Tatters

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 10th 2015)

Reputation

Carlos Velasco Carballoʼs reputation may never recover. Having refereed against type at Fortalezaʼs Estádio Castelão in the controversial hackfest of Brasil v Colombia, Velasco Carballo was savaged by Diego Maradona and given FIFAʼs equivalent of a vote of confidence. FIFA refused to give Juan Camilo Zuñiga Mosquera a retrospective red card or rescind Thiago Silvaʼs yellow card.

Zuñiga should have been sent off, but so should several others. It was baffling that a referee with a reputation as a disciplinarian had refereed this match as if he had forgotten his cards in the dressing room. It is also a great pity as Velasco Carballo, contrary to Maradonaʼs opinion is actually a very good referee – one who had steadily earned the top matches with stellar performances. That reputation is all but undone by one match.

He officiated his first top flight match a decade ago – Barçelona v Sevilla. Velasco Carballo decided to concentrate exclusively on refereeing in 2010. He had quietly 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.

Careful

He was a studious referee too – one who knew the foibles of those he was refereeing. Nobody pulled the wool over his eyes, so what happened to him on July 4th 2014? Did the occasion get to him? The refereeing of that match took some explaining then – it still does. There is no evidence that he was fazed by big occasions.

Velasco Carballo refereed his first international match in 2008 after earning the appropriate FIFA badge. The 2010-11 season was his first refereeing past the qualifiers for the Championʼs League. He ended that season with a high profile match – the Europa League Final in Dublin. Radamel Falcao – then playing for Porto – set a Europa League (UEFA Cup) record for goals scored in the competition.

Falcao, who would strongly criticise Velasco Carballo over the match in Fortaleza, scored the only goal of that match. It was a match punctuated by fouls and cards. 42 fouls resulted in eight yellow cards. This was typical Velasco Carballo. The native of Madrid is not allowed to referee any match involving Madrid teams, but his performance in that season marked him as one to watch.

Against His DNA

His performance in Fortaleza was incredible. There were 54 fouls in that match – well penalised ones. He brandished four yellow cards and no red cards. It required more than 40 offences bbefore he showed his first card and that was not for a violent challenge. There were also offences that were not penalised despite being under his nose (see Pockmarked at https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/pockmarked/).

The failure to enforce the rules also contributed to a serious injury suffered by Neymar. Zuñiga ploughed into Neymarʼs back. Whether he intended serious injury or not is immaterial. It was a ludicrous challenge – one that would never have been tolerated, or most likely even tried, if Velasco Carballo had been allowed to referee as he normally would have.

Zuñiga quickly apologised. The players have no problem with each other, but anxious to reach the ball or not these are the challenges that must not be allowed or encouraged even tacitly, as lack of consequences does. When Brasil played Colombia in a friendly in the USA, they embraced each other, but that match was scarred by the quarter-final in Fortaleza – a dirty business. Juan Guilermo Cuadrado Bello was sent off.

Form

The Europa League Final was far from the only match that Velasco Carballo refereed in his strict manner. He has a habit of showing cards, including sending players off. During the 2011-12 season in Spain he issued 16 red cards in 19 matches that he refereed. He was Spainʼs representative at Euro2012, refereeing the opening match between co-hosts Poland and Greece.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos received a second yellow card for fouling Polandʼs Rafal Murawski just before half time. Even that card was harsh, but the previous one beggared belief. Just before being sent off he received his first yellow card for allegedly fouling Robert Lewandowski, but the replays showed that Papastathopoulos had actually won the ball cleanly and fairly.

It was no foul and therefore it could not have been a yellow card. If he did not receive a yellow card then, he would not have been sent off for fouling Murawski and Greece would still have had eleven players on the pitch.

To paraphrase the great author Oscar Wilde: “To give one yellow card wrongly or harshly may be considered a misfortune. To give two is carelessness”! He also sent off Polandʼs goal-keeper Wojciech Szczesny in the same match.

So what happened in Fortaleza? Why had he abandoned the habits of a lifetime and done so on an even bigger stage? We are yet to get a satisfactory answer. Tolerating over forty offences before brandishing a single yellow card resulted in a display that was alien to the Spaniardʼs DNA.

