen Klinsmann, who had blooded the youngsters who now provided the experience to blend with the undoubted promise of the next generation, which hammered England’s youth five years ago. Captained by 30-year-old Philipp Lahm the Mannschaft has integrated exceptionally talented youngsters – the Under-20 European Cup winning team of 2009 – and delivered their first senior title.

Germany’s team of World beaters is young and achieved the top prize in half the time it took Spain’s tiki-taki generation to translate youthful promise into senior prowess. Five years ago Germany’s Under-20 team destroyed England 4-0 in Malmo to claim an important trophy. Manuel Neuer, Benedikt Höwedes, Mats Hummels, Jérôme Boateng, Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira played a huge part in German success as youngsters and now in the senior team too.

But for Khedira’s injury during warming up more than half of that Cup-winning team would have started the World Cup Final. Löw’s plans for German domination for years to come appear to be built on solid foundations. Few deny that Germany were worthy winners and the team of the tournament.

Small Margins

Despite the odd flash of genius Barçelona’s Lionel Messi failed to provide the moment of genius capable of settling Argentina’s nerves, or even testing the Goalkeeper of the Tournament, Germany’s sweeper/keeper Manuel Neuer. But Germany didn’t have everything their own way.

Argentina had the best of the first half and even had the ball in the net, but Argentina should have taken the lead earlier. Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuaín will have nightmares for the rest of his career over the glaring miss that prolongs an even longer wait for silverware than Germany’s for his country. The Albiceleste last lifted a major trophy in 1993 – the Copa América.

A defensive header out by Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels was inexplicably headed back into Higuaín’s path by Toni Kroos. The Real Madrid bound midfielder’s error should have been punished by Higuaín, but Neuer was quick off his line, making himself a bigger obstacle. Higuaín lobbed him, but his effort went wide. Credit to Neuer, but Higuaín had to score that.

Redemption Lost

Ten minutes later Higuaín thought that redemption had come. A glorious pass by Messi released Ezequiel Lavezzi on the right wing. Lavezzi’s cross was converted by Higuaín – a more difficult chance, but eagle-eyed assistant referee Andrea Steffani had spotted an offside and the goal was disallowed.

Germany had chances too. With half-time approaching Kroos’ corner was met by a virtually unmarked Benedikt Höwedes. His header hit the post, but the assistant referee’s flag was quickly raised as Thomas Müller was offside.

Shortly after the break Lucas Biglia put Messi through on the left of the area, but Messi pulled his shot wide of Neuer’s left hand post. A player of Messi’s class should have scored. It was far from a dirty match, but once again the directive struck. Javier Mascherano has arguably been Argentina’s most important player – allowing Messi to shin – but while no quarter was asked or given the desire to avoid cards being shown turned into a foulers’ charter.

No Quarter Asked or Given

Mascherano was booked for a lunge on Miroslav Klose after losing possession, but escaped further sanction for further fouling later, including a double-team lunge with Lucas Biglia on Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Bayern München midfielder was the victim of some harsh treatment.

Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero, plagued by injuries, replaced Lavezzi at half time and soon made a nuisance of himself. Within twenty minutes of coming on he was deservedly booked for an atrocious foul on Schweinsteiger. Agüero can have no complaints. He could have been sent off, but another offence early in the second period of extra time left Schweinsteiger bloodied as Agüero’s hand connected with the German’s head. Sami Khedira was incensed.

Khedira’s last minute replacement Christoph Kramer suffered a head injury after a collision with Marcos Rojo. Eventually, Kramer had to be replaced by Schürrle. His injury reignited the debate on whether concussed or dazed players should be allowed to play on whether they want to or not. There was no question of intent or malice in the challenge. Others were fortunate to remain on the pitch.

Exploitation

Neuer was fortunate to escape a card. Just over ten minutes into the second half he leapt high and caught Higuaín in the head with his knee. Higuaín was distinctly unimpressed, but there was no card for Neuer. Incredibly the officials penalised Higuaín. It made a mockery of the tournament as thuggery on the pitch was rewarded with a licence to foul – one that Brasilian legend Zico said had been exploited.

Far from protecting skilful players from unwanted cards and suspensions, it put a mark on their backs that was cynically exploited by the least skilful and thuggish teams – Brasil was just the highest profile example of this. This wretched approach invaded the final too. But the football was entertaining too.

Icons

Both sides tried to win. No sooner had extra time started that both sides attacked. Höwedes passed to Schürrle who went to ground after prodding it to Götze. Schürrle got up and received Götze’s pass before shooting, but Romero parried. Five minutes later Marcos Rojo delivered an excellent cross, but substitute Rodrigo Palacio’s first touch cost him dear. Neuer got off his line quickly and Palacio’s lob went wide. He should have scored.

