Respect

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 21st 2015)

Reputations

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Carlos Velasco Carballo rapidly established himself as Spainʼs top referee since deciding to concentrate on officiating in 2010. He had built up a reputation as a firm but fair referee – one who managed to combine a disciplinarian streak with letting the game flow. This was quite an achievement. It was not unusual for there to be several yellow cards and the odd red card too.

Armed with the appropriate FIFA badge, Velasco Carballo refereed his first international in 2008. His first season refereeing past qualifiers for the Championʼs League coincided with a meteoric rise. In that season he was awarded the 2011 Europa League Final in Dublin. Radamel Falcao García Zárate – then playing for Porto – set a Europa League (UEFA Cup) record for goals scored in the competition.

It was a niggly match settled by a solitary goal scored by Falcao and liberally peppered by fouls and cards. 42 fouls resulted in eight yellow cards. This was a typical Velasco Carballo performance. The following season, he continued where he left off. Velasco Carballo refereed 19 Primera División matches and brandished 16 red cards.

He was Spainʼs representative at Euro2012 ahead of the more experienced Alberto Undiano Mallenco. He refereed the opening match in Poland against Greece. Sokratis Papasthapoulos was controversially sent off, having received two unfortunate yellow cards.

Stock

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Velasco Carballoʼs stock plummeted at the World Cup in the wretched quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia. Some say the occasion got to him, but that does not explain his performance. It wasnʼt just the record tally of fouls – 54 – some of which were appalling. Flagrant encroachment at a free-kick was not only unpunished, but rewarded. It was a performance that defied explanation.

He permitted over 40 offences before brandishing a yellow card in that match in Fortaleza and the first was for a comparatively trivial offence compared to what had gone before and later. FIFA insists that there was no directive to referees to show leniency when it came to showing cards and refused to criticise Velasco Carballoʼs performance in Fortaleza.

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Diego Maradona and Falcao were scathing in their criticism, but they werenʼt to know that Velasco Carballo had officiated against type. It remained to be seen how the Spaniard would perform post Fortaleza. If FIFA was correct and there was no directive then Velasco Carballo must have chosen to abandon his previous style and referee in an alien fashion, which he would no doubt stick to.

The Renaissance

His reputation had taken a mauling during the World Cup. But the signs were there after the World Cup that Velasco Carballo had refereed that match in an alien manner. Last December he refereed Eibar versus Valencia. There were 21 fouls, but 10 yellow cards, four in the last ten minutes. His first match of the new year took place on January 3rd between Sevilla and Celta de Vigo. There were 45 fouls. Velasco Carballo showed nine yellow cards and one red.

It was nowhere near as dirty a match as that infamous quarter-final. A league match between Real Sociedad and Villarreal last month had 24 fouls. He brandished ten yellow cards and a red card too. Just over a month ago he refereed a local encounter Levante versus Elche. Velasco Carballo showed a red card to David Navarro after just 6 minutes. He also showed six yellow cards. There were 26 fouls in the match. Clearly, this was not a referee who would not use his cards if the offence warranted it in Spain. What about in European competition?

He officiated the match between Schalke04 and Maribor in September. There were 24 fouls and five yellow cards were shown, all in the second half. He refereed FCK versus Bayer Leverkusen last August. Each side committed 12 fouls. He showed six yellow cards. Anderlechtʼs home defeat by Arsenal resulted in just three yellow cards with 27 fouls. Ajax beat the Cypriots APOEL comfortably at home in December. The 4-0 drubbing had 16 fouls, 8 each. Two Cypriot players were the only ones booked. It was hardly a dirty match deserving a flurry of cards.

His latest international after the World Cup was a Euro2016 qualifier between Iceland and the Netherlands. Iceland won 2-0. There were 23 fouls and only one booking – Nigel de Jong in the last ten minutes. But all of these statistics donʼt necessarily tell the whole story – not all fouls deserve cards. I have seen only two of his matches since the World Cup – Sevilla versus Celta de Vigo and last Thursdayʼs Europa League tie at White Hart Lane. His performances were true to form. Fortaleza was an aberration.

The Return

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Fans of los Cafeteros present at White Hart Lane would be forgiven a double take or two at his performance on Thursday night. It was the same referee who lost control of the quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia. There was never any danger of a repeat dose tonight as long as there were no ludicrous directives. It soon became clear that there were not.

Just three minutes into the match those familiar with the style and performances of Madrid-based referee Carlos Velasco Carballo – remember him – saw a familiar sight. The real Velasco Carballo jogging over to Spursʼ right wing with intent. Gonzalo Rodríguez brought down Andros Townsend. It was a bad foul that deserved a booking and got one.

Velasco Carballo had made it clear where his line was and the match quickly settled down. There was no danger that this would degenerate into foul fare. The referee was in control. The whole match had 24 fouls and just three yellow cards. The refereeʼs authority was never in doubt and it flowed. There was no need for more cards. This is the real Carlos Velasco Carballo.

Life After Cuadrado

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 18th 2015)

Won’t be Missed

Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino told a press conference that Fiorentina won’t miss Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello. The Colombian winger – one of the stars of los Cafeteros’ best ever World Cup – went to Chelsea in the January transfer window. Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah went in the opposite direction on loan for the rest of the season.

