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 They and football fans were robbed as their licence to entertain was revoked and cynical fouling and other cheating rewarded instead.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.

Brasil Fail Again

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

Controversial Start

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

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

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

Pointless

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

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

White Elephant

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

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

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

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

Their Fiefdom

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

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

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

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

Pride

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

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

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

The Beautiful Game

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

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

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

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The Beautiful Game

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 4th 2014)

RIP

Luiz Felipe Scolari once declared that the beautiful game was dead. He also said that he wanted his team to foul more. Tonight Colombiaʼs talented play-maker was hacked off the park with referee Carlos Velasco Carballo little more than a spectator as shameful so-called challenges went unpunished. Scolari got his wish. The beautiful game died tonight – RIP.

FIFA wanted referees to be more lenient so cards and suspensions didnʼt pile up. This evening the consequences became obvious. The Colombians noticed that their influential play-maker, Monacoʼs James Rodríguez Rubio had plainly been targeted. Brasilʼs tactics were for Manchester Cityʼs Fernadinho and Tottenham Hotspurʼs Paulinho in particular to prevent him playing by foul means – fair didnʼt even compute.

Neither Brasilian was even booked, let alone sent off as they deserved. Had they been shown the yellow card when it was warranted – after 14 minutes in Fernandinhoʼs case, the referee would have retained control and a potentially mouth-watering tie may have had a chance to blossom. Instead the prodigiously talented Rodríguez and later Barçelonaʼs Neymar were used as kicking bags.

Disgraceful

Napoliʼs Juan Zúñiga Mosquera is public enemy number one in Brasil now and that wonʼt change for a long time. He claims that his 88th minute so-called challenge was not intended to injure Brasilʼs talisman Neymar. The evidence proves otherwise. He kneed Neymar in the back with the ball nowhere near. It was a shocking and disgraceful challenge that deserves appropriate punishment – a long ban.

Zúñigaʼs protestations that he meant no injury to Neymar ring hollow. There was no credible effort to play the ball. It was almost certainly retribution for the treatment that Colombiaʼs talented attacking players had been subjected to earlier. Almost a fifth of Brasilʼs fouls – brutal ones – were committed to ensure that Rodríguez could not play.

They were meant to leave a mark and make him liable to be clattered whenever he had the temerity to try to play. This was anti-football at its worst. Brasil committed 31 fouls out of a tournament record 54 with Rodríguez the number one target in their sights. Fernandinho, Paulinho, Paris Saint-Germainʼs Thiago Silva and David Luiz and Championʼs League winning Real Madridʼs Marcelo all had a crack at him.

Anti-Football

Fellow attacking options, Fiorentinaʼs Juan Cuadrado Bello and Cagliariʼs Víctor Ibarbo Guerrero were also hacked to pieces. The trio had been the victims of almost a third of the fouls committed on their own in the first half. Brasil had clearly adopted a novel interpretation of the phrase ʻthey shall not passʼ!

And where was the referee while this carnage was going on? Velasco Carballo is an élite level referee in Spain. Ironically he has the reputation of a disciplinarian. His reputation will now be in tatters. After yet another foul had been committed on Rodríguez, the play-maker was deliberately prevented from taking it quickly.

Yet again Fernadinho was on hand. When he finally took it confusion reigned and Brasil got possession. There was no question of retreating ten yards or even trying to. Not a word of reprimand, let alone a long overdue yellow card emerged and later when Rodríguez prepared to take another with his sights set on goal the wall encroached again without consequences. With the spray available to prevent this, why was that free-kick not taken again? Why were the offenders not booked?

Ludicrous

It took over an hour for Velasco Carballo to brandish a yellow card – astonishing given the extent of brutal fouling adopted by Brasil in particular. Colombia committed 23 fouls themselves, but theirʼs was a reaction to the knowledge that Brasil had chosen to ensure that they would not be allowed to play football and the referee was content to allow them to get away with it. Eventually they retaliated in one case in a particularly brutal fashion.

While Neymar deserves sympathy and protection Brasil do not and they may yet pay a very high price. They are through, but must face Germany without Neymar – the man they built their team around. They had a plan to neutralise Colombiaʼs attacking threat by foul means and they stuck to it. They were allowed to do it by officials who lost control as early as a 14 minutes into the match.

Rudely Interrupted

Prior to the carnage Brasil took the lead. Fernandinhoʼs long pass to Neymar was intercepted at the expense of a corner. The Colombian defending of Neymarʼs corner was woeful to put it mildly. With just 7 minutes played Elcheʼs midfielder Carlos Sánchez Moreno switched off and allowed Thiago Silva an untracked run to the back post where he kneed it past Niceʼs impressive goal-keeper David Ospina Ramírez to give Brasil the lead. It was the first time Colombia had gone behind.

