Argentina Scrape Past Switzerland

 

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

Late Show

Real Madridʼs Ángel di María Hernández had an awful match by his standards, missing chances and wasting possession several times, yet with just two minutes of extra time remaining he scored the winning goal. Lionel Messi was named man of the match, but did little to justify it. This was a poor match, although Ottmar Hitzfeldʼs tactics canʼt be faulted.

After being mauled by France, Hitzfeld chose to keep things tight and frustrate Messi and co. It almost worked. With less than three minutes of extra time remaining Rodrigo Palacio passed to Messi in the centre. He ran towards the area before slipping it to di María on the right. The Real Madrid man shot across the keeper to break Swiss hearts.

But they almost responded. Ricardo Rodríguez Arayaʼs corner found its way to Bayern Münchenʼs Xherdan Shaqiri on the other wing. Napoliʼs Blerim Džemailiʼs last minute header hit the post with Argentinaʼs keeper Sergio Romero beaten. It rebounded onto Džemailiʼs knee and went wide. Shortly afterwards with the Swiss keeper Diego Benaglio trying to find an equaliser di María tried an audacious effort from just inside his own half. It went just wide.

Poor

The first half had little to recommend it. Di María was repeatedly fouled. The shooting was wayward. Sergio Romero saved with his legs from Granit Xhaka after 25 minutes. Ten minutes later Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson decided that Xhakaʼs awful tackle on Ezequiel Lavezzi deserved a booking – it did.

Argentina lacked final product with di María losing possession almost 40 times in normal time, but Switzerlandʼs Josip Drmić wasted the best opportunity of the 90 minutes chipping a stranded Romero. He made such a hash of his lob that Romero caught easily. The keeper stood rooted in no-manʼs land. Drmić should have scored easily.

Switzerland invited Argentina to break them down – a task that should have been against ten men as two minutes into the second half Xhaka clattered di María. It should have been his second yellow card and therefore a red card, but Eriksson pulled play back to deny the advantage to Argentina without showing a card.

Argentina created chances for substitute Rodrigo Palacio almost as soon as he came on, but he headed wide. Higuaín had another off day. Di María was having a shocking game and Messi despite his skill could not find a way past Diego Benaglio, but for all his trick and a sumptuous volley that just cleared the bar with time running out he found the key to unlock a stubborn Swiss team with penalties looming.

Three minutes into the second half of extra time di María found his range drawing a tip over from Benaglio from his 20 yard effort. Argentina will play far better and lose, but Alejandro Sabella wonʼt care. His team are in the last eight without playing well or Messi scoring. Meanwhile, Hitzfeld has retired.

 

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.

 

USA Down Black Stars

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 16th 2014)

Dreams

Jürgen Klinsmann got the start he wouldn’t even have dreamed of. First his team scored the 5th fastest goal in World Cup history and a late winner. After just 31 seconds the USA’s captain Clint Dempsey cut into the area on the left past John Boye scoring off the opposite post. Jermaine Jones got the assist to put the USA into a shock lead.

Marseilles’ André Ayew equalised with the outside of his left foot after a sublime back-heeled assist by Al-Ain’s Asamoah Gyan after 82 minutes. Kwadmo Asamoah’s pass from the left wing found Gyan. However, three minutes later right-back Fabian Johnson’s persistence won a corner. Substitute John Brooks rose highest to head the USA into a late lead from Graham Zusi’s corner. The USA resisted manfully as Ghana chased the game again.

Catch Up

Caught cold in the first minute Ghana had to chase the game finding most joy on the right flank through the raw talent of Christian Atsu. Tim Howard marshalled the American defence well, intercepting at Asamoah Gyan’s feet and making important saves too. And at the other end Sunderland’s misfiring striker – one goal in the season – Jozy Altidore failed to take advantage of excellent work on the right wing by Alejandro Bedoya.