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Salah has already said that he wants to stay in the renaissance city. He scored at the weekend and will be keen to impress. Salah’s rapid return to English soil with a point to prove will grab the headlines, but a forgotten Englishman returns too for the first time since his departure for sunnier climes in the summer – former Manchester City and England defender Micah Richards

But most column inches will be about the Cuadrado-sized hole in the Viola’s plans, plugged by among others Salah. “Juan [Cuadrado] is an unbelievable player, but it is true Fiorentina have a strong squad”, Pochettino said. “We have seen a lot of their games and they have a very good team. They have a lot of players and I’m sure they will do fine without him”.

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Impact of the Loss of Cuadrado

Vincenzo Montella the young coach of the Viola would rather talk about the players he still has or brought in than the versatile Colombian winger, but talk he must. “Well I think we pulled of a bit of a coup ourselves to be honest with you in signing Salah, but joking aside of course, itʼs almost a source of professional pride that someone wanted to pay so much for Cuadrado and that he developed so much as a player, because he certainly wasnʼt at that level when he first arrived to play for us, so I think us, the management and the players are very proud of how far heʼs been able to go with our help, but we havenʼt just replaced him with one player”, Montella said. “Weʼve replaced him with several players”.

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Cuadrado wanted to leave Florence last year even before the World Cup. His erstwhile Viola team-mates must get used to his absence and to his replacement. “Salah is a very good player”, Montella said. “Heʼs used to playing at this level and although heʼs only been with us for a short while, heʼs already shown very quickly thatʼs heʼs up to playing very well in Italy and playing very well for us”.

Veteran defender Manuel Pasqual agrees. “Cuadradoʼs a great player, the kind of guy who could make a difference on the pitch, but I think that Salahʼs got off to a flying start”, he said. “Heʼs being doing really well and I hope that he just continues playing the way he is at the moment”.

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The Shop Window

Fiorentina did not want to sell him, but money talks and Cuadrado had put himself in the shop window by having an exceptional World Cup. It was going to be a tough job to keep him. The Viola did well to stave off interest in the summer transfer window.

James Rodríguez Rubio had starred in the absence of the injured Radamel Falcao García Zárate and got the move both coveted to European champions Real Madrid. Falcao moved to Manchester United on deadline day on loan – a move that hasn’t worked for either party yet.

But while those stars got their moves Cuadrado stayed put in Florence, but his heart was already wandering. Cuadrado wanted to capitalise on his successful World Cup, but the hoped for move to Barçelona failed to materialise – he was the one major Colombian star not to get a big money move.

For a while at least it looked as if the Fiorentina might just keep their star. “He’s very important”, Fiorentina’s Administrative Delegate Sandro Mencucci told us exclusively at the Europa League Draw. “He’s one of the best players in the world in my opinion and it’s important that Cuadrado is with our team. We are a strong team – very tough”.

Going, Going, Gone

Cuadrado was not happy, but the Camp Nou faded into the distance as the transfer ban on the Catalan giants ended any hopes of a transfer there this season or in the summer. “Yes, he’s very important,” Mencucci.

Fiorentina had made him a better player than when he joined them from Udinese in 2012.Montella was quick to point that out. So how much was he worth? Mencucci laughs. “It’s difficult to talk about a sum”, he says determined to avoid tipping off potential suitors to the likely price. “I think that’s great valuable”. The message from Mencucci was clear. “No, no”, he said. “I don’t want to sell”.

But money talks and Cuadrado wanted to leave Florence. Chelsea knew his buy-out clause and got permission to talk to him. Before long their bid was accepted. Cuadrado – a boy who grew up in poverty without his father, because he was murdered during the appalling drug-related violence that tortured that nation in the 1990s – had joined the Premier League’s millionaires row.

He’d come a long way from his origins when the boy with a passion for football would go to extraordinary lengths to play the sport he loved, despite his mother’s and then grand-mother’s disapproval. He made his Champion’s League bow for his new club from the bench on Tuesday against Paris Saint Germain.

Familiar Faces

If he’s watching his old team tonight he will see plenty of familiar faces, including an unexpected one. “As far as officiating, then, no [he has no concerns] as far weʼre concerned”, Montella said. “The referees do their job. We respect their decisions; thatʼs it”. Cuadrado will beg to differ when he sees who the referee is. Carlos Velasco Carballo was the official who lost or never had control of the quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia (see Pockmarked at https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/pockmarked/).

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If the Spaniard referees as he normally does (see Tatters at https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/2007/), Cuadrado’s incredulity will turn to bemusement and then incredulity and anger. Velasco Carballo was a very different type of referee before the World Cup and returned to form afterwards. Colombians still await a satisfactory answer of why he refereed against form in Fortaleza.

Thriller in Florence

Editorʼs Note

We republish this article due to the imminent transfer of Fiorentinaʼs Colombian sensation Juan Guillermo Cuadarado Bello to Chelsea. He subsequently excelled at the World Cup. We will be publishing an article on the transfer shortly – a transfer that the Italian club did not want, but seemed to have little choice due to the playerʼs wishes.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 6th 2014)

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Breathtaking

Relegation threatened Sassuolo ended hosts Fiorentinaʼs admittedly slim hopes of third place and a berth in next yearʼs Championʼs League in Florenceʼs Artemio Franchi Stadium with a thrilling 4-3 win thanks to a first half hat-trick by Domenico Berardi and the winner by Nicola Sansone after 64 minutes.

