FC Barçelona On My Mind

Segun at Wembley

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (March 2nd 2015)

Fan

I guess every reader of this column knows by now that I am a fan of FC Barçelona. I love the team because, like me, they are football purists, always winning by playing the better football, cleanly, clearly, and on the field – never in the boardroom. In the past decade, it is hard to find many lovers of football that have not been captivated by the club’s achievements, its football brand and philosophy, its youth academy and its very exceptionally gifted players.

Without question, FC Barçelona have been the team of the 21st Century, winning the world’s most coveted club trophy three times since 2000, getting to the semi-finals six times, and the quarter finals twice. Compare this to Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, which have won it twice each in that period, although, under José Mourinho, Real Madrid had a semi-final hoodoo, broken by Carlo Ancelotti winning the historic ʻLa Décimaʼ last season against cross-town rivals Atlético de Madrid.

Nevertheless, to the chagrin of Realʼs supporters, there is no question of who has played the better football and been more successful this century. It is clearly the Camp Nouʼs finest. This century the world has been treated to a brand of football that had never been seen previously in the history of the game.

The Blueprint

Tiki-Taka was a deliberate style of football conceived in Barçelona’s youth academy, complimented by acquiring some of the best players in the world – but many of Barçelona’s young players, not only held their own in élite company, they went on to play for Spain and made them World Champions for the first time in their history and the only nation to win and retain the European Championship.

Tiki-Taka became an art exhibition on display every week and everywhere FC Barçelona played. The team taught the rest of the world the ultimate art of ball possession, the quick one-two passing and movements, the short interchange of passes, back and forth and sideways, the players running and pressing when they lose possession, and maintaining a fluid but intricate organised pattern of movements all the time like a well-oiled machine.

With this style of play the team simply ran rings around most opposing teams. They were a delight to watch, even though critics of their style began to describe them as boring and rather monotonous. In the past decade, particularly, the ultimate challenge for European club managers was how to decode the team’s play. In the past three years a few have succeeded.

Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid in Spain and Bayern Munich in Germany discovered the antidote and reduced Barçaʼs impact and dominance. FC Barçelona needed to do something different to compete to win the UEFA Championsʼ League again.

The New Era

As great players aged – not even Barçelona have discovered the elixir of perpetual youth – a new style was needed too. Barçelonaʼs captain supreme Xavi Hernández i Creus doesnʼt play so much now, but Andrés Iniesta Lujáremains an integral part of the new machine.

I have just watched Barçelona FC take Manchester City FC to the cleaners in the first leg of the round of 16. It was a very emphatic and comprehensive performance that captured the essence of a ‘new’ FC Barçelona.

What is clear is that Tiki-Taka has been dismantled and is metamorphosing into something new, something less dramatic but, potentially more exciting and more deadly when the ‘concoction’ fully matures!

The old Barça played with 7 or more midfield players without a permanent striker upfront. Now, from outside the influence of the Barçelona youth academy, the team has been experimenting with new players for two seasons. FC Barçelona may have returned to the conventional style of European club football but they have created a new headache for European club managers.

The price that Barça have had to pay for this new formation is a midfield and defence that now look less compact with more open spaces for opposing teams to play. FC Barçelona are no less exciting than they once were, are less patient in attack than they once were, are less dominant in ball possession than they were previously, and less imposing on opposing teams than they once were. But for everything that they now are in deficit over, they make up for it with a striking partnership of three of the best goal scorers on the planet in their team!

In Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior (Neymar), Luis Suárez Díaz and Lionel Messi Cuccittini, FC Barçelona now have a dream attacking formation almost unmatched by any other team with the exception of Real Madrid.

Questions

Having said all of that the question now arises: can the new FC Barçelona win the 2014/2015 UEFA Champions League? I run a betting shop so I know a good wager when I see one. This one is not. I will not put my money on FC Barçelona winning the Champions League this season.

Do not get me wrong. With a little bit of luck they can win it but the chances of that happening, in my humble estimation, are slim. Looking at how they have been playing this season, with Tiki-Taka dismantled, and a new style still developing, it may require the experience of one more season for the emerging philosophy to take a firm hold and make them champions once again.