Shortly afterwards Altidore’s World Cup ended as he grimaced in pain having pulled his hamstring. With almost half an hour gone Gyan finally tested Howard. The keeper was equal to the task. Only Jordan Ayew will know how he fluffed an easy chance in first half injury time set up by Atsu. In the second half Ghana chased the match. Kevin-Prince Boateng and Michael Essien were brought on and chances came. Gyan had two headers – one requiring a save from Howard. The pressure increased until the USA’s defence began to buckle. But just when Ghana thought they had the platform to steal the win, the USA won the corner that made Brooks into a hero.

Leniency

With refereeing an issue in this tournament Jonas Eriksson’s style seemed strange. Jordan Ayew was fortunate to escape a card for tackling Kyle Beckerman from behind. Beckerman, not to be outdone, cynically tripped Kwadmo Asamoah as he was about to shoot. Eriksson played advantage as Atsu shot just wide, but he could have booked Beckerman as he deserved.

Eriksson’s leniency was in evidence again when Sulley Muntari fouled Jones and was accidentally caught in the head as Jones fell. Muntari reacted to it as Jones pleaded his innocence – he was. A talking to sufficed although Muntari deserved a card for the foul and/or his reaction. Klinsmann did his reputation no favours when he indicated that Boye had elbowed Dempsey in the face causing a nose-bleed. He hadn’t. He kicked him in the face. It was unintentional, but his foot should never have been anywhere near that high. It was dangerous play even if it was unintentional.

Problems

Ghana were unfortunate not to become Africa’s first team to reach the semi-final in the last World Cup. They will have problems making it out of their group now. Having got nothing from the USA they need to recover quickly a find a way to beat a rampant Germany which thrashed Portugal 4-0 earlier today.

They will also need to hope that other results go their way. A buoyant USA face a demoralised Portugal next. An American win will cause problems and may leave the Black Stars hoping for a favour from Klinsmann’s team against Germany. Meanwhile, the USA must fancy their chances now. If ever Portugal are vulnerable, it is now with or without Cristiano Ronaldo.

 

Own Goals – Archive

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 30th 2012 and modified on May 27th 2014))

UEFA Back Goal-line Assistant Referees

The President of UEFA scored some own goals at this afternoon’s press conference. Michel Platini launched a vigorous attack on technology, believing that it does not help and asking why the debate is limited to just goal-line technology and not for other decisions – a very fair point. However, Platini has no truck with technology at all, although he has no problem with extra officials.

UEFA’s General Secretary Gianni Infantino revealed that UEFA had received former referee Pierluigi Collina’s findings on the experiments with extra assistants. Collina had studied 1000 matches and concluded that the extra officials on the goal-line had reduced errors to just one – the match between Ukraine and England, which was played at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk.

UEFA unanimously accepted Collina’s findings and will urge FIFA and the IFA (International Football Association) to adopt the policy, but both Platini and Collina remain opposed to the use of technology. UEFA argued that the extra assistants improved behaviour in the penalty area. Even if that is true, what about behaviour on the rest of the pitch? Has that improved too as a result of the extra officials and if not, how does UEFA propose to achieve this?

Crazy Idea

There was further controversy. “It’s just an idea”, Platini repeatedly said, but it was one that he insisted had some support. Platini thinks that Euro 2020 could be hosted in several countries – up to twelve. Travel – budget airlines or not – will be prohibitive for fans and some media too. It will also take up time to get between the host cities – more a media point, but the cost for fans, especially, will be high too if they wish to see a few teams play.

Multiplying the host countries will cause all sorts of logistical problems and much more besides. It will be a linguistic nightmare too. Co-hosting causes difficulties in covering both matches and pre-match or post-match training. Choices have to be made, or teams of reporters have to be larger, which may not be an option for various media in the current economic climate.

One of the major complaints about Ukraine has been the absurd accommodation prices. UEFA complained about this, but some prices still remain prohibitive. It was also an issue in Austria four years ago, leading to a collapse in prices when the accommodation was not booked at the high prices.

