Football – In Tact as Ever (Part Two)

By Traolach Kaye © Traolach Kaye (March 19th 2015)

Shenanigans

The BBCʼs Dan Roan alludes to how offended the Premier League will be by all these shenanigans to host the World Cup in the winter in Qatar to avoid the searing heat of an Arabic summer. That is most odd. English football is all about the Premier League. Clubs are either in the Premier League or aspire to be in it.

Those seeking to give the lie to this will claim that the Championship play-off final is the ʻrichest game in footballʼ … by dint, oddly enough, of the winner being ushered into the Premier League. Should football fans, globally, take umbrage at how the machinations of the Premier League, itself – something of a tyrantsʼ charter – have been upset and knocked marginally out of kilter by the decision to host the 2022 World Cup during the Winter months?

Roanʼs assertion that the FA might be upset as it may interrupt some ceremonially flavoured FA Cup programme – 2022 is the centenary of the Final at Wembley Stadium – is laughable. This presentation of the FA Cup as some Holy of Holies sits uncomfortably with how the event has been policed and how its attendees have been treated – Hillsborough, for example.

CIMG0560

Uncomfortable

It sits uncomfortably with how managers and players treat it. It sits uncomfortably with the stark reality of attendances at FA Cup games with certain clubs, at even advanced stages of the Cup. If it is important, why is it being treated as an after-thought, especially by the big clubs and the prize of qualification for the Europa League being seen as a unwanted burden, even though for some clubs, it is the only possibility of Champions League football.

Take Hull City for example. A lacklustre approach to it saw them dumped out without even reaching the League stage. This in the year that the winner of the Europa League gets into the Championsʼ League. Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool dropped out in the last 32. Only Everton still fly the flag.

Disproportionate Effects?

If Roan is so concerned that the effect of hosting WC 2022 in the Winter Months will have a disproportionately negative effect on the ʻSmaller Clubsʼ, he would do well to look at how the same ʻSmaller Clubsʼ themselves treat the FA Cup, and how the FA Cup treats them. Name the last non-top flight Club to win the FA Cup?

Southampton, 1976. The last 10 winners are Arsenal, Wigan, Chelsea, Manchester City, Chelsea, Chelsea, Portsmouth, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal. Who owns those clubs? Portsmouth at the time of their winning the FA Cup in 2008 were owned by Alexander Gaydamak. He had bought the club from Milan Mandarić who was subsequently charged with tax-evasion.

Gaydamak then sold the club to Sulaiman al-Fahim who had acted as spokesperson for Mansour al-Nahyan and smoothed al-Nahyanʼs takeover of Manchester City. Al-Fahim in turn sold the club six weeks later to Ali al-Faraj, a supposed Saudi oil tycoon. Portsmouth went to rack and ruin and who paid the price? The loyal supporters who were the backbone of the club and who ultimately saved the historic club.

By 2013, Portsmouth FC had finally returned to the ownership of the fans themselves, with the club having been bankrupted, relegated three times and almost forced out of existence in the intervening period. But we must keep an eye out for FIFA, it seems.

Fit and Proper

Anybody can own an English football club. They are for sale every day of the week on whatever index you choose to consult. They are open to bids from everyone, irrespective of their morals, their achievements, their politics, their ethics, or the pedigree of their finances. They are not even the Harrods of their time, for which a purchase price AND favour had to be first agreed. Who buys these clubs?

The best known example is everyoneʼs favourite ʻBillionaire from Nowhereʼ, Roman Abramovich – a long-time associate of Vladimir Putin. Abramovich rose from nothing to dominate the Russian aluminium and gas sector, after being the understudy of Boris Beresovsky who was subsequently found dead at home in March 2013 soon after a protracted legal battle with Abramovich ended badly for Beresovsky.

Other noted humanists such as Thaksin Shinawatra, Tom Hicks, George Gillette, Mike Ashley, Vincent Tan, Venkatesh Rao, the al-Mubaraks, Alisher Usmanov and the aforementioned al-Fahims, Gaydamaks, al-Farajs, Mandarićs, etc. either own outright, have owned outright, possess, or have had strong financial interests in various English clubs.

Chicken factories. Bangladeshi sweatshops. Human rights abusers. Leveraged buyout merchants. Corporate raiders. Oligarchs. Oil tycoons. Silicon valley entrepreneurs. Eastern-Bloc businessmen. But look out for FIFA.

