A Villainʼs Charter?

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (December 8th 2014)

A Clean Slate

This week the Championʼs League and Europa League will reach the business stage of deciding which teams will continue in the knock-out phase, drop down to the Europa League, or finish their participation in either competition. Soon the consequences of a rule change on carried over yellow cards will bite.

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Prior to the start of this seasonʼs tournaments UEFAʼs General Secretary Gianni Infantino explained the reasoning behind European Footballʼs governing body taking the decision to follow FIFAʼs lead to give players a clean slate for the final stages of the Championʼs League and Europa League for the current season. Like the World Cup yellow cards will be wiped clean at the quarter-final stage.

UEFA says it wanted to avoid the risk of top players being suspended for the latter stages of the competition. But does it? The World Cup-winning French midfielder and current Strategic Advisor of Greek champions Olympiacos, Christian Karembeu told Empower-Sport that he supported the changes.

Of course”, Karembeu said. “This is normal. I think that … every player deserve to play final, for example, and I think itʼs logical to give the chance to everyone when you dream about the finals – you dream about it”! But will it?

Christian Karembeu 2

Villainsʼ Charter

But the flair players – the ones spectators pay to see – are the victims of the persistent fouling, the ʻenforcer tacklesʼ designed to discourage them from playing and much more besides. This leads to them getting frustrated on occasion and reacting.

Remember David Ginola trudging off the pitch unhappily after being sent off for elbowing Lee Dixon when Arsenal played Newcastle United in the Coca Cup as it then was in January 1996. “They wonʼt let me play football”, he said. And they hadnʼt. Dixon had been fouling Ginola throughout the match, ensuring that Ginola could not function and the officials had allowed it. Finally a very frustrated Ginola retaliated by elbowing Dixon. He was sent off. The referee had no choice, but as Kevin Keegan then manager of Newcastle observed, flair players were not being protected.

And then there are cards picked up for deliberate blocks or non-violent cheating. The deliberate hand-balls, the shirt-tugging to prevent an attack developing and of course the simulation all deserve cards and the full consequences, donʼt they? Wonʼt this change in the rules encourage players to offend more as the consequences for doing so diminish?

The recent World Cup was ruined by a combination of excessively lenient refereeing and this rule. The quarter-final between Brasil – the most persistent offenders – and Colombia was destroyed as a spectacle by the failure to enforce the rules of the game. This happened under the auspices of Luiz Felipe Scolari – a manager who once declared the ʻBeautiful Game Deadʼ and the man that also said he wanted his team to foul more. What did they expect to happen other than the anti-football inflicted on the world that night?

Foul and Fouler

Far from guaranteeing the participation of the top players, these changes rewarded persistent offenders whose job it was to prevent the most talented from playing football – the exact opposite of what these changes are supposed to be delivering. What did they expect?

Letʼs hope that the amnesty on suspensions will not be accompanied by a repetition of the ludicrously lenient refereeing that rewarded the cynical and dirty play that Scolari inflicted on a world hoping for Samba football. Was it coincidence that Brasil played dirty?

It was their game plan after all – one that was cynically adopted to stop flair players by foul means or fouler – and utterly predictable that this would happen to ensure that a mediocre team undeservedly reached at least the final stages of the World Cup. Ironically, this happened at the expense of a team that had inherited the mantle of Samba football.

FIFA could not have failed to realise that Brasil would play this way. A talented Chile side and an even better Colombia paid the price. It also put a target on Neymarʼs back that put him out of the World Cup. Letʼs hope it doesnʼt happen again in the Championʼs League or Europa League.

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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”.

 

Brasil Fail Again

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

Controversial Start

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Despite denouncing the match at Brasiliaʼs Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha as pointless, Manchester-bound Louis van Gaal sent a strong team out to contest the penultimate match of Brasilʼs World Cup. Luiz Felipe Scolari, also named a strong team, but the Seleção got yet another awful start, although it should have been worse.

Just over a minute into the match the Netherlandsʼ captain Robin van Persie out-muscled Paris Saint-Germainʼs Thiago Silva. He controlled it, turned and passed to Arjen Robben. Bayern Münchenʼs winger out-paced Silva who pulled him back.