Trailing 3-0 at half time Vincenzo Montellaʼs Viola left the field to deserved boos. Despite dominating possession and creating the better chances in the first 20 minutes they failed to capitalise on their advantage and looked a beaten side as they trudged off. Montella had other ideas. Sassuolo, however, took nothing for granted. “We saw Liverpool go three up yesterday,” Nicola Sansone said, “so we knew that anything could happen.”

It very nearly did. Whatever version of the Riot Act Montella favours, it worked – well almost. Former Real Betis and Valencia winger Joaquín Rodríguez made an immediate impact when brought on in the second half, triggering hopes of a comeback by winning a 56th minute penalty when fouled by Alessandro Longhi. Gonzalo Rodríguez converted it. The come-back was on? Sassuolo had other ideas. Sansone restored Sassuoloʼs three-goal cushion only for Giuseppe Rossi and Juan Cuadrado to set up an exhilarating final 15 minutes.

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The False Dawn

Fiorentina knew that they could afford no slip ups if they were to overtake Rafa Benítezʼ Napoli – already boasting an 8 point advantage with just three rounds remaining. A harsh penalty and yellow card was awarded against former Barçelona starlet Borja Valero for handball after he blocked Davide Biondiniʼs shot.

Valero protested that it was not deliberate and he had a point. He was far too close to be able to respond, but it made no difference to referee Tagliavento di Terno. 10 minutes later the Artemio Franchi Stadium was silenced when Berardi doubled the visitorsʼ lead. Sansone put him through, but despite not being Montellaʼs first choice goalkeeper Antonio Rosati has to do better than allow himself to be beaten so easily at his near post.

|With less than five minutes of the first half remaining Berardi completed his hat-trick after being put through by Simone Zaza who had hit the post from just outside the area two minutes earlier. Again Rosati should have done better. The Viola had several chances, none of which they had taken. Sassuolo deservedly led 3-0 at half time.

Chastened

Having seen Liverpool blow a three-goal cushion against Crystal Palace, Sassuolo were determined to keep the pressure up. No sooner had Gonzalo scored than Sassuolo cranked up the pressure. Only Simone Zaza will know how he failed to score on 63 minutes after Berardi gift-wrapped the chance for him. A minute later Zazaʼs blushes were spared by Sansone.

But any thoughts the visitors may have had that it was match over with 25 minutes left were quickly dispelled. Former Manchester United and Villarreal forward Giuseppe Rossi took Valeroʼs pass in his stride to score from close range.

Three minutes later the ʻremarkableʼ come-back was definitely on as Fiorentinaʼs best player on the night, Colombian winger Juan Cuadrado latched on to David Pizarroʼs long ball to delightfully chip keeper Gianluca Pegolo.

Fiorentina believed again, but try as they did they could not find another. Two minutes after Cuadradoʼs goal Rossi went close, but his shot was narrowly off-target. With time running out Berardi needed treatment. He decided to continue, but soon succumbed kicking the ball out and going down near the touchline.

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That incensed Fiorentina players – Berardi was dragged off the pitch and a brawl ensued. The Viola refused to return the ball. Berardi stayed off despite all substitutes having been used. Despite 6 minutes added time Sassuolo hang on for a famous win that took them out of the relegation places and ended the Violaʼs slim chance of Championʼs League football next season. It also gave new-comers Sassuola a fighting chance of survival.

Tatters

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 10th 2015)

Reputation

Carlos Velasco Carballoʼs reputation may never recover. Having refereed against type at Fortalezaʼs Estádio Castelão in the controversial hackfest of Brasil v Colombia, Velasco Carballo was savaged by Diego Maradona and given FIFAʼs equivalent of a vote of confidence. FIFA refused to give Juan Camilo Zuñiga Mosquera a retrospective red card or rescind Thiago Silvaʼs yellow card.

Zuñiga should have been sent off, but so should several others. It was baffling that a referee with a reputation as a disciplinarian had refereed this match as if he had forgotten his cards in the dressing room. It is also a great pity as Velasco Carballo, contrary to Maradonaʼs opinion is actually a very good referee – one who had steadily earned the top matches with stellar performances. That reputation is all but undone by one match.

He officiated his first top flight match a decade ago – Barçelona v Sevilla. Velasco Carballo decided to concentrate exclusively on refereeing in 2010. He had quietly built up a reputation as a firm but fair referee – one who managed to combine a disciplinarian streak with letting the game flow. This was quite an achievement.

Careful

He was a studious referee too – one who knew the foibles of those he was refereeing. Nobody pulled the wool over his eyes, so what happened to him on July 4th 2014? Did the occasion get to him? The refereeing of that match took some explaining then – it still does. There is no evidence that he was fazed by big occasions.

Velasco Carballo refereed his first international match in 2008 after earning the appropriate FIFA badge. The 2010-11 season was his first refereeing past the qualifiers for the Championʼs League. He ended that season with a high profile match – the Europa League Final in Dublin. Radamel Falcao – then playing for Porto – set a Europa League (UEFA Cup) record for goals scored in the competition.