The Colombians did not play to their potential – they werenʼt allowed to. Brasil showed the ugly side of their game to render the potent Colombian attacking threat neutered. The first yellow card came when Silva impeded Ospinaʼs clearance and then put the ball in the net. Incredibly given the brutality that had preceded it was hardly a transgression in the greater scheme of what had gone before, but certainly a yellow card offence.

Normal Service

Before long it was evened out as Velasco Carballo shamefully booked Rodríguez for what was at best a minor offence as Rodríguez plainly withdrew his leg prior to contact if there was any. Adding insult to injury David Luizʼ fantastic 30 yard free-kick beat Ospina to give Brasil their insurance goal – one they would need. He was yet another who deserved a card for a brutal first half foul. Slightly before that goal two other major incidents happened.

A free-kick was taken and rebounded off David Luiz. A scramble followed. Atalantaʼs Mario Yepes Díaz bundled the ball in. It was chalked off for offside – a marginal decision. In another incident Thiago Silva looked injured. Unfortunately he was the culprit, yet another foul that warranted a booking – this time on Borussia Dortmundʼs Adrián Ramos Vázquez. That would have been his second and a sending off. It would also have sent a message to Brasil that they had to defend by fair means – one that should have been sent far earlier. Colombia began to retaliate. Cuadrado should have been booked for a foul on Neymar, but this was long after Rodríguez had been refused protection. 

Finale

With just over ten minutes left Rodríguez put Sevillaʼs Europa League winner Carlos Bacca Ahumada through on goal. QPRʼs goal-keeper Júlio César Soares de Espíndola, currently on loan to Toronto FC, took him out to concede a penalty. Luiz was covering, so Velasco Carballo decided that a yellow card would suffice despite denying a goal-scoring opportunity. Rodríguez kept his nerve to beat Júlio César and set up a nervous finale.

At least three Brasilians had committed enough serious offences to deserve sending off, but that did not happen. And then Velasco Carballo ignored Zúñigaʼs assault on Neymar. Undoubtedly, Zúñiga should have been sent off. Either the referee and his officials saw that and much more and ignored it or they missed it. As free-kicks were given, but not more for most of Brasilʼs transgressions FIFA cannot and will not act retrospectively. Zúñigaʼs offence is a different matter.

If Fernandinho had received the card he deserved then Velasco Carballo would have retained control and this match would not have disintegrated into a relic from the past. Velasco Carballoʼs failure to take and maintain control had sadly predictable consequences. Neymar was targeted too and he paid the highest price – an undeserved exit from the World Cup. His team are considerably weakened now. It could and should have been so different. Deprived of both Thiago Silva and Neymar, they face Germany in the semi-final.

RIP the beautiful game.

Brasil beat Chile – Just

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 28th 2014)

Fine Margins

A thrilling encounter in Belo Horizonte, which is a city not unaccustomed to World Cup upsets, ended with hosts Brasil pipping Chile 3-2 on penalties after Gonzalo Jara Reyesʼ penalty hit the post with Júlio César beaten. It was the second time that the woodwork saved Brasil.

With the clock running down in extra time Alexis Sánchez Sánchez and substitute Mauricio Pinilla Ferrera combined. Pinillaʼs shot from just outside the area thudded against the crossbar. Júlio César stood no chancre and the hearts of the host nation sipped a beat.

By his standards Neymar had a disappointing match, but his penalty against new Barçelona team-mate Claudio Bravo Muñoz showed his class. He waited for Bravo to commit himself before scoring to the other side. Jara had to score as Júlio César had saved two (Pinilla and Sánchez) and Bravo had saved Hulkʼs penalty – Willian had missed.

Careless defending had cost Chile dear earlier, as a free-kick and then corner were needlessly conceded. Neymarʼs corner was nodded on by Brasilʼs captain Thiago Silva who plays for French champions Paris Saint-Germain. David Luiz had never scored for Brasil before and may not have done this time as it appeared to be an own-goal by the luckless Jara.

Chile were not there to make up the numbers. A defensive mix up from Marceloʼs throw-in allowed Valenciaʼs Eduardo Vargas Rojas to pick Hulkʼs pocket, pull it back for Sánchez to score.

Advantage

Joint top scorer Neymar was outshone by Sánchez, although Brasilʼs star created several opportunities, mainly for himself. He was subjected to harsh treatment by Chilean defenders. Neymar failed to add to his tally. He pulled strings in the first half, but faded as the match continued.

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Neymar ran off an injury after Charles Aránguiz Sandoval fouled him. However, almost as soon as the match started Manchester Cityʼs Fernandinho should have been booked by referee Howard Webb for a bad foul on Aránguiz. Again Webb should have brandished cards earlier as some decisions appeared inconsistent later.