As Silva was the last man he plainly should have been sent off, but the Algerian referee Djamel Haïmoudi only brandished a yellow card. It plainly ought to have been a red card – yet another example of the ludicrous leniency that has plagued this tournament, especially in Brasilʼs favour.

Pointless

Júlio César Soares de Espíndola was easily beaten by van Persie from the spot to give the Dutch the lead – a lead they never surrendered. It soon got embarrassing. Danny Blind will take over managing the Dutch team in two years time. His son Daley – a defensive midfielder – has never scored an international goal previously.

The Ajax player found Brasilian defending – a misnomer if ever there was one – to his taste. Swansea Cityʼs Jonathan de Guzman crossed from the right wing after being released on that flank by Robben. David Luiz inexplicably headed the cross towards the penalty spot rather than over the bar. Blind could hardly believe his luck. He brought it down, set it up and placed it carefully out of Júlio Césarʼs reach to double the Netherlandsʼ lead.

White Elephant

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Brasiliaʼs stadium was well attended tonight. Sadly that is unlikely to be repeated. Last years manifestations (demonstrations) against the corruption that had permeated Brasilian society from top to bottom began in Brasilia. Its stadium is state-of-the-art. The facilities are top notch. It is an excellent stadium, but there is no chance of it being anything but a white elephant of gargantuan proportions.

Brasilia doesnʼt have a team that is capable of filling the stadium after the 2014 World Cup. Their top team is in the fourth division of Brasilian football. They do not have the slightest chance of filling this stadium week in week out and everyone knows it. It is a colossal waste of money and worse still the promises that public resources would not be spent on stadiums has not been kept.

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The protesters have got every point”, the BBCʼs South American football expert Tim Vickery told Empower-Sport last year. “Firstly because they were explicitly lied to and they were told in 2007 that all of the money to build stadiums would be private money with public money being used for infrastructure. Hasnʼt happened at all”.

So what has happened? The oligarchy that has brought Brasillian football to the brink of disaster has overtly lied to the people. “Almost all of the money being used on stadiums is public money and so many of the transport infrastructure projects never got off the page and there are some projects that should have been in there that arenʼt anyway”, Vickery says.

Their Fiefdom

Brasilian football was run as a personal fiefdom by the former President of the Brasilian Football Federation Ricardo Texeira. His successor José Maria Marin is no better. In some ways Marin is even worse. Brasilia will have no World Cup legacy, just citizens saddled with enormous debts to maintain a stadium they never wanted. Vickery supports the protesters.

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I think two of the cities that youʼve been to that I was at – Salvador – Salvador is paying for an underground since the year 2000”, Vickery said. “Itʼs not operational. You know, why? Belo Horizonte has an underground that kind of links somewhere not very interesting to somewhere else not very interesting”.

This was a terrible wasted opportunity. “What an opportunity the World Cup was to make the underground the main platform of the public transport system”, Vickery says, “so these opportunities werenʼt taken”. The transport system and other essential infrastructural projects fell by the wayside. The priority was stadiums and more stadiums and even those had glitches.

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Quite apart from the fact that of these twelve stadiums four of them have limited viability – I mean you mentioned Brasilia”, Vickery says. “You could certainly throw in Cuiabá and Manaus as well and possibly Natal, so the protesters have every point”. But itʼs too late. Resources Brasil could ill afford have been squandered on a stadium that cannot support itself, which should never have been built.

Pride

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After the shameful capitulation in Belo Horizonte Luiz Felipe Scolari knew that his team owed Brasilians a performance. Chelseaʼs Ramires and club team-mate Willian too in a far more competitive line-up. Fred – the scapegoat for most of this teamʼs woes is second only to the injured Neymar in scoring – was dropped and Hulk too.

How quickly they forget. Just a year ago the afore-mentioned Fluminense striker started slowly and ended the Confederationsʼ Cup as the tournamentʼs top scorer. It made no difference. The 64 year wait to avenge Alcides Ghiggiaʼs destruction of Brasilian hopes had ended in shameful failure, leaving nothing but restoring pride to play for.

