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”.

 

When Cheating Prospered

 

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

Outrageous

Tonight Joachim Löwʼs Germany must face another of the victims of the 1982 West Germany teamʼs win at all costs mentality. They beat Algeria in an entertaining and sportingly contested match – just. This afternoon they face Didier Deschampsʼ France in the first of Brasilʼs World Cupʼs quarter-final at Rio de Janeiroʼs Estádio do Maracaña – Estádio Journalista Mário Filho. Löw knows that yet another shameful injustice will loom large tonight.

Germanyʼs victory over Algeria – played in a sporting way – laid the Shame of Gijón of 1982 to rest. West Germany reached the final through disgraceful lack of sportsmanship – match-fixing in Algeriaʼs case and wanton thuggery in Franceʼs case. West Germany had fixed the result against Austria in the first round in order to ensure that both reached the second round at Algeriaʼs expense.

FIFA shamefully rejected Algeriaʼs complaint. Both teams made no effort as they swindled paying fans and football to secure the disgraceful result. Both should have been sent home in disgrace and banned for at least the next tournament, which West Germany also lost in the final. If FIFA had had the morals or courage to do the right thing then one of the sportʼs most disgraceful so-called challenges would not have occurred.

Schumacherʼs Assault

On July 8th 1982 France and West Germany met in the semi-final of the World Cup at Sevillaʼs Estadio Ramón Sánchez-Pijuán. It proved to be one of the most infamous matches in the history of the World Cup Finals thanks to the vile cheating of West German goal-keeper Harald Schumacher. Dutch referee Charles Corver and his linesmen Bruno Galler and Robert Valentine missed one of the most blatant and outrageous fouls ever seen on a football pitch – one that broke not only the rules of the game, but of France too.

Schumacherʼs shoulder charge left Patrick Battiston unconscious. He had only been on the pitch seven minutes and French manager Michel Hidalgo had to bring on his last substitute. Corver claims that he was watching the ball and did not see the foul. If he missed that he had no business refereeing and even if he failed to see it – a disgrace of a challenge – what about the linesmen?

Battiston was stretchered off with current UEFA President Michel Platini accompanying the stretcher off the pitch trying to comfort Battiston.

Karma

Not only was Battiston knocked unconscious he lost teeth and had vertebrae damaged. He still carries the scars, but Battiston generously forgave Schumacher. He still believes that Schumacher did not do it on purpose – he was just incredibly pumped up. Battiston was not impressed with Schumacherʼs comment that heʼd pay for Battistonʼs crowns.

Schumacher was not punished at all for the horror-challenge. Corver gave the French nothing – not even a free-kick., let alone the red card that disgraceful assault deserved. Schumacher may not have intended to injure Battiston, but he did. It was nowhere near a fair challenge, or a mistimed one.

Battistonʼs outrage is reserved for his country. He believes that Corverʼs refereeing favoured West Germany. Two years later France hosted Euro1984. West Germany were defending champions. They failed to reach the knock-out stages. France, including Battiston, went on to win their first major trophy.

 

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.

 

Klose Equals Record in Thrilling Draw

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 21st 2014)

Thrill-Draw

Kwesi Appiahʼs Black Stars fell just short in a thrilling 2-2 draw against Germany. Mario Götze put Germany ahead after 51 minutes after a thrilling move where Ghana could not get a touch. Three minutes later Marseilles midfielder André Ayew headed Ghana level. Almost ten minutes later Asamoah Gyan put Ghana ahead.

Joachim Löw brought Miroslav Klose on. The German striker was tied with former record holder for goals in the World Cup Finals with German legend Gerd Müller on 14, one behind Brasilʼs Ronaldo (Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima). With 20 minutes remaining Klose equalled the record from inches out.

A Thrilling Display

Ghana didnʼt get a look in as Germany moved the ball from left to right five minutes into the second half. Thomas Müllerʼs cross was headed onto his knee and past Fatawu Dauda by Götze to give the lead. Löwʼs team were not allowed to settle.

Three minutes Esperanceʼs Harrison Afful overlapping on the right wing, cut back and crossed. It was met with a powerful angled header by André Ayew that gave the German keeper no chance. Nine minutes later German captain Phillip Lahm gave possession away to Sulley Muntari, whose pass found Gyan on the right of the area. He shot across Neuer to give Ghana a deserved lead.

This was not in Löwʼs script. Klose was introduced. With 20 minutes left a corner was headed on by Benedikt Höwedes. Klose slid in to tap-in – the fourth World Cup Finals that he had scored in. Only two others have matched that feat.

Ghana should have gone 3-1 up moments earlier, but substitute Jordan Ayew saw his name in the headlines. Racing down the left flank he had opportunities to pass to a better placed Gyan. He spurned both and shot tamely at Neuer. Ten minutes later Jordan Ayew repeated his error.

Müller had just been denied by a superb last ditch tackle by Juventusʼ Kwadmo Asamoah. John Boye also performed heroics in defence and a promising 3 on 2 attack was wasted when substitute Mubarak Wakaso was caught off-side. A draw was a fair result, but Ghana will be observing tomorrowʼs match between the USA and Portugal carefully.

No Comparison

Compared to the second half the first was largely forgettable. Christian Atsu crossed for Asamoah Gyan up to shoot after 7 minutes, but the Al-Ain striker shot over. The 35 yard pass by Sulley Muntari to find Atsu was sumptuous.

There were few other clear chances in the first half, although Gyan seemed to be looking for penalty just over half an hour into the match. There was no contact from Germanyʼs goal-keeper Manuel Neuer as Gyan miss-controlled for a goal-kick. He seemed to be looking for contact and a penalty that never came.