Lionel Messi – Back and Better

Lionel Messi’s lethargic performance at the World Cup cost him a great deal. All he needed to do was alter his mindset and commit one hundred percent to the cause and lead Argentina to win the World Cup. That feat would have earned him the highest honour in the history of football – the best footballer that ever lived.

But something happened to him during the World Cup that I still cannot fathom. He did not play with the spirit of one that wanted to win very badly. He ‘strolled’ through the matches, and even got to the final playing without conviction and fire in the eyes. When Argentina lost Messi lost even more.

As a result, no one raised an eyebrow or complained when a few months later the hard-working, but obviously less talented Cristiano Ronaldo stole the show again and took away the crown of World’s best player from him again. Ronaldo thoroughly deserved it and it appeared as if the spirit to win had left Messi.

Now here comes a new season and suddenly, for the first time in a long while, Barçelona FC and Messi are back. Lionel Messi is playing spiritedly again. It is quite apparent in the way he plays these days, chasing and running around, joining in defending when his team loses possession, getting involved more than ever before during play, and playing his team from the front through physical effort.

It reminds me of the Messi of the early days of his career. He anchored Barçelona FC’s unique brand of football that dominated world football in the past decade. At that time there was no disputing the fact that in Barçelona and Messi the world had the best team and the best player respectively.

For Lionel Messi there is no doubt in my mind that he is the greatest to have ever played football. He may not have the complete range of skills like Pelé, or almost singled-handedly led his country to win the World Cup like Maradona, but in terms of sheer natural ability and affinity with the ball at his feet, there has never been a better player.

There is a magnetic relationship between his left foot and the ball that makes him do almost anything with it at will, almost effortlessly. It is hard to put into words his ease and comfort on the ball, his dribbling ability even in the tightest of corners, how he wriggles between defenders, how he rides tackles, how he glides and races past defenders, how he makes difficult shots look so easy, how he makes goal scoring a habit.

From what I have seen of Messi this current season, if all goes well and he remains injury free, he is set to extend his grip on world football. He will likely win the World’s best player award again for an unassailable 5th time. And probably the world will now accept, as I have claimed over and over again, that there has been no player like Lionel Messi in the history of football!

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Decoded At Last

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (November 5th 2014)

CIMG8138

Enigma

It is Wednesday night. I have just watched my favourite football club in the world, but strangely I am in a rather melancholic mood. I watched ‘my team’ trounce Amsterdamʼs finest Ajax FC in the ongoing European Champions League. It was a very exciting and very entertaining match. I should be feeling great, yet, I feel empty inside.

The best football player of all time, in my humble estimation, Lionel Messi, scored a brace as usual and equalled Raúl González Blancoʼs European Champions League record of highest number of goals scored by an individual – 71. He achieved that feat in just 90 matches. It took Raúl – 66 goals for Real Madrid and 5 for Schalke – 142 matches to reach that tally. But hot on their heels is Messiʼs contender for best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, trailing by just one goal – albeit from 17 matches more than the mercurial Argentinian.

I should be happy, but, the match against Ajax was revealing. All is not well with FC Barçelona.

The Greatest?

This season they have left most of their fans hungry for the Barçelona of old – the team that won everything in club football in the world. They also contributed the largest number of players to a Spanish national team that won the World Cup in 2010.

In the past 10 years Barçelona have been the team to beat in global club football with unforgettable memories of performances beyond description. In terms of actual performance, for a period of years, the rest of the world was playing catch-up. Without being disrespectful to any one of the other great clubs in Europe and South America, at their best, Barçelona stood alone far and away better than the best the rest of the world had to offer.

The System

The secret to their monumental achievements was a system and football philosophy implanted, nurtured and perfected in the club’s academy – La Masia. It was then brought to fruition as a generation of exceptional players came through that academy, augmented by shrewd purchases along the way. It also required a great coach schooled in Barçelona’s ways. All these ingredients combined at the same time to deliver a sumptuous feast of football.

Personally, it is in the work perfected by coach Pep Guardiola that I started to have a fuller appreciation of how a coach can truly impact a team, how the daily grind of training sessions could transform into a playing style and system that become entrenched as a culture in the performance of a team, and etched into the psyche of their followers. Now I understand and appreciate Sir Alex Ferguson, José Mourinho, and Tihomir Jelisavčić1 – the shamefully neglected architect of Nigeria’s first African Cup of Nations triumph – even better.