With seven minutes of the first half remaining Paris Saint-Germainʼs Maxwell should have received at least a caution and probably red for elbowing Dirk Kuyt in the head. Kuyt and his Dutch team-mates were unimpressed. The leniency shown to Brasil for their persistent and niggling fouling made a mockery of the tournament and helped an inadequate team not only to overachieve, but deny better teams a fair chance.

The Beautiful Game

Within ten minutes of his introduction at half time Fernandinho fouled Robben and got himself booked for one on van Persie. Minutes later Hernanes clattered Robben. He should have been booked. It took almost an hour for Ramires to get the better of Aston Villaʼs Ron Vlaar, but the Chelsea midfielder pulled his shot wide of Cillessenʼs goal.

But halfway through the second half Óscar was booked for simulation. As a result of his challenge Blind had to be stretchered off. Meanwhile, Ajaxʼs Jasper Cillessen hardly had a save to make and was replaced in injury time by Michel Vorm.

Swanseaʼs keeperʼs hardly got a touch. Moments before he came on Daryl Janmaat overlapped Robben on the right wing and crossed for Georginio Wijnaldum to make it three – a convincing win that suggests there are still very serious problems to address in Brasilian football.

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Germany Humiliate Brasil

 

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 8th 2014)

Unprecedented

Shorn of the talents of Neymar (injured) and Thiago Silva (suspended) Joachim Löw’s Germany dismantled the host Brasil 7-1. It was the worst defeat in a semi-final of the World Cup ever, beating the three joint best 6-1 – Argentina v the USA, Uruguay v Yugoslavia in 1930 and West Germany v Austria in 1954.

Five nil up within half an hour Germany could have notched a cricket score, but at half time they withdrew Mats Hummels in favour of Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker, having taken a decision not to humiliate their hosts. For ten minutes it was an even contest, but the bane of Brasil’s performance soon became evident as Germany cut through Brasil’s defence with consummate ease.

Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira won a corner off club colleague Marcelo. It was taken by Bayern München’s departing attacking midfielder Toni Kroos. The marking was abysmal as Kroos’ team-mate for club and country Thomas Müller was unmarked at the back post to volley in from 8 yards. Luiz Felipe Scolari’s teams are normally solid at the back. Tonight they were dismal.

Ten Minutes that Scarred a Nation

Brasil conceded the next four goals in less than ten minutes. Manchester City’s Fernandinho may wish that Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo had stayed true to form and remained a fussy disciplinarian referee against Colombia – this proved a good match to be suspended for. Fernandinho ought to have intercepted Müller’s pass to Kroos, but failed to do so. Kroos found Miroslav Klose whose shot was parried back to the German poacher – all his World Cup Finals’ goals were from within the box. Klose pounced on the rebound to become the record-holder with 16. Six minutes later Germany were 5-0 up as Brasil capitulated.

Within two minutes Germany cut swathes down the right flank. Kroos found Arsenal’s Mesut Özil who released Philipp Lahm. Germany’s captain squared for Müller to score der Mannschaft’s third. A minute later a comical defensive lapse by Fernandinho gifted another. Fernandinho made a mess of Dante’s pass, allowing Kroos to pinch possession, surge forward and a one-two with Khedira beat Júlio César Sores de Espíndola, even though the keeper got a hand to it. That was three in as many minutes.

Three minutes later the rout became embarrassing. Khedira was bossing the match and bagged himself a rare goal. David Luiz’ pass was intercepted and after exchanging passes with Kroos, Khedira bagged the fifth with less than half an hour played.

Disgraceful

Captaining his country Luiz’ should never have completed the half let alone match. He elbowed Klose in the face twice. The first time Klose did him a favour and ignored it – the second time he went down. Replays confirmed that Luiz had indeed elbowed Klose twice. Both times referee Marco Rodríguez – the Méxican official who had ignored Giorgio Chiellini’s efforts to show him that Luis Suárez had bitten him – failed to take action.

What do Brasilians have to do to get sent off in this World Cup? In fact even yellow cards are rare. Just over a quarter of an hour into the match Marcelo went to ground wanting a penalty. Lahm’s tackle was well-timed, but Marcelo had dived. He should have been booked. Minutes earlier the same player had cynically blocked Müller and Bernard did the same to Kroos.

