Making The World Go Round

Editorʼs Note

The final of the Europa League will take place in Warsaw a couple of months from now. We covered Polandʼs bow at hosting a major football even and look forward to returning to see how football has helped to develop Polandʼs infrastructures on and off the pitch. Here we republish an article on how politics and football collided with football playing its part in fostering political change.

Derek Miller

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 4th 2012)

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Collision Course

A recurring theme in Euro 2012 was the desire to keep politics out of football. But why? Euro 2012 took place in two countries that know better than most that football and politics, especially liberation theory politics, most definitely do mix.

It was ironic to hear one of Poland’s greatest ever players Grzegorz Lato make that plea.

Lato knows how important the history and politics were back in his heyday as a player and also now. He remembers the 1982 World Cup in Spain well, having had a good tournament. Politics and football didn’t just mix then, they collided full on. Poland and Argentina bore testimony to that on and off the pitch.

The Mix

I don’t want to mix politics and sport”, Lato said. “I had several matches, especially in 1982 during the World Cup in Spain. We were in a group with the Russians and political aspects were very important during those times also”.

That’s not only an understatement, but somewhat economic with the truth. Those were very important times for Poland. Poles living abroad brandished their Solidarność (Solidarity) banners and placards. They filled the stadiums with their protest and defiance of the Polish junta led by General Wojciech Jaruzelski for Poland’s matches.

Damned Junta

Jaruzelski replaced Edward Gierek as Communist Party leader in December 1981 and imposed martial laws, clamping down on Solidarność, putting its leader Lech Walęsa under house arrest. The junta tried to destroy a popular movement and take advantage of football, but it had underestimated both the power of football and the desire of Polish people to be free of the shackles of an oppressive and deeply unpopular regime.

It also tried to censor the political protest made during the matches, thereby underestimating the power of football. Those demanding political change in Poland made far better use of the sport as a mechanism for political change than the then government of Poland.

Failed Junta

Ultimately the junta failed, but in 1982 a good Polish team inspired by the political events in the stands secured third place. Meanwhile, the junta reacted to the impromptu demonstrations by ensuring that Poland’s World Cup matches were broadcast with a delay that allowed it to cut out the Solidarność protests.

But it was too late. Poles already knew from the first match that politics had entered the world of football to great effect in support of political and human rights for them. Both players and Polish people could not claim to be unaware of what had happened.

The junta may have hoped to profit from the success of the team in Spain, but the Solidarność protests ensured that it could not steal the glory of a remarkable achievement by the players.

The collision had occurred and did so in a country that had only recently emerged from a debilitating dictatorship and had undergone an attempted coup just a year earlier.

In 1986 Jaruzelski was told by the then leader of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, that he would not intervene in Polish affairs, forcing the General to negotiate with Walęsa. Four years later Walęsa succeeded Jaruzelski as President of Poland.

Added Spice

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I don’t like politics to get into this”, Lato said as 1982 had added spice – a match against the old enemy, Russia, then part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. But would Lato or any of those complaining about politics and sport mixing object to the political protests of 1982 at the football in support of Solidarność and Walęsa?

I’m looking at the context of the history of Polish-Russian relations from another perspective. This [Euro 2012] is just a sporting competition. I have played against the Russians three times. During the Olympics we won 2-1. We lost 4-1 in Volgagrad and we had a 0-0 draw in Spain, so we are staying away from the politics. We are not interested in all those issues created by mass media. We are not interested in politics”.

A Force for Change

But why not? Politics can change the world. Football also can change the world for the better. Why shouldn’t they combine to do that, for example by opposing and even stopping wars as Didier Drogba did in la Côte d’Ivoire and Seydou Keita tearfully tried to do for his country Mali in this year’s African Cup of Nations? If football cannot and should not do that, then shame on it!

Seydou Keita

So, coming from Lato this plea to keep politics out of football is strange. ‘Communism’ in Poland collapsed just eight years after the Solidarność matches in Spain. Lato was there in that different era and knows that politics and football collided for the greater good.

In the independent Poland that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union – a process that football played a part in – Lato became a Senator and later the President of Poland’s FA, the PZPN. Both were political positions. How can he credibly say that politics and football do not and should not mix?

Football – In Tact as Ever (Part One)

by Traolach Kaye © Traolach Kaye (March 4th 2015)

Hmmm!

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Qatar 2022: World Cup fall-out could tear football apart …” – Dan Roan BBC Sports-editor

If they donʼt believe it, why are they saying it, if they do believe it, they shouldnʼt be soccer analysts, so one way or another, they are wrong. Sometimes when you see these clowns…..well, then, you would have to wonder not about my sanity, but the BBCʼs sanity …”

The latter quote was made by the Former Manchester United and Milwall player, Eamon Dunphy, reflecting on BBC Match-of-The-Day Pundits during the 2006/2007 Premier League Season. So where does this leave us?

Weʼve been here before. Either the BBC donʼt believe what they are broadcasting or publishing, or they have gone mad. If they do believe it, they arenʼt fit for purpose, that purpose being to follow their mission, ʻTo enrich peopleʼs lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertainʼ.

So, what is the BBC saying? In perfect keeping with the tone of their attack which commenced with gusto on December 2nd 2010, the BBC continue to react to every utterance by and announcement of FIFA with a contrary response which both finds fault with whatever pronouncement FIFA has offered whilst seeking to always remind the viewer/reader that FIFA is corrupt, is upsetting football, is racist, is out of touch, hates women, and is just generally no good.

The New Mission

The BBC is no opinion-piece merchant. Funded by the taxpayer, and with an explicit mission to ʻenrich, entertain and educateʼ, they appear capable only of one of above trifecta, namely entertainment. 