Tiki Taka

That was the birth of the phenomenon called Tiki Taka, an intricate ‘dance’ movement like no other with the ball: quick short one-two passes, endless, seamless movements and interchange of positions, back and forth, leaving in their wake a perplexed, bemused and confused opposition struggling to keep pace.

Match after match of the Barcelona brand of football rattled and embarrassed coaches and dazzled the world. Playing some of the ‘weirdest’ and unconventional football imaginable, Barçelona’s midfield tore through opposing teams’ defences like a knife through butter. Never had the world seen such a display and such a team that performs with such elegance and ‘arrogance’, completely dominating every match with effortless running and ball possession. They were a delight to watch and a nightmare to confront.

Deciphering the Code

So, last season, when Barçelona failed to win any silverware many felt it was due more to ‘winning-fatigue’ rather than because Tiki Taka had been finally decoded. Now we know that there was more to it. The football ‘laboratories’ of some of the big clubs in Europe had not been asleep, They had been very busy and on full throttle to find an antidote to the Barça epidemic.

At the same time, in order to stay one step ahead and sustain their invincibility, Barçelona took some steps that may now have backfired. Most significant amongst several of them was the exit of coach Pep Guardiola and the departure to fight a sadly losing battle against cancer of his successor, Tito Vilanova. That resulted in the appointment of a new coach – one not brought up on Barçelona’s philosophy and culture. The Tata Martino experiment failed and Barça returned to a coach brought up the Barça way.

But there were other problems – the ‘reinforcement’ of the Barçelona striking force. Last season the hugely talented Brazilian Neymar Jnr joined Lionel Messi upfront. The combination had not fully clicked before, this season. Now former Ajax and Liverpool FC striker Luis Suárez Díaz has been added to the mix. On paper it may look like a dream striking partnership, but the reality after three matches is that in order to accommodate these new players that are not nurtured on the diet of the Camp Nou style and philosophy, Barçelona’s playing style has had to change.

Laid Bare

Last Wednesday night, against Ajax Amsterdam FC, the ‘new’ FC Barçelona was laid bare. It is nothing like the Barça of old. Gone is the intricate ball possession that defines Tiki Taka. Gone are the endless running, the pressing and the hot pursuits every time the team loses possession. Gone is the creative ingenuity of a team playing without an outright striker but conjuring a whole array of striking and free scoring options from mid-field.

Gone is the team that played with the patience of a vulture, probing, teasing and taunting opponents to pry open even the tightest and hardest defences. Gone is the team that dictates how every match is played, and, even in occasionally losing, usually is the better team.

Slowly but surely, the demystification of FC Barçelona is taking hold. The team has not won any silverware in two seasons and several big European clubs appear now to have their number – Real Madrid, Atlético de Madrid, Bayern Munich. Even Celta Vigo, a team at the bottom rung of La Liga, defeated them last week so tamely and so easily it was hard and painful to watch.

Do not get me wrong. FC Barçelona are not finished. Far from it. After all, they defeated Ajax and barring any disaster will qualify easily for the round of 16 of the Champions League.

Decoded

They have only lost their edge. They have dropped from their place as the best team on the planet and rejoined the league of the great teams in Europe. They no longer stand ‘alone and apart’ at the very top of world football.

It was inevitable that the ‘end’ would come one day, but for many of us it is coming too soon! I still love my Barça, but even I must admit that the end is in sight for the philosophy of football that made FC Barçelona the best team that ever played football – the team that the world stood still and watched every time they stepped out to dance to the beat of Tiki Taka.

For now I can only celebrate in muted anticipation of what would happen next to my beloved club. My Barça have been decoded!

1Jelisavčić coached the Super-Eagles from 1974 until 1978. We won the next edition in 1980, coached by Otto Gloria, but the foundations of that triumph were laid by Jelisavčić.

Lost Boys

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

Disarray

Where did it all go wrong? The Black Stars have crashed out of the World Cup after an acrimonious campaign that turned them from quarter-finalists four years ago to propping up an admittedly tough group today. Many feel that Ghana got exactly what they deserved this time. Players demanded and got £1.76m for appearances. John Boye was later captured in a crass photograph kissing his money.

