Cometh the Hour?

 

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

Wilderness Years Begin

Germanyʼs recent record in major finals is – well – unGerman. Renowned for ruthless efficiency they could be relied on to always be in the mix for major trophies, but the last time Germany lifted a trophy was in 1996. Remember who the successful coach was – a certain Berti Vogts. Argentinaʼs record is even worse. Their last appearance in the final was a losing effort in 1990 – an awful final. 

He inherited Franz Beckenbauerʼs World Cup winning team in 1990 and led then to defeat to Denmark in 1992. He left after eight years in charge after falling in the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1994 and again in 1998 to Bulgaria and Croatia respectively.

Erich Ribeck led der Mannschaft (the national team) to a shameful exit in Euro2000 – bottom of their qualifying group. Rudi Völler managed one place better in Euro2004. Latvia finished below them, but two years earlier Völler led Germany to defeat in the final to Brasil. Luiz Felipe Scolari was Brasilʼs manager then.

Overdue

After the failure at Euro2004 Jürgen Klinsmann replaced Völler. Germany reached the semi-final of the 2006 World Cup on home soil as Klinsmann blooded a young team and left the team to his assistant Joachim Löw, but despite the studious approach of Löw trophies continued to elude der Mannschaft. Löwʼs team matched Klinsmannʼs achievement finishing third. On both occasions Germany lost to the eventual winners.

Spainʼs rise to dominance began in 2008 in Austria. The late Luis Aragonés Suárez ushered in six years of unparalleled success by beating Germany 1-0 in the final. They knocked Löwʼs charges out in the semi-final in Durban in South Africaʼs World Cup. And in the Ukraine and Poland, Spain retained their European title, beating Italy 4-0 in the final. Germany had been beaten 2-1 by Italy in the semi-final.

Opportunity Knocks

Spainʼs defence of their world title was one of the worst ever. Sated by their three titles Spain returned home at the first opportunity. Germany continued growing into the competition with every passing match, culminating in a humiliating mauling of hosts Brasil 7-1 in Belo Horizonte – the worst thrashing ever in the semi-final of a World Cup.

The previous worst was 84 years ago in the inaugural World Cup when eventual winners Uruguay beat Yugoslavia 6-1 and the USA lost 6-1 to Argentina. Austria lost 6-1 to West Germany in 1954 as well. It had three times and at least one of them had a very good reason for losing so badly – they played a large portion of the match effectively with eight players. One of the wounded was the goal-keeper.

The USA never had a chance. The rules permitted no substitutions and Argentina had taken no prisoners on their way through to Belo Horizonte. Their goal-keeper was injured after 4 minutes. Another player played on injured and a third played with a broken leg until half time. This was before substitutions were allowed.

Best Chance

Surely Germany will never have a better chance to end almost two decades of trophylessness. They topped their group – one of the most difficult, dismantling Portugal, drawing with Ghana and just beating the USA before Algeria gave them a fright, but fell just short. They deservedly beat France and completely humiliated Brasil.

Nobody can say Germany has not reached the final on merit. They have reached finals and semi-finals, but ultimately this tournament will be viewed a failure if they fail to match Italyʼs achievement and win the World Cup for the fourth time. Germany have done well; theyʼve got close before. Is it Germanyʼs time to win the World Cup?

Arsenalʼs Lukas Podolski thinks so. “Of course”, he said before Arsenal ended their own trophy drought. “Of course we want to win the World Cup, but other teams want that as well and it was not easy. The pressure is big because we would say Germany are the favourites – the people in Germany, the newspapers say we already win the World Cup, but itʼs not easy”.

 

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U-S-A! – The Aftermath

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

The Tour

The USA topped their group to reach the semi-final of the inaugural World Cup. It was against Argentina, whose enforcer, later to become a World Cup winning Oriundo – an immigrant of Italian or Spanish descent – Luis Monti played hard and injured opponents. The USA lost 6-1, but that was in the days before substitutions. The Argentinians put their boots in and within four minutes goal-keeper James Douglas was hurt, but forced to play on. He wasnʼt the only American who played hurt. Argentina won easily, but the Americans were put at an early disadvantage.