And what of Velasco Carballo himself? FIFA say that there was no directive to referees to spare the rod and spoil the spectacle. But why would a stern referee officiate so against type? They also failed to take any sanction against the Spaniard for his bizarre performance that surely would have followed if it was all his fault. Would he return to form free from the ʻdirectiveʼ or was Fortaleza a taste of things to come?

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Pride

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (December 10th 2014)

Dangerous

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History does not bode well for Sporting Clube de Portugal. No Portuguese team has succeeded at Stamford Bridge. And Chelsea are smarting from their first loss of the season at the weekend. And the rejuvenated on-loan Nani is injured. Defenders Cédric and the Brasilian Jefferson are also out injured. “If we talk about my team Nani is out. Jefferson, Cédric is also out”, the 37-year-old coach Marco Silva said. “I believe in my players. We will fight. Chelsea is always difficult, especially here”.

José Mourinho likes to win, but he knows that Chelsea have not only already qualified, but will top the group anyway. Chelsea have nothing to prove. Their first loss of the season means they are dangerous, but Mourinho has already said that youngsters will feature in his squad tonight. It doesnʼt faze Silva.

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The young players of Chelsea are good for sure”, he said. “They are playing for Chelsea. We are prepared. They are not second choices. They are not just playing. We know they are good and important”.

Focused

But Silva is focused. He knows that a draw guarantees progress to the lucrative knock-out stage of the Championʼs League. “Iʼm very pleased with my teamʼs performance”, he said. “Itʼs just one more match. It will be crucial. Itʼs important for us, especially for Sporting. We have just been to the second stage once and it would be fantastic for everybody, especially the club. We will fight”.

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Slovenians Maribor could do the Portuguese a favour by beating former Blues manager Roberto di Matteoʼs Schalke04, but Silva is not bothered by that match. “Football is too complicated to pay attention to the other match”, Silva said. “One point is our target. If we fail we will wait for the other result, but that would be making trouble. I will not tell the players about the other match. Letʼs see. We want to achieve our objective. I think we [Portuguese teams] havenʼt won any points, but we will fight for our target, one point”.

Mourinhoʼs Wish

Mourinho cut his teeth in management as the late Bobby Robsonʼs interpreter and local coach at Sporting Clube in 1992. Robson was sacked in 1993. Mourinho went with him to Porto and later Barçelona, where he also worked with Louis van Gaal. Mourinho later became phenomenally successful in his own right, winning the Championʼs League with both Porto and Inter. He won trophies in his first spell at Chelsea and at Real Madrid too before returning to Chelsea.

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He has made no secret that he wanted both Chelsea and Sporting Clube to reach the knock-out stage. Chelsea has already achieved their part. “Mourinho said the same thing in Lisbon for the first match between the teams”, Silva said. “He said his desire was to qualify in first place and Sporting in second place, but we want to win regardless of what Mourinho said”.

Aims

A draw is enough, but Silva doesnʼt intend playing for one. “[Playing for] the draw is dangerous” he said. “We know that Chelsea will be very hard, but we have to play within our limits. One point is enough, but we want three points. All my players are important, but nobody was believing in us. Tomorrow we can show everybody. If we qualify there is justice in this group, because we are playing very well and we want to win to qualify. We are guaranteed Europa League [at least]”.

Despite the success of Algerian striker Islam Slimani (2 Championʼs League goals in five matches) who will depart in January for the African Cup of Nations, Fredy Montero will play tonight.

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Montero ruled out excuses, such as Chelseaʼs first defeat and the weather. “The defeat of Chelsea last weekend doesnʼt change anything”, he said. “On the pitch it is eleven against eleven. We respect Chelsea, but we want to play our game. The weather doesnʼt change anything. It is the same for both teams. They are used to playing in this temperature but itʼs okay, we are ready”.

Ambitions

The Colombian striker has played in four of the five matches so far. He has yet to score. “ I am here to help the team when it needs me”, Montero said. “I havenʼt scored in the Championʼs League but it is my dream. I am confident that I can score. I always believe that I can score. I am here to help Sporting and I hope that the manager believes in me. I donʼt think I am the best Montero ever, but I will try to do my best”.