Hours before the vital match against Portugal two players were sent home in disgrace by the Ghana Football Association (GFA). Sulley Muntari had assaulted GFA member Moses Armah and Kevin-Prince Boateng had verbally abused coach James Kwesi Appiah. Ghana were beaten 2-1 by Portugal, leaving the Black Stars with the wooden spoon. Difficult group or not it was a spectacular descent from four years ago when they lost in the final of the African Cup of Nations and the quarter-finals of the World Cup. And in 2006 they were the only African team to reach the knock-out stages – the last sixteen.

Adopted

The Black Stars were adopted as Africaʼs team just four years ago when they were the last African team standing in Africaʼs World Cup. Victimised by a player many love to hate, Luis Suárez Díaz, Ghana had most of the worldʼs sympathy vote too. Suárezʼ handball denied Dominic Adiyah a certain goal and a first appearance of an African team in a semi-final of the World Cup, but Asamoah Gyanʼs penalty struck the bar and Uruguay went through on penalties.

Suárezʼ ban for that semi-final was scant consolation for Ghana, whose World Cup hopes were in tatters. The Black Stars were inconsolable and Africa cried with and for them too. Suárezʼ cheating – many others would have done the same – earned him hero status in his country, but it was cheating and it cost Ghana and Africa dear.

FIFA did nothing to prevent repetition of Suárezʼ offence. Ghana got nothing but sympathy and even that wasnʼt unanimous. Awarding a penalty and sending off was seen by many as punishment enough. But an unseemly row over money and two players being ejected from their squad wrecked their preparation for the crucial match against Cristiano Ronaldoʼs Portugal, which they lost. It has also cost them support.

Team of the Decade

Six years ago we interviewed an African legend Charles Kumi Gyamfi, arguably the greatest coach in African history – only the Egyptian Hassan Shehata has won as many African Cup of Nations trophies. Gyamfi was an integral part of Africaʼs Football Revolution – a time when Ghanaʼs first President Dr Kwame Nkrumah developed a plan implemented by Gyamfi and Ohene Djan1 to use football and its power to demonstrate African achievement.

Half a century ago it was all so different. Ghana had just won the African Cup of Nations under Gyamfi in 1963. He had learned to coach in Germany and brought those newly acquired skills back to Ghana. He not only became the coach – inheriting József Emberʼs team – but shared his knowledge with other former players and those reaching the end of their careers.

Two years later Gyamfi replaced ageing players and set the foundations for future success as the Black Stars retained their title. The coup that toppled Nkrumah in 1966 forced Djan out and Gyamfi was demoted to assist a fitness trainer who had just passed his coaching qualifications. Ghana lost the 1968 final unexpectedly to Congo-Kinshasa and to hosts Sudan in 1970.

Ghana was the African team of the 1960s and Gyamfi played a huge part in achieving that honour. His views on football in his heyday as a coach bear a striking resonance today.

Success

“In football it is not a question of succeeding all the time”, Gyamfi says. “You can’t get that. It all depends on the unity and unifying the people together and the understanding. If the understanding comes in within the people, then you go ahead. When we started moving everybody was happy, everywhere happy that we were winning championships. When we talk about Africa we are number one and everybody was happy about it, but how to get there”?

Nkrumahʼs vision and Djanʼs delivery of that dream played a very large part in turning Ghana into the team to emulate. Gyamfi was aware of what was needed. “You know, to get there politically, you have to get people who would understand what was going on”, he said. “You see if you send somebody who is not interested in the game – not interested in football – and came in from outside then he can’t deliver. He cannot deliver, but when you send somebody who understands it, he will be more useful, then it can work and you can move forward and he will deliver”.

The Demise of Ghanaian Football

Gyamfi has a simple explanation of where and why things began to go so wrong. “Football became money”, he said. “Motivation was not for the team – infrastructure and all sorts of things. You see it became very difficult in handling the national structure and you know this is the country where the cake must be shared – even not equally, but it must be shared for everybody to get it, because we have football: we have athletics, we have boxing and hockey and other sports you see”.

But now it is even worse. Obscene money is available in football and a threatened strike was averted by paying players £1.76m. Gyamfi foresaw these problems. “If the cake is going to be shared it must be shared equally among them, but the money that comes in is not sufficient and to be all in football if the money is not there, then you don’t have the culture there”, he says. “This is how things started to go wrong”.