CIMG0207

Mike Ashley, owner of Newcastle United has used his position to try take advantage of the collapse of Glasgow Rangers such that Rangers was in danger of becoming a satellite club of Newcastle United. But look out for FIFA.

Universal Problem

This is not alone an English problem. Perspective is loaned to the matter when one considers that Real Madrid have agreed a £350m deal with a construction company owned by a member of the family that owns Manchester City. These clubs are supposedly in competition. They are instead each otherʼs keepers. This is supposedly the football that we should be worried will be ʻtorn apartʼ by a tournament being hosted in the Winter months – a tournament 7 years now.

No self-respecting journalist capable of even the slightest abstract thought could possibly find themselves offended uniquely by FIFAʼs alleged corruption juxtaposed as it is against the backdrop painted above. A brief examination of those invited to do business in England, and fêted for doing same, says a lot about this. 

England held its nose and took its reluctant place at the trough in the run up to the decision to award the World Cups for 2018 and 2022 respectively. Had England walked away early-doors and refused to have anything to do with the selection process, then we might have avoided the entire saga. Instead, the tit-for-tat will continue, presumably up and until such a stage as England is awarded a World Cup to host.

And letʼs remember that three-times beaten finalists the Netherlands have never hosted the World Cup, let alone suffered a long delay waiting for it to return. Isnʼt it their turn first?

Advertisements

The Final Chapter

Segun at Wembley

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (February 15th 2015)

Afcon 2015 – New African Champions

After an exciting three weeks of pulsating but technically mediocre festival of football in Equatorial Guinea, the Elephants of la Côte d’Ivoire have become the new Champions of African football. They took the coveted trophy that was relinquished, rather humiliatingly, by Nigeria. The Super Eagles had exited at the qualifying stage of the championship.

CIMG6619

It may have taken well over 20 years for their trophy drought to end, but when it finally did the whole of Côte d’Ivoire exploded in an orgy of celebration as the government declared a national public holiday and lavishly rewarded the gallant heroes with houses and cash gifts. It was a far cry from the disgraceful treatment Ivorian players received from former dictator Robert Guéï after a poor performance in Afcon 2000.

History

The final match against Ghanaʼs Black Stars created razor-sharp pressure for both teams. Tactically, they cancelled each other out for 120 minutes and the match had to be settled by penalty kicks – again. That match marked the third time the Elephants played in the final of the Nations Cup and did not score a goal. It also marked the third time a final involving the Ivorians had gone to penalties.

The recourse to penalty kicks against these opponents historically favoured the Ivorians. In 1992 they won the championship for the first time against Ghana after a marathon penalty shoot-out that ended 11-10. They had tasted defeat in a penalty shoot-out too when Egypt won the first of their unprecedented three consecutive titles in 2006.

Two Sunday night’s ago the elements were on the side of Côte d’Ivoire once again, as ‘lightning struck twice on the same spot’. 

Ghana were left stranded on the banks of misfortune as they threw away an early two-goal lead, due to nerves, and lost 8-9 in the end, continuing a trophy drought that has lasted 33 years. The Black Stars have lost their last three finals, twice on penalties to the Ivorians and once to Egypt in 2010

Apart from the penalty shoot-out the final match was tension-soaked but technically ordinary and boring – a true reflection of the entire championship.

The Special Generation

Winning the championship was momentous for Côte d’Ivoire as it marked the end of an era for several of their ageing generation of players, some of whom have been among the best footballers in the history of African football. Between them, Didier Drogba and Yaya Touré have won the African player of the year award 7 times. Add to that other great players playing at a high level in Europe, including Kolo Touré, Salomon Kalou, Gervinho, and so on.

CIMG9165

It is unfortunate that Drogba chose to retire from international football on the eve of the championship. The victory would have capped a very illustrious and unprecedented career that had only the African Cup of Nations title as the missing trophy in his rich chest.

Scant Consolation

Overall, Ghana looked the slightly better and more organised team, even though Côte d’Ivoire were unbeaten did not lose any of their matches throughout the championship. However, the Ghanaians were the more entertaining team during the tournament. Consequently, it is not surprising that the player of the tournament came from the Ghanaian team.

Christian Atsu, currently on loan from Chelsea to Everton got more opportunities under Avram Grant than he has from José Mourinho or Roberto Martínez in England. The fleet, left-footed player operated from the right side of the Ghanaian attack, scoring two of Ghana’s three goals in the quarter-finals and constantly terrorised the Ivorian defence during the final. He deserved the award. He was a bright star in a very grey constellation.