Hulk got in on the simulation later as well. Yet again no cards were brandished until after an hour even after the fiasco of the previous match. Luiz should have been shown the yellow card for clattering Müller right in front of the referee. And then there was his reaction to a later foul by Müller. Luiz kicked out at him, but didn’t connect. Germans fouled too, but far less. Luiz Gustavo deserved at least a card and both Fred and Óscar tried to buy penalties cheaply without success.

Consolidation

Both managers made changes at half time. Ramires and Paulinho replaced Hulk and Fernandinho at half time. Defensive frailties persisted – Luiz had a very poor game, but Müller couldn’t profit from his error. Paulinho almost made a quick impact, but Neuer’s double save from point blank range. A minute earlier he denied Óscar. With just under an hour played Júlio César tipped Müller’s shot from just outside the area over the bar.

A couple of minutes later Maicon became the latest to try to con a penalty. He failed, but yet again no card was shown. Finally – after three quarters of the match Rodríguez brandished a card in Dante’s direction for clattering Müller from behind. Chelsea’s André Schürrle had replaced the record-breaking Klose twelve minutes before he put Germany six up.

Lahm and Khedira exploited the weak defending on Brasil’s left. Lahm pulled it back for Schürrle to tap in. The carnage was still incomplete. A quick throw down the left wing found Müller. His reverse pass to Schürrle was sublime. Schürrle continued down the left of the area before lashing it past Júlio César at his near post for the best of Germany’s seven.

With a minute of normal time remaining Özil wasted a golden opportunity to make it eight, pulling his shot wide of Júlio César’s far post. To Neuer’s disgust Germany conceded as added tie approached. Neuer – the sweeper-keeper failed to come and clear the danger as Óscar latched on to Marcelo’s long pass to the left of Germany’s area. He cut to the right and beat Neuer to the keeper’s right. The look of disgust on Neuer’s face was priceless.

It was Brasil’s worst defeat in a tournament for almost a century – a 6-0 drubbing by Uruguay on September 18th 1920 in the Campeonato Sudamericano de Football, which is now known as the Copa América.

 

The Beautiful Game

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

RIP

Luiz Felipe Scolari once declared that the beautiful game was dead. He also said that he wanted his team to foul more. Tonight Colombiaʼs talented play-maker was hacked off the park with referee Carlos Velasco Carballo little more than a spectator as shameful so-called challenges went unpunished. Scolari got his wish. The beautiful game died tonight – RIP.

FIFA wanted referees to be more lenient so cards and suspensions didnʼt pile up. This evening the consequences became obvious. The Colombians noticed that their influential play-maker, Monacoʼs James Rodríguez Rubio had plainly been targeted. Brasilʼs tactics were for Manchester Cityʼs Fernadinho and Tottenham Hotspurʼs Paulinho in particular to prevent him playing by foul means – fair didnʼt even compute.

Neither Brasilian was even booked, let alone sent off as they deserved. Had they been shown the yellow card when it was warranted – after 14 minutes in Fernandinhoʼs case, the referee would have retained control and a potentially mouth-watering tie may have had a chance to blossom. Instead the prodigiously talented Rodríguez and later Barçelonaʼs Neymar were used as kicking bags.

Disgraceful

Napoliʼs Juan Zúñiga Mosquera is public enemy number one in Brasil now and that wonʼt change for a long time. He claims that his 88th minute so-called challenge was not intended to injure Brasilʼs talisman Neymar. The evidence proves otherwise. He kneed Neymar in the back with the ball nowhere near. It was a shocking and disgraceful challenge that deserves appropriate punishment – a long ban.

Zúñigaʼs protestations that he meant no injury to Neymar ring hollow. There was no credible effort to play the ball. It was almost certainly retribution for the treatment that Colombiaʼs talented attacking players had been subjected to earlier. Almost a fifth of Brasilʼs fouls – brutal ones – were committed to ensure that Rodríguez could not play.

They were meant to leave a mark and make him liable to be clattered whenever he had the temerity to try to play. This was anti-football at its worst. Brasil committed 31 fouls out of a tournament record 54 with Rodríguez the number one target in their sights. Fernandinho, Paulinho, Paris Saint-Germainʼs Thiago Silva and David Luiz and Championʼs League winning Real Madridʼs Marcelo all had a crack at him.

