Honours Even

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 19th 2015)

Dominant

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Mauricio Pochettino was disappointed with the result after his Tottenham Hotspur team were held to 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane tonight by Fiorentina. Pochettinoʼs decision to rest the in-form Harry Kane backfired, despite Roberto Soldado Rilloʼs 6th minute strike – his first goal of the year. In the first half hour Spurs dominated, running Fiorentinaʼs back three ragged, but despite creating chances, the hosts failed to profit.

After 5 minutes Nacer Chadliʼs effort was saved at the expense of a corner. Paulinho took it finding Soldado. The former Valencia strikerʼs shot beat Romanian keeper Ciprian Tătăruşanu to give Spurs a platform they failed to capitalise on. Half chances at the other end were made by Joaquín Sánchez Rodríguez, resulting in a weak effort by Mario Gomez and for Mohamed Salah, on loan from Chelsea as part of the deal that took Juan Guilermo Cuadrado Bello the other way, but Federico Fazio blocked the Egyptianʼs shot. Despite the threat posed by the visitors, led by their captain Manuel Pasqual, but Spurs were more dangerous.

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Christian Eriksen had almost converted a chance created by Chadliʼs excellent approach play, but shot just over. After his goal Soldado was profligate, but spectacular. Eriksenʼs cross found Soldado after Stefan Savićʼs block rebounded to him. Soldadoʼs bicycle kick was spectacular, but straight at the keeper from point blank range with the goal gaping.

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Recovery

With half an hour gone Fiorentina came into their own. Borja Valeroʼs cross field pass found Pasqual and Fiorentinaʼs captain set up Gomez. The former Vf Stuttgart and Beyern Munich strikerʼs effort went just wide. Two minutes later Salah slipped Gomez through, but recovering from a long injury lay-off Gomez had to settle for a corner.

That five minutes of pressure culminated in Soldado tripping Joaquín after the former Real Betis and Valencia winger had got past him. Soldado was rightly booked. Chilean international Matías Fernández Fernández took the free-kick. It was pushed out to his right by Hugo Lloris onto Savićʼs back and rebounded into path of José María Basanta, who took advantage of his good fortune to smash in the equaliser from close range.

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Just Deserts

Just before half time Spurs almost regained the lead. Kyle Walkerʼs cross was met by Soldado, whose header was saved by Tătăruşanu. Chadli latched on to the rebound. His shot was lashed onto the crossbar. Appeals for a goal were rightly turned down as the ball bounced on the wrong side of the goal-line. Vincenzo Montella changed his formation at half time and contained Tottenhamʼs threat, despite the introduction of Harry Kane.

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After 90 minutes we were better, we created more chances”, Pochettino said, “but it’s true that in the second half, in the last 15-20 minutes, we maybe didn’t create many chances. It’s a shame because at half-time maybe the team had deserved to score more than one goal and then it was 1-1. We have 90 minutes in Florence to try and win the game”.

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Return to Form

The decision to rest Harry Kane raised a few eyebrows, although it may indicate where Pochettinʼs priorities lie. At first he was vindicated by Soldadoʼs goal, but the equaliser and Montellaʼs changes in formation saw la Viola become a different proposition in the second half. Shortly after the restart Joaquín created space for himself on the right flank to tee up Salah. The Egyptianʼs curling shot from just outside the area went close with Lloris beaten.

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Savić deserved his booking for hauling back Chadli after 5 minutes of the second half. With an hour play Spurs pressure was absorbed by Fiorentinaʼs defence. Andros Townsendʼs cross was headed clear by Savić to Nabil Bentaleb. The Algerian defenderʼs long range shot failed to trouble Tătăruşanu. Five minutes later Pochettino made a concession of sorts. Kane was introduced for the last 25 minutes, but despite his red hot form, not even a front two of Soldado and Kane could find a way past Tătăruşanu.

We have a lot of games ahead, six in 17 days”, Pochettino said in defence of his decision to rest Kane. “It’s difficult. We need to rotate and give the possibility to play for all. It was a very open game. I think that we made a big effort in the first half, a great effort. I’m a little bit disappointed with the result because I thought we could have won.”

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Spurs Spoil return of the Prince

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 9th 2014)

Tuned Up

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Mauricio Pochettino saw his revamped Spurs team deservedly beat Bundesliga outfit Schalke04, captained by German-born Kevin-Prince Boateng 2-1 at White Hart Lane this evening in their final tune-up before the new season starts next weekend. An offside flag spared Aaron Lennonʼs blushes as he hit the post after 4 minutes. It was a dreadful miss, but fortunately for him the assistant refereeʼs late flag against Emmanuel Adebayor rendered it moot.