Montero knows that his country has an embarrassment of riches up front. Los Cafeteros shone at the recent World Cup despite the absence of their then talisman Radamel Falcao. James Rodríguez Rubio won the Golden Boot and Juan Guillermo Cuadrado wowed too. Europa League winner Carlos Bacca was an option too as was Portoʼs Jackson Martínez. And thatʼs without Falcao, who despite his loan move to Manchester United, may never return to his lethal best.

Still Montero refuses to give up on forcing his way into José Pékerman Krimenʼs plans. “Every game is an opportunity for me with my national team”, Montero said. “I am happy to play for Colombia. I want to show my worth and be in the national team after the World Cup and for the next year”.

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The Ides of October

by Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (October 10th 2014)

BPL – Under Starter’s Orders

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There are two things on my mind this weekend – the Barclays Premier league and Nigeria’s match against Sudan! I am thinking and looking closely at the real contenders for this season’s BPL trophy already. Just one week into the league season I noted that Chelsea FC looked very seriously like the team to beat this season – not much insight needed there. But Manchester United was proving an enigma. Was last season just a blip, or is there a bigger problem?

Until last week Manchester United looked out of sorts with the much travelled and successful Louis Van Gaal wondering whatever happened to his football magic wand. Van Gaal conceded that this has been his worst and most challenging experience since he started coaching and he acknowledged how difficult it now appeared to be for the club to rise again and play like the champions of old.

Although it is still morning in the league, the signs don’t indicate a typical Man United resurgence. Whatever happened to Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and the new mercurial on-loan striker, Radamel Falcao? Colombia’s talisman looks lost in the team, although he and United have the class to demand not to be written off. Falcao has scored goals wherever he [plays, but ominously United don’t play the way that he has thrived on.

English football’s most expensive player, the Argentinian Ángel di María, may well become the Joker in the pack and alter the fortunes of Man U for good if and when he hits full throttle and finally starts to play as well as we all know he is capable of doing. There’s no doubt that United have bought class players and paid well for them. It remains to be seen whether they will deliver and what place if any will be found for the club’s previous record signing Juan Mata.

Fluctuating Arsenal

The Gunners spent heavily this season, but results show that they still need to spend some more to get the perfect combination going. The Chilean winger Alexis Sánchez arrived from FC Barçelona sporting great credentials, but for me, he has been a great disappointment.

His performances during the World Cup for Chile were so fantastic that even I believed that any club would be lucky to pry him away from Cataluña. Instead, he has looked rather slow and uncertain about how to play in Arsenal, just as the team also continues to display great vulnerability when defending. He may just need time to adjust to a new league and team and his team-mates to him, but football is not known for patience.

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The team’s performance has kept oscillating between mouth-watering brilliance and the abysmal. Arsenal also, like Manchester United, have not played like potential champions. Arsène Wenger still needs to make use of the next transfer window for players that can to shore up the team’s defence. Otherwise, despite celebrating 18 years at Arsenal recently – the longest serving manager in the BPL currently – this may be his last season with the Gunners.

Liverpool face different problems. They have just not struck a great rhythm yet. They have played with the promise of great things, but have failed to be firm in their delivery. There is more bottled up in side the team than being displayed so far. Despite new signings led by Mario Balotelli, along with Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana, world class is hard to replace. Warts and all Luis Suárez is world class and proving hard to replace. Liverpool may find a way to click, but in my opinion they are unlikely to walk alone with the crown this time even if on paper they have the capability.

Impressive Defence

Manchester City FC have been impressive. They are improving with every match, and may indeed have the best front line in the Premiership this season with several attacking options upfront led by Edin Džeko, Sergio Agüero and Stevan Jovetić.

Yaya Touré continues to inspire with his week-in week-out textbook demonstration of how to play in central midfield. When in top form he is the perfect bridge between defence and attack. He surely must be in contention for the best central midfield player in the world, and a leading contender for Africa’s next Player of the Year Award again this December!

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But it is Chelsea FC in England (not in Europe where they have looked boring and have been played tamely) that have shown quite clearly their intention to win the Premiership. The team has played every match with the signature of José Mourinho written all over it. The shoving spat between Wenger and Mourinho last weekend, when Chelsea beat Arsenal with consummate ease, really confirmed Chelsea’s strength and determination this season. They are the team playing with the spirit of potential champions.

