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?

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Costa Rica Defy Odds

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

Making History

Levanteʼs Keylor Navas Gamboa twice made three crucial saves to keep Jorge Pinto Alfanadorʼs Costa Rica in the match and one to bring them to the brink of victory. The match tied at 1-1 after extra time – with an assist from FCKʼs Christian Bolaños Navarro Fulhamʼs Bryan Ruiz González gave Costa Rica a 51st minute lead that lasted 40 minutes before Borussia Dortmundʼs Sokratis Papastathopoulos equalised in added time – penalties were required.

Both Navas and Greek keeper Orestis Karnezis were powerless to prevent the first three penalties each being scored by Celso Borges, Ruiz and Giancarlo González for Costa Rica and matched by Kostas Mitroglou, Lazaros Christodoulopoulos and José Holebas. A tired Joel Campbell Samuels scored Costa Ricaʼs fourth, putting immense pressure on veteran striker Theofanis Gekas.

Navas guessed correctly for the only save of the shoot-out. That left Michael Umaña with the chance to surpass the class of 1990 and make new history. He did so to set up a quarter-final against the Netherlands.

Against Type

Both Costa Rica and Greece were forced by necessity to play against type. Greece were more attacking than usual, but still didnʼt totally abandon the habits that had served so well. Portuguese coach Fernando Santos was sent to the stands before the penalty shoot-out. It was his last match in charge of the Greeks.

Whatever caused his dismissal from pitch-side, his opposite number had greater cause for consent as despite being well positioned Australian referee Ben Williams missed a clear penalty when Vasilis Torosidos handled to prevent Bolaños having the opportunity to score while shaping to shoot – another case for using technology. That came a couple of minutes after Costa Rica had taken the lead, albeit against the run of play.

Greece had the best chance of the first half with less than ten minutes of the first half remaining. The left wing-back José Holebas delivered an enticing cross to the back post to PAOKʼs Dimitrios Salpingidis, whose shot was well saved by Navas. Ten minutes after taking the lead Óscar Duarte Gaitán received a yellow card for tripping Holebas – his second. The Costa Ricans tired quickly.

Navas saved well twice to deny Mitroglou before and after Papastathopoulosʼ equaliser. During Extra time the ten men of Costa Rica defended manfully. Lazoros Christodoulopoulos spurned the best opportunity a five against two attack by shooting straight at Navas. The unfortunate Mitroglu was denied once more by Navasʼ leg. Penalties were required and Pintoʼs men scored all five to go through to the quarter-final to play the Dutch. They will be underdogs again, but have acquired an impressive list of conquests already. Nothing will suit them better than being under-estimated again.

 

México’s Curse Continues

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

Cruel, but self-inflicted

Not even the remarkable heroics of goal-keeping phenomenon Ajaccio’s out of contract goal-keeper Guillermo Ochoa Magaña could deny the Netherlands a late win. For once Miguel Herrera Aguirre – the worst paid coach at the World Cup – got his tactics badly wrong. Leading by a splendid Giovanni dos Santos goal since two minutes into the second half Herrera chose to shut up shop with more than ten minutes remaining.

It backfired as the tenth Dutch corner led to something different. Schalke04’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar nodded the corner away from goal on to Wesley Sneijder, who had been ineffective until then, to strike it sweetly into the corner to Ochoa’s right with just three minutes of normal time remaining. It soon got worse, as México paid a high price for the negative tactics..

After a minute of added time the Méxicans fell to the sucker-punch as the Netherlands’ one influential player this afternoon Bayern München’s Arjen Robben induced México’s captain Rafa Márquez Álvarez into a rash attempt to steal possession in his own area, tripping Robben. It was a penalty. Huntelaar who had replaced a below par Robin van Persie kept his nerve and scored to Ochoa’s right. It proved to late to change the tactics back again.

México’s tactic of wasting time by belting the ball into touch started early – far too early and in the end it cost them dear. Their own negativity robbed them of the chance of matching Colombia’s achievement of making history by reaching the quarter-finals for the first time.

Errors of Judgment

México had the best of the match, creating the better chances. With just over a quarter of an hour played an incisive move on the right flank led to Oribe Peralta laying it off for Héctor Herrera López, but Herrera shot just wide of Jasper Cillessen’s left-hand post. Shortly afterwards Portuguese referee Pedro Proença and his assistant proved the need for the use of technology in football wherever necessary.