Christian Eriksen fed Lennon on the left of the area after 13 minutes, but goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann came off his line quickly to smother the danger. Apart from that the opening quarter of an hour produced little of note. Within ten minutes Tottenham Hotspur began to exert control. Lewis Holtby spurned a gilt-edged opportunity provided by Eriksen once again. Fährmann saved well to deny the German, whose finish was hesitant, possibly believing that he was offside.

It didnʼt matter. Their possession was quickly rewarded with just under half an hour played. Togoʼs talisman Emmanuel Adebayor turned and shot into the roof of Fährmannʼs net. Holtby crossed to him from the right wing. Erik Lamela and Lennon had combined well with Holtby on the edge of the area before the German crossed for Adebayor.

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“I think very important”, Holtby said. “Every game is important especially in pre-season to get match fitness, to get a good run out and to be prepared for the first game”.

Schalke had produced little up to that point. Lamela fouled Boateng and Swiss international Tranquillo Barnettaʼs free-kick begged for a finish to match, but was headed wide by Roman Neustädter after 33 minutes. Spurs deservedly went in at half time leading by Adebayorʼs goal.

I think it was a really good test for us”, Barnetta said. “Spurs was really aggressive. Yes, they were very compact, really fast when they come from deep into the offence, so I think they make a good game and for us I think we have to work next week, so that we are ready for the first game”.

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Changes

Pochettino rang in the changes at half time. Andros Townsend made an impact and Harry Kane should have, but the officials were uninterested in his claims for a penalty. Replays established that Felipe Santana had shoved Kane over in the box after 53 minutes. Townsend tested the Germansʼ defence on the left flank with Kane unable to convert before popping up on the other side of the pitch.

The much maligned former Valencia striker Roberto Soldado gave Spurs comfort just over 20 minutes into the second half. Eriksenʼs pass found Townsend in space just outside the area. His fierce shot from over 20 yards out proved too hot for Fährmann to handle. The keeper parried it up in the air only for Soldado to embarrass him by nodding the rebound over him and into the net.

A couple of minutes later Townsend should have made it three, but wasted Eriksenʼs sublime reverse pass to free him on the right of the area by pulling his shot wide of Fährmannʼs far post.

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Zero Vier

With less than 20 minutes remaining Schalke, who qualified for the Championʼs League automatically, finally came to life. Camerounian international Jean-Eric Choupo-Moting released substitute Christian Clemens on the right wing. He pulled it back for Max Meyer to shoot just wide of Hugo Llorisʼ left-hand post. Five minutes later Sandro unleashed a fierce 30 yard shot which Fährmann parried rather flashily, but the danger passed.

Schalkeʼs belated ambition was rewarded with just over ten minutes left. Dennis Aogo was found in space just outside the left edge of the area. He crossed for Boateng to score to Llorisʼ right. The French international tried to block with his legs and ought to be disappointed with his efforts. It was Boatengʼs last contribution. He was brought off to a great ovation from both sets of fans.

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Yeah, obviously itʼs a mark of respect and I think Kevin obviously did a very good job here”, Holtby said of Boateng. “Otherwise the reception wouldnʼt have been that good. I think itʼs good for him and itʼs good to see Tottenham fans being so positive and I got the same reception when I came back from Fulham, so Iʼm very happy”.

Boateng was replaced by Donis Avdijaj who almost made a rapid impact, but after making space to shoot Lloris saved at the expense of a corner. Stung into a response a quick counter-attack saw Townsend feed Soldado, who found Holtbyʼs replacement Cristian Ceballos on the right of the area. His shot was saved by Fährmann at the expense of a corner.

In added time Townsendʼs excellent run and shot from just outside the area was parried by Fährmann, but Ceballos, following in, could only lob it just over the bar. He should have scored.

Strength

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Both sides put out strong teams with Spurs having the stronger bench. They start their league campaigns next week. Schalke began with five veterans of the recent World Cup. Bosnia-Herzegovinaʼs Sead Kolašinac: Swizerlandʼs Barnetta, Ghanaʼs Boateng and Camerounʼs Joël Matip and Jean-Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting provided a strong base.