Memories

Finally, the Championship will be remembered not for memorable matches but for other reasons: how the championship ended up in a country that did not even qualify for the championship and was under suspension by CAF; how the terraces were empty during most of the matches except those involving the host country; how Morocco were suspended (and rejected the suspension) for two tournaments for refusing to host the event due to genuine health fears; how Tunisia were suspended for failing to apologise for accusing CAF of bias and complicity when they were openly ‘robbed’ by a referee who only got a slap-on-the-wrist six-month suspension, for his shameful handling of the match in question; how supporters of the host country threw decorum to the dogs and unleashed mayhem on players and supporters of an opposing team with the shameful scenes watched on television all over the world; how both CAF and FIFA Presidents condemned the Western media for ‘exaggerating’ reports of the incidents that smeared the organization of the championship because they needed to make more friends than enemies amongst national federations with their elections coming, and so on.

Blatter and Hayatou 6

At the end of Afcon 2015, the championship simply could not produce or showcase the best version of African football as well as authentic new stars to illuminate African football into the immediate future. Letʼs hope that Afcon 2017 will supply both. The country that will host that tournament will be decided by CAF in April, following the withdrawal of Libya as hosts due to security concerns.

Next Time the Fire-power

Four countries that expressed an interest met CAFʼs conditions to host the tournament. Beaten finalists Ghana last hosted in 2008. They also hosted and won the tournament twice previously. The first time was in 1963 – the first appearance of the Black Stars in the tournament. That was the first of three triumphs under the legendary African coach Charles Kumi Gyamfi. Only Egyptʼs Hassan Shehata has matched him, although Hervé Renard has made history already and has power to add.

CIMG2675

The next time Ghana hosted and won was in 1978, the only victory of the Black Stars not under Gyamfiʼs supervision. Fred Osam Duodu was the successful coach. The most successful team in African history, the Pharaohs have won the trophy seven times. Egyptʼs last success – qualification too – was in 2010. They hosted and won in 2006.

Their fierce rivals the Desert Foxes of Algeria have only one title to their name. They hosted and won in 1990. That leaves Gabon. They have never won the trophy. Their best achievement was reaching the quarter-final twice, in 1996 when they went out on penalties to beaten finalists Tunisia and when they co-hosted in 2012. Gabon has never hosted in their own right.

Shambles (Part Two) – Repetition

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (March 4th 2010)

Editorʼs Note

We published this series of articles in 2010. With the debate raging over whether English football should implement its version of American Footballʼs Rooney Rule to guarantee black and minority ethnic (BME) candidates an interview for coaching/managerial jobs in the top flight of English football, we decided that the plight of African coaches in their own countries deserved another airing.

Derek Miller

Restoring Pride

Sexy football it most certainly is not, but that was not Shuaibu Amoduʼs immediate task. He had to restore national pride. The Super-Chickens had to soar once more. Amodu appointed local coaches including former Everton striker Daniel Amokachi, who had walked out of Vogts’ set up accusing the German of treating them like ball-boys.

Vogts knew nothing about Nigeria, its culture, football or local talent when he took over the Super-Eagles. He wanted to impose German organisation onto Nigerian football without the slightest thought of how it would fit.

Farce and Tragedy

Amodu did not make that mistake, but had his own ideas as well. The Nigerian defence was bolstered and became stingy to the point of miserliness as far as conceding was concerned. Nigeria became the Super-Eagles again in the first round of World Cup and African Cup of Nations qualifiers, boasting by far the best record in Africa.

Amodu had restored pride, but as always the Nigerian media was not satisfied. History was about to repeat itself – this time as farce as well as tragedy. He had taken over the Super-Eagles previously from Dutch coach Johannes Bonfrere in April 2001 with Nigeria in danger of failing to qualify for the World Cup in South Korea and Japan.

Amodu avoided that indignity and guided the Super-Eagles to third place in the African Cup of Nations – one place below Bonfrere’s achievement in 2000 when Nigeria co-hosted with Ghana, but controversially lost to Cameroun in the final. Amodu’s reward was the sack in February 2002.

Amodu was replaced by Festus Adegboyega Onigbinde – a local coach who rewarded the faith of the Nigerian FA with the Super-Eagles’ worst performance in the World Cup in 2002 – a first round exit without winning a match, which led to criticism of the coach by Jay-Jay Okocha and Julius Aghahowa. Onigbinde was rapidly sacked.

