Pride

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

Dangerous

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

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

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

Focused

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

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

Mourinhoʼs Wish

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

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

Aims

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

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

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

Ambitions

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

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

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

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Germany Beat Algeria at Third Attempt

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

Natural Order

Germany defied historic precedent at the third attempt to finally to see off the challenge of Vahid Halihodžićʼs brave Algeria team, but they required extra time to do it. Joachim Löwʼs introduction of substitute André Schürrle proved effective. While others including Bayern Münchenʼs Thomas Müller failed to penetrate the Desert Foxesʼ defence.

The Germans found CSKA Sofiaʼs Raïs MʼBoli in top form and the Algerian repelling almost everything thrown at them. Müller failed to add to his tally apart from an assist that owed more to Schürrle than Müller. Schürrleʼs sublime back-heel 2 minutes into the first period of extra time broke the dead-lock.

Their second, which proved crucial came late. Arsenalʼs Mesut Özil, who had been largely disappointing, squared for Schürrle to shoot as the match approached its end. His effort beat MʼBoli, but was blocked on the line by Watfordʼs Essaï Belkalem. It rebounded to Özil. The Arsenal man lashed it back. Mʼboli could not keep it out.

Despite time running out Algeria refused to give up and finally found a way past Manuel Neuer. Bayern Münchenʼs final barrier had almost played more as Germanyʼs sweeper than keeper, but was finally beaten in the last minute of injury time.

Valenciaʼs Sofiane Feghouliʼs cross from the right found substitute Abdelmoumene Djabou – one of the few Africa based players in this World Cup – at the back post. He shot across Neuer to score, but it proved too little, too late. Time ran out on the Desert Foxes.

Finishing Touch

If Algeriaʼs final ball had been up to scratch the result would probably have been different. Feghouli squandered a golden opportunity with just under a quarter of an hour played. Mehdi Lacenʼs pass. He created the space for himself, but the angle was tight. He chose to shoot – wrong choice. found the midfielder on the right but he should have cut it back to the six yard box for El Arabi Soudani rather than shoot from tight angle.

Two minutes later Algeria scored, but the officials correctly disallowed it. Napoliʼs Faouzi Ghoulam had an excellent match causing difficulties for the Germans on the left. His cross was met with a diving header by Sporting Lisbon striker Islam Slimani. It beat Neuer, but not the assistant refereeʼs offside flag.

Shortly after that Internazionaleʼs Saphir Taïder spread play to the left flank. Soudani put Ghoulam through on the left of the area, but he shot wide. Özilʼs defensive work was in tracking Ghoulam and challenging him was awful. It took over half an hour for Müller to get a real chance, slipping his marker Aissa Mandi, but his header went wide of MʼBoliʼs goal.

Bayern Münchenʼs departing midfielder Toni Kroos broke free to unleash a powerful shot that MʼBoli saved well, recovering quickly to superbly stop the rebound by Mario Götze. Ten minutes into the second half – Germany were much improved – a 25 yard effort by Philipp Lahm was tipped over by MʼBoli after good build up play by Bastian Schweinsteiger and Kroos.

MʼBoli denied another header by Müller too and Neuer swept efficiently outside his area when the long ball tactic employed by Algeria threatened. His performance summed up Algeria tonight – heroic, exceptional even, but ultimately not quite enough.

Germany will meet France in the quarter-final – another match with echoes of injustice from 1982. West Germany went all the way to the final then with cynical and shameful methods then – the fix in Gijón and goal-keeper Harald Schumacherʼs disgraceful attack on Patrick Battiston which knocked the defender unconscious. Battiston later slipped into a coma.

Disgracefully, Schumacher was never punished for what he did in Seville – not even a foul – and played a crucial role in the penalty shoot-out that followed it. And we complain about referees now.

 

Restorative Justice

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

Shameful

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

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

The Previous Fix

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

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

The Condor Moment

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

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

Too Little Too Late

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

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

Solutions

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

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

 

Algeria Earn Another Crack at Germany

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

Heroes

Sporting Lisbonʼs Islam Slimani has earned a permanent place in the hearts of Desert Foxes supporters along with the heroes of 1982 Rabah Madjer and Lakhdar Belloumi – the scorers of Algeriaʼs goals against West Germany. Slimaniʼs 60th minute header equalised Aleksandr Kokorinʼs 6th minute goal.

The draw against Fabio Capelloʼs Russia was enough for Algeria to advance to the knock-out phase for the first time in their history and a clash against of all countries, Germany, the villains of 1982. Algeriaʼs coach Vahid Halihodžić kept his job due to fan-pressure. He has made it clear that the Desert Foxes are playing for their fans.

The North-African nationʼs first appearance in the World Cup Finals left a bitter after-taste. This time they had their fate in their own hands, barring a very unlikely result in the other group match Belgium versus South Korea. That never looked likely as even facing ten men South Korea were beaten 1-0. Algeria only needed to avoid defeat and did so.

Reverse

Taking advantage of a clash of heads that left Valenciaʼs Sofiane Feghouli requiring treatment for a head injury, Russia broke forward. Dmitri Kombarovʼs enticing left-footed cross was powerfully headed in by Aleksandr Kokorin. In pole position Russia sat back and stifled the match. Algeria had to score, making them vulnerable to the counter-attack.

Sergei Ignashevich playing his 100th match tackled Feghouli as the attacking midfielder advanced towards the area. Ignashevich then foiled a cross meant for Slimani too. But Russia had offensive ambitions too. Oleg Shatovʼs penetrating run culminated in a 30 yard shot that went just wide, but Algeria posed a threat too. Abdelmoumene Djabouʼs corner was nodded on for Slimani to head powerfully towards the top corner. Igor Akinfeev took no chances, saving to his left, but it wouldnʼt have counted as referee Cüneyt Çakir had spotted an offside

A minute into the second half Russia had a chance to ease their worries. A lovely move by Russia included a one-two between Kokorin and Aleksandr Samedov before the latterʼs shot required a great save by MʼBoli to keep Algeria in the competition. Five minutes later Kerzhakov showed exemplary determination to force his way past Djamel Mesbah and Tottenham Hotspurʼs Nabil Bentaleb to get shot away, but it was deflected for corner.

The misses proved costly as dreadful marking by Kombarov left Igor Akinfeev stranded as Slimani headed Yacine Brahimiʼs free-kick in for the equaliser that reversed positions. Russia needed to score and Algeria could settle for the draw that they had. They held out for the remaining half hour. Turkish referee Cüneyt Çakir quite rightly booked Algerian squad member Liassine Cadamuro-Bentaïbo when he came off the bench to boot the ball high into the stands to waste some time. Çakir added extra time too. The Desert Foxes would not be denied. A last sixteen tie against Germany was too enticing.