Falcao, who would strongly criticise Velasco Carballo over the match in Fortaleza, scored the only goal of that match. It was a match punctuated by fouls and cards. 42 fouls resulted in eight yellow cards. This was typical Velasco Carballo. The native of Madrid is not allowed to referee any match involving Madrid teams, but his performance in that season marked him as one to watch.

Against His DNA

His performance in Fortaleza was incredible. There were 54 fouls in that match – well penalised ones. He brandished four yellow cards and no red cards. It required more than 40 offences bbefore he showed his first card and that was not for a violent challenge. There were also offences that were not penalised despite being under his nose (see Pockmarked at https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/pockmarked/).

The failure to enforce the rules also contributed to a serious injury suffered by Neymar. Zuñiga ploughed into Neymarʼs back. Whether he intended serious injury or not is immaterial. It was a ludicrous challenge – one that would never have been tolerated, or most likely even tried, if Velasco Carballo had been allowed to referee as he normally would have.

Zuñiga quickly apologised. The players have no problem with each other, but anxious to reach the ball or not these are the challenges that must not be allowed or encouraged even tacitly, as lack of consequences does. When Brasil played Colombia in a friendly in the USA, they embraced each other, but that match was scarred by the quarter-final in Fortaleza – a dirty business. Juan Guilermo Cuadrado Bello was sent off.

Form

The Europa League Final was far from the only match that Velasco Carballo refereed in his strict manner. He has a habit of showing cards, including sending players off. During the 2011-12 season in Spain he issued 16 red cards in 19 matches that he refereed. He was Spainʼs representative at Euro2012, refereeing the opening match between co-hosts Poland and Greece.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos received a second yellow card for fouling Polandʼs Rafal Murawski just before half time. Even that card was harsh, but the previous one beggared belief. Just before being sent off he received his first 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”! He also sent off Polandʼs goal-keeper Wojciech Szczesny in the same match.

So what happened in Fortaleza? Why had he abandoned the habits of a lifetime and done so on an even bigger stage? We are yet to get a satisfactory answer. Tolerating over forty offences before brandishing a single yellow card resulted in a display that was alien to the Spaniardʼs DNA.

And what of Velasco Carballo himself? FIFA say that there was no directive to referees to spare the rod and spoil the spectacle. But why would a stern referee officiate so against type? They also failed to take any sanction against the Spaniard for his bizarre performance that surely would have followed if it was all his fault. Would he return to form free from the ʻdirectiveʼ or was Fortaleza a taste of things to come?

Pockmarked

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 9th 2015)

Licence Revoked

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Colombiaʼs Golden Boot winner James Rodríguez Rubio – a joy to watch during Brasilʼs World Cup – was denied the right to play when Brasil and Colombia met in the quarter-final. Rodríguez was targeted as was Juan Guillermo Cuadrado and also Neymar in retaliation later. A match that should have been a mouthwatering tie was pockmarked by a tournament record 54 fouls.

Arguably the challenge that ended Neymar’s tournament would not have happened if control had been taken by the officials and maintained. This was a match that illustrated the need for the rules of the game to be respected and enforced. Without it matches like this descend into chaos.

Rodríguez and los Cafeteros lit up the World Cup previously with their delightful attacking play and infectious joy they were experiencing while playing. They were up to that point the only team to have won all their matches in that tournament in regulation time. They and football fans were robbed as their licence to entertain was revoked and cynical fouling and other cheating rewarded instead.

Responsibility

But Colombia bears responsibility too. In the first 20 minutes they outfouled Brasil, but the nature of those fouls was interesting. They were nowhere near as cynical or brutal as what followed. Brasil deserved their lead in that period, but their fouling even then was cynical and it was no coincidence that the main target throughout was Colombiaʼs star Rodriguez with the entertaining Cuadrado not far behind.

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When asked about their World Cup experience Sevilla striker Carlos Bacca said “I am happy”. Despite their best performance ever in the World Cup Finals, this team was capable of more. They were genuine contenders. They did very well, but they were robbed of the chance to do even better. And football was the ultimate loser – cheated of a good example leading to success, just four years after the disgraceful exhibition in the World Cup Final of Africaʼs World Cup.

Blatant

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James Rodríguez was denied protection from referee Carlos Velasco Carballo, normally a strict no-nonsense official. Brasil flouted many rules, including distance on free kicks without consequence or sanction. Colombia naïvely largely observed them until they cottoned on to the fact that Rodríguez in particular had been targeted by a cynical Selecão, lacking Rodríguezʼ ability with few exceptions.

The ultimate insult was Rodríguez being booked for a tackle that bore no comparison to the hacks he had endured. David Luiz scored a fantastic goal from the resulting free-kick. Interestingly, Colombia had observed the rules on that free-kick. Their wall stood behind Velasco Carballoʼs white line and did not encroach.

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Compare that to Brasilʼs conduct at a free-kick taken by Rodríguez in the first half. The free-kick – admittedly controversially given against Fernandinho over a 50-50 challenge with Victor Ibarbo Guerrero with both players potentially at fault. That decision went Colombiaʼs way, but once given the rules seemed to be discarded.