The Circle

His replacement Christian Chukwu lasted until 2005 when he failed to qualify the Super-Eagles for the 2006 World Cup. Augustine Eguavoen, Berti Vogts and James Peters came and went, paving the way for the return of Amodu, but he failed to integrate the younger generation of Nigerian players – based in the country – into the national team.

Nevertheless, Amodu just managed to qualify Nigeria for the World Cup. He had made the national team hard to beat, but the football was far from attractive and Amodu was on borrowed time. Even before the African Cup of Nations the Nigerian FA began looking for European coach to lead the Super-Eagles into the World Cup.

Why European? Even if they decided that Amodu could not be trusted at the World Cup – again, why were they seeking a European coach? Why not the best coach for the job, whatever his or her nationality?

Repeating the Cycle of Errors

Despite achieving third place in the African Cup of Nations set by his FA and surpassing Vogts’ finish, Amodu still paid the price of losing his job again. Once again he will miss the World Cup despite qualifying the Super-Eagles for the tournament.

He was demoted rather than fired – almost a worse fate for him – and Nigeria once again turned to European coach who had no experience of African football or knowledge of the country, its culture or even its football, Lars Lagerbäck. Have they learned nothing from the Vogts fiasco just two years earlier?

Eyes on the Prize

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 29th 2014)

Pared Down

CIMG9122

Hull City paid the price for taking the Europa League lightly. KSC Lokeren progressed to the group stage on away goals, leaving England with just two representatives in the Europa League this season – the one where it really matters. This seasonʼs winners qualify for the Championʼs League. Tottenham Hotspur and Everton are Englandʼs only representatives in the Europa League this season.

Mauricio Pochettinoʼs Spurs team will play Turkeyʼs Beşiktaş, whose striking prowess was bolstered by the capture of Senegalese international Demba Ba in the summer. Belgradeʼs Partizan dropped down from the Championʼs League qualifying stage, but only had the chance to play in the top competition because Serbian champions Red Star were banned after falling foul of Financial Fair Play obligations by failing to pay their debts. Greek outfit Asteras Tripoli completed Group C.

Meanwhile, Roberto Martínezʼ Everton will play Russiaʼs FC Krasnodar, Germanyʼs VfL Wolfsburg and Franceʼs LOSC Lille in Group H. The French team, boasting last seasonʼs record breaking goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, were beaten by Porto for a place in the Championʼs League group stage.

Pick of the Rest

Defending Europa League winners Sevilla will play Croatiaʼs HNK Rijeka in Group H along with Belgiumʼs Standard de Liège and Rotterdamʼs top team Feyenord. Following Pochettinoʼs departure to Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton lured Feyenordʼs manager Ronald Koeman to St. Maryʼs Stadium. The vacancy at the de Kuip Stadium was filled by Fredericus Rutten. Unai Emery Etxegoien will expect the Andalusian club to dominate Group G despite losing captain Federico Fazio to Spurs.

CIMG9039

Villarreal is the only other Spanish team to make the group stage. They will expect to progress from Group A. Germanyʼs Borussia Mönchengladbach along with Cypriots Apollon Limassol and Swiss outfit FC Zürich complete the group. French outfit Saint-Étienne and Ukrainians Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk will expect to confirm Azerbaijanʼs Qarabağ Ağdam FK as Group Fʼs whipping boys while Internazionale di Milano complete the group.

 

Interʼs Vice-President and former on-pitch icon Javier Zanetti welcomed the draw, but assured us that Inter would not take the tournament lightly. Group K consists of Portuguese club EA Guincamp, Belarusʼ Dinamo Minsk, Salonikaʼs finest PAOK and Fiorentina, still boasting the talents of Colombiaʼs coveted winger Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello. Fiorentinaʼs CEO Sandro Mencucci told us, “He [Cuadrado] is one of the best players in the world”. The Viola do not want to sell him and Mencucci refused to put a figure on Cuadradoʼs value.

Controversy

Italyʼs final representative is controversial. Torino got the nod, although Parma have a right to feel aggrieved at being denied their place due to a financial infraction over taxes that they had not been informed of in time to meet the deadline – an utterly absurd situation. Despite the sympathy of Italian courts the sanction against Parma stood and Torino took their plaCIMG9125ce.