Raphael Tracey suffered a broken leg with just ten minutes played. He bravely continued playing until forced off at half time. Argentina were 1-0 up at the time thanks to Monti. The US had to play the rest of the match with ten men – two of whom were also injured. They lost 6-1 – an early example of the failure of the officials to protect players from ugly play exemplified by the Argentinians and Monti in particular. He repeated the role for Vittorio Pozziʼs Italy

Argentina lost the inaugural World Cup Final to hosts Uruguay, then the best team in the world – a nation that punches ridiculously above its weight in terms of population. The USA stayed in South America and toured the continent. Bizarrely only their 4-3 defeat against Brasil at Rio de Janeiroʼs Estádio das Laranjeiras – the former home of Fluminense – on August 17th 1930 was recognised as an international.

Betrand Patenaude scored a brace for the Americans and Adelino (Billy) Gonsalves – one of the best players the USA ever produced – got the other. It was his only goal for his country. Before Pelé broke his record Carlos Alberto Dobbert de Carvalho Leite was the youngest footballer to play in the World Cup Finals – a record he set in 1930. He had only just turned 18. Carvalho Leite also scored in the friendly against the USA. Teóphilo Pereira, (João Coelho Neto) Preguinho – Brasilʼs captain at the 1930 World Cup and scorer of his countryʼs first goal in that competition – (Alfredo de Almeida Rego) Doca scored the others for Brasil. All of the Brasilians were part of Brasilʼs squad for the World Cup. Only Doca didnʼt play.

Gonsalves and three others, including the teamʼs captain Tom Florie, also represented the USA four years later in Italyʼs first World Cup. They beat México 4-2 in Roma on May 25th 1934 three days before the tournament opened to clinch their place in the finals. Aldo Donelli scored all four of the USAʼs goals.

Their stay was not a long one and despite the dark arts used later by eventual winners Italy there was no controversy over Italyʼs first round win – a 7-1 thrashing of the USA that could have been even worse, but for goal-keeper Julian Hjulian. Donelli scored the Americanʼs goal, but they were three down at the time.

Argentine-born Raimundo Orsi got a brace, although he had switched allegiance to Italy in 1929, so unlike Luis Monti he didnʼt play for Argentina in the 1930 World Cup. Bolognaʼs Angelo Schiavio got a hat-trick, and Italian legends Giovanni Ferrari and Giuseppe Meazza.

The Huddled Masses

Immigrants played a great part in the USAʼs success in football in both 1930 and again in 1950. It has its roots in the generation of immigrants who came to America in the two decades before the World Cup. Football had a following in the factory teams and it was reflected in the national team too before the Great Depression destroyed football in the USA. People had other priorities – life and survival was more important.

Six of the starting team for the USA were born in Britain – one Englishman and five Scottish-born players. The next generation of American heroes came twenty years later. They included foreign born players too. Among them was a Belgian war hero and they were captained by a Scot while the iconic goal that made them heroes was scored by a Haitian – Joseph Gaetjens. The current generation has five German-Americans in Jürgen Klinsmannʼs squad. It was controversial before they arrived in Brasil, but Klinsmann has earned the right to take the sport to the next stage.

 

 

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.

 

USA Qualify despite losing to Germany

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

Müller downs Klinsmannʼs USA

There was no question of an easy and convenient draw that would have suited both teams. Joachim Löwʼs team defeated his former bossʼ USA 1-0. Thomas Müller scored the only goal of the match after 54 minutes. He joins Brasilʼs Neymar and Argentinaʼs Lionel Messi as the tournamentʼs top scorer to date on four goals.

With Portugal beating Ghana 2-1 in the other match the result was enough for both Germany and the USA to go through to the last sixteen. Arsenalʼs record signing Mesut Özilʼs corner was returned to him before he crossed from the right. Club colleague Per Mertesackerʼs header was parried by American goal-keeper Tim Howard. Müller curled his shot into the opposite corner to Howardʼs left. There was nothing that the 35 year-old Everton keeper could do about it.

Chances?