Stephen Keshi, Super Eagles and the Ides of March!

The last thing on my mind as we approach this weekend is the most discussed issue in Nigerian football at the moment. As Nigeria Super Eagles of play away in Sudan the match could determine Stephen Keshi’s fate as manager of the Super Eagles.

Undoubtedly, while not plumbing the depths of Berti Vogts’ Super Chickens, the Super Eagles have been anything but super since after the World Cup. Before then Keshi could do no wrong. He had amassed the most successful record for a Nigerian in the history of football in the country. Then he took Nigeria to the World Cup where he put up a fairly good performance until some immature behaviour by the players, that many people have said he encouraged and benefited from, crept in to ruin everything he had worked for.

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With a new Executive Committee that appears not to want him but cannot get rid of him easily, he now faces the biggest threat to his stay as manager of the national team. For now he is hanging on to the job by the skin of his teeth and is likely to be laid off should the Super-Eagles fail to impress this weekend.

The biggest thing going for him is the absence of any alternative to him as coach of the Eagles. In this era of ex-internationals, no other Nigerian ex-international has his rich football management credentials. So, to consider anyone amongst a list of the few in his category is difficult. It can’t be justified.

Samson Siasia, whose name is being mentioned as a possible replacement, would be a hard sell. Nothing has happened in Siasia’s career since he was replaced by Keshi to indicate that he is now a different and better coach. Perhaps, Sunday Oliseh? He looks the part, but can he walk the walk?

I do not like the setting of this weekend’s match at all. I wonder why CAF would allow a match of this magnitude to be played on artificial turf. This could well spell doom for the Super Eagles.

I do not like it one bit! The Super Eagles and Stephen Keshi must beware the Ides of March, or should that be the Ides of October. But good luck to the Super Eagles.

Segun at Wembley

Newcomers handed Plush Group

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 28th 2014)

Mixed Bag for English Clubs

Bulgarian first-timers to the Championʼs League, Ludogorets, were handed a plush group of fixtures as defending champions Real Mardid – ten times winners were paired with five times European champions Liverpool, returning to the top flight of European football in the post Suárez era. FC Basel 1893, who defeated Chelsea home and away last season before losing their the Pharaohsʼ prize asset Mohammed Salah to the west-Londoners, make up Group B.

Manchester City, yet to excel in Europe, have another tough ask. Pep Guardiolaʼs FC Bayern München are the class of Group D, but CSKA Moskva (Moscow) and AS Roma will provide tough opposition. Chilean forward Alexis Sánchez, Arsène Wengerʼs marquee signing for this season will hope to guide his new team past former winner Borussia Dortmund. SC Galatasaray and RSC Anderlecht complete Group D.

2012 champions Chelsea, boasting the return of the legendary Ivorian striker Didier Drogba, face Kevin-Prince Boatengʼs Schalke 04 along with Sporting Club de Portugal. Sloveniaʼs NK Maribor complete Group G. The victory of the Slovenians in the last round of qualifiers avoided the embarrassment of an undeserving Celtic finding a way into the Championʼs League group stage despite by thoroughly outclassed by Polandʼs Legia Warsaw.

Celtic were fortunate to be given a reprieve despite being thrashed by 6-1 on aggregate by Legia, due to the Poles fielding an ineligible player for a couple of minutes of a dead return fixture. A bureaucratic error to be sure, but a classic case of the punishment exceeding the offence. The Scottish champions failed to benefit from their good fortune. Celtic were defeated at home by Sloveniaʼs NK Maribor who took their place in Group G.

Curses

The beaten finalists in the last two Europa League finals, Benfica begin their latest effort to defeat the Curse of their legendary coach Béla Guttmann in Group C in a tough group against and AS Monaco, recently shorn of the Golden Boot winning Colombian maestro James Rodríguez, but still boasting the services of fellow Colombian Radamel Falcao, whose efforts to join Real Madrid seem plagued by Guttmann at his malevolent prime.