Well into injury time Argentina had a free-kick. Messi took it and blasted it well over. The curtain fell on Argentina’s dreams of Maracanazo II and on Messi’s hopes to match national icon Diego Maradona’s place in his country’s affections.

Greatness

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 13th 2014)

Thrust upon Them

Make no mistake about this, Lionel Messi will go down in history as one of the greatest footballers ever to grace the beautiful game. That will happen whether he wins the World Cup or not. Johan Cruijff, Alfredo di Stéfano, Ferenc Puskás, Eusébio, Valentino and Alessandro Mazzola and many others never won the World Cup.

Does that mean they were not great players? Only to fools who know nothing about football. Nobody with any football knowledge would put Stéphane Guivarcʼh on the same plane as those mentioned above, even though he won the World Cup and they did not.

Legacy

Messiʼs legacy – win or lose today – is far from complete. Diego Maradona is credited with lifting a mediocre team on his shoulders all the way to glory in 1986. It certainly wasnʼt the greatest team ever to win the World Cup, but the supporting cast was contained some talented players too.

Jorge Valdano went on to play for Real Madrid and demonstrate administrative skills too. The former record holder for most caps for his country Oscar Ruggeri organised the defence. Ruggeri is recognised as the cog that made Argentinaʼs defence tick.

Former World Cup-winning captain Daniel Passarella, albeit an ageing Passarella, was in the squad too and Jorge Burruchaga was part of that team. Burruchaga tasted the delight of scoring in the World Cup Final and the shame of a ban for agreeing to a bribe in the infamous Valenciennes/Olympique Marseilles scandal, even though he never actually took the bribe.

Exceptional

While Maradona didnʼt have to do it alone – he had an impressive five goals and five assists – Messi has a higher calibre of team-mate. Gonzalo Higuaín, Sergio Agüero, Javier Mascherano and Ángel di Maria to name but a few.

Messi is an exceptional talent – one of the greatest ever. Win or lose tonight, he still will be. However, winning the World Cup at the Estádio do Maracanã will make the entire team, especially national heroes and eclipse the horror of the Maracanazo with an even greater pain than Uruguay inflicted on Brasil 64 years ago or even the 7-1 humiliation by Germany in Belo Horizonte.

 

Cometh the Hour?

 

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 12th 2014)

Wilderness Years Begin

Germanyʼs recent record in major finals is – well – unGerman. Renowned for ruthless efficiency they could be relied on to always be in the mix for major trophies, but the last time Germany lifted a trophy was in 1996. Remember who the successful coach was – a certain Berti Vogts. Argentinaʼs record is even worse. Their last appearance in the final was a losing effort in 1990 – an awful final. 

He inherited Franz Beckenbauerʼs World Cup winning team in 1990 and led then to defeat to Denmark in 1992. He left after eight years in charge after falling in the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1994 and again in 1998 to Bulgaria and Croatia respectively.

Erich Ribeck led der Mannschaft (the national team) to a shameful exit in Euro2000 – bottom of their qualifying group. Rudi Völler managed one place better in Euro2004. Latvia finished below them, but two years earlier Völler led Germany to defeat in the final to Brasil. Luiz Felipe Scolari was Brasilʼs manager then.

Overdue

After the failure at Euro2004 Jürgen Klinsmann replaced Völler. Germany reached the semi-final of the 2006 World Cup on home soil as Klinsmann blooded a young team and left the team to his assistant Joachim Löw, but despite the studious approach of Löw trophies continued to elude der Mannschaft. Löwʼs team matched Klinsmannʼs achievement finishing third. On both occasions Germany lost to the eventual winners.

Spainʼs rise to dominance began in 2008 in Austria. The late Luis Aragonés Suárez ushered in six years of unparalleled success by beating Germany 1-0 in the final. They knocked Löwʼs charges out in the semi-final in Durban in South Africaʼs World Cup. And in the Ukraine and Poland, Spain retained their European title, beating Italy 4-0 in the final. Germany had been beaten 2-1 by Italy in the semi-final.

Opportunity Knocks

Spainʼs defence of their world title was one of the worst ever. Sated by their three titles Spain returned home at the first opportunity. Germany continued growing into the competition with every passing match, culminating in a humiliating mauling of hosts Brasil 7-1 in Belo Horizonte – the worst thrashing ever in the semi-final of a World Cup.