Defender Ron Vlaar kicked the ball and Herrera’s head. It should have been a penalty. It was absurd that it was not given and that would have provided México with an opportunity to take the lead. Vlaar wasn’t even penalised let disciplined as such a challenge deserved. Robben was later denied a penalty that should have been given too. Héctor Moreno Herrera plainly tripped Robben after Márquez had an unsuccessful attempt – he missed the winger. The case for technology is becoming overwhelming.

And Robben tripped over a prone defender’s heel in the second half too, but the biggest error was Herrera’s courting pressure with 15 minutes remaining only for his team to buckle at the last minute using a tactic that had been used often and found wanting often too. The Dutch were far from their best and an upset was on the cards, especially after Villarreal’s Giovanni dos Santos individual effort a long-range half-volley from at least 25 yards out to the Ajax keeper’s left.

The Formidable Last Barrier

Ochao’s form has been sensational. Prior to this match he had only conceded once in the tournament. He was the goal-keeper of the first round of matches. His performance against Brasil was exceptional. A free agent after declining to extend his stay at Ajaccio, he’ll surely have attracted the admiration of far bigger clubs then and added to it tonight.

Once again he was immense. Less than ten minutes into the second half a corner was needlessly conceded by Diego Reyes Rosales. Stefan de Vrij and volleyed from point blank range. Somehow Ochoa pushed it onto his left-hand post – an incredible save, but he needn’t have bothered as de Vrij was offside. Over twenty minutes later he repeated it. Huntelaar was denied that time. Again he was offside. Ochoa’s heroics won’t be seen again and that’s a pity – he’s been sensational. Herrera’s done an incredible job considering how short a time he’s been in the job, but the Netherlands are through to face either Costa Rica or Greece in the quarter-final.

 

 

Ivory Coastʼs ʻGolden Generationʼ Fail Again

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 24th 2014)

Dramatic Ending

Fernando Santosʼ Greece snatched a last gasp win over Ivory Coast to advance to the knock out stage for the first time in their history. Baselʼs Giovanni-Guy Sioʼs clumsy challenge caught the back of Georgios Samarasʼ boot, sending the Celtic striker to the deck. Samaras picked himself to handle the pressure admirably.

Despite Ivory Coastʼs goal-keeper Boubacar Barry going the right way to his left, Samarasʼ penalty was well-placed. At 2-1 the Ivory Coast had to attack. Kolo Touréʼs weak shot went wide ending Ivorian dreams again. For the third World Cup in a row the ʻgolden generationʼ had failed to get out of their group in the World Cup.

Sabri Lamouchi and his team cannot complain. They knew what they needed to do to progress – just avoid defeat. Moments before conceding the penalty the Elephants outnumbered the Greeks four to two, but Yaya Touréʼs shot was easily taken by Panagiotis Glykos, who had replaced Orestis Karnezis after Udineseʼs goalkeeper was forced off with a back injury after 25 minutes.

The Ivorians only needed to avoid defeat, which forced the Greeks to play against type and rely on a not unlikely favour from the Colombians against Japan. Defender José Holebas hit the crossbar from just outside the area with Barry well beaten. Just before half-time a dreadful error by Newscatle Unitedʼs Cheik Tioté gifted possession to Samaras. He put substitute Andreas Samaris through and Olympiacosʼ midfielder through to put Greece ahead.

Chastened

The Elephants knew that they had to score, yet the Greeks came closes. Their most-capped player Giorgos Karagounis struck a thunderous 35 shot against the cross-bar with Barry beaten again. Moments earlier Salomon Kalou jinked between Dimitris Salpingidis and Vasilis Torosidis and shot just over. With 20 minutes remaining Lazaros Christodoulopoulos took a free-kick that ruffled the top of net from 30 yards out.

That caused the Ivorians to spring to life. A flowing move through the centre was spread to the left. Gervinho pulled it back for Swanseaʼs Wilfried Bony to score to Glykosʼ right. At that point the Ivorians were heading to the last 16. The 36 year-old Didier Drogba was taken off after 78 minutes. He received thunderous applause, as did Karagounis, who was substituted a minute earlier.