Falcaoʼs former club and last yearʼs beaten finalists Atlético de Madrid will face competition from Juventus, Olympiacos and Malmö, as they bid to make club history with a first triumph in Europeʼs top competition. They have a tough group to negotaite, especially after selling prized striker Diego Costa to Chelsea along with defender Filipe Luís Kasmirski. Coach Diego Simeone faces a tough test from teams whose radar are set to ensure Atlético will not evade it.

Fresh from evading the consequences of the serial breach of the rules on transfers of youngsters from foreign nations Barçelona by splurging in the transfer market ahead of the inevitable and fully deserved ban – they knew they were serially breaching that rule – the Catalan giants crammed a couple of years worth of transfer activity into this window. Paris Saint-Germainʼs Zlatan Ibrahimović will play against two former clubs – the Catalan giants and Ajax as well as rank outsiders Apoel of Cyprus in Group F. Porto are the top ranked team of Group H. Ukraineʼs Shakhtar Donetsk will provide the stiffest competition for the Portuguese according to UEFAʼs ranking system. Bilabaoʼs Athletic Club and Belarusʼ Bate Borisov complete the Group.

Awards

For the first time ever the Womenʼs Best Player in Europe Award was presented along with the menʼs. Last yearʼs inaugural award was won by Germanyʼs goalkeeper Nadine Angerer. The repeating champions VfL Wolfsburg provided all the three nominees. Swedenʼs Nilla Fischer and Martina Müller lost to the clubʼs captain Nadine Kessler.

Bayern Münchenʼs flying Dutchman Arjen Robben was nominated along with his team-mate Germanyʼs World Cup-winning sweeper/keeper Manuel Neuer. They were beaten by record-breaking marksman Cristiano Ronaldo, who paid tribute to his team-mates at Real Madrid. The former Manchester United star couldnʼt resist a swipe at Liverpool. Ronaldo pointed out that when Liverppol beat Real 5-0 on aggregate, it was different as he wasnʼt playing for Real then.

Sevilla hope to poop Baleʼs Party

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 11th 2014)

Team Spirit

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Unai Emery Etxegoien is not surprised by Gareth Baleʼs success in Spain. The first time the former Valencia coach encountered the mercurial Welshman Sevilla were on the wrong end of a 7-3 drubbing, but Emeryʼs charges got their revenge. Emery concedes that Real Madrid are the favourites for tomorrowʼs UEFA Supercup. “Of course Real Madrid is the favourite, but we believe we can repeat the feat and beat them”, Emery told a pre-match press conference this evening.

He conceded that they had a strategy, but much would depend on whether Carlo Ancelottiʼs side allowed Sevilla to execute it. Newly appointed Sevilla skipper Federico Fazio praised his teamʼs spirit. “We were able to get that team spirit to overcome opponents that were stronger than us”, the Argentine international said. “The way we work we can bring our qualities to bear on the match”.

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The Homecoming

Gareth Baleʼs world record transfer fee hasnʼt fazed the Welshman. Baleʼs homecoming has dominated headlines, but both Bale and his coach Ancelotti expect to see more from him this season. “Itʼs great to be back home, but the most important thing is to win”, Bale said. “Itʼs nice not being new and start the season settled. Itʼs a lot easier having a pre-season than waiting for a transfer to go through”.

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Ancelotti expects an even better season from him than the last. “Gareth last year had made a fantastic season”, Ancelotti said. “This season is different. He knows the team-mates; he knows the club. Iʼm sure he will be better”.

Emery joined in the praise. “He has adapted quickly and itʼs down to his character and personality”, Emery said. “His style and team match and that has been key to his success”. Meanwhile, Ancelotti couldnʼt resist. “I donʼt know if heʼs going to play”, Ancelotti said. “Could be strange if he starts on the bench”.

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Improvements

Despite his wishes to follow compatriot James Rodríguez out of the French Riviera Radamel Falcao looks set to continue his purgatory in the Principality. Meanwhile the 22-year-old assists leader in Ligue Un capitalised on a magnificent World Cup to earn his move to the Bernabeu for £63m. World Cup winner Toni Kroos also made the move to the European Champions.

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I saw really good player with fantastic quality”, Ancelotti said of James Rodríguez. “Of course he can help the team to be better. Rodriguez will start. I think he can play in front on the wings, behind the forward, but he can also play deeper”. Ancelotti confirmed that the prodigiously talented Colombian play-maker and Kroos will start the Supercup at the Cardiff City Stadium tomorrow night.

