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”.

 

Germany Humiliate Brasil

 

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 8th 2014)

Unprecedented

Shorn of the talents of Neymar (injured) and Thiago Silva (suspended) Joachim Löw’s Germany dismantled the host Brasil 7-1. It was the worst defeat in a semi-final of the World Cup ever, beating the three joint best 6-1 – Argentina v the USA, Uruguay v Yugoslavia in 1930 and West Germany v Austria in 1954.

Five nil up within half an hour Germany could have notched a cricket score, but at half time they withdrew Mats Hummels in favour of Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker, having taken a decision not to humiliate their hosts. For ten minutes it was an even contest, but the bane of Brasil’s performance soon became evident as Germany cut through Brasil’s defence with consummate ease.

Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira won a corner off club colleague Marcelo. It was taken by Bayern München’s departing attacking midfielder Toni Kroos. The marking was abysmal as Kroos’ team-mate for club and country Thomas Müller was unmarked at the back post to volley in from 8 yards. Luiz Felipe Scolari’s teams are normally solid at the back. Tonight they were dismal.

Ten Minutes that Scarred a Nation

Brasil conceded the next four goals in less than ten minutes. Manchester City’s Fernandinho may wish that Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo had stayed true to form and remained a fussy disciplinarian referee against Colombia – this proved a good match to be suspended for. Fernandinho ought to have intercepted Müller’s pass to Kroos, but failed to do so. Kroos found Miroslav Klose whose shot was parried back to the German poacher – all his World Cup Finals’ goals were from within the box. Klose pounced on the rebound to become the record-holder with 16. Six minutes later Germany were 5-0 up as Brasil capitulated.

Within two minutes Germany cut swathes down the right flank. Kroos found Arsenal’s Mesut Özil who released Philipp Lahm. Germany’s captain squared for Müller to score der Mannschaft’s third. A minute later a comical defensive lapse by Fernandinho gifted another. Fernandinho made a mess of Dante’s pass, allowing Kroos to pinch possession, surge forward and a one-two with Khedira beat Júlio César Sores de Espíndola, even though the keeper got a hand to it. That was three in as many minutes.

Three minutes later the rout became embarrassing. Khedira was bossing the match and bagged himself a rare goal. David Luiz’ pass was intercepted and after exchanging passes with Kroos, Khedira bagged the fifth with less than half an hour played.

Disgraceful

Captaining his country Luiz’ should never have completed the half let alone match. He elbowed Klose in the face twice. The first time Klose did him a favour and ignored it – the second time he went down. Replays confirmed that Luiz had indeed elbowed Klose twice. Both times referee Marco Rodríguez – the Méxican official who had ignored Giorgio Chiellini’s efforts to show him that Luis Suárez had bitten him – failed to take action.

What do Brasilians have to do to get sent off in this World Cup? In fact even yellow cards are rare. Just over a quarter of an hour into the match Marcelo went to ground wanting a penalty. Lahm’s tackle was well-timed, but Marcelo had dived. He should have been booked. Minutes earlier the same player had cynically blocked Müller and Bernard did the same to Kroos.

Hulk got in on the simulation later as well. Yet again no cards were brandished until after an hour even after the fiasco of the previous match. Luiz should have been shown the yellow card for clattering Müller right in front of the referee. And then there was his reaction to a later foul by Müller. Luiz kicked out at him, but didn’t connect. Germans fouled too, but far less. Luiz Gustavo deserved at least a card and both Fred and Óscar tried to buy penalties cheaply without success.

Consolidation

Both managers made changes at half time. Ramires and Paulinho replaced Hulk and Fernandinho at half time. Defensive frailties persisted – Luiz had a very poor game, but Müller couldn’t profit from his error. Paulinho almost made a quick impact, but Neuer’s double save from point blank range. A minute earlier he denied Óscar. With just under an hour played Júlio César tipped Müller’s shot from just outside the area over the bar.

A couple of minutes later Maicon became the latest to try to con a penalty. He failed, but yet again no card was shown. Finally – after three quarters of the match Rodríguez brandished a card in Dante’s direction for clattering Müller from behind. Chelsea’s André Schürrle had replaced the record-breaking Klose twelve minutes before he put Germany six up.

Lahm and Khedira exploited the weak defending on Brasil’s left. Lahm pulled it back for Schürrle to tap in. The carnage was still incomplete. A quick throw down the left wing found Müller. His reverse pass to Schürrle was sublime. Schürrle continued down the left of the area before lashing it past Júlio César at his near post for the best of Germany’s seven.