Sadly for the ʻgolden generationʼ and probably Lamouchi – this is his first managerial job – it was the Elephants rather than Greeks that came to this match bearing gifts. Meanwhile, history will be made as either Greece or their opponents Costa Rica will reach the quarter-finals for the first time.

 

 

 

Silver Lining

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 19th 2014)

Boring Draw

With both teams needing a win an exciting, or at least not boring, match was expected, but Greece and Japan conspired to produce a turgid 0-0 draw that had one redeeming feature. It ensured that José Pékerman Krimenʼs entertaining Colombia side would at least match their best performance in the World Cup – a last 16 appearance in 1990.

A year ago Alberto Zaccheroniʼs Japan won several admirers if not points at the Confederationsʼ Cup. Today they could not find a way past a ten man Greece. The Greek captain Konstaninos Katsouranis was dismissed for a second yellow card after 38 minutes. The Salvadorian referee Joel Aguilar Chicas had little choice. Katsouranis picked up his first card in the attacking third. He failed to reach Ioannis Maniatisʼ pass and fouled Maya Yoshida who got there first after 27 minutes. Ten minutes later Katsouranis gave Aguilar little choice but to brandish another yellow card and then red after the experienced Greek captain fouled his Japanese counterpart Makoto Hasebe who was the first player carded after fouling Maniatis almost 25 minutes earlier.

Shutting Up Shop

Vasilios Torosidis and Kone exchanged passes before Torosidis shot from right of area. It was well saved by Japanʼs goal-keeper Eiji Kawashima to his left. Giorgos Karagounis – a veteran of 137 caps came on to shore up the midfield after the dismissal of Katsouranis. He almost had an immediate impact as his 40 yard pass found Torosidis in the area, but he pulled his shot wide.

Giorgios Samaras tried an audacious long-range lob immediately after the break when he spotted Kawashima off his line, but his aim was a little wide. Yūya Ōsakoʼs first half effort did not save him from Zaccheroniʼs tactical switch ten minutes into the second half. He made way for Manchester Unitedʼs Shinji Kagawa who had been demoted to the bench for losing possession too much against Ivory Coast.

Kagawaʼs incisive pass to Atsuto Uchida on the right of the area opened up the Greek defence that had settled for defending the point they had. Uchida squared it, but the opportunity was wasted at back post by Yoshito Ōkubo – terrible effort especially as the offending player was a striker.

Shinji Okazaki won Japanʼs last opportunity, forcing Torosidos to take one for the team. He handled a through ball and was booked. Second half substitute Yashuhito Endōʼs free-kick was saved well by Karnezis. Despite having a man advantage for over 50 minutes and over 70% possession Japan found that these were Greeks bearing no more gifts.

 

 

 

Taking Control

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 19th 2014)

Restored Philosophy

Colombia took control of the group after beating Ivory Coast 2-1 in Brasiliaʼs Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha. The stadium that was the centre of the initial protests at last yearʼs Confederationsʼ Cup cost a staggering $900,000, 000 to build – a figure that according to Concern Worldwide could have fed almost 10,000,000 children for a year. The stadium – likely to be a white elephant due to the quality of football in Brasilʼs capital – is witnessing some excellent football.

Shorn of their talisman, striker Radmael Falcao García Zárate, chances were wasted by the profligate Teófilo Gutiérrez Roncancio before José Pékerman Krimenʼs side took control in the second half. Pékerman – the first foreigner to coach Colombia for 30 years knows Colombian football and its culture well. He is credited by no less an authority than Carlos Valderrama Palacio with restoring Colombian football to its attacking roots after taking over from former Colombian idol Leonel Álvarez Zuleta – the second most capped player in Colombian history. Álvarezʼ stint as national coach was uneventful, but staring disaster in the face Colombiaʼs hopes were put in Pékermanʼs hands.

The Making of a Star

Monacoʼs James Rodríguez Rubio is tipped by many to be a star of this World Cup, in the absence of club and country star Falcao . He justified the faith with a powerful header after 64 minutes to open the scoring and a secondary assist for substitute Juan Quintero Paniagua to put Colombia 2-0 up after 70 minutes. Four minutes later a mazy run by Gervinho from the left flank past three Colombian challenges and into the area saw the former Arsenal man beat David Ospina Ramírez at his near post.