It could and should have been so different even then. “To hear my boss, who was then Dr Kwame Nkrumah, tell us what we were capable of inspired us” Gyamfi told us. “He talked to us about what we could do totally. He believed in us and in football. He helped me greatly”. But then disaster struck for Ghana, its football and for Africa – the coup that overthrew Nkrumah. According to the great Zambian leader Dr Kenneth Kaunda, Africa never recovered from it.

“A lot of things went wrong after he [Nkrumah] was overthrown”, Gyamfi said. “At that time they said they would call me back, but they never call me back. I went away. They wanted to play for money and things went wrong. Later they said sorry and called me back”. It wasnʼt just Africa that never recovered from the 1966 coup.

 

Colombia top Group in Style

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

Style

With qualification secure Colombiaʼs first foreign coach for 30 years José Pékerman Krimen rested players, including Monacoʼs star in the making James Rodríguez Rubio, but fortunately Radamel Falcao García Zárateʼs heir apparent did not remain watching. His goal Colombiaʼs last in an emphatic 4-1 win over Alberto Zaccheroniʼs Japan was easily the pick of the bunch.

Jackson Martínez, one of the replacements certainly didnʼt short-change the fans. His through pass to striker Adrián Ramos Vásquez led to a penalty when the Hertha BSC striker was brought down by Gamba Osakaʼs Yasuyuki Konno. The defender was booked and Fiorentinaʼs influential winger Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello scored the spot-kick.

Sandwiched between Cuadradoʼs penalty and Rodríguezʼ magnificent finale was a Martínez brace and Japanʼs solitary strike. On the stroke of half time Keisuke Hondaʼs cross was headed past OGC Niceʼs David Ospina Ramírez by Shinji Okazaki. Colombia upped the ante in the second and deservedly took control as Japan became more and more resigned to defeat.

History

Colombia is the only team so far to go through, having won all of their group matches. They did so in considerable style too. Having made their own history – they had never won two matces in a row prior to this World Cup, they have now won three, but Pékerman showed that there is room for sentiment in football too.

With the match won Pékerman decided that a Colombian legend deserved to make new World Cup history. Camerounʼs Roger Milla set his record in 1990, embarrassing the eccentric, but always entertaining Colombian goal-keeper René Higuita Zapata in the process. Milla made Higuita look foolish when he caught the keeper in possession to leave the goal exposed. Milla and Cameroun reached the quarter-final becoming the oldest player to play in the World Cup Finals aged 42 years and 39 days.

With less than 8 minutes remaining Ospina led the applause when his number came up, but not for himself. He was paying tribute to his predecessor whom he warmly embraced as Cuiabáʼs Arena Pantanal rose to acclaim a small piece of World Cup history. Faryd Mondragón Ali broke Millaʼs record. Aged 43 years and 3 days old he saw out the remaining time.

Potential

Even without Falcao, Colombia look impressive. Rodríguez came on at half time It wasnʼt hard to see why Rodríguez featured highly – third – in the vote for French Player of the Year. His goal was magnificent, but that was far from all he did. He made this exciting team tick almost immediately winning a corner after a mazy run into the area. He rushed over to take the corner and then curl in a teasing cross.

With less than ten minutes of the second half played Rodríguez whipped in an enticing free-kick from the left-wing. Carlos Carbonero Mancilla should have done better at the back post, but failed to deliver the finish that the 22-year-old Rodríguezʼ cross deserved. A minute later Éder Álavarez Balanta began the move deep in his own half that culminated in Martínez ending his five year wait for another goal for his country. PSV Eindhovenʼs Santiago Arias Naranjo cut in from the right and passed to Rodríguez, who controlled and laid off to Martínez in one elegant motion.

Japan continued to press and Ospina made a rare hash of Yūto Nagatomoʼs cross, but nothing came of it. Their first half efforts had not been convincing before the equaliser. Shinji Kagawaʼs first half effort was weak, but at least demanded a save from Ospina, whereas Hondaʼs free-kick went marginally wide. With 25 minutes left a lovely move was almost capped off with a goal, but Yoshito Ōkuboʼs shot from Atsuto Uchidaʼs cross just missed.