Torino could have qualified in their own right if Alessio Cerci had not missed a penalty against Fiorentina at Florenceʼs Artemio Franchi Stadium on the last day of the Serie A season. Cerciʼs tears showed what it meant to him, but the Granata were reprieved by Parmaʼs fate. Torino will face Belgians Club Brugge and the Scandinavian challenge of FC København and HJK Helsinki.

Celticʼs heroic recent performances in the Championʼs League particularly against Barçelona won the Glaswegian club deserved plaudits, but that goodwill was dissipated after a 6-1 thrashing by Polandʼs Legia Warszawa was turned into a 4-4 draw that allowed Celtic through on away goals after a technicality that had no bearing on the result. A Legia player had a three match ban – he actually served it, but the paperwork was defective. UEFA overturned the result, costing Legia their win and the possibility of earning in the Championʼs League. Legia was dumped out of the Championʼs League, allowing a shambles of a Celtic team another chance, which they failed to take. Sloveniaʼs Maribor beat them in Scotland to progress. Celtic and Legia both qualified for the group stage of the Europa League, but the draw kept them apart.

Austrian club FC Salzburg, little known Romanian outfit FC Astra from Giurgi, and Croatiaʼs Dinamo Zagreb provide the opposition for Celtic in Group D. Meanwhile, Ukraineʼs Metalist Kharkiv, Hull Cityʼs Belgian conquerors KSC Lokeren and Turkish outfit Trabzonspor are Legiaʼs opponents in Group L. The Europa League Final will be held in Warsaw this year.

CIMG1548

Argentina go through as Belgium is Found Wanting

 

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 5th 2014)

Higuaín Shines

Argentina reached the semi-final of Brasilʼs World Cup with an efficient 1-0 victory over Marc Wilmotsʼ young Belgium side making their first appearance in the World Cup Finals since 2002 courtesy of Gonzalo Higuaínʼs excellent 8th minute strike. The build up was fortunate – the finish masterful. After twisting and turning Lionel Messi fed Real Madridʼs Ángel di María on the right.

Di María tried to put Manchester Cityʼs Pablo Zabaleta through on the overlap and was fortunate that a massive deflection off Jan Vertonghen took it into the path of Higuaín. The Napoli striker deserves all the credit for the goal which turned out to be the historic winner. Higuaín had been distinctly underwhelming in the tournament previously.

This was his first goal – an instinctive shot to goal-keeper Thibaut Courtoisʼ right. The Belgian keeper who had never tasted defeat for his country until this afternoon could do nothing about it. It proved enough to set up a semi-final clash against either the Netherlands or surprise package Costa Rica who meet tonight. Higuaínʼs winner was the first time that Argentina had reached the semi-final in normal time since Diego Maradonaʼs prime.

Fear

It took Wilmotsʼ side over 40 minutes to fashion their best opportunity. Vertonghen was released on the left by Chelseaʼs Eden Hazard. His cross deserved a better header than Evertonʼs Kevin Mirallas provided. Sergio Romero was not required to make a save. Fifteen minutes earlier VfL Wolfsburgʼs Kevin de Bruyne at least forced Monacoʼs reserve goal-keeper Sergio Romero to make a save, but it was a long range effort that didnʼt seriously test the keeper. The rebound eluded Lille teenager Divock Origi – Romelu Lukaku remained on the bench despite finding form against the USA.

Di María was unable to continue after just over half an hour. He may be out of the tournament. Messi had yet to shine. After 38 minutes Messi was felled by Manchester United misfit Marouane Fellainiʼs persistent fouling. He picked himself up to take the free-kick, but Courtois, whose future will be resolved after the World Cup was not required to make a save.

Messi had a chance to put Belgium away in added time when put through by substitute Fernando Gago. With just Courtois to beat Messi tried to caress it past the La Liga winner with the outside of his foot, but Courtois saved well to keep Belgium in contention – just.

Officiating

Less than ten minutes into the second half the largely ineffective Hazard was fortunate that he only received a yellow card for a high tackle on Lazioʼs Lucas Biglia.

Two minutes later Enzo Pérez broke on the right wing before passing to Higuaín who blazed a trail through the Belgian defence, nutmegging Kompany before unleashing a powerful shot that not even Courtois could keep out. Fortunately for him it hit the crossbar and bounced over. Belgium had little choice, but to attack as time began to ebb. Fellaini headed Vertonghenʼs excellent cross over with an hour gone.