With a minute of normal time remaining Özil wasted a golden opportunity to make it eight, pulling his shot wide of Júlio César’s far post. To Neuer’s disgust Germany conceded as added tie approached. Neuer – the sweeper-keeper failed to come and clear the danger as Óscar latched on to Marcelo’s long pass to the left of Germany’s area. He cut to the right and beat Neuer to the keeper’s right. The look of disgust on Neuer’s face was priceless.

It was Brasil’s worst defeat in a tournament for almost a century – a 6-0 drubbing by Uruguay on September 18th 1920 in the Campeonato Sudamericano de Football, which is now known as the Copa América.

 

Restorative Justice

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 30th 2014)

Shameful

Thirty-two years ago a shameful injustice occurred in Gijón. West Germany and Austria played out a disgraceful match to ensure that both progressed to the second round. The fix was as obvious as it was shameful, but FIFAʼs response was even worse. Both Austria and West Germanyʼs teams did what they had to in order to suit their own interests – they cheated the fans and football itself.

Not only was the match fixed, giving both the result that suited themselves, but they preserved energy that their next opponents did not have the opportunity to do. It was as ungentlemanly conduct as could be imagined and Algeria – the victims of the fix – went home. Adding insult to injury FIFA rubber-stamped the fix by dismissing Algeriaʼs complaint about it.

The Previous Fix

FIFA had the opportunity to prevent this shameful episode in its history. West Germany and Austria had the opportunity to engineer the fix because of an anomaly. Algeria had played earlier, so both knew exactly what result suited them both before their so-called match. That should never have happened as four years earlier an even more notorious fix occurred.

Brasil had played earlier, so Argentina knew that they had to beat Perú by at least four goals. They won 6-0. Over the years more and more came out about that disgraceful fix. The then dictator of Argentina – one of the vilest men of the twentieth century General Jorge Videla – visited Perúʼs dressing room at half-time to ʻremind them of their dutiesʼ.

The Condor Moment

There were further allegations that the fix resulted in economic ʻfavoursʼ for Perú and that it was part of the infamous Operation Condor – a despicable agreement where various South American dictatorships tortured, disappeared or murdered political opponents. On May 25th 1978 thirteen Peruvians were the victims of ʻextraordinary renditionʼ before the term became commonly used to Argentina.

Their lives were saved by a journalist reporting their arrival in Argentina. Years later after the fall of Videla and the end of Perúʼs military dictatorship details of alleged deals for Perú to throw the match against Argentina that would allow Argentina to reach the final at Brasilʼs expense – something Videla needed to exploit the popularity of the football to legitimise his tyranny – began to emerge.

Too Little Too Late

Argentinian judge Norberto Oyarbide demanded the extradition of Perúʼs former dictator Francisco Morales Bermúdez over the rendition of the 13 Perúvians in 1978. Perú refused to extradite the former general. Meanwhile, ʻcoincidencesʼ abound. Shortly, after the match secured the result that Videla needed Argentina signed a food aid aid deal with Perú guaranteeing 23,000 tonnes of wheat per year.

The truth about the fix has never been established as FIFA has yet to investigate it. The allegations surrounding the 1978 World Cup remain raw over 35 years later, but one question rarely gets asked. Why werenʼt the crucial matches played at the same time? That would have prevented the shameful fix from happening at all.

Solutions

And even more importantly, in the four years after Argentinaʼs World Cup why had FIFA failed to initiate changes that could prevent repetition. If FIFA had not dropped the ball so shamefully after Videlaʼs interference West Germany and Austria would never have been in a position where they could cheat Algeria and football itself.

Tonight Vahid Halihodžić will have no trouble with motivation. Islam Slimani and his team-mates have already made history this campaign. They have the opportunity to make some more and avenge the injustice of Gijón too.

 

USA Qualify despite losing to Germany

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

Müller downs Klinsmannʼs USA

There was no question of an easy and convenient draw that would have suited both teams. Joachim Löwʼs team defeated his former bossʼ USA 1-0. Thomas Müller scored the only goal of the match after 54 minutes. He joins Brasilʼs Neymar and Argentinaʼs Lionel Messi as the tournamentʼs top scorer to date on four goals.