With less than ten minutes of normal time remaining a wonderful counter-attack made it safe. Rodríguezʼ telling pass into the area reached Martínez, who turned inside Uchida. Martínez wasnʼt about to miss that kind of opportunity to double his tally. Kagawa had a quick opportunity to pull one back, but pulled his shot wide. History was made shortly afterwards with Mondragón having his moment in the spotlight. The crowd sang his name as football paid tribute to the much travelled Deportivo Cali goal-keeper.

Rodríguez received the ball on the left of the area from Ramos before turning Maya Yoshida inside out to score a sublime goal, chipping over a diving Eiji Kawashima. Heʼs set to be a star if he isnʼt already. Yoichiro Kaitani had the distinction of demanding a save from Mondragón.

Controversy

Portuguese referee Pedro Proença appeared to err twice both times in favour of Colombia. A theatrical fall – it was a dive – by Portoʼs Juan Fernando Quintero Paniagua after 28 minutes should have had greater consequences. Proença rightly ignored the appeals for a penalty, but he failed to book the player. As controversies go that was a minor one, but such ridiculous diving must be controlled and that wonʼt happen unless referees crack down on it. Young players like Quintero need to learn that it wonʼt be tolerated.

However, Proença made an excellent decision when Martínez went down after 24 minutes near the penalty area. It proved to be an excellent tackle by Konno who got the ball before colliding with Martínez too. But he missed an important decision after an hour as did his assistant. Balanta clearly swung an elbow that caught and bloodied Okazakiʼs nose. It should have been a straight red card without argument. It may yet be reviewed as there is no place for that in football.

Colombia will face Uruguay in the last 16. It remains to be seen if Luis Suárez Díaz will be allowed to play, but on this form the Colombians will take some stopping.

 

Suárez Brace Sinks England

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

Heʼs Back

A wretched 1-3 defeat against Costa Rica showed that twice world champions Uruguay desperately needed their Liverpool star and Premier Leagueʼs Player of the Year Luís Suárez Díaz if they were to progress deep into the competition. It was Englandʼs misfortune that not quite fully fit or not Suárez was back to torment them with a brace. Not even Wayne Rooneyʼs first goal in the World Cup Finals could cancel the Suárez effect – Uruguay were and are a different team with Suárez.

With just over five minutes left in the first half Nicolás Lodeiro Benítez passed to Edinson Cavani Gómez on left edge of area. Cavaniʼs chipped cross was superbly headed in to Hartʼs right by Suárez. Uruguay led until 75 minutes. Daniel Sturridge released Glen Johnson on the right wing. Johnsonʼs cross led to a tap-in for Rooney to equal Michael Owen in 4th place for goals scored for England with 40. Only Jimmy Greaves, Gary Lineker and Sir Bobby Charlton are ahead of him.

Suárez broke English hearts with six minutes remaining. Galatasarayʼs Fernando Muslera Micolʼs long kick up-field flicked off Steven Gerrardʼs head into the path of prolific Liverpool team-mate. Suárez lashed it into the top centre of the goal past Joe Hart for the winner. There was no way back for England whose only hope of qualification now is Italy beating Costa Rica and Uruguay while they beat Costa Rica, relying on goal difference to oust both Uruguay and Costa Rica.

Turning Point

With Diego Lugano Moreno injured, Oscar Tábaraez Sclavo handed the captaincy to Atlético de Madridʼs Diego Godín Leal. Godín was rightly booked with less than ten minutes played for deliberate handball to Daniel Sturridgeʼs through ball. Rooneyʼs free-kick cleared the wall, but curled just wide.

Spanish referee Carlos Vellasco Carballo did not cover himself in glory when he failed to show a second yellow to Godín for a blatant arm in Sturridgeʼs throat .– yet another in a growing list of refereeing errors that could have been cleared up by replays, although itʼs hard to see how the referee could have seen enough to give the foul and not the second yellow card that would have ended Godínʼs night.

But that could have been evened up. Gerrardʼs petulant foul on Cristian Rodríguez Barotti got a deserved card, but colour should arguably have been different.

To and Fro

After 15 minutes Phil Jagielkaʼs slip released Rodríguez, but the Atlético de Madrid wingerʼs shot just cleared the bar. Fifteen minutes later Gerrardʼs floating free-kick was just too high for Rooney to get above. Rooneyʼs header hit the crossbar. Ten minutes later Rooneyʼs pass freed Sturridge, but Muslera saved at the expense of a corner.