Anti-Football

Fellow attacking options, Fiorentinaʼs Juan Cuadrado Bello and Cagliariʼs Víctor Ibarbo Guerrero were also hacked to pieces. The trio had been the victims of almost a third of the fouls committed on their own in the first half. Brasil had clearly adopted a novel interpretation of the phrase ʻthey shall not passʼ!

And where was the referee while this carnage was going on? Velasco Carballo is an élite level referee in Spain. Ironically he has the reputation of a disciplinarian. His reputation will now be in tatters. After yet another foul had been committed on Rodríguez, the play-maker was deliberately prevented from taking it quickly.

Yet again Fernadinho was on hand. When he finally took it confusion reigned and Brasil got possession. There was no question of retreating ten yards or even trying to. Not a word of reprimand, let alone a long overdue yellow card emerged and later when Rodríguez prepared to take another with his sights set on goal the wall encroached again without consequences. With the spray available to prevent this, why was that free-kick not taken again? Why were the offenders not booked?

Ludicrous

It took over an hour for Velasco Carballo to brandish a yellow card – astonishing given the extent of brutal fouling adopted by Brasil in particular. Colombia committed 23 fouls themselves, but theirʼs was a reaction to the knowledge that Brasil had chosen to ensure that they would not be allowed to play football and the referee was content to allow them to get away with it. Eventually they retaliated in one case in a particularly brutal fashion.

While Neymar deserves sympathy and protection Brasil do not and they may yet pay a very high price. They are through, but must face Germany without Neymar – the man they built their team around. They had a plan to neutralise Colombiaʼs attacking threat by foul means and they stuck to it. They were allowed to do it by officials who lost control as early as a 14 minutes into the match.

Rudely Interrupted

Prior to the carnage Brasil took the lead. Fernandinhoʼs long pass to Neymar was intercepted at the expense of a corner. The Colombian defending of Neymarʼs corner was woeful to put it mildly. With just 7 minutes played Elcheʼs midfielder Carlos Sánchez Moreno switched off and allowed Thiago Silva an untracked run to the back post where he kneed it past Niceʼs impressive goal-keeper David Ospina Ramírez to give Brasil the lead. It was the first time Colombia had gone behind.

The Colombians did not play to their potential – they werenʼt allowed to. Brasil showed the ugly side of their game to render the potent Colombian attacking threat neutered. The first yellow card came when Silva impeded Ospinaʼs clearance and then put the ball in the net. Incredibly given the brutality that had preceded it was hardly a transgression in the greater scheme of what had gone before, but certainly a yellow card offence.

Normal Service

Before long it was evened out as Velasco Carballo shamefully booked Rodríguez for what was at best a minor offence as Rodríguez plainly withdrew his leg prior to contact if there was any. Adding insult to injury David Luizʼ fantastic 30 yard free-kick beat Ospina to give Brasil their insurance goal – one they would need. He was yet another who deserved a card for a brutal first half foul. Slightly before that goal two other major incidents happened.

A free-kick was taken and rebounded off David Luiz. A scramble followed. Atalantaʼs Mario Yepes Díaz bundled the ball in. It was chalked off for offside – a marginal decision. In another incident Thiago Silva looked injured. Unfortunately he was the culprit, yet another foul that warranted a booking – this time on Borussia Dortmundʼs Adrián Ramos Vázquez. That would have been his second and a sending off. It would also have sent a message to Brasil that they had to defend by fair means – one that should have been sent far earlier. Colombia began to retaliate. Cuadrado should have been booked for a foul on Neymar, but this was long after Rodríguez had been refused protection. 

Finale

With just over ten minutes left Rodríguez put Sevillaʼs Europa League winner Carlos Bacca Ahumada through on goal. QPRʼs goal-keeper Júlio César Soares de Espíndola, currently on loan to Toronto FC, took him out to concede a penalty. Luiz was covering, so Velasco Carballo decided that a yellow card would suffice despite denying a goal-scoring opportunity. Rodríguez kept his nerve to beat Júlio César and set up a nervous finale.