With Portugal beating Ghana 2-1 in the other match the result was enough for both Germany and the USA to go through to the last sixteen. Arsenalʼs record signing Mesut Özilʼs corner was returned to him before he crossed from the right. Club colleague Per Mertesackerʼs header was parried by American goal-keeper Tim Howard. Müller curled his shot into the opposite corner to Howardʼs left. There was nothing that the 35 year-old Everton keeper could do about it.

Chances?

In 2006 Jürgen Klinsmann took a young German team to the semi-final of Germanyʼs World Cup playing entertaining attacking football. Klinsmann resigned – he lived in the USA and commuted. The future for German football looked bright. Klinsmannʼs assistant at that tournament took over. Löw has yet to deliver the big prize – Spain proved a formidable barrier, but both Löw and Klinsmann remain true to their principles and football philosophy.

Nevertheless clear cut chances were at a premium prior to the goal. Müller was thwarted by a couple of last ditch blocks by the LA Galaxyʼs Omar Gonzalez, but the better chances fell to the Americans. Michael Bradley released Graham Zusi on the left just outside the area. Zusiʼs shot curled just over Manuel Neuerʼs goal. Ten minutes later Bradleyʼs through-ball just eluded Jermaine Jones – an integral part of Klinsmannʼs influx of German-American talent.

At half time the false 9 tactic gave way to a record-equalling centre forward Miroslav Klose. It almost bore fruits immediately. Bayern Münchenʼs Jérôme Boateng crossed for Klose shortly after the second half began, but the impressive Gonzalez intercepted again. Minutes later Philipp Lahmʼs cross was just too high for Klose.

Collisions

A nasty collision between Jones and substitute Alejandro Bedoya left both Americans needing treatment. Bedoya had been rightly booked seconds after coming on for a foul on Bastian Schweinsteiger. During injury time the USA pressed for an equaliser they only needed for pride.

DeAndré Yedlinʼs ball into centre was laid off by Jones for Bedoya to shoot, but a superb block by Lahm averted the danger. Moments later US skipper Clint Dempseyʼs header from Jonesʼ nod-on cleared Neuerʼs bar. Germany held on to top the group while the USA reached the last sixteen – a huge achievement in such a tough group for a country where football is a minority interest sport. They would almost certainly face Marc Wilmotsʼ young Belgium side while Germany could face Algeria – victims of an infamous fix 32 years ago between West Germany and Austria which changed the format of the group stage of the World Cup.

 

The Birth of A Problem (Part Five) – Concrete Tests

Editorʼs Note:

We first published this series of articles six years ago. On the eve of the opening match of the 2014 World Cup, we think it timely to publish them again. Croatia has a problem with racism that has found an outlet in football. Understanding Croatiaʼs history is crucial to combating the problem. Croatia will be entertained by Luiz Felipe Scolariʼs resurgent Brasilian side in São Paulo on June 12th. We hope Croatiaʼs fans will support their team with gusto while showing respect to their hosts as both teams and countries deserve.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 1st 2008)

Ustaše Thugs

While the Ustaše and Ante Pavelić represented the worst of Croatians, it should be remembered that Yugoslavia’s resistance was led by a Croat – Josip Broz1 – and that began early in 1941. All nationalities of the former Yugoslavia were members of Tito’s partisans. Even Franjo Tuđman who would later become Croatian President and destroy Tito’s vision of Yugoslavia was a partisan.

Hitler put a price on Tito’s head, but it failed to alter the course of the war or save the Ustaše from history’s condemnation. Ustaše atrocities reached such appalling proportions that even Nazis found impossible to ignore. On June 28th 1941 General Edmund Glaise-Horstenau wrote to Wehrmacht colleagues expressing alarm about Ustaše excesses.

German officers sometimes intervened to prevent the Ustaše committing atrocities. They even arrested Ustaše thugs and disarmed an Ustaše regiment in Bosnia-Herzegovina because of their atrocious conduct. Mussolini also didn’t want to work with the Ustaše even though he had facilitated their seizure of power. Hitler’s requests for Italian co-operation with Pavelić’s government were routinely ignored by their commanders such as General Mario Roatta.

Ignominious End of the Ustaše

By the end of 1942 the war had begun to turn against the Ustaše. News of their brutal crimes swelled the ranks of partisans. The following year made it clear that Pavelić’s government was living on borrowed time. Accounts would be settled.

The partisans took their revenge on captured Ustaše members, but many of them were conscripts who had no involvement in the atrocities. Some tried to flee towards Austria towards the end of the war. They were captured and handed over to the partisans who either executed them or forced-marched them into a massacre. There were atrocities on both sides. Never was there a more vicious circle.

