Respect

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 21st 2015)

Reputations

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Carlos Velasco Carballo rapidly established himself as Spainʼs top referee since deciding to concentrate on officiating in 2010. He had built up a reputation as a firm but fair referee – one who managed to combine a disciplinarian streak with letting the game flow. This was quite an achievement. It was not unusual for there to be several yellow cards and the odd red card too.

Armed with the appropriate FIFA badge, Velasco Carballo refereed his first international in 2008. His first season refereeing past qualifiers for the Championʼs League coincided with a meteoric rise. In that season he was awarded the 2011 Europa League Final in Dublin. Radamel Falcao García Zárate – then playing for Porto – set a Europa League (UEFA Cup) record for goals scored in the competition.

It was a niggly match settled by a solitary goal scored by Falcao and liberally peppered by fouls and cards. 42 fouls resulted in eight yellow cards. This was a typical Velasco Carballo performance. The following season, he continued where he left off. Velasco Carballo refereed 19 Primera División matches and brandished 16 red cards.

He was Spainʼs representative at Euro2012 ahead of the more experienced Alberto Undiano Mallenco. He refereed the opening match in Poland against Greece. Sokratis Papasthapoulos was controversially sent off, having received two unfortunate yellow cards.

Stock

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Velasco Carballoʼs stock plummeted at the World Cup in the wretched quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia. Some say the occasion got to him, but that does not explain his performance. It wasnʼt just the record tally of fouls – 54 – some of which were appalling. Flagrant encroachment at a free-kick was not only unpunished, but rewarded. It was a performance that defied explanation.

He permitted over 40 offences before brandishing a yellow card in that match in Fortaleza and the first was for a comparatively trivial offence compared to what had gone before and later. FIFA insists that there was no directive to referees to show leniency when it came to showing cards and refused to criticise Velasco Carballoʼs performance in Fortaleza.

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Diego Maradona and Falcao were scathing in their criticism, but they werenʼt to know that Velasco Carballo had officiated against type. It remained to be seen how the Spaniard would perform post Fortaleza. If FIFA was correct and there was no directive then Velasco Carballo must have chosen to abandon his previous style and referee in an alien fashion, which he would no doubt stick to.

The Renaissance

His reputation had taken a mauling during the World Cup. But the signs were there after the World Cup that Velasco Carballo had refereed that match in an alien manner. Last December he refereed Eibar versus Valencia. There were 21 fouls, but 10 yellow cards, four in the last ten minutes. His first match of the new year took place on January 3rd between Sevilla and Celta de Vigo. There were 45 fouls. Velasco Carballo showed nine yellow cards and one red.

It was nowhere near as dirty a match as that infamous quarter-final. A league match between Real Sociedad and Villarreal last month had 24 fouls. He brandished ten yellow cards and a red card too. Just over a month ago he refereed a local encounter Levante versus Elche. Velasco Carballo showed a red card to David Navarro after just 6 minutes. He also showed six yellow cards. There were 26 fouls in the match. Clearly, this was not a referee who would not use his cards if the offence warranted it in Spain. What about in European competition?

He officiated the match between Schalke04 and Maribor in September. There were 24 fouls and five yellow cards were shown, all in the second half. He refereed FCK versus Bayer Leverkusen last August. Each side committed 12 fouls. He showed six yellow cards. Anderlechtʼs home defeat by Arsenal resulted in just three yellow cards with 27 fouls. Ajax beat the Cypriots APOEL comfortably at home in December. The 4-0 drubbing had 16 fouls, 8 each. Two Cypriot players were the only ones booked. It was hardly a dirty match deserving a flurry of cards.

His latest international after the World Cup was a Euro2016 qualifier between Iceland and the Netherlands. Iceland won 2-0. There were 23 fouls and only one booking – Nigel de Jong in the last ten minutes. But all of these statistics donʼt necessarily tell the whole story – not all fouls deserve cards. I have seen only two of his matches since the World Cup – Sevilla versus Celta de Vigo and last Thursdayʼs Europa League tie at White Hart Lane. His performances were true to form. Fortaleza was an aberration.

The Return

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Fans of los Cafeteros present at White Hart Lane would be forgiven a double take or two at his performance on Thursday night. It was the same referee who lost control of the quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia. There was never any danger of a repeat dose tonight as long as there were no ludicrous directives. It soon became clear that there were not.