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Note the position of officials as Rodríguez strikes the ball and those of the two defenders who had plainly rushed out of the wall long before it was taken. Even the line drawn by the referee was invisible as the wall had encroached anyway. Some payers never stood on the line, let alone behind it. The encroaching began as soon as the referee turned his back on Brasilʼs wall.

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Nevertheless, it was obvious that there had been massive encroachment when it was taken. Both Velasco Carballo and his assistant referee cannot have failed to see it. So what were the consequences for this blatant cheating? Nothing. Not a yellow card – not even the free-kick being re-taken. Not even talking to. Play continued as if nothing had happened.

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The Shameful Precedent

And it wasnʼt Brasilʼs first offence of that nature. Fernadinho had brought Rodríguez down near the half-way line previously. Rodríguez wanted to take the free-kick quickly, but was prevented from getting up by Fernadinho and more so Paulinho, who had to be pushed out from in front of Rodríguez.

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The much-maligned Fred – less than a yard away – tried and failed to intercept it when it was taken. Ibarbo received it, but seeing the referee running towards him thought that Velasco Carballo had called play back. The result of such unsporting play? Brasil got possession and counter-attacked from it. All of this unsporting conduct took place under Velasco Carballoʼs nose. He did nothing. No card, no talking to, no warning – nothing. Small wonder it was repeated.

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And then there was Thiago Silvaʼs shameful shove on Cuadrado with the ball yards away – unsporting conduct to put it mildly. The Brasilian captain should have been booked then with less than 40 minutes played. He was far from the only player to deserve a card by then. Worse was to follow – far worse.

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Setting the Scene

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 8th 2015)

Beautiful?

In what should have been a festival of Samba football celebrating the Beautiful Game, the second World Cup that Brasil hosted will be remembered partly for the wrong reasons. Germany deserved to win and tempting as it is to take some satisfaction from the drubbing that Luiz Felipe Scolariʼs anti-football received in the semi-final, it proved cold comfort.

ʼJosé Pékerman Krimenʼs Colombian side, missing their predatory striker Radamel Falcao, were a joy to watch, playing attacking flowing football. Their joyous football was infectious. But they fell victim to cynical anti-football in the quarter-final (see https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/the-beautiful-game/). The inheritors of Samba Footbball went home to soon and so too did Chile.

Content?

But Colombia must bear some responsibility too. Sevillaʼs striker Carlos Bacca summed up the mood regarding Colombiaʼs World Cup and performance. “I am happy,” Bacca told Empower-Sport. He speaks for his nation, but should los Cafeteros and their supporters be content?

They were robbed by a display of cynical fouling by Brasil and ineffective refereeing by Spainʼs Carlos Velasco Carballo – an experienced referee who had handled big matches previously and had a reputation as a disciplinarian never shy to brandish a card or seven or eight. But the signs of a far too lenient approach were there earlier and that all it could ever achieve was lead to a licence to hack.

Precedents

Some referees are thought to be too lenient. Howard Webb was awarded the World Cup Final in 2010. He tried to let it flow, famously allowing Nigel de Jong to remain on the pitch after a kung-fu style kick on Xabi Alonso. The final soon degenerated into a spectacle of anti-football. It should have provided a stark lesson, but didnʼt.

Four years on Webb took charge of Brasilʼs first match in the knock-out phase (see https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/brasil-beat-chile-just/). Chile, inspired by Alexis Sánchez Sánchez, now carrying Arsenalʼs challenge in England, stood in their way. Less than a minute into that match Brasilʼs captain Thiago Silva went into Arturo Vidal Pardoʼs back. It was soft but there was no attempt to play the ball.

No card was shown – it deserved a talking to, but that is not Webbʼs style – he at least was consistent. Less than two-and-an-half minutes into the match Fernandinho clattered into Charles Aránguiz Sandoval, sending the Chilean midfielder, who plays for Brasilian club Internacional flying.

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Dirty

Webb had a perfect view of a dirty challenge that deserved a yellow card. Instead Manchester Cityʼs enforcer got no more than a talking to. The match had barely started, but Chile had already suffered more fouls than minutes had been played. Aránguiz caught Neymar within a minute. It was already threatening to become a hack-fest. The fouling continued with penalty shouts turned down.

Despite an awful foul by Vidal on Neymar and Fernadinho racking up the offences – two in less than a minute – half an hour went by without a card emerging from Webbʼs pocket for Manchester Cityʼs defensive midfielder.

Typical

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The second half wasnʼt as entertaining, card were shown. Hulk scored, but was penalised for handball and booked by Webb. Later substitute Jô was shown the yellow card for dangerous play, catching goalkeeper Claudio Bravo Muñoz high – Xabi Alonso could be forgiven an incredulous double-take or even two.

The match went into extra time. Webb brandished yellow seven times before Brasil scraped through on penalties, as for the second time in the match the woodwork saved Brasil. Five were shown in normal time. Brasil got four and Chile three in a match that set the record for fouls in a World Cup match – 51 – but somehow Fernandino escaped sanction and continued where he left off against Colombia in the next round. It was typical Webb. Worse would follow – far worse.