The Ustaše briefly continued fighting after the Nazis surrendered. They were banned after the war. Pavelić was helped to escape to Argentina. On April 10th 1957 – the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of the NDH – Pavelić was shot in Buenos Aires. A bullet lodged in his spine. Two weeks later Argentina agreed to extradite him to Yugoslavia, but he escaped.

The Break Up

Pavelić died in a Madrid hospital on December 28th 1959 from complications resulting from the assassination attempt. Croatian nationalism was suppressed under Tito. During the break-up of Yugoslavia, Ustaše atrocities were used to justify the ethnic cleansing policies of former Serbian President Slobodan Milošević.

Croatian nationalists continued to organise as well. It was a particularly nasty war. While Serbia and Croatia fought each other, both gorged themselves on Bosnian territory too. Both Serbs and Croats drove each other from their territory brutally. Many did not live to tell the tale. It created a legacy of bitterness that will require decades to heal if ever.

Later, the war over, the racism originally unleashed by the Ustaše found an additional outlet in football. In its proper historical context the U-symbol of the Ustaše formed by so-called Croatian fans in Sarajevo and the Swastika in Livorno are utterly offensive at best and suggests that Slaven Bilić may have over-estimated their intelligence. Nevertheless, England’s visit to Zagreb would provide a good test of how far Croatia had progressed on and off the pitch.

1 Broz later took the codename Tito. It stuck.

 

The Birth of A Problem (Part One) – Pre-Nationalism

Editorʼs Note:

We first published this series of articles six years ago. Then as now the aim is to develop an understanding of how that nationʼs history and experience contributed to the development of what has become a major problem in its football – one that threatens to tarnish Croatiaʼs experiences on the pitch. On the eve of the opening match of the 2014 World Cup, we think it timely to publish them again. Croatia will be entertained by Luiz Felipe Scolariʼs resurgent Brasilian side in São Paulo on June 12th – the opening match of Brasilʼs second World Cup. We hope Croatiaʼs fans will support their team with gusto while showing respect to their hosts.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 1st 2008)

Croatian Pre-History

The new Croatia is a comparatively young country. It had been conquered by Celts and ancient Greeks, before the Romans subdued what was then known as Dalmatia and Pannonia in 168 BC. It was ruled by the Western Empire until the final collapse of the Roman Empire.

It then passed into the hands of the Huns and Ostrogoths. The Byzantines replaced them before the ancestors of the Slavs settled the land in the seventh century. The Croats continued to settle the land which was organised into two duchies – Littoral Croatia and Pannonian Croatia.

In the middle of the ninth century Duke Trpimir I, expanded his domain. His nineteen year rule ended in 864. Christianity became entrenched as the dominant religion to such an extent that Duke Branimir was given the title Dux Croatorum by Pope John VIII in 879. Croatia’s pre-history was almost at an end.

The Kingdom of Croatia

The Kingdom of Croatia would emerge within half a century. Tomislav ruled from 910-928 – the vast majority as Dux Croatorum. He succeeded in uniting the two Croatian duchies into one state and was crowned the first King of Croatia in 925. He expanded the kingdom as well.

The Croatian Kingdom reached its zenith during the rule of Petar Krešimir IV. He died in 1074. Within thirty years of his death Croatia would once again come under foreign rule.

The Battle of the Gvozd Mountain saw the Hungarian King Coloman emerge victorious. In 1102 Croatia recognised him as King of Hungary and Croatia. It marked the beginning of almost a millennium of foreign rule that suppressed Croatian aspirations.

Foreign Rule

Hungarian rule officially lasted until 1526, although in 1409 the Angevins sold all of Dalmatia to Venice. After the defeat of the Hungarian King Louis II in 1526 the Hapsburgs, Venice and Ottomans vied with each other to seize what they could.

Bosnia came under Ottoman rule in this period. It is still a predominantly Muslim country thanks to their influence. The first defeat of the Ottomans in Croatia occurred at the Battle of Sisak in 1593. Much of the territory lost to the Ottomans in previous skirmishes was regained, except for the land in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Perhaps this explains Croatia coveting Bosnian territory in the war of 1991-95 as well as Serbia.

The Ottomans were forced out of both Croatia and Hungary in the early eighteenth century. By the end of that century, 1797 to be precise, the Venetian Republic collapsed. Austria then squabbled with France for possession of former Croatian land. The Austrians emerged victorious in 1815 thanks to the final defeat of Napolèon Bonaparte.