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Webb turned down two penalty appeals and crucially disallowed Hulkʼs 54th minute goal deciding the Zenit Saint Petersburg striker had handled before beating Bravo with the outside of his foot. Midway through the second half, during a period when Chile looked the more likely to break the deadlock Aránguiz was denied by a fantastic save by Júlio César to maintain parity.

Chile won a few hearts this afternoon, but will be going home while Brasil will meet either Colombia or Uruguay shorn of Luis Suárez on Friday evening.

Brasil Ease Past Cameroun

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 23rd 2014)

Class

Brasil inspired by Neymar brushed past a disorganised Cameroun easily. Neymarʼs first half brace overcame the shock of Joel Matipʼs 25th minute equaliser. Neymar restored order with his second ten minutes before half time. Brasil could have more in their most convincing display of this World Cup. The much maligned Fred finally opened his account to the relief of his team-mates and all Brasil fans, although he looked offside.

It should be remembered that the Fluminense striker started slowly in the Confederationsʼ Cup last year as well. How did that work out? He failed to score in his first two matches and faced calls for him to be dropped. Luis Felipe Scolari was having none of it and stuck by Fred.

Neymarʼs Show

He scored a brace in his next match and finished the tournament as top scorer. The World Cup-winning coach obviously sees something in Fred and has surely earned the right not to be second guessed on his selections.

Manchester Cityʼs Fernandinho got the fourth to seal a convincing 4-1 drubbing of a sorry looking Cameroun team who arrived in Brasil with a huge cloud hanging over them and depart a shambles with players fighting each-other rather than for each-other and viewed as traitors in their own country.

Convincing

Apart from a terrible defensive lapse that affected Thiago Silva, Marcelo and David Luiz for Matipʼs goal – Allan-Roméo Nyom squared it to Matip – Brasil never looked likely to be tested defensively. That freed Scolariʼs team to entertain the crowd in Brasilia. Neymar was in fine form orchestrating Brasilʼs occasional swagger as well as getting a brace before being substituted to protect him for later matches.

Neymarʼs outrageous flick up and volley in the 19th minute was parried by Itandje. It showed his skill. Thiago Silvaʼs long pass found Hulk whose cross was poorly cleared. It broke to Neymar who showed why Scolari built his team around Barçelonaʼs star in waiting.

Fred scrambled for a goal. A minute later, Stéphane Mbia was caught in possession and the ball was helped through to Paulinho. Tottenham Hotspurʼs defensive midfielder has had a difficult first season in England, but crossed and Fred tried to bundle in, but Henri Bedimo Nsamé tackle prevented him making contact. Itandje smothered it.

Less than a quarter of an hour later David Luiz received the ball from Luis Gustavo in his own half and initiated an attack. Luizʼ long ball to the left was headed clear by Nyom to Marcelo. The Real Madrid defender released Neymar to run and shoot from just inside area with Itandje going wrong way after 34 to make it 2-1. Just before half time another long pass from Luiz allowed Neymar to continue to display his tricks, but nothing came from it once he had laid it off to Hulk as Matip conceded a corner.

Results

Brasil were rarely threatened in the second half. Almost as soon as the second half got under-way Hulk was put through by Fernandinho, but an excellent tackle by Bedimo thwarted him. It led to a good shot by Fred and save by Itandje, but Fred was getting closer.

A bad foul by Eyong Enoh on Neymar, should have resulted in another caution for Enoh, but referee Jonas Eriksson chose to be lenient and did not brandish a card. Enoh was fortunate. A minute later Cameroun were unfortunate in the extreme. Fredʼs goal was needed by the Fluminense forward, but he was clearly off-side and so was David Luiz when he was put through to deliver the cross for Fred to score – dreadful misses by the officials.

With six minutes remaining and México making a battle of it for top spot, Cameroun got careless. Chelseaʼs Óscar intercepted, allowing Fernandinho to exchange a one-two with Fred and shoot across Itandje from to make it safe for Brasil. Meanwhile, Croatia got a consolation goal. The positions were now clear. Brasil would top the group and face Chile in the last sixteen and the Netherlands would face México.

 

Champions

By Satish Sekar at the Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro © Satish Sekar (June 30th 2013)

The Brasilian Way

For a man who once declared the beautiful game dead, Luiz Felipe Scolari, has either mellowed or come to accept that Brasilians demand style and substance. Scolari took over a side in disarray and turned them into champions in waiting. He did it with legendary fitness trainer Paulo Paixão at his side again.

Brasil inflicted an emphatic 3-0 defeat on World and European champions Spain at the refurbished Maracanã tonight. Fred stole the show with a brace – both scored early in either half. A glorious Neymar strike came just before half time.

I’m so happy because, I have a great team”, David Luiz said after winning the Confederations’ Cup. “Everyone here is so humble. You try every day to try the best things. I’m so happy with this”.

Expectations

The manner of the victory has led to reappraisal of Brasil’s chances next year for the World Cup – the first here for 64 years. Are Brasil now favourites for the World Cup? “I don’t know”, Luiz said. “I know this ream have a lot to grow to improve day by day. That is the right way now”.