Shortly afterwards Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli initially gave a corner to Belgium, but after consulting his assistant changed his mind and gave a free-kick against Fellaini for fouling Ezequiel Garay. Despite this, Rizzoliʼs performance was a lesson for other referees as he kept control without showing undue leniency – apart from Hazardʼs offence – or it ever threatening to become a card-fest.

End-Game

Belgium had to press harder for an equaliser, but their attacks lacked quality. It wasnʼt until added time that they seriously threatened and even then Romero was not called into action. Their last attempt was also their best, but it came after Messi should have ended the small chance that they had.

In the centre of Argentinaʼs half Zenit Saint Petersburgʼs Axel Witsel found Mertens to his left. Mertens played it forward to Lukaku. The Chelsea striker squared it, but Garay snubbed out the danger and it eventually broke to Witsel who shot over from 23 yards. It was their last chance. Argentina were through to face either the Netherlands or surprise package Costa Rica.

It was the first time in almost a quarter of a century that Argentina had reached the semi-final of the World Cup in normal time.

 

Glorious Defeat, but USA Finally Embraces Football

 

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 1st 2014)

Belgium Defeat America the Brave

Everton goal-keeper Tim Howard set a World Cup record of 16 saves in a heroic losing effort against Belgium tonight. The excitement flowed as the USA were beaten 2-1, but the nation finally got excited about football and made headlines for all the right reasons after the notorious Chuck Blazer affair. Even President Barack Obama was watching.

Neither Kevin de Bruyne, nor Chelseaʼs seemingly permanently on loan Romelu Lukaku had set the World Cup alight to date – Lukaku lost his place to Liverpool target Divock Origi – but they found a way past the record-breaking Howard in extra time. They had the assists on each othersʼ goals too.

Lukaku replaced Origi at the end of normal time. His run down the right flank and pull back for de Bruyne broke to his team-mate. De Bruyne shot across Howard to finally beat the American keeper.

In the last minute of extra time in the first period of it de Bryune found space on the left before threading it through to Lukaku who blasted it past Howard at the near post.

But the Americans refused to give up despite Lukakuʼs strike. Substitute Julian Green – one of the German-Americans recruited by Klinsmann – was brought on for the second period. He was put through by Michael Bradleyʼs chip and volleyed powerfully past Thibaut Courtois two minutes after coming on.

The young Belgian keeper who has spent the last three years on loan at Atlético de Madrid has yet to lose for his country.

The Formidable Last Barrier

Howard began his assault on the record books with less than a minute played. De Bruyne surged forward before finding Origi. The 19-year-old Lille strikerʼs shot was saved by Howard with his legs at the expense of a corner. It proved to be the first of many, some far easier than others. Both de Bruyne and Eden Hazard had efforts more akin to practice than the greatest stage.

The second half opened as the first had with a Howard save. Dries Mertens headed de Bruyneʼs cross at goal and Howard tipped over. Meanwhile, Courtois was not really tested. Their first shot on target came after 20 minutes. Clint Dempseyʼs run and interchange with Bradley resulted. Unfortunately the ball stuck under Dempseyʼs foot as he shot, so it was saved by Courtois.

With less than 20 minutes of normal time remaining a mazy run by substitute Kevin Mirallas, but was poked away as he was poised to shoot. It broke to Origi whose shot was saved by Howard. With 15 minutes remaining Hazard tracking back broke up an American attack and unleashed a quick counter-attack. Origi passed to Mirallas on the left of the area. Mirallasʼ shot across Howard was saved the immense keeper with his feet.

Three minutes later Howard was at it again denying Hazard after a superb run and pull back by Mirallas that was touched back to the Chelsea midfielder. Hazardʼs shot was powerfully parried by Howard. With six minutes left Origi shot powerfully from just outside the area, but Howard easily tipped it over. An end to end counter-attack started and finished by Vincent Kompany resulted in yet another save by Howard.

Despite being finally beaten after three minutes of extra time Howard pulled more saves out of the hat denying Lukaku after 6 minutes to concede yet another corner that Belgium failed to profit from. With ten minutes gone Hazard released Lukaku on the left of the area, but yet again Howard blocked at his near post. Belgium tried the right with a nice flick by Hazard releasing Mirallas, but his shot could not beat Howard..

Lukaku was in the mood for more. He latched on to a long clearance and beat both Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler to get his shot off from the left of the area only for Howard to deny him again with his left foot. Howard was simply imperious tonight.