Austria controlled Dalmatia and Istria, while Croatia and Slavonia came back under Hungarian influence. That century marked the beginning of the emergence of Croatian nationalism, based around the Croatian language and culture. The following century would be the defining one, not just for Croatia, but its neighbours too. It also played a part in Croatiaʼs football history and the problems it now faces.

 

More Despicable People and the World Cup (Part Two) – Archive

Editor’s Note:

With the World Cup just days away, we publish these articles on the abuse of football’s most prestigious tournament again. They are particularly timely as Brasil has been polarised by hosting the tournament. Demonstrators will once again take to the streets in major cities throughout the country to demand social changes – ones that should have been delivered after last year’s Confederations Cup.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 18th 2008)

Ill-Gotten Gains

The 1978 World Cup will always be remembered with regret and shame. Football allowed itself to be used yet again by a vicious tyrant and to make matters worse the tournament proved easy to manipulate in Argentina’s favour on the pitch too. Perú had qualified impressively for the second stage, topping a group that included eventual finalists, the Netherlands.1

But Perúʼs second half capitulation to Argentina in the second phase has set tongues wagging ever since. Brasil had beaten Poland 3-1 in their final match in that phase, so Argentina knew that they had to beat Perú at least 4-0 to advance. Brasil had every reason to feel confident. Perú was a good team – they had proved that earlier. What was the likelihood of them being thrashed?

The match that followed is one of the most scandalous in the history of the World Cup. Argentina won 6-0, amid accusations of bribery: corruption, intimidation or worse. There were even accusations that Perúvian players were threatened by General Jorge Videla Redondo and his cronies at half time and Perú’s goalkeeper Ramón Quiroga, who was born in Argentina, was part of a deliberate fix.

 

His goalkeeping in that match was bizarre at best. Although nothing has ever been conclusively proved, the dismal performance displayed by Perú especially in the second half caused many to believe that it was a blatant case of match-fixing. It is a scandal that remains raw 30 years on.

Fix

The full truth of the ʻfixʼ may never emerge. Osvaldo Ardiles played in that tournament for Argentina, but even he could not rule out the possibility that something wrong had happened. Some Perúvian players and officials from that tournament have subsequently accused Videla’s regime of serious threats to their welfare.

It remains a source of deep shame in Perú. Few, if any, doubt that Videla was capable of all that and more, but there is no conclusive proof that it happened, even now that Videla has fallen from grace. FIFA must take some blame too. Argentina should not have been allowed to know the result they needed to qualify in advance of that match.

Another ʻfixʼ was allowed four years later when West Germany and Austria cheated Algeria by securing a result to benefit both in a match that should have resulted in both teams being expelled for unsporting conduct – gross unsportsmanlike behaviour actually. That match resulted in the rules being changed, but Algeria had great cause for complaint. After the Argentina versus Perú ʻfixʼ the rules should have been changed. That would have prevented the disgrace in Spain from happening.

Missed Opportunity

Argentina progressed to the final as did the Netherlands. There were also accusations of doping in the tournament and intimidation of Dutch players before the final. However, nothing was proved and one of the best teams never to win the World Cup came second again. Even now three decades later, it still grates with Dutch supporters who believe that they were cheated. Perhaps, but it pales in comparison with Brasilʼs grievances.

Dutch legend Johan Cruijff claims that he was informed that there would be a kidnap attempt on him, but Cruijff chose to retire before the World Cup Finals in Argentina. Videla and his thugs were capable of all this and more, but despite the hatred and scorn piled on them now no concrete evidence has emerged to prove that either Perú or the Netherlands were victimised by Videla directly or his lackeys.

However, itʼs certainly believable – likely even, but the smoking gun has yet to emerge. Perhaps it will. But with or without it, questions remain. Why were Videla and Henry Kissinger allowed into Perúʼs dressing room at half time? Why did such a talented team play so badly after it? We still await credible answers.

But for all the Dutch anger, the real victims of that tournament was Brasil. And if they had won the World Cup on Argentinian soil, perhaps Argentina could have celebrated a far greater triumph – the downfall of Videlaʼs despicable dictatorship and the appalling military junta that continued afterwards until defeat in the Falklands War.

1  The threat of a boycott petered out, but legendary Dutch player Johan Cruijff brought forward his international retirement to protest the atrocities committed by Videla’s government.