While both Emery and Ancelotti want to win the UEFA Supercup tomorrow night both know the real business is La Liga.

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Festival of Samba Football

by Valery Villena © Valery Villena (May 18th 2014)

History

Brazil’s second World Cup is almost here. I can’t wait. CONMEBOL is a a giant of a federation with few members – an almost exclusive club that punches well above its weight. The first World Cup was won by the best team in the world at that time – Uruguay against Argentina in the football equivalent of the Battle of the River Plate.

Europe hosted the next two World Cups – both won by Italy. Brazil hosted in 1950 and were surprised by Uruguay who won their second and to date last World Cup. The tournament returned to Europe for West Germany to surprise the superb Hungarians of Ferenc Puskás and Nándor Hidegkuti. The only break in the hosting and winning pattern came when Brazil beat Sweden 5-2 in Stockholm in 1958.

South America hosted again in 1962. Chile achieved their best ever finish – third – while Brazil became the first and so far only South American team to retain the World Cup beating Czechoslovakia in the final. Four years later England hosted and won and then a CONCACAF country hosted for the first time. A sublime Brazil dismantled Italy 4-1 in that final. Twenty years after surprising football West Germany won again in 1974 – the first of the Netherlands’ consecutive defeats in 1974 and 1978. Argentina hosted and won controversially in 1978 – the last time our continent has hosted to date.

Spain hosted and Italy won for the third time in 1982. Colombia was due to host in 1986. México stepped in to become the first country to host twice. Argentina won again, inspired by one of if not the best player ever Diego Maradona. The result of the 1986 final against West Germany was reversed in 1990 in Italy.

The USA hosted in 1994. Brazil beat Italy on penalties in a dire final. France hosted for the second time in 1998, 60 years after Italy triumphed on French soil. Inspired by Zinedine Zidane. South Korea and Japan hosted in 2002. Both South America and Europe fancied their chances with Brazil prevailing over Germany in Tokyo. Germany finished third when they hosted in 2006 – all four semi-finalists were European and Italy beat France. The last World Cup was Africa’s first. Spain beat the Netherlands in the

final.

So what does this prove? The only teams to have won the World Cup are South American or European. I can’t see that changing in Brazil. European teams almost always triumph in Europe. South Americans have always won when hosted in Central or North America. It’s up for grabs in neutral continents Asia and Africa, but this World Cup is in Brazil – the most successful country in the history of the World Cup. I firmly believe that a South American team will win. So her’s my assessment of them.

CONMEBOL’s Finest

Brazil:A Selecção’ is a well-balanced team. Their talented midfield is tactically flawless and they may have the best defense on the planet. The creativity of Brazil is most evident in their lethal counter-attacks, and they have a certain Neymar, who is ready to explode. They are expected to win the tournament. Can Brazil handle the enormous pressure? Brazil may do that with aplomb.

Argentina:La Albiceleste’ is arguably the best attacking force in the world. Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuaín, Sergio Agüero and Ángel Di María can score against anyone. However, there are question marks on defense and midfield since these areas don’t come close to matching the quality of their colleagues up front.

At any rate, the defense isn’t too shabby, but it doesn’t promise any guarantees either. Obviously, reaching a good balance is the key for Argentina to succeed. They may reach the Final because Messi will probably shine more than ever before and this may be Messi’s World Cup after all, just like Maradona’s in 1986.

Uruguay:Los Charruas’ have excellent forwards in Luís Suárez, fresh from a superb season for Liverpool and PSG’s Edinson Cavani, a strong midfield, and an experienced defense. Diego Forlán can be a super-sub and change the outcome of the matches too.

Uruguay’s tactics in the World Cup will be very conservative; it will have a lot of players in midfield trying to steal the ball for a quick counterattack. They dream of another 1950, and they have enough inner strength and team spirit based on a solid defense and midfield, along with effective striking up front, to reach another semi-final, just like in 2010 is a distinct possibility.

Chile:La Roja’ is very good tactically; everyone knows his role to perfection and the team play really well. They like to press and win the ball back immediately. La Roja has some talented players who can breach the best defenses. They are capable of passing their adversaries to death and/or counter-attack with the best.