Tottenham started with eight internationals on the pitch, two of whom played in the recent World Cup. They had the stronger bench which included Brasilian international Sandro, Andros Townsend who missed the World Cup due to injury and Robert Soldado whose form last season cost him a place in Vicente del Bosqueʼs ill-fated plans for the recent World Cup. Kyle Walker was also missing along with players on both sides who played in the latter stages of the World Cup.

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I think they gave us a good test”, Holtby said of his former club. “A lot of players were missing as well, Jan [Vertonghen] and Moussa [Dembélé], Paulinho, who just came back from that break and so Iʼm happy that we had a good game today and keep going forward”.

But Schalke had more significant absentees including two World Cup winners, Benedikt Höwedes and Julian Draxler. “I think we have also two world champion players”, Barnetta said. “Thatʼs not bad and also for the home fans it was a very good championship, but now it counts what happens with Schalke, so we have to look on us”. Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was also missing.

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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.

Brasil Ease Past Cameroun

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 23rd 2014)

Class

Brasil inspired by Neymar brushed past a disorganised Cameroun easily. Neymarʼs first half brace overcame the shock of Joel Matipʼs 25th minute equaliser. Neymar restored order with his second ten minutes before half time. Brasil could have more in their most convincing display of this World Cup. The much maligned Fred finally opened his account to the relief of his team-mates and all Brasil fans, although he looked offside.

It should be remembered that the Fluminense striker started slowly in the Confederationsʼ Cup last year as well. How did that work out? He failed to score in his first two matches and faced calls for him to be dropped. Luis Felipe Scolari was having none of it and stuck by Fred.

Neymarʼs Show

He scored a brace in his next match and finished the tournament as top scorer. The World Cup-winning coach obviously sees something in Fred and has surely earned the right not to be second guessed on his selections.

Manchester Cityʼs Fernandinho got the fourth to seal a convincing 4-1 drubbing of a sorry looking Cameroun team who arrived in Brasil with a huge cloud hanging over them and depart a shambles with players fighting each-other rather than for each-other and viewed as traitors in their own country.

Convincing

Apart from a terrible defensive lapse that affected Thiago Silva, Marcelo and David Luiz for Matipʼs goal – Allan-Roméo Nyom squared it to Matip – Brasil never looked likely to be tested defensively. That freed Scolariʼs team to entertain the crowd in Brasilia. Neymar was in fine form orchestrating Brasilʼs occasional swagger as well as getting a brace before being substituted to protect him for later matches.

Neymarʼs outrageous flick up and volley in the 19th minute was parried by Itandje. It showed his skill. Thiago Silvaʼs long pass found Hulk whose cross was poorly cleared. It broke to Neymar who showed why Scolari built his team around Barçelonaʼs star in waiting.

Fred scrambled for a goal. A minute later, Stéphane Mbia was caught in possession and the ball was helped through to Paulinho. Tottenham Hotspurʼs defensive midfielder has had a difficult first season in England, but crossed and Fred tried to bundle in, but Henri Bedimo Nsamé tackle prevented him making contact. Itandje smothered it.

Less than a quarter of an hour later David Luiz received the ball from Luis Gustavo in his own half and initiated an attack. Luizʼ long ball to the left was headed clear by Nyom to Marcelo. The Real Madrid defender released Neymar to run and shoot from just inside area with Itandje going wrong way after 34 to make it 2-1. Just before half time another long pass from Luiz allowed Neymar to continue to display his tricks, but nothing came from it once he had laid it off to Hulk as Matip conceded a corner.

Results

Brasil were rarely threatened in the second half. Almost as soon as the second half got under-way Hulk was put through by Fernandinho, but an excellent tackle by Bedimo thwarted him. It led to a good shot by Fred and save by Itandje, but Fred was getting closer.

A bad foul by Eyong Enoh on Neymar, should have resulted in another caution for Enoh, but referee Jonas Eriksson chose to be lenient and did not brandish a card. Enoh was fortunate. A minute later Cameroun were unfortunate in the extreme. Fredʼs goal was needed by the Fluminense forward, but he was clearly off-side and so was David Luiz when he was put through to deliver the cross for Fred to score – dreadful misses by the officials.

With six minutes remaining and México making a battle of it for top spot, Cameroun got careless. Chelseaʼs Óscar intercepted, allowing Fernandinho to exchange a one-two with Fred and shoot across Itandje from to make it safe for Brasil. Meanwhile, Croatia got a consolation goal. The positions were now clear. Brasil would top the group and face Chile in the last sixteen and the Netherlands would face México.

 

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.