At least three Brasilians had committed enough serious offences to deserve sending off, but that did not happen. And then Velasco Carballo ignored Zúñigaʼs assault on Neymar. Undoubtedly, Zúñiga should have been sent off. Either the referee and his officials saw that and much more and ignored it or they missed it. As free-kicks were given, but not more for most of Brasilʼs transgressions FIFA cannot and will not act retrospectively. Zúñigaʼs offence is a different matter.

If Fernandinho had received the card he deserved then Velasco Carballo would have retained control and this match would not have disintegrated into a relic from the past. Velasco Carballoʼs failure to take and maintain control had sadly predictable consequences. Neymar was targeted too and he paid the highest price – an undeserved exit from the World Cup. His team are considerably weakened now. It could and should have been so different. Deprived of both Thiago Silva and Neymar, they face Germany in the semi-final.

RIP the beautiful game.

They Shall Not Pass

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 17th 2014)

Tactical Nous

World Cup hosts Brasil experienced a frustrating evening in Fortaleza as Miguel Herreraʼs México withstood everything that Luiz Felipe Scolariʼs team could throw at them. It ended 0-0, but this was no bore draw. Scolari had previously said that México was the team that gave them the stiffest test in the Confederations Cup and beat them in the Olympic Games – the one title to elude the Brasilians.

Undoubted Man of the Match Guillermo Ochoa who plays in Franceʼs Ligue Un for Ajaccio proved to be an unbreakable final barrier. Neymar rose to to meet Barçelona team-mate Dani Alves da Silvaʼs cross head powerfully at goal, but Ochoa was determined not to be beaten. A firm right hand pushed it away for a corner.

A fantastic save and there were more to come. Neymarʼs free-kick was superbly chested through by Brasilʼs captain Thiago Silva into the path of Spurs midfielder Paulinho. Somehow, Ochoa blocked his effort from point blank range.

Clearly, tonight it would require something special to beat Ochoa and Fredʼs consistently weak efforts wasted Neymarʼs work in particular The controversial Fluminense forward who starred in the Confederationsʼ Cup last year had a dreadful match – as bad as Ochoa excelled.

Midway through the second half Neymar was once again denied by Ochoa at the expense of a corner which he collected after juggling it and unleashing a long clearance that Dani Alves did well to head clear. As the half entered its final ten minutes Paris Saint-Germainʼs Thiago Silva had little choice but to foul Manchester Unitedʼs Javier Hernández, who had just replaced Méxicoʼs star striker Oribe Peralta – one of the home-based players. Peralta plays for Santos Laguna.

Villarrealʼs Giovanni dos Santos took a poor free-kick that resulted in a quick break. Bernard tried to find former Manchester City and Everton striker Jô (João Alves de Assis da Silva) who currently plays alongside Ronaldinho at Atlético Mineiro, but Ochoa intercepted at the forwardʼs feet. Shortly afterwards Silva could not believe his ill-fortune as Ochoa thwarted him yet again with an instinctive save.

Ambitions

While Brasil could not find a a way past the final barrier Ochoaʼs defence performed well too. Veteran captain Rafa Márquez, captaining the team for a fourth World Cup – a record – marshalled the defence well. Francisco Rodríguez thwarted Neymar by intercepting Bernardʼs cross. The rub of the whistle seemed to go to the hosts, but without dire consequences.

Ten minutes into the match Marceloʼs fantastic pass down left wing released Chelseaʼs Óscar who crossed to Fred the striker was offside, but it was not given. Fred wasted the opportunity by rippling the side-netting. It wasnʼt the only poor decision. Replays showed that Héctor Herrera shot was tipped over by Brasilʼs goalkeeper Júlio César Soares de Espíndola (usually known as Júlio César), but a goal-kick was given – yet another case for using replays!

As the match progressed México attacked, but restricted themselves to long-range shooting. With five minutes left of the first half Miguel Layún shot wide from distance. Andrés Guardado had a couple of efforts that met the same fate as did another from Herrera. A dreadful attempt from Marcelo to try to get a penalty – he went down far too cheaply after minimal contact by Raúl Jiménez. In injury time Júlio César saved Jiménezʼ effort. Draw, yes – bore draw, no.