Pride

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (December 10th 2014)

Dangerous

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History does not bode well for Sporting Clube de Portugal. No Portuguese team has succeeded at Stamford Bridge. And Chelsea are smarting from their first loss of the season at the weekend. And the rejuvenated on-loan Nani is injured. Defenders Cédric and the Brasilian Jefferson are also out injured. “If we talk about my team Nani is out. Jefferson, Cédric is also out”, the 37-year-old coach Marco Silva said. “I believe in my players. We will fight. Chelsea is always difficult, especially here”.

José Mourinho likes to win, but he knows that Chelsea have not only already qualified, but will top the group anyway. Chelsea have nothing to prove. Their first loss of the season means they are dangerous, but Mourinho has already said that youngsters will feature in his squad tonight. It doesnʼt faze Silva.

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The young players of Chelsea are good for sure”, he said. “They are playing for Chelsea. We are prepared. They are not second choices. They are not just playing. We know they are good and important”.

Focused

But Silva is focused. He knows that a draw guarantees progress to the lucrative knock-out stage of the Championʼs League. “Iʼm very pleased with my teamʼs performance”, he said. “Itʼs just one more match. It will be crucial. Itʼs important for us, especially for Sporting. We have just been to the second stage once and it would be fantastic for everybody, especially the club. We will fight”.

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Slovenians Maribor could do the Portuguese a favour by beating former Blues manager Roberto di Matteoʼs Schalke04, but Silva is not bothered by that match. “Football is too complicated to pay attention to the other match”, Silva said. “One point is our target. If we fail we will wait for the other result, but that would be making trouble. I will not tell the players about the other match. Letʼs see. We want to achieve our objective. I think we [Portuguese teams] havenʼt won any points, but we will fight for our target, one point”.

Mourinhoʼs Wish

Mourinho cut his teeth in management as the late Bobby Robsonʼs interpreter and local coach at Sporting Clube in 1992. Robson was sacked in 1993. Mourinho went with him to Porto and later Barçelona, where he also worked with Louis van Gaal. Mourinho later became phenomenally successful in his own right, winning the Championʼs League with both Porto and Inter. He won trophies in his first spell at Chelsea and at Real Madrid too before returning to Chelsea.

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He has made no secret that he wanted both Chelsea and Sporting Clube to reach the knock-out stage. Chelsea has already achieved their part. “Mourinho said the same thing in Lisbon for the first match between the teams”, Silva said. “He said his desire was to qualify in first place and Sporting in second place, but we want to win regardless of what Mourinho said”.

Aims

A draw is enough, but Silva doesnʼt intend playing for one. “[Playing for] the draw is dangerous” he said. “We know that Chelsea will be very hard, but we have to play within our limits. One point is enough, but we want three points. All my players are important, but nobody was believing in us. Tomorrow we can show everybody. If we qualify there is justice in this group, because we are playing very well and we want to win to qualify. We are guaranteed Europa League [at least]”.

Despite the success of Algerian striker Islam Slimani (2 Championʼs League goals in five matches) who will depart in January for the African Cup of Nations, Fredy Montero will play tonight.

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Montero ruled out excuses, such as Chelseaʼs first defeat and the weather. “The defeat of Chelsea last weekend doesnʼt change anything”, he said. “On the pitch it is eleven against eleven. We respect Chelsea, but we want to play our game. The weather doesnʼt change anything. It is the same for both teams. They are used to playing in this temperature but itʼs okay, we are ready”.

Ambitions

The Colombian striker has played in four of the five matches so far. He has yet to score. “ I am here to help the team when it needs me”, Montero said. “I havenʼt scored in the Championʼs League but it is my dream. I am confident that I can score. I always believe that I can score. I am here to help Sporting and I hope that the manager believes in me. I donʼt think I am the best Montero ever, but I will try to do my best”.

Montero knows that his country has an embarrassment of riches up front. Los Cafeteros shone at the recent World Cup despite the absence of their then talisman Radamel Falcao. James Rodríguez Rubio won the Golden Boot and Juan Guillermo Cuadrado wowed too. Europa League winner Carlos Bacca was an option too as was Portoʼs Jackson Martínez. And thatʼs without Falcao, who despite his loan move to Manchester United, may never return to his lethal best.

Still Montero refuses to give up on forcing his way into José Pékerman Krimenʼs plans. “Every game is an opportunity for me with my national team”, Montero said. “I am happy to play for Colombia. I want to show my worth and be in the national team after the World Cup and for the next year”.

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A Villainʼs Charter?

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

A Clean Slate

This week the Championʼs League and Europa League will reach the business stage of deciding which teams will continue in the knock-out phase, drop down to the Europa League, or finish their participation in either competition. Soon the consequences of a rule change on carried over yellow cards will bite.

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Prior to the start of this seasonʼs tournaments UEFAʼs General Secretary Gianni Infantino explained the reasoning behind European Footballʼs governing body taking the decision to follow FIFAʼs lead to give players a clean slate for the final stages of the Championʼs League and Europa League for the current season. Like the World Cup yellow cards will be wiped clean at the quarter-final stage.

UEFA says it wanted to avoid the risk of top players being suspended for the latter stages of the competition. But does it? The World Cup-winning French midfielder and current Strategic Advisor of Greek champions Olympiacos, Christian Karembeu told Empower-Sport that he supported the changes.

Of course”, Karembeu said. “This is normal. I think that … every player deserve to play final, for example, and I think itʼs logical to give the chance to everyone when you dream about the finals – you dream about it”! But will it?