 

Despicable People and the World Cup (Part 2)

Editor’s Note:

These articles were originally published by us as one article. We have split the original into four  articles for ease of reading. We think it timely to remind readers, especially now, that football’s greatest tournament has been subject to political exploitation by despicable people previously. It is fitting that despite his interference Francisco Franco never lived to see Spain become the dominant force in football – consecutive European Championships and a World Cup – let alone benefit from it. There must be no return to such exploitation of the world’s most popular sport.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 8th 2008)

Controversies

The South American challenge was weak. Argentina was enraged by the poaching of top players by Italy – the Oriundi – so they sent a weakened team to the 1934 World Cup in Italy. Uruguay, the defending champions were incensed by Italy’s boycott of their tournament four years earlier. They refused to defend their title. Brasil had yet to become Brasil.

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini knew that despite the weakened field there were still European countries to deal with, so Mussolini left nothing to chance. There were scandals aplenty and that was before the controversy over Swedish official Ivan Elkind, who refereed the final.

Shameful Officiating

Spain drew Italy in the quarter final. The first match ended in a 1-1 draw, amid complaints that Belgian referee Louis Baert allowed the Italians too much latitude. Baert was a linesman in both the semi final and final, which were refereed by Elkind as well.

The rustic nature of their challenges in the first match, particularly on Spanish goalkeeper Ricardo Zamora1 caused him to have to miss the replay, which was even worse. It was so scandalous that the previously highly rated Swiss referee René Mercet was disgraced over it.

His refereeing was said to be so biased in favour of the Italians that the Swiss FA withdrew him from any further appointments for internationals. Just as Zamora had been persistently fouled by the Italians in the first game, Mercet allowed them to get away with it in the replay too.

Giuseppe Meazza benefited from yet another foul on the keeper to score the only goal of the match. Mercet was accused of shamefully favouring Italy and allowing the crowd to influence his decisions. Italy progressed to the semi final.

Bad to Worse

Elkind refereed it with Baert as one of the linesmen. Italy won 1-0 with a goal scored by Enrique Guaita.2 Elkind was appointed to referee the final. Mussolini still wasn’t satisfied. Leaving nothing to chance the dictator dined with the Swedish referee the night before the final. Italy beat Czechoslovakia 2-1.

Mussolini had his trophy. It was perhaps the most scandalous World Cup ever. Despite allegations of bribery and corruption against them over the 1934 World Cup, both Baert and Elkind enjoyed long careers as referees. Elkind refereed a total sixteen World Cup matches and Baert took a prestigious appointment with the Belgian FA after his retirement as a referee in 1952.

Basking in Undeserved Glory

Meanwhile, Mussolini basked in the glory of a World Cup triumph that allowed Italians to forget their problems while they celebrated. He also used the success to bolster the credibility of his government. Knowing what World Cup success could bring Mussolini wanted more of the same, but four years later as the world veered towards war he could not interfere as outrageously as had been achieved in 1934.

And Italy would have to win by fairer means in 1938. Nevertheless, they received some unexpected assistance. The threat of war resulted in some nations withdrawing early. The tournament was weaker than it should have been. And top European teams would miss it too. England apparently believed the World Cup was beneath them.

Absences

Spain was the first country to miss a World Cup due to war in 1938. The Spanish Civil War stopped international football, but not the Cup of Free Spain, which Valencian club Levante won. The World Cup continued without them. Austria – semi-finalists four years previously – qualified, but withdrew due to unification with Nazi Germany.

The Austrian Wunderteam was torn asunder by reunification and the ‘unified’ German team did not gel. It lacked Austria’s greatest player Matthias Sindelar. Rather than play for the Nazis Sindelar retired, claiming his age and injury and did so after thumbing his nose at the Nazis in a ʻunificationʼ match.

 

 

Sindelar was no Nazi and celebrated his goal against the Germans in that match in an exuberant manner. Sindelar had revolutionised forward play in the Wunderteam under legendary coach Hugo Meisl. Sindelar refused to play for Germany. He died in mysterious circumstances a year after the World Cup in France aged just 36. There was no shortage of conspiracy theories. Another pair of opponents had neutralised themselves.

Wringing Value

Mussolini was determined to wring whatever propaganda value he could from the defence of their title. The quarter final pitted the Italians against the host nation. Baert refereed the match with Elkind serving as one of his linesmen. The Italians wore the infamous black-shirts. It was highly provocative.