Just three minutes into the match those familiar with the style and performances of Madrid-based referee Carlos Velasco Carballo – remember him – saw a familiar sight. The real Velasco Carballo jogging over to Spursʼ right wing with intent. Gonzalo Rodríguez brought down Andros Townsend. It was a bad foul that deserved a booking and got one.

Velasco Carballo had made it clear where his line was and the match quickly settled down. There was no danger that this would degenerate into foul fare. The referee was in control. The whole match had 24 fouls and just three yellow cards. The refereeʼs authority was never in doubt and it flowed. There was no need for more cards. This is the real Carlos Velasco Carballo.

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Life After Cuadrado

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 18th 2015)

Won’t be Missed

Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino told a press conference that Fiorentina won’t miss Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello. The Colombian winger – one of the stars of los Cafeteros’ best ever World Cup – went to Chelsea in the January transfer window. Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah went in the opposite direction on loan for the rest of the season.

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Salah has already said that he wants to stay in the renaissance city. He scored at the weekend and will be keen to impress. Salah’s rapid return to English soil with a point to prove will grab the headlines, but a forgotten Englishman returns too for the first time since his departure for sunnier climes in the summer – former Manchester City and England defender Micah Richards

But most column inches will be about the Cuadrado-sized hole in the Viola’s plans, plugged by among others Salah. “Juan [Cuadrado] is an unbelievable player, but it is true Fiorentina have a strong squad”, Pochettino said. “We have seen a lot of their games and they have a very good team. They have a lot of players and I’m sure they will do fine without him”.

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Impact of the Loss of Cuadrado

Vincenzo Montella the young coach of the Viola would rather talk about the players he still has or brought in than the versatile Colombian winger, but talk he must. “Well I think we pulled of a bit of a coup ourselves to be honest with you in signing Salah, but joking aside of course, itʼs almost a source of professional pride that someone wanted to pay so much for Cuadrado and that he developed so much as a player, because he certainly wasnʼt at that level when he first arrived to play for us, so I think us, the management and the players are very proud of how far heʼs been able to go with our help, but we havenʼt just replaced him with one player”, Montella said. “Weʼve replaced him with several players”.

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Cuadrado wanted to leave Florence last year even before the World Cup. His erstwhile Viola team-mates must get used to his absence and to his replacement. “Salah is a very good player”, Montella said. “Heʼs used to playing at this level and although heʼs only been with us for a short while, heʼs already shown very quickly thatʼs heʼs up to playing very well in Italy and playing very well for us”.

Veteran defender Manuel Pasqual agrees. “Cuadradoʼs a great player, the kind of guy who could make a difference on the pitch, but I think that Salahʼs got off to a flying start”, he said. “Heʼs being doing really well and I hope that he just continues playing the way he is at the moment”.

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The Shop Window

Fiorentina did not want to sell him, but money talks and Cuadrado had put himself in the shop window by having an exceptional World Cup. It was going to be a tough job to keep him. The Viola did well to stave off interest in the summer transfer window.

James Rodríguez Rubio had starred in the absence of the injured Radamel Falcao García Zárate and got the move both coveted to European champions Real Madrid. Falcao moved to Manchester United on deadline day on loan – a move that hasn’t worked for either party yet.

But while those stars got their moves Cuadrado stayed put in Florence, but his heart was already wandering. Cuadrado wanted to capitalise on his successful World Cup, but the hoped for move to Barçelona failed to materialise – he was the one major Colombian star not to get a big money move.

For a while at least it looked as if the Fiorentina might just keep their star. “He’s very important”, Fiorentina’s Administrative Delegate Sandro Mencucci told us exclusively at the Europa League Draw. “He’s one of the best players in the world in my opinion and it’s important that Cuadrado is with our team. We are a strong team – very tough”.

Going, Going, Gone

Cuadrado was not happy, but the Camp Nou faded into the distance as the transfer ban on the Catalan giants ended any hopes of a transfer there this season or in the summer. “Yes, he’s very important,” Mencucci.

Fiorentina had made him a better player than when he joined them from Udinese in 2012.Montella was quick to point that out. So how much was he worth? Mencucci laughs. “It’s difficult to talk about a sum”, he says determined to avoid tipping off potential suitors to the likely price. “I think that’s great valuable”. The message from Mencucci was clear. “No, no”, he said. “I don’t want to sell”.

But money talks and Cuadrado wanted to leave Florence. Chelsea knew his buy-out clause and got permission to talk to him. Before long their bid was accepted. Cuadrado – a boy who grew up in poverty without his father, because he was murdered during the appalling drug-related violence that tortured that nation in the 1990s – had joined the Premier League’s millionaires row.