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Villainsʼ Charter

But the flair players – the ones spectators pay to see – are the victims of the persistent fouling, the ʻenforcer tacklesʼ designed to discourage them from playing and much more besides. This leads to them getting frustrated on occasion and reacting.

Remember David Ginola trudging off the pitch unhappily after being sent off for elbowing Lee Dixon when Arsenal played Newcastle United in the Coca Cup as it then was in January 1996. “They wonʼt let me play football”, he said. And they hadnʼt. Dixon had been fouling Ginola throughout the match, ensuring that Ginola could not function and the officials had allowed it. Finally a very frustrated Ginola retaliated by elbowing Dixon. He was sent off. The referee had no choice, but as Kevin Keegan then manager of Newcastle observed, flair players were not being protected.

And then there are cards picked up for deliberate blocks or non-violent cheating. The deliberate hand-balls, the shirt-tugging to prevent an attack developing and of course the simulation all deserve cards and the full consequences, donʼt they? Wonʼt this change in the rules encourage players to offend more as the consequences for doing so diminish?

The recent World Cup was ruined by a combination of excessively lenient refereeing and this rule. The quarter-final between Brasil – the most persistent offenders – and Colombia was destroyed as a spectacle by the failure to enforce the rules of the game. This happened under the auspices of Luiz Felipe Scolari – a manager who once declared the ʻBeautiful Game Deadʼ and the man that also said he wanted his team to foul more. What did they expect to happen other than the anti-football inflicted on the world that night?

Foul and Fouler

Far from guaranteeing the participation of the top players, these changes rewarded persistent offenders whose job it was to prevent the most talented from playing football – the exact opposite of what these changes are supposed to be delivering. What did they expect?

Letʼs hope that the amnesty on suspensions will not be accompanied by a repetition of the ludicrously lenient refereeing that rewarded the cynical and dirty play that Scolari inflicted on a world hoping for Samba football. Was it coincidence that Brasil played dirty?

It was their game plan after all – one that was cynically adopted to stop flair players by foul means or fouler – and utterly predictable that this would happen to ensure that a mediocre team undeservedly reached at least the final stages of the World Cup. Ironically, this happened at the expense of a team that had inherited the mantle of Samba football.

FIFA could not have failed to realise that Brasil would play this way. A talented Chile side and an even better Colombia paid the price. It also put a target on Neymarʼs back that put him out of the World Cup. Letʼs hope it doesnʼt happen again in the Championʼs League or Europa League.

Colombia down the USA

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 14th 2014)

Enhorabuena los Cafeteros

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A record-breaking crowd for an international at Craven Cottage saw Fulhamʼs ground turn into a suburb of Bogotá for the night as Colombiaʼs World Cup stars beat Jürgen Klinsmannʼs new look USA 2-1. Sunderlandʼs Jozy Altidore converted a penalty to give the USA a shock lead, which they retained until the hour mark. Second half goals by Sevillaʼs Carlos Bacca and River Plateʼs Teófilo Gutiérrez gave los Cafeteros the win.

I think in the first half of the match we started off well” US midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. “We imposed ourselves physically and we started off aggressively which is the things we talked about to make Colombia problems. I think we were able to do that, but then again in the second half we fell off, stopped being as aggressive and dropped our lines too deep and allowed them too much space to play and when you give a team like Colombia too much time and space they have great players who can find the ball between your lines and it showed in those two goals they scored”.

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Shock

Bedoyaʼs tenth minute free-kick created havoc in Colombiaʼs defence. AC Milanʼs Pablo Armero handled it and the Polish referee pointed to the spot despite protests from the Colombian players that Rubio Rubin had fouled Armero. The officials remained steadfast although the replays suggested that the Colombian had been impeded.

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Altidore out-thought Camilo Vargas deputising for the injured Arsenal goal-keeper David Ospina to give the US team the lead. Colombia, captained by Real Madridʼs James Rodríguez had the better of the play in both halves. Brad Guzan was the busier keeper. A 20th minute Rodríguez free-kick fizzed past Guzanʼs left-hand post. Slightly earlier Bacca headed over from Rodríguezʼ cross and the the Sevillaʼs striker also hit the post from Gutiérrezʼ cross.

Competitive

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Colombia should also have had a penalty as the first half drew to a close, but Polish referee Szymon Marciniak waved away protests led by Sevillaʼs Carlos Bacca, whose shot had been blocked by Jermaine Jonesʼ hand. Moments later Rodríguez was left in a heap after being scythed down by John Brooks. Marciniak gave nothing – a familiar story for the gifted play-maker.

But it wasnʼt all one-way. Abel Aguilar, who plies his trade for Toulouse in Franceʼs Ligue Un escaped sanction for a terrible foul on DeAndre Yedlin. He didnʼt learn, receiving a well-deserved booking for another bad foul on Alejandro Bedoya. Altidore was also booked for fouling Fiorentinaʼs Juan Guillermo Cuadrado in an eventful first half that Colombia shaded, but trailed at half time.

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I think James is the play-maker of this Colombian team. Heʼs absolutely fantastic player, but I think Cuadrado is an amazing player. I donʼt know if he had his best game today in terms of showing his pace when going behind the lines, but you could see how quick he is and how the way he moves off the ball and everything. Heʼs a great player as well, but James is the key to this team”.