Nevertheless, Chile may be vulnerable to a physical side that’s very organized in defense. Such a team may stop them, although everyone this side of Brazil will find them extremely tough to beat. If Chile can win their group – thus potentially avoiding Brazil in the Round of 16 – they may go very far in the World Cup.

Colombia:Los Cafeteros’ are a good counterattacking team. They are most comfortable having nine men behind the ball. They defend with intensity and wait to pounce with swift counter-attacks by using their wingers. Radamel Falcao is out injured and may not be fully recovered in time, but they have capable replacements – Fiorentina’s Juan Cuadrado is in the shop-window. Expect to see the pacy winger move to a big club, especially if he excels in Brazil. Europa League winner Carlos Bacca is another to look out for.

This team is expected to win their group with few problems. However, their lack of success in previous World Cups could be a huge factor against them in the Round of 16 when they face an opponent with World Cup experience.

Ecuador: ‘La Tricolor’ is a solid team, tough to break down and well-drilled. They have a strong midfield that covers a lot of space. Jefferson Montero is a very important and highly skilled player, who may surprise, but Ecuador is an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

The key game for Ecuador will be their first against Switzerland; a win there, and they may be on their way to the Round of 16, where they hope to improve on their 2006 World Cup showing. They play England in Miami just before the World Cup starts.

 

Spanish Resurgence

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (April 40th 2014)

Demolition Derby

Atlético de Madrid’s 3-1 demolition of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge tonight ensured an all-Madrid final. Yesterday, Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid demolished Pep Guardiola’s Tiki-Taka 4-0 in München and 5-0 on aggregate. It’s hard to remember that just a year ago largely the same squad – Javi Martínez was the only major addition to Jupp Heynckes’ treble winners. Last year German football came of age with the all German Champion’s League Final, but a year is a long time in football. The Spanish – Madrid actually – are back with a vengeance.

Guardiola was handed a football lesson by Ancelotti last night and his nemesis José Mourinho got one tonight. The bus had been parked at the Vicente Calderón last week, but a 0-0 draw was far from a disaster as Diego Simeone knew. Chelsea not only had to score, they had to prevent Atlético from doing so and if they couldn’t they would have to attack and be more vulnerable themselves – exactly as Simeone planned.

Faulty Radar

The baton was passed tonight to a talented young coach – one who already boasts trophies on his résumé. Quite how Simeone passed under English radar for so long while building a sterling reputation is one of football’s great mysteries, but nobody underestimates El Cholo in Spain. Lacking the spending power and the depth of the squads of Barçelona and Real Madrid and having been forced to sell Radamel Falcao – it is often forgotten that while learning his trade in Argentina Simeone worked with a young Falcao.

Despite losing the services in recent years of Fernando Torres, Sergio Agüero, Diego Forlán and Radamel Falcao for small fortunes Atlético somehow remain competitive and Simeone remains at the helm – he is just 44. His team leads La Liga by 4 points with just three matches remaining _ real are a further two points adrift, although Ancelotti bagged the first silverware on offer, winning the Copa del Rey at Mestalla against Barçelona.

El Cholo

Atlético were beaten in the semi-final by the eventual winners. If results go their way this weekend only mathematics could prevent them claiming the title for the first time since Simeone was part of the 1995-96 double-winning Atlético team. He won plenty of trophies as a player along with 106 caps for Argentina.

He has a mixed record as a coach in Argentina, including titles before coming into his own in Madrid. He has already delivered the Europa League title, UEFA Super-cup and Copa del Rey and in his third year at the club has the opportunity to win La Liga and the Champion’s League.

He has already outwitted former Real Madrid coach José Mourinho, but Ancelotti poses a very different challenge and one the young Argentine will be relishing as the former Chelsea coach who won the double in his first season at Stamford Bridge denied El Cholo the chance of a treble.

His opponent at the Stadium of Light in Lisbon on May 24th has already won the Champion’s League with AC Milan as well as League titles in Italy, England and France. He is the only double-winner in English football not to win the Manager of the Year Award. It promises to be a fascinating battle of wits for Lisbon to savour. Reports of the demise of Spanish football have once again proved greatly exaggerated.