He’d come a long way from his origins when the boy with a passion for football would go to extraordinary lengths to play the sport he loved, despite his mother’s and then grand-mother’s disapproval. He made his Champion’s League bow for his new club from the bench on Tuesday against Paris Saint Germain.

Familiar Faces

If he’s watching his old team tonight he will see plenty of familiar faces, including an unexpected one. “As far as officiating, then, no [he has no concerns] as far weʼre concerned”, Montella said. “The referees do their job. We respect their decisions; thatʼs it”. Cuadrado will beg to differ when he sees who the referee is. Carlos Velasco Carballo was the official who lost or never had control of the quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia (see Pockmarked at https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/pockmarked/).

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If the Spaniard referees as he normally does (see Tatters at https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/2007/), Cuadrado’s incredulity will turn to bemusement and then incredulity and anger. Velasco Carballo was a very different type of referee before the World Cup and returned to form afterwards. Colombians still await a satisfactory answer of why he refereed against form in Fortaleza.

Colombia Ignore Controversy to make History

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 28th 2014)

Scintillating

Tipped to be one of the stars of the World Cup Monacoʼs James Rodriguez is living up to top billing. Despite their sense of grievance over the Luis Suárez affair Uruguay had no answer to a Rodríguez inspired Colombia. His first goal was the goal of the tournament so far and his second a fine team goal too.

Colombia lost their superstar for this World Cup when Radamel Falcao García Zárate failed to recover from a serious knee injury in time, but others stepped up especially Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello and Rodríguez. 27 minutes into the match Álvaro Pereira Barragán headed a cross clear, but Rodríguez was loitering with intent. Toulouseʼs Abel Aguilar Tapias nodded Pereiraʼs clearance forward.

Rodríguez chested it forward, turned and volleyed from 23 yards out, beating Fernando Muslera Micol off the crossbar. A sweeping move from flank to flank ended with Pablo Estifer Armeroʼs cross from the left to Cuadrado at the back post. The Fiorentina winger unselfishly nodded back across goal for Rodríguez to score from 6 yards out.

Pressure

OGC Niceʼs goal-keeper David Ospina Ramírez was virtually a spectator in the first half, but maintained his concentration. After 63 minutes Atlético de Madridʼs Cristain Rodríguez Barotti surged forward before unleashing a 30 yard shot that Ospina saved well.

With just over ten minutes remaining Uruguay committed men forward. An unlikely source almost halved the deficit by anticipating an error. It came and Benficaʼs Maxi Pereira Páez almost profited. Ospina blocked from point blank range. Five minutes later Paris Saint-Germainʼs Edinson Cavani Gómezʼ shot from just outside the area was saved at his near post by Ospina at the expense of a corner.

Colombia won 2-0. They will play hosts Brasil on Friday evening – their first quarter-final in a World Cup, beating the achievements of the class of 1990. Meanwhile, Chile and Uruguay leave Brasilʼs festival of football. Rodríguez leads the chase for the golden boot with 5 goals in four matches – one as a half-time substitute as Colombia rested players against Japan. Lionel Messi and Thomas Müller have yet to play while Neymar failed to add to his tally against Chile. They have 4 goals so far.

 

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.

 

Taking Control

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

Restored Philosophy

Colombia took control of the group after beating Ivory Coast 2-1 in Brasiliaʼs Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha. The stadium that was the centre of the initial protests at last yearʼs Confederationsʼ Cup cost a staggering $900,000, 000 to build – a figure that according to Concern Worldwide could have fed almost 10,000,000 children for a year. The stadium – likely to be a white elephant due to the quality of football in Brasilʼs capital – is witnessing some excellent football.

Shorn of their talisman, striker Radmael Falcao García Zárate, chances were wasted by the profligate Teófilo Gutiérrez Roncancio before José Pékerman Krimenʼs side took control in the second half. Pékerman – the first foreigner to coach Colombia for 30 years knows Colombian football and its culture well. He is credited by no less an authority than Carlos Valderrama Palacio with restoring Colombian football to its attacking roots after taking over from former Colombian idol Leonel Álvarez Zuleta – the second most capped player in Colombian history. Álvarezʼ stint as national coach was uneventful, but staring disaster in the face Colombiaʼs hopes were put in Pékermanʼs hands.