In 2006 Jürgen Klinsmann took a young German team to the semi-final of Germanyʼs World Cup playing entertaining attacking football. Klinsmann resigned – he lived in the USA and commuted. The future for German football looked bright. Klinsmannʼs assistant at that tournament took over. Löw has yet to deliver the big prize – Spain proved a formidable barrier, but both Löw and Klinsmann remain true to their principles and football philosophy.

Nevertheless clear cut chances were at a premium prior to the goal. Müller was thwarted by a couple of last ditch blocks by the LA Galaxyʼs Omar Gonzalez, but the better chances fell to the Americans. Michael Bradley released Graham Zusi on the left just outside the area. Zusiʼs shot curled just over Manuel Neuerʼs goal. Ten minutes later Bradleyʼs through-ball just eluded Jermaine Jones – an integral part of Klinsmannʼs influx of German-American talent.

At half time the false 9 tactic gave way to a record-equalling centre forward Miroslav Klose. It almost bore fruits immediately. Bayern Münchenʼs Jérôme Boateng crossed for Klose shortly after the second half began, but the impressive Gonzalez intercepted again. Minutes later Philipp Lahmʼs cross was just too high for Klose.

Collisions

A nasty collision between Jones and substitute Alejandro Bedoya left both Americans needing treatment. Bedoya had been rightly booked seconds after coming on for a foul on Bastian Schweinsteiger. During injury time the USA pressed for an equaliser they only needed for pride.

DeAndré Yedlinʼs ball into centre was laid off by Jones for Bedoya to shoot, but a superb block by Lahm averted the danger. Moments later US skipper Clint Dempseyʼs header from Jonesʼ nod-on cleared Neuerʼs bar. Germany held on to top the group while the USA reached the last sixteen – a huge achievement in such a tough group for a country where football is a minority interest sport. They would almost certainly face Marc Wilmotsʼ young Belgium side while Germany could face Algeria – victims of an infamous fix 32 years ago between West Germany and Austria which changed the format of the group stage of the World Cup.

 

Last Gasp Equaliser Saves Portugal

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar June 22nd 2014)

Drained

Cristiano Ronaldoʼs cross in the 6th minute of injury time resulted in Sylvestre Varela denying the USA a famous win that would have eliminated Portugal and left Ghana needing a favour from the Americans. The Black Stars now need Germany to beat the Americans while Portugal need Jürgen Klinsmannʼs team to beat his former charges. Meanwhile, both Klinsmann and Löw know that a draw will put both through to the last sixteen whatever Portugal or Ghana manage.

Nani put Paulo Bentoʼs team ahead after 5 minutes. Geoff Cameronʼs sliced clearance fell to the out of favour Manchester United winger, who gave Tim Howard no chance. Portugal maintained the advantage for just under an hour. Midway through the second half a corner broke to Jermaine Jones. He beat Nani and curled a fantastic goal past Portuguese goal-keeper Beto to equalise.

Seventeen minutes later US skipper Clint Dempsey put the USA ahead with less than ten minutes remaining. Substitute DeAndré Yedlin – a Seattle Sounders team-mate of Dempseyʼs – advanced on the right flank before passing to Michael Bradley. His blocked shot broke to Graham Zusi who crossed for Dempsey to put the USA ahead.

A major shock was on the cards until Varelaʼs last gasp strike kept Portugal in the World Cup, but still requiring a miracle due to their bad goal difference.

Settling

With Portugal ahead, the USA chased an equaliser. Dempsey went close in the first half, as did Bradley. Fabian Johnson hit the stanchion with Beto watching. In the second half Bradley thought that he had scored. Johnson had gone close previously. Ten minutes into the second half Johnson cut into the area and set up Bradley with an open goal. Bradley looked certain to score, but Valenciaʼs Ricardo Costa made a remarkable block to preserve Portugalʼs lead.

Despite the warnings Portugal tried to defend their lead. It backfired within ten minutes. Once they had been pegged back Portugal attacked again and the USA absorbed the pressure. With a minute of normal time remaining João Moutinho crossed for Ronaldo whose header goes wide. Ronaldo missed another header before delivering the cross that kept Portugal in with a slim chance of making the last sixteen.

 

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.