Nevertheless, Italy beat France 3-1. They faced a bizarrely chosen Brasil team in the semi-final, winning 2-1. Leading scorer and one of his country’s first super-stars Leônidas da Silva missed the match – possibly rested. His absence was attributed by some to interference by Mussolini, but that has never been verified.

Italian great Giuseppe Meazza scored the controversial winner from the penalty spot, but according to objective reports Italy deserved their win anyway. It was fitting that Brasil finally sent their strongest team to the World Cup, but somehow conspired to get tactics and selection wrong. Italy retained the trophy in 1938, beating Hungary 4-2 in the final. They were the best team, even though their physical approach, especially that of enforcer Luis Monti, had critics.

An Uncertain Future

World War II meant that there was no World Cup in 1942. It would probably have been held in Brasil. The world had other priorities in 1946. It was therefore unclear if would even be a World Cup ever again. Football and the World Cup survived. A World Cup in 1949 was mooted. The Superga Disaster ended that possibility. FIFA wanted Italy to defend their title, but after the tragedy Italy did not want to. They had to be persuaded to come, but the Azzurri were understandably deeply affected by Superga.

 

Brasil was chosen to host the next tournament, but insisted that it be held in 1950 rather than 1949 as FIFA originally intended. Germany was partitioned and originally banned. Football had not been organised in either East or most of West Germany at first anyway, so there was no German representation in Brasil in 1950.

Mussolini had been executed by Italian partisans in 1944, so Italy – the defending champions – were permitted to come, but originally decided not to play in spite of FIFA’s offer to meet their expenses. However, Italy defended their title, but deeply affected by the Superga tragedy the Italian FA refused to allow their team to fly. Instead they sailed, depriving the squad of training opportunities.

They were the first World champions to go out in the first round after a woeful defence of their title even though there were exceptional circumstances. Not only had they suffered poor transportation, they has lost the flesh of a truly great team – il Grande Torino. Two years before the Superga Disaster that team contributed ten out of eleven starters for Italy. Not even the world champions could afford to lose that amount of talent.

The 1950 World Cup finals ensured that the tournament would continue. But twenty years later the hosts of the first post-war tournament would abuse the World Cup again for political ends, as another vile dictatorship would seek to profit from the World Cup.

1  The goalkeeping award in Spain’s La Liga is named after him. He became a controversial figure as he represented both Cataluña and Spain and accepted awards from both the Spanish republic and fascists. He also won trophies for both Barcelona and Real Madrid.

2Enrique Guaita: Raimundo Orsi and Luis Monti had previously played for Argentina.

 

 

 

Own Goals – Archive

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 30th 2012 and modified on May 27th 2014))

UEFA Back Goal-line Assistant Referees

The President of UEFA scored some own goals at this afternoon’s press conference. Michel Platini launched a vigorous attack on technology, believing that it does not help and asking why the debate is limited to just goal-line technology and not for other decisions – a very fair point. However, Platini has no truck with technology at all, although he has no problem with extra officials.

UEFA’s General Secretary Gianni Infantino revealed that UEFA had received former referee Pierluigi Collina’s findings on the experiments with extra assistants. Collina had studied 1000 matches and concluded that the extra officials on the goal-line had reduced errors to just one – the match between Ukraine and England, which was played at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk.

UEFA unanimously accepted Collina’s findings and will urge FIFA and the IFA (International Football Association) to adopt the policy, but both Platini and Collina remain opposed to the use of technology. UEFA argued that the extra assistants improved behaviour in the penalty area. Even if that is true, what about behaviour on the rest of the pitch? Has that improved too as a result of the extra officials and if not, how does UEFA propose to achieve this?

Crazy Idea

There was further controversy. “It’s just an idea”, Platini repeatedly said, but it was one that he insisted had some support. Platini thinks that Euro 2020 could be hosted in several countries – up to twelve. Travel – budget airlines or not – will be prohibitive for fans and some media too. It will also take up time to get between the host cities – more a media point, but the cost for fans, especially, will be high too if they wish to see a few teams play.

Multiplying the host countries will cause all sorts of logistical problems and much more besides. It will be a linguistic nightmare too. Co-hosting causes difficulties in covering both matches and pre-match or post-match training. Choices have to be made, or teams of reporters have to be larger, which may not be an option for various media in the current economic climate.