 

Overall, Colombia, inspired by Rodríguez and Cuadrado, were worth the win. The first opportunity fell to Colombia. Fiorentinaʼs winger Cuadrado found Monacoʼs Rodríguez, whose back-heel set up Gutiérrez, but the River Plate strikerʼs shot didnʼt trouble Boubacar Barry in Ivory Coastʼs goal. Two minutes later Cuadrado set up Rodríguez after an excellent run down the left flank, but Didier Zokora cleared.

Nip and Tuck

More than half-way through the first half Ivory Cost get their first chance as Newcastleʼs Cheikh Tioté shot well over from 25 yards. It posed no threat to Ospinaʼs goal. Just under half an hour into the match Elcheʼs Carlos Sánchez Morenoʼs superb pass found Cuadrado on the left. His brilliant pass to Gutiérrez should have led to the opening goal, but the River Plate striker fluffed his shot badly – a truly awful miss.

Toulouseʼs Serge Aurier turned inside 38 year-old Mario Yepes Díaz and shot wide to Ospinaʼs left. Colombia had the best of the first half, but Swanseaʼs Wilfried Bony will still be wondering why he tried a spectacular overhead when he could and should have adjusted to Yaya Touréʼs cross and taken aim with the goal at his mercy. Cuadrado very nearly punished the profligacy. His shot from a tight angle on the right after turning Soulemayne Bamba inside out got a slight touch from Barry onto the bar.

Decisive

Less than five minutes later Cuadradoʼs corner was powerfully headed in by Rodríguez. Barry got a hand to it, but could only push it into his own net. Six minutes later a poor corner by Ivory Coast resulted in Serey Die losing possession to Rodríguez. He released Gutiérrez near the penalty area and he put Quintero through on the right of the area. Quintero shot across Barry to double Colombiaʼs lead. Gervinho (Gervais Yao Kouassi) brought Ivory Coast back into the match less than five minutes later. In possession on left flank Gervinho cut into area and beat Ospina at his near post. Niceʼs keeper got a hand to it but should have done better. Substitute Salomon Kalouʼs weak effort resembled conceding possession rather than a shot in the final ten minutes and despite a terrible defensive error Didier Drogba could not latch onto Aurierʼs pass. Ospina rushed out of his area to clear the danger. Colombia held on for a win that puts them in poll position to qualify. Greece and Japan play later knowing that defeat will all but end their hopes.

 

Shifting The Bus

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

Celebrations

With a bitter election campaign reaching its conclusion tomorrow and talisman Radamel Falcao García Zárate out of the World Cup, José Pékerman Krimenʼs Colombia unlocked Greeceʼs bus and forced Fernando Santosʼ team out of their comfort zone. The masters of parking the bus were forced out of their comfort zone and made vulnerable to counter attacking football.

So rich was Colombia’s talent pool that even without Falcao there was no place in the starting line-up for Europa League winner Carlos Bacca Ahumada. It didnʼt matter as Napoliʼs Pablo Estifer Armero put Colombia ahead after just 5 minutes and offered an early contender for celebration of the tournament. Téofilio Gutiérrez Roncancio and Falcaoʼs team-mate at Monaco, James Rodríguez Rubio completed the comfortable 3-0 win.

Control

Colombia seized control of the match early. Fiorentinaʼs Juan Cuadrado Bello tormented the Greek defence. His pass to Armero freed the defender to shoot. Armero celebrated with such joy it would almost be churlish to point out that a huge deflection off Kostas Manolas was needed to give Armero his second goal for his country.

Bolognaʼs Panagiotis Kone had a couple of chances that he failed to capitalise on while Rodríguez, tipped to shine at this tournament in Falcaoʼs absence created chances. His shot was saved by Orestes Karnezis and Rodríguez resulting corner was flicked on to Gutiérrez by Abel Aguilar Tapias for the second. The third was fitting. Cuadrado ran at the defence before teeing Rodríguez up to slot the third in and complete a deserved victory after an exhibition of counter-attacking football earned by driving Greece out of their tactical comfort zone early.