The previous worst was 84 years ago in the inaugural World Cup when eventual winners Uruguay beat Yugoslavia 6-1 and the USA lost 6-1 to Argentina. Austria lost 6-1 to West Germany in 1954 as well. It had three times and at least one of them had a very good reason for losing so badly – they played a large portion of the match effectively with eight players. One of the wounded was the goal-keeper.

The USA never had a chance. The rules permitted no substitutions and Argentina had taken no prisoners on their way through to Belo Horizonte. Their goal-keeper was injured after 4 minutes. Another player played on injured and a third played with a broken leg until half time. This was before substitutions were allowed.

Best Chance

Surely Germany will never have a better chance to end almost two decades of trophylessness. They topped their group – one of the most difficult, dismantling Portugal, drawing with Ghana and just beating the USA before Algeria gave them a fright, but fell just short. They deservedly beat France and completely humiliated Brasil.

Nobody can say Germany has not reached the final on merit. They have reached finals and semi-finals, but ultimately this tournament will be viewed a failure if they fail to match Italyʼs achievement and win the World Cup for the fourth time. Germany have done well; theyʼve got close before. Is it Germanyʼs time to win the World Cup?

Arsenalʼs Lukas Podolski thinks so. “Of course”, he said before Arsenal ended their own trophy drought. “Of course we want to win the World Cup, but other teams want that as well and it was not easy. The pressure is big because we would say Germany are the favourites – the people in Germany, the newspapers say we already win the World Cup, but itʼs not easy”.

 

Brasil Fail Again

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 12th 2014)

Controversial Start

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Despite denouncing the match at Brasiliaʼs Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha as pointless, Manchester-bound Louis van Gaal sent a strong team out to contest the penultimate match of Brasilʼs World Cup. Luiz Felipe Scolari, also named a strong team, but the Seleção got yet another awful start, although it should have been worse.

Just over a minute into the match the Netherlandsʼ captain Robin van Persie out-muscled Paris Saint-Germainʼs Thiago Silva. He controlled it, turned and passed to Arjen Robben. Bayern Münchenʼs winger out-paced Silva who pulled him back.

As Silva was the last man he plainly should have been sent off, but the Algerian referee Djamel Haïmoudi only brandished a yellow card. It plainly ought to have been a red card – yet another example of the ludicrous leniency that has plagued this tournament, especially in Brasilʼs favour.

Pointless

Júlio César Soares de Espíndola was easily beaten by van Persie from the spot to give the Dutch the lead – a lead they never surrendered. It soon got embarrassing. Danny Blind will take over managing the Dutch team in two years time. His son Daley – a defensive midfielder – has never scored an international goal previously.

The Ajax player found Brasilian defending – a misnomer if ever there was one – to his taste. Swansea Cityʼs Jonathan de Guzman crossed from the right wing after being released on that flank by Robben. David Luiz inexplicably headed the cross towards the penalty spot rather than over the bar. Blind could hardly believe his luck. He brought it down, set it up and placed it carefully out of Júlio Césarʼs reach to double the Netherlandsʼ lead.

White Elephant

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Brasiliaʼs stadium was well attended tonight. Sadly that is unlikely to be repeated. Last years manifestations (demonstrations) against the corruption that had permeated Brasilian society from top to bottom began in Brasilia. Its stadium is state-of-the-art. The facilities are top notch. It is an excellent stadium, but there is no chance of it being anything but a white elephant of gargantuan proportions.

Brasilia doesnʼt have a team that is capable of filling the stadium after the 2014 World Cup. Their top team is in the fourth division of Brasilian football. They do not have the slightest chance of filling this stadium week in week out and everyone knows it. It is a colossal waste of money and worse still the promises that public resources would not be spent on stadiums has not been kept.

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The protesters have got every point”, the BBCʼs South American football expert Tim Vickery told Empower-Sport last year. “Firstly because they were explicitly lied to and they were told in 2007 that all of the money to build stadiums would be private money with public money being used for infrastructure. Hasnʼt happened at all”.

So what has happened? The oligarchy that has brought Brasillian football to the brink of disaster has overtly lied to the people. “Almost all of the money being used on stadiums is public money and so many of the transport infrastructure projects never got off the page and there are some projects that should have been in there that arenʼt anyway”, Vickery says.

Their Fiefdom

Brasilian football was run as a personal fiefdom by the former President of the Brasilian Football Federation Ricardo Texeira. His successor José Maria Marin is no better. In some ways Marin is even worse. Brasilia will have no World Cup legacy, just citizens saddled with enormous debts to maintain a stadium they never wanted. Vickery supports the protesters.

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I think two of the cities that youʼve been to that I was at – Salvador – Salvador is paying for an underground since the year 2000”, Vickery said. “Itʼs not operational. You know, why? Belo Horizonte has an underground that kind of links somewhere not very interesting to somewhere else not very interesting”.