One of the major complaints about Ukraine has been the absurd accommodation prices. UEFA complained about this, but some prices still remain prohibitive. It was also an issue in Austria four years ago, leading to a collapse in prices when the accommodation was not booked at the high prices.

Such problems apply in Ukraine, which is a pity as by and large the Ukrainian people I met – and I met quite a few in my short stay in the country – are lovely and friendly people who should not be judged by a few greedy and unhelpful people. Multiplying the host countries will multiply such problems, as there will be no opportunity to develop a tourism strategy or spread the sporting development plan.

Plain Wrong

But back to technology. UEFA decided to recommend that FIFA and IFA adopt the additional referees on the goal-line, claiming that it has been very successful in a 1000 with only one high profile error – the goal that never was for Ukraine. Despite Platini’s views, there are clearly issues where technology would help – even something as basic replays.

Check the footage and you will see that there is no do doubt that a serious error was made – one that a replay or review could have put right. The technology exists to improve decisions to correct glaring errors. The officials are human. Even the best of them will make mistakes, sometimes glaring ones. Surely if the correct decision can be made by using technology, that should happen. Cricket allows reviews and uses technology in the Decision Review System (DRS). Why doesn’t football?

Affecting Results

Ukraine’s goal that was not given involved another wrong decision. There was also an error in the build up to that goal, which had benefited Ukraine. This was a case of two errors – one for either side. Does two wrong decisions now amount to one right decision? But regardless of that there were errors in other matches, which were important ones.

At least two serious errors would have been caught before they had serious consequences if the use of basic technology had been allowed. Nevertheless, Platini claimed that there were no refereeing errors that affected the outcome of a match. This is wrong.

One is the yellow card given by Jonas Eriksson to Giorgos Karagounis for diving in the match against Russia in Warsaw. The replays showed that there had been contact between defender Sergei Ignashevich and Karagounis, who went down in the box. Not only was it not a dive, but referee should have given a penalty. At the very least, there was significant doubt about whether Karagounis had dived. If there was contact and there was, how could it be a dive? It affected the outcome of a match – the next one.

Karagounis was the Man of the Match against Russia, but that card ruled him out of the quarter final. Karagounis was certainly an influential player for Greece. His goal won the match and sent Greece into the knock-out stages. How can it not have affected the outcome of the following match when one of Greece’s best players was wrongly ruled out of the quarter final?

It affected Greece’s game plan. They were given no choice but to play a completely different plan to the one they would have used if Karagounis had been available to play as he should have been. In his absence, Greece lost 4-2 to Germany at the Arena Gdansk (Poland). They never had the opportunity to see if he would have made the difference and the referee Eriksson was retained for the knock-out stages despite that error.

The other error was glaring and Greece were victimised by that one too. Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo has a habit of sending people off. During the 2011-12 season in Spain he issued 16 red cards in 19 matches that he refereed.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos received a second yellow card for fouling Poland’s Rafal Murawski just before half time. Even that card was harsh, but the previous one beggared belief. Just before that he received a yellow card for allegedly fouling Robert Lewandowski, but the replays showed that Papastathopoulos had actually won the ball cleanly and fairly.

It was no foul and therefore it could not have been a yellow card. If he did not receive a yellow card then, he would not have been sent off for fouling Murawski and Greece would still have had eleven players on the pitch.

To paraphrase the great author Oscar Wilde: “To give one yellow card wrongly or harshly may be considered a misfortune. To give two is carelessness”!

Impact of Errors

The match ended a 1-1 draw. Lewandowski had put Poland ahead after 17 minutes. Substitute Dimitrios Salpingidis equalised after 51 minutes. A crucial incident occurred on 68 minutes. Poland’s goalkeeper Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny was rightly sent off for a professional foul on Salpingidis. Replacement goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton saved Karagounis’ penalty.

Had the correct decisions been made Greece would not have had Papastathopoulos sent off. Then they would not have had to play 48 minutes plus added time in both halves with ten men and would or at least could if Velasco Carballo did not find reason to send off another Greek player, which he did not do, have had the opportunity to attack Poland with a man advantage for 22 minutes plus added time after Poland had had no option but to make a tactical decision to withdraw midfielder Maciej Rybus – a decision that affected Poland’s attacking options, especially when facing a full compliment of Greeks. How can it possibly be claimed that Velasco Carballo’s decisions, which could have been reviewed with the use of replays – the game had stopped after all to give the fouls and cards – to ensure that the correct decisions were made did not affect the outcome of this match?