Chelsea team-mate César Azpilicueto thinks differently. “Brasil is always favourite for the competition next year”, he said. “The World Cup is in Brasil. I think Brasil has a very good team. A lot of countries has a very good team and always the World Cup is difficult, so I hope that our team is going to continue to progress and to do a good World Cup”.

Under the Cosh

Italy showed that Spain was not invincible. Spain’s tiki-taka football style had never been put under such pressure and been found wanting before, but Brasil struck early and never relented. With less than 2 minutes played Vicente del Bosque’s plan needed to be reassessed.

Hulk’s cross from the right caused pandemonium in the Spanish defence. It rebounded off Neymar onto Álvaro Arbeloa after Gerard Piqué had failed to clear. Fred, managed to hook it in from close range while on the ground.

Brasil created the better chances, the pick being an excellent 30 yard effort by Corinthians’ Paulinho, which was well saved by Spain’s captain Iker Casillas. Spain took almost 20 minutes to produce an effort requiring an intervention from Golden Glove winner Júlio César from Andrés Iniesta.

With half an hour played Neymar put Fred through on the right of the area, but Casillas saved his shot at the expense of a corner. Hungry to impress Fred’s header from the resulting corner failed to test Casillas further.

I think you cannot win every day”, Azpilicueta said. “Today was hard – a very good game. We try our best. Some chances we didn’t score and I think football is the score and they did a good game”.

Football reporter Gabriele Marcotti agrees. He says it is far too early to talk of a crisis in Spanish football. “It was closer”, he says. “If Luiz hadn’t cleared off the line – if the penalty hadn’t been missed …”. Marcotti thinks it shows a far closer match than people think and that Spain does not need to go back to the drawing board.

After all, a poor performance in the previous Confederations’ Cup was followed by the World Cup triumph and an emphatic retention of the European Championship last year. Talk of Spain’s demise is premature at best.

The Sublime and the Sublime

The match turned in the last couple of minutes of the first half. Chelsea’s Juan Mata faced his club colleague David Luiz with Barçelona’s Pedro free on the right. Pedro’s shot easily beat Júlio César and seemed destined for the equaliser, but Luiz had other ideas.

I just tried my best when inside the pitch to help my team”, Luiz said. “That moment was a special moment because I did what I did to save a goal. I did my job. I’m a defender and I tried my best to save my team”.

He’d chased back and slid in to hook it over the crossbar. It was a fantastic clearance that saved a certain goal. The Maracanã chanted his name in unison – not bad for a player dismissed by some as a play-station footballer.

Azpilicueta appreciated it, wryly saying, “I know. I know a lot about him. I know at this Cup he will try to do, so I am not surprised to say that he did that”.

Shortly afterwards Brasil attacked. Neymar played a one-two with Oscar, coming back from an off-side position before the Chelsea starlet returned the ball to him on the left of the penalty area. Neymar blasted it into the roof of the net – a good goal, but by his own standards Casillas would expect not to be beaten by those.

From a potential 1-1 with half-time beckoning both team talks were now drastically different. Del Bosque knew that a difficult task was getting harder, whereas Scolari had a far easier task than appeared likely a few minutes earlier.

A Mountain too High

It was finally catching up. A tough semi-final against Italy: extra time, a day’s less rest and a long flight from Fortaleza to Rio de Janeiro were tiring. Brasil kept Spain under attack and shortly after the restart Fred made it three. Oscar got the assist, which his club colleague, Azpilicueta failed to intercept. Casillas stood no chance.

A lifeline was handed to the Spanish ten minutes into the second half when Marcelo tripped substitute Jesús Navas – penalty. Bizarrely with Fernando Torres in Golden Boot position, up stepped Sergio Ramos. He failed to punish his Real Madrid team-mate’s indiscretion. Queen’s Park Rangers’ Júlio César celebrated Ramos’ miss.

After 67 minutes, despite not being the last man Bjorn Kuipers decided that Piqué’s trip on his new Barçelona team-mate was worthy of a straight red card. The mountain Spain had to climb had become as difficult to scale as the nearby Sugarloaf Mountain.

Eyes on the Prize

It proved too high and Brasil went on to retain the Confederations’ Cup – the third time the Samba boys have won that title this century. They are surely very credible contenders to win the World Cup on home soil next year, but what about Spain?

The last Confederations’ Cup, we felt the same emotions after the semi-finals”, Azpilicueta said. “We need to learn about this effect and to think about the future of the World Cup in one year; how we are going to qualify as soon as possible, but after to do our best World Cup to regain [it] again. I cannot say one team [that Spain should look out for] because a lot of countries have a very good team – a strongest team: youngest team – and they we want to try to continue to our football to our philosophy to try to win”.