Class Tells

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Two minutes into the second half Rubin had the chance to double the USAʼs lead from Bedoyaʼs cross, but his diving header went wide of Vargasʼ left-hand post. With an hour played Colombia got their equaliser, although it had an element of controversy to it. “It was offside”, Jones said emphatically and he had a point of sorts. “I am happy with the goal”, Bacca said. He was also satisfied with Colombiaʼs performance in the World Cup.

With an hour gone Gutiérrez was in an offside position when James Rodríguezʼ deft flick was latched onto by Bacca who rounded Guzan and scored from a tight angle. Gutiérrez never touched the ball or went for it – Bacca, who was onside, did. According to the rules it was not offside even if perhaps it should be. The US youngsters have a stark lesson to learn – play to the whistle.

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The greater quality told as an incisive move by the Colombians culminating in a sumptuous cross by substitute Edwin Cardona was finished by Gutiérrezʼ header to the delight of the raucous crowd – didnʼt know there were so many Colombians in London.

Bedoya was in reflective mood. “We have to fix something mentally, because I feel like the last three or four games weʼve given up late goals, but this what we play these games for – to learn from these games and keep progressing”, he said.

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Testing Times

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 14th 2014)

Friendly

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Fresh from their World Cup heroics Colombia and the USA meet in a friendly at Fulhamʼs Craven Cottage tonight. Jürgen Klinsmann has a new look squad as veteran keeper Tim Howard is taking a break from international football. Aston Villaʼs Brad Guzan will provide the last line of defence. “You want to test yourself against the best,” he said of the prospect of facing Real Madrid star James Rodríguez and Fiorentinaʼs Juan Guillermo Cuadrado.

Yesterday, ticket sales reached 23500, which equalled the record for an international at Craven Cottage. Obviously itʼs a very traditional and very special place”, Klinsmann said of the ground. “That we get the opportunity to play a friendly here means a lot to us”.

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Comfort Zones

Klinsmann had to make changes since July. “Weʼre looking forward to an exciting match to a game that gives us a very good benchmark against a team that is in the top five in the world with outstanding players”, he said. “We have a good group of guys here. They are eager to show what they have”.

Klinsmann said that the long-term vision was 2018 and that they were looking forward to playing José Pekermanʼs team. “For us, itʼs huge to play those type of games outside of our comfort zone away from the United States in order to grow and to learn, especially for the younger players you know to face all these top players that Colombiaʼs has”.

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He was impressed with los Cafeteros. “I wouldnʼt say it was a surprise, because prior to the World Cup when you talked about all the nations that qualified there a lot of people mentioned Chile, a lot people mentioned Colombia, how good their individuals, the quality that they have – one of their secret teams maybe going far in the tournament – so it was exciting to see that Colombian team, the way they played, the energy they had, you how they performed, so they deserved really the biggest compliment for that and especially José Pekerman for his work there”.

He expects to be a wiser man about his team after Friday night. “For us … itʼs very important that we have these games where we have to figure out to solve things on the field in a one match situation, because our next biggest learning curve is once we get out hopefully of the group again, how we actually advance in the knock-out system”, Klinsmann said.

Klinsmann believes that such matches are essential if the USA is to become a top team. “This is our learning curve, to learn in one game at a time to go further and further and further to develop that mentality – that mindset – to do that, so thatʼs why we badly need those games against the best teams that we can find to give us that opportunity to play them”, he said. “No matter where in the world, weʼre going to go there and weʼre going to play those games”.

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Rebuilding

He believes that his team will benefit from pitting their skills against such a good team and that his youngsters have to be tested against the best. “You can see their progress and thatʼs what we want to experience”, Klinsmann said of the young players. “We want them to grow confident … We want to do well against a very, very good Colombian side

and has great respect for his opposite number José Pekerman, dating back to the World Cup in 2006. “Iʼm a big admirer of José Pekerman”, Klinsmann said. “A wonderful person that I played against for Germany in the World Cup of 2006 and I visited him once in México. What he built there is exceptional. Itʼs fantastic to see, so this is what we need. We need those benchmarks now and weʼre eager to give them a real fight.

Goals

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Brad Guzan will play tonight. “Itʼs important to play these competitive games, because they help set benchmarks of where we are as a team, as individuals and how much we continue to grow”, he said. “Ultimately the goal is four years – the World Cup – we have a lot of stepping stones before that, but the goal is 2018. Thatʼs going to be a special time. To be successful in big tournaments you have to play against the best teams in the world. You use these games to hopefully prepare for the bigger stage and ultimately the World Cup”.

Guzan knows that he will face an impressoive set of strikers and team with James Rodríguez pulling the strings. He is unfazed. “Youʼre always expecting to play against the best players in the world, because itʼs an opportunity to test yourself, so nothing changes for me in that aspect” ,he said.

He echoes Klinsmannʼs beliefs. “As a team, itʼs always a challenge and especially we know itʼs going to be a good Colombia team from top to bottom, so for us itʼs going to be an important night and these are the games you want to be a part of”, Guzan said. “You want to test yourself against the best players, against the best teams. These are the exciting matches that you want to be a part of”.