Suárez nearly doubled Uruguayʼs lead with less than five minutes of the second half played, but Hart clawed it away at his near post. With an hour gone Álvaro Pereira Barragán was accidentally knocked unconscious by a knee in the head. He angrily rejected medical advice and insisted on playing on.

England looked likeliest to grab the win after Rooneyʼs first strike in the World Cup Finals. Leighton Baines gave Sturridge the opportunity to grab his second of the campaign, but Muslera saved well. Suárez capitalised to leave England needing favours and Uruguay in a better position, but possibly needing a favour too. If Costa Rica beat Italy tomorrow the Central Americans – supposed whipping boys of this group will definitely be through to the last sixteen and will face an eliminated England. A draw will also eliminate England and mean that Uruguay would have to beat Italy or rely on a favour from England in the final round of group matches.

 

Upset

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

Virtuoso

A stunning performance by Arsenalʼs seemingly permanent on loan Joel Campbell Samuels inspired Costa Rica to a magnificent 3-1 win over one of the pre-tournament favourites Uruguay. Edinson Cavani Gómezʼ 24th minute penalty gave Uruguay the lead after Diego Lugano Morena was fouled by Júnior Díaz Campbell. Uruguay were undone by a second half display of attacking football that is the hallmark of Colombian coach Jorge Pinto Afanador.

Campbell equalised after 54 minutes. Three minutes later Óscar Duarte Gaitán gave Costa Rica a shock lead that the supposed whipping boys of the group. Marcos Ureña Porras, got the third after 84 minutes. There was still time for an utterly disgraceful hack on Campbell by Maxi Pereira Páez to receive a well deserved red card from referee Felix Brych.

With the officiating at this tournament taking a beating Brychʼs performance restored credibility. He was right to give a penalty against Díaz despite the protests that Lugano went down too easily and theatrically. He did fall theatrically – his style – but there was no doubt that Díaz was impeding him with his arms around Luganoʼs waist. Although he immediately apologised Pereiraʼs offence was so disgraceful a red card doesnʼt seem enough.

The Young Maestro

Campbell’s display led to social media trending with Arsenal fans demanding that he should not be loaned out again – apparently there are work permit issues, although itʼs hard to see why. Campbell has been a fixture in Costa Ricaʼs national team for years. He inspired his team tonight with long range shooting and running at the defence which caused problems all night for Uruguayʼs defence and goalkeeper Fernando Muslera Micol.

He went close in the first half from 30 yards out with Muslera well beaten, but just before half-time a superb save by Levanteʼs Keylor Navas Gamboa kept Costa Rica in the match. A deflection off Duarte from veteran striker Diego Forlán Corrazoʼs shot sent Navas scurrying back to his line to tip the ball over – a crucial save.

That allowed Costa Rica to shine as Pintoʼs young side had a go at an ageing Uruguay shorn of their star Luís Suárez Díaz. Suárez could only watch in disbelief as Campbell shone. Cristian Gamboa Luna chased a seemingly lost cause – Bryan Ruiz Gonzálezʼ flick. He got to the right flank and his cross picked out Campbell near the edge of the area. His shot gave Muslera no chance. Costa Rica were level, but they knew that Óscar Tabárez Sclavoʼs team were there for the taking.

Uruguay had never been beaten by the Central Americans in ten previous attempts. The best that Costa Rica had achieved previously were score draws in 1959, 2001 and 2009, but traditions exist to be broken and history to be discarded in favour of making it. Costa Rica inspired by Campbell achieved that.

Ecstasy

Duarte bravely dived to meet Ruizʼ free-kick heading past Muslera with Cristian Stuani Curbeloʼs boot perilously close to his head. Costa Rica had taken a seemingly improbable lead, but they wanted more. Another fierce strike from Campbell hit the stanchion before his exquisite pass split the defence for Ruizʼ replacement Ureña to score the third.

In injury time a despondent Pereira brutally hacked Campbell. He thoroughly deserved the straight red card that he was shown. On this showing Uruguay canʼt get Suárez back quickly enough and as we said before Costa Rica can play – Pintoʼs philosophy demands it.