This was a terrible wasted opportunity. “What an opportunity the World Cup was to make the underground the main platform of the public transport system”, Vickery says, “so these opportunities werenʼt taken”. The transport system and other essential infrastructural projects fell by the wayside. The priority was stadiums and more stadiums and even those had glitches.

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Quite apart from the fact that of these twelve stadiums four of them have limited viability – I mean you mentioned Brasilia”, Vickery says. “You could certainly throw in Cuiabá and Manaus as well and possibly Natal, so the protesters have every point”. But itʼs too late. Resources Brasil could ill afford have been squandered on a stadium that cannot support itself, which should never have been built.

Pride

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After the shameful capitulation in Belo Horizonte Luiz Felipe Scolari knew that his team owed Brasilians a performance. Chelseaʼs Ramires and club team-mate Willian too in a far more competitive line-up. Fred – the scapegoat for most of this teamʼs woes is second only to the injured Neymar in scoring – was dropped and Hulk too.

How quickly they forget. Just a year ago the afore-mentioned Fluminense striker started slowly and ended the Confederationsʼ Cup as the tournamentʼs top scorer. It made no difference. The 64 year wait to avenge Alcides Ghiggiaʼs destruction of Brasilian hopes had ended in shameful failure, leaving nothing but restoring pride to play for.

With seven minutes of the first half remaining Paris Saint-Germainʼs Maxwell should have received at least a caution and probably red for elbowing Dirk Kuyt in the head. Kuyt and his Dutch team-mates were unimpressed. The leniency shown to Brasil for their persistent and niggling fouling made a mockery of the tournament and helped an inadequate team not only to overachieve, but deny better teams a fair chance.

The Beautiful Game

Within ten minutes of his introduction at half time Fernandinho fouled Robben and got himself booked for one on van Persie. Minutes later Hernanes clattered Robben. He should have been booked. It took almost an hour for Ramires to get the better of Aston Villaʼs Ron Vlaar, but the Chelsea midfielder pulled his shot wide of Cillessenʼs goal.

But halfway through the second half Óscar was booked for simulation. As a result of his challenge Blind had to be stretchered off. Meanwhile, Ajaxʼs Jasper Cillessen hardly had a save to make and was replaced in injury time by Michel Vorm.

Swanseaʼs keeperʼs hardly got a touch. Moments before he came on Daryl Janmaat overlapped Robben on the right wing and crossed for Georginio Wijnaldum to make it three – a convincing win that suggests there are still very serious problems to address in Brasilian football.

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Argentina Pip Netherlands

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 9th 2014)

Drab Spectacle

Louis van Gaal is no Felix Okey Emordi. Hailed as a genius for substituting Ajaxʼs Jasper Cillessen for penalties hero Tim Krul in the quarter-final van Gaal left no room for repetition when he replaced an ineffective Robin van Persie with Schalke04ʼs Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – his third and final substitution.

A drab 0-0 draw meant penalties and Cillessen had never saved one in 13 attempts. Argentina won the penalty shoot-out 4-2, scoring all four to bring Cillessenʼs record to 0 for 17. He got hands to Maxi Rodríguezʼ final spot-kick, but could not keep it out. Sergio Romero, who had spent a season on-loan with Monaco, but confined mainly to the bench in France was the hero. Defender Ron Vlaarʼs penalty was poor and Wesley Sneijder saw his well-saved.

Missing in Action

The match – billed as Lionel Messi versus Arjen Robben in advance didnʼt turn out that way. Bayern Münchenʼs Robben was shackled by a masterful exhibition of defending by Barçelonaʼs Javier Mascherano. Extra time was largely forgettable although Newellʼs Old Boysʼ Maxi Rodríguez should have had an assist when he put Interʼs Rodrigo Palacio through with just Cillessen to beat. Palacio nodded it into the grateful arms of Ajaxʼs shot-stopper.

Cillessen may not be a penalty stopper, but he certainly doesnʼt lack confidence or ball skills. Both Gonzalo Higuaín and the Napoli strikerʼs replacement Sergio Agüero were left with egg on their faces by the same back-heel and turn to find space to start a counter-attack. FIFA did at least learn a lesson from yesterday. A minuteʼs silence or applause was observed for the great Alfredo di Stéfano. Argentina will play Germany at the Estádio do Maracanã on Sunday while Brasil and the Netherlands will meet for third or fourth in Brasilia – the final that should have been if the thuggish Argentine dictator General Jorge Videla Redondo had not been allowed to bully his way into getting the result that he wanted in 1978.