Such problems apply in Ukraine, which is a pity as by and large the Ukrainian people I met – and I met quite a few in my short stay in the country – are lovely and friendly people who should not be judged by a few greedy and unhelpful people. Multiplying the host countries will multiply such problems, as there will be no opportunity to develop a tourism strategy or spread the sporting development plan.

Plain Wrong

But back to technology. UEFA decided to recommend that FIFA and IFA adopt the additional referees on the goal-line, claiming that it has been very successful in a 1000 with only one high profile error – the goal that never was for Ukraine. Despite Platini’s views, there are clearly issues where technology would help – even something as basic replays.

Check the footage and you will see that there is no do doubt that a serious error was made – one that a replay or review could have put right. The technology exists to improve decisions to correct glaring errors. The officials are human. Even the best of them will make mistakes, sometimes glaring ones. Surely if the correct decision can be made by using technology, that should happen. Cricket allows reviews and uses technology in the Decision Review System (DRS). Why doesn’t football?

Affecting Results

Ukraine’s goal that was not given involved another wrong decision. There was also an error in the build up to that goal, which had benefited Ukraine. This was a case of two errors – one for either side. Does two wrong decisions now amount to one right decision? But regardless of that there were errors in other matches, which were important ones.

At least two serious errors would have been caught before they had serious consequences if the use of basic technology had been allowed. Nevertheless, Platini claimed that there were no refereeing errors that affected the outcome of a match. This is wrong.

One is the yellow card given by Jonas Eriksson to Giorgos Karagounis for diving in the match against Russia in Warsaw. The replays showed that there had been contact between defender Sergei Ignashevich and Karagounis, who went down in the box. Not only was it not a dive, but referee should have given a penalty. At the very least, there was significant doubt about whether Karagounis had dived. If there was contact and there was, how could it be a dive? It affected the outcome of a match – the next one.

Karagounis was the Man of the Match against Russia, but that card ruled him out of the quarter final. Karagounis was certainly an influential player for Greece. His goal won the match and sent Greece into the knock-out stages. How can it not have affected the outcome of the following match when one of Greece’s best players was wrongly ruled out of the quarter final?

It affected Greece’s game plan. They were given no choice but to play a completely different plan to the one they would have used if Karagounis had been available to play as he should have been. In his absence, Greece lost 4-2 to Germany at the Arena Gdansk (Poland). They never had the opportunity to see if he would have made the difference and the referee Eriksson was retained for the knock-out stages despite that error.

The other error was glaring and Greece were victimised by that one too. Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo has a habit of sending people off. During the 2011-12 season in Spain he issued 16 red cards in 19 matches that he refereed.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos received a second yellow card for fouling Poland’s Rafal Murawski just before half time. Even that card was harsh, but the previous one beggared belief. Just before that he received a 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”!

Impact of Errors

The match ended a 1-1 draw. Lewandowski had put Poland ahead after 17 minutes. Substitute Dimitrios Salpingidis equalised after 51 minutes. A crucial incident occurred on 68 minutes. Poland’s goalkeeper Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny was rightly sent off for a professional foul on Salpingidis. Replacement goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton saved Karagounis’ penalty.

Had the correct decisions been made Greece would not have had Papastathopoulos sent off. Then they would not have had to play 48 minutes plus added time in both halves with ten men and would or at least could if Velasco Carballo did not find reason to send off another Greek player, which he did not do, have had the opportunity to attack Poland with a man advantage for 22 minutes plus added time after Poland had had no option but to make a tactical decision to withdraw midfielder Maciej Rybus – a decision that affected Poland’s attacking options, especially when facing a full compliment of Greeks. How can it possibly be claimed that Velasco Carballo’s decisions, which could have been reviewed with the use of replays – the game had stopped after all to give the fouls and cards – to ensure that the correct decisions were made did not affect the outcome of this match?