Attack and Counter-attack

Both teams attacked and counter-attacked. While Belgiumʼs had greater quality, the USAʼs defence and Howard held firm. De Bruyne was profligate, although he created chances too. After 25 minutes an excellent move on Belgiumʼs left culminated in Jan Vertonghen squaring it for Marouane Fellaini to tap in, but DaMarcus Beasley had other ideas and cleared with Origi wondering why Vertonghen did not pull it back for him instead.

With just under an hour played Hazard released Origi on the left of the area. Origi got to the goal-line and pulled it back for Dries Mertens who tried something fancy that almost came off – a subtle back-heeled flick went just wide. Further attacks created chances for Origi, Hazard and even Kompany, but perhaps the best of normal time fell to the Americans. After pressing in the final third Geoff Cameron lofted it into area. Jermaine Jones nodded it to right where substitute Chris Wondolowski was clearly onside, but wrongly flagged. He was played onside by Alderweireld, but missed badly from 7 yards out, shooting well over Courtois and the bar – he had to score, but didnʼt. It could have been so different.

They had a chance to tie when the excellent DeAndré Yedlin crossed from the right for Wondolowski to nod back to the right for Jones who struck it with the outside of his right foot. It went just wide. Still the Americans refused to give in. After 23 minutes Michael Bradleyʼs inventive free-kick was touched on by Wondolowski to Dempsey, but Courtois was huge and blocked Dempseyʼs close range effort. The USA certainly added to this World Cup and will be missed. Belgium go on to play Argentina in the quarter-finals, but football has arrived in the USA at last.

 

Ten Man Belgium Beat South Korea

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

Comfortable

Despite Marc Wilmots resting key players such as Chelseaʼs and Hong Myung-boʼs team needing nothing less than a convincing win South Korea could not find a way past Wilmotsʼ team even though Belgium were reduced to ten men for more than a half. Australian referee Ben Williams punished Porto midfielder Steven Defourʼs studs up challenge on Kim Shin-wook with a deserved red card after 43 minutes.

Although South Korea had a man advantage for more than a half, they could not find a way past an impressive Thibaut Courtois. Tottenham Hotspurʼs Jan Vertonghen scored the only goal of the match after 76 minutes when he followed up substitute Divock Origi shot. Ulsan Hyundaiʼs goal-keeper Kim Seung-gyu parried Origiʼs shot and Vertonghen knocked in the rebound.

Penalty Claims

The referee came under pressure to award penalties. South Koreaʼs Koo Ja-cheol had a strong penalty claim against Tottenham Hotspurʼs Moussa Dembélé waved away by Williams. Seconds earlier Lee Chung-yong who plays for Bolton Wanderers claimed to have been impeded in the penalty area by Dembélé, but that wasnʼt given either. Replays suggested that the second claim at least had merit.

Before long Belgian appeals were turned away too. Manchester Unitedʼs Adnan Januzaj and Anderlechtʼs Zairean-born defender Anthony Vanden Borre exchanged passes before Vanden Borre cut into the area, but Kim Young-gwon who plays his football in China for Guangzhou Evergrande. Threw his body across Vanden Borreʼs path – not a penalty, but obstruction.

Nine minutes into the second half another contentious decision occurred as Belgium were denied a a free-kick on the edge of the area. Manchester United misfit Marouane Fellaini was found by Januzaj and surged forward. Hong Jeong-ho tripped Fellaini, but Williams waved play on.

Range

Midway through the first half Fellaini flicked it on to Evertonʼs Kevin Mirallas. The Everton forwardʼs shot rebounded to Dries Mertens, but Napoliʼs winger blazed over from 8 yards out. Chelseaʼs Thibaut Courtois, who has spent the last three years on loan to La Liga Champions Atlético de Madrid tipped Sunderlandʼs Ki Sung-yeungʼs long range shot around the post – an excellent save.

Meanwhile, Vertonghenʼs long range shooting left much to be desired. Mertens had a go from 25 yards out, but failed to beat Kim Seung-gyu. A quick South Korean break down the right wing resulted in a cross-shot by Son catching Courtois out, but it hit the bar. With 13 minutes remaining Kim Seung-gyu spilled Origiʼs shot, palming out into the path of Vertonghen, who scored.

Replays showed that the Spurs defender was fractionally off-side. It didnʼt really matter as South Korea needed to win by enough to oust Algeria, who had held Russia to a 1-1 draw on goal difference, and that never looked likely. Belgium and Algeria advance to the last sixteen where they will play the USA and Germany respectively.