The Making of a Star

Monacoʼs James Rodríguez Rubio is tipped by many to be a star of this World Cup, in the absence of club and country star Falcao . He justified the faith with a powerful header after 64 minutes to open the scoring and a secondary assist for substitute Juan Quintero Paniagua to put Colombia 2-0 up after 70 minutes. Four minutes later a mazy run by Gervinho from the left flank past three Colombian challenges and into the area saw the former Arsenal man beat David Ospina Ramírez at his near post.

 

Overall, Colombia, inspired by Rodríguez and Cuadrado, were worth the win. The first opportunity fell to Colombia. Fiorentinaʼs winger Cuadrado found Monacoʼs Rodríguez, whose back-heel set up Gutiérrez, but the River Plate strikerʼs shot didnʼt trouble Boubacar Barry in Ivory Coastʼs goal. Two minutes later Cuadrado set up Rodríguez after an excellent run down the left flank, but Didier Zokora cleared.

Nip and Tuck

More than half-way through the first half Ivory Cost get their first chance as Newcastleʼs Cheikh Tioté shot well over from 25 yards. It posed no threat to Ospinaʼs goal. Just under half an hour into the match Elcheʼs Carlos Sánchez Morenoʼs superb pass found Cuadrado on the left. His brilliant pass to Gutiérrez should have led to the opening goal, but the River Plate striker fluffed his shot badly – a truly awful miss.

Toulouseʼs Serge Aurier turned inside 38 year-old Mario Yepes Díaz and shot wide to Ospinaʼs left. Colombia had the best of the first half, but Swanseaʼs Wilfried Bony will still be wondering why he tried a spectacular overhead when he could and should have adjusted to Yaya Touréʼs cross and taken aim with the goal at his mercy. Cuadrado very nearly punished the profligacy. His shot from a tight angle on the right after turning Soulemayne Bamba inside out got a slight touch from Barry onto the bar.

Decisive

Less than five minutes later Cuadradoʼs corner was powerfully headed in by Rodríguez. Barry got a hand to it, but could only push it into his own net. Six minutes later a poor corner by Ivory Coast resulted in Serey Die losing possession to Rodríguez. He released Gutiérrez near the penalty area and he put Quintero through on the right of the area. Quintero shot across Barry to double Colombiaʼs lead. Gervinho (Gervais Yao Kouassi) brought Ivory Coast back into the match less than five minutes later. In possession on left flank Gervinho cut into area and beat Ospina at his near post. Niceʼs keeper got a hand to it but should have done better. Substitute Salomon Kalouʼs weak effort resembled conceding possession rather than a shot in the final ten minutes and despite a terrible defensive error Didier Drogba could not latch onto Aurierʼs pass. Ospina rushed out of his area to clear the danger. Colombia held on for a win that puts them in poll position to qualify. Greece and Japan play later knowing that defeat will all but end their hopes.

 

Shifting The Bus

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

Celebrations

With a bitter election campaign reaching its conclusion tomorrow and talisman Radamel Falcao García Zárate out of the World Cup, José Pékerman Krimenʼs Colombia unlocked Greeceʼs bus and forced Fernando Santosʼ team out of their comfort zone. The masters of parking the bus were forced out of their comfort zone and made vulnerable to counter attacking football.

So rich was Colombia’s talent pool that even without Falcao there was no place in the starting line-up for Europa League winner Carlos Bacca Ahumada. It didnʼt matter as Napoliʼs Pablo Estifer Armero put Colombia ahead after just 5 minutes and offered an early contender for celebration of the tournament. Téofilio Gutiérrez Roncancio and Falcaoʼs team-mate at Monaco, James Rodríguez Rubio completed the comfortable 3-0 win.

Control

Colombia seized control of the match early. Fiorentinaʼs Juan Cuadrado Bello tormented the Greek defence. His pass to Armero freed the defender to shoot. Armero celebrated with such joy it would almost be churlish to point out that a huge deflection off Kostas Manolas was needed to give Armero his second goal for his country.

Bolognaʼs Panagiotis Kone had a couple of chances that he failed to capitalise on while Rodríguez, tipped to shine at this tournament in Falcaoʼs absence created chances. His shot was saved by Orestes Karnezis and Rodríguez resulting corner was flicked on to Gutiérrez by Abel Aguilar Tapias for the second. The third was fitting. Cuadrado ran at the defence before teeing Rodríguez up to slot the third in and complete a deserved victory after an exhibition of counter-attacking football earned by driving Greece out of their tactical comfort zone early.