 

 

Persistent Problems (Part Four) – Hooligan Wars

Editorʼs Note:

We first published this series of articles six years ago. Then as now the aim is to develop an understanding of how that nationʼs history and experience contributed to the development of what has become a major problem in its football – one that threatens to tarnish Croatiaʼs experiences on the pitch. On the eve of the opening match of the 2014 World Cup, we think it timely to publish them again. Croatia will be entertained by Luiz Felipe Scolariʼs resurgent Brasilian side in São Paulo on June 12th – the opening match of Brasilʼs second World Cup. We hope Croatiaʼs fans will support their team with gusto while showing respect to their hosts.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 8th 2008)

Making History

Both Red Star and Dinamo attracted some hardcore supporters who would clash first on the football pitch and then in all out war. Red Star’s hooligan element is known as Delije – it roughly translates as heroes. One of their leaders was the thug Željko Ražnatović – Arkan.

It’s likely that he was at the match that changed the course of Yugoslav history, orchestrating the provocative chanting that incited the riot. It took place on May 13th 1990 at the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb.

Football matches between Dinamo Zagreb and Red Star Belgrade were never for the faint-hearted, but this one took a new twist. The Zagreb side felt that referees sided with their opponents. Dinamo fans shared that belief, but thought that the police routinely did so too.

This game already had a highly charged atmosphere as Franjo Tuđman – a veteran of Tito’s partisans – set about securing Croatia’s independence. He had narrowly beaten Ivica Račan in Presidential elections that allowed him to dominate the government in 1990 weeks before the match.

Attack Mode

The Delije incited Dinamo fans with chants of ‘Zagreb is Serbian’, and ‘We’ll kill Tuđman’, The Bad Blue Boys struggled to get at them. As usual the police sided with the Delije – not entirely surprising as Ražnatović led a charmed life then. He had an extensive criminal record all over Europe, but had top level police protection in Yugoslavia.

The police attacked Dinamo supporters but could not keep the Bad Blue Boys away from the Delije indefinitely. Once they broke through the police ranks a full scale riot developed. The police used batons, tear gas and other weapons. Eventually reinforcements arrived and ʻorderʼ was restored, but not before several people were injured.

Captain Marvel

Dinamo’s captain at the time was Zvonimir Boban. Red Star’s players had long since left the pitch. Boban remained, absolutely incensed by what he saw. He karate-kicked a policeman he saw beating a Dinamo fan. Boban later said, “Here I was, a public face, prepared to risk his life, career, everything that fame could have brought, all because of one ideal – one cause – the Croatian cause”.

Boban was suspended for six months by the Yugoslav Football Association, which would not exist for much longer. Criminal charges were also brought against Boban, but he was protected by Bad Blue Boys and joined AC Milan in 1991, distinguishing himself in that great trophy-winning team.

Boban retired prematurely in 2001. The policeman he famously kicked turned out to be a Bosnian Muslim, who publicly forgave him years later.

Exiled

Boban left the country as it became a battle ground. The violence escalated. The football riot played a part in convincing many Croatians that they would never be treated fairly in Yugoslavia. However, Serbs had a sense of grievance and foreboding of what life in Croatia would be like for them too. In the summer of 1990 Serbs in the region of Krajina rebelled and established their own enclave within Croatian territory.

The Yugoslav army prevented the Croatian police from crushing the Republic of Krajina, which was never recognised by any country. Tuđman demanded self-determination, autonomy and then independence for Croatia, but under no circumstances would he allow the Serbs of Krajina the same thing.

The Yugoslav army – consisting mainly of Serbs – originally kept the peace in the wake of several massacres of Serbs in the region. They joined forces with the Serbs in Krajina, but gradually their actions became more belligerent. The Croatian cities of Vukovar and Dubrovnik came under attack.

It was the last straw for the Croatian government, which severed all ties with Yugoslavia on October 8th 1991. The disintegration of Yugoslavia had begun in earnest. There would be atrocities: ethnic cleansing and terror-based expulsions committed by all sides in this war. Football would not escape the carnage that it had brought to fruition either.