Entertaining their own opinion, entertaining the opinion of conventional wisdom, entertaining the opinion of whatever agenda must be pushed, foisted and promoted until the target audience is left in no two minds about how things are and how things must be. Regarding FIFA, they operate a one-size-fits-all policy, employing key words in their riposte, irrespective of what it is that FIFA may have said.

Roan doesnʼt run the BBC, and is merely an agent of same. He is however the sports-editor of the BBC News. Fresh from goading, rather than entertaining, informing or educating Liverpool fans during the protracted takeover of the club by Fenway Sports Group (then a Sports Correspondent) Roan now today finds himself charged with spearheading BBCʼs latest thrust against that perennial threat to Global Peace and Harmony – FIFA.

Knock, Knock, Knocking

The door of FIFA has been kicked, yet the rest of the rotten structure seems not at all close to crashing down. FIFA, the masters of largesse, have pushed out the boat in many quarters, Brazil, Japan, South Korea, South Africa and now Russia and Qatar. This largesse has made them very popular, especially in Asia and Africa.

It is no surprise that these are confederations that have many votes, which comes in handy at election time. Carry Asia and Africa and simple arithmetic tells the result – a lesson some have not grasped. Sepp Blatter certainly understood it.

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FIFAʼs major product – the World Cup – is something nations compete with each other to host. Football is increasingly popular and is the dominant global sport. England wanted to host the 2018 World Cup and failed to get enough votes. The results were a national embarrassment. It was not a bad bid, but it was out of step with FIFAʼs intentions and also those of individual federations.

Ever since, we have been treated to a monologue on the ills of FIFA. We are now expected to believe that Football itself is on the very verge of destruction because FIFA has decided to host the 2022 World Cup during the ʻWinterʼ of that year.

What is Football?

Football? Torn Apart? What is football? What does somebody mean when they say ʻFootballʼ. Do they mean the ball itself? Football, the game or sport? Football, the TV slot? Football, the Industry? 

When Roan and the BBC opine that ʻFootball could be torn apartʼ, they think, or more accurately want us to think, that they are talking about football in the Global, organized grass-roots sense of the word.

Football associations, football clubs, jumpers-for-goalposts, Football tournaments, the very fabric of football itself, the very essence of the game, is at risk. Uncle Sepp is going to get us all. In fact, the BBC are are referring, perhaps blithely, to their own narrow, oblique view of what football is and what football is about. Football the business, football….our businessOur gameThe game we gave the WorldThis thing of ours. 

Outraged?

It is no great leap to suggest that their contrived outrage stems from a sense of loss, a sense of exclusion, that they are no longer running the show and are merely instead a bit part of an organization that pays them no heed.

Third-party private organizations are entitled to organize their events as they see fit. It is up to other parties how they respond to this. Jérôme Valcke, FIFAʼs General Secretary, has told people to “Get on with it”. BBC pundits Danny Mills and Phil Neville agree with Valcke, but Roan has responded by kicking and screaming. He could do worse than consider the sentiments of the aforementioned home-grown pundits and others who have asked candidly, “Whatʼs the problem”?

The problem is that certain people have a bee in their bonnet about FIFA and rather than express it, they prefer to engage in tangential oblique nonsense. Mr Roan wants the reader to consider how the Winter World Cup imposes on the ʻCherished Festive Fixture Programmeʼ. It is lovely alliteration. It is also terrible reason. This ʻFestive Fixture Programmeʼ is not in fact a programme as much as it is semi-organized chaos, itself the subject of no small perennial, year-round criticism by domestic parties, It is bemoaned and criticized by players and managers alike, all year, every year. It is not liked. It is due for reform.

Hedged Bets

The author has hedged his bets. Perhaps aware that the ʻfestive disruptionʼ claim was as tenuous as it was false, Roan claims that More international friendlies are almost certain to be sacrificed.”  But International Friendlies are themselves the bane of the very Premier League whose best interests Mr Roan says are being interfered with.

However, we know how important some of these international friendlies can be. Consider one in particular. England tried to do business with Jack Warner by travelling to Trinidad & Tobago for a nothing friendly in 2008 in order to court Warner into providing support in CONCACAF to vote for England to host the World Cup of 2018. It was a fiasco as extracts of Michael Garciaʼs report on corruption in FIFA show. FIFA gleefully released those extracts, which suggested that Warner et al received a quid pro quo from that ill-advised friendly.

After this match Warner was exposed as corrupt and quit FIFA, exposing some of his dealings with the very dubious former head of the USAʼs federation, Chuck Blazer. Warner has a history – he was caught selling his complimentary tickets for the 2006 World Cup. He paid it back and it was business as usual until Blazer, once Warnerʼs protégé, decided that his apprenticeship had lasted long enough and tried to oust Warner.

It is conveniently forgotten that the fall of Qatari football executive and once cheer-leader of Blatterʼs 1998 bid for the Presidency of FIFA, Mohamed bin Hammam, was originally expelled from FIFA due to his attempt to ʻbuyʼ Warnerʼs influence for his own Presidential bid – exposed by Blazer. The American is no whistle-blowing anti-corruption pioneer. Blazer was neck-high in Warnerʼs shenanigans. But Warner was targeted by England to help their World Cup bid. Does this not question their anti-corruption credentials?

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England now wants to talk about corruption, but what was the football reason for the 2008 fixture in the Caribbean? What did then England manager Fabio Capello gain or learn from it? Did Capello request that particular opponent and if so why? For FIFA, attack became the best form of defence – given an open goal by the FA.

Perhaps England would do well to hold her tongue. but they try to berate FIFAʼs corruption. The BBC was at least consistent. Andrew Jennings has highlighted FIFAʼs corruption issues long before it became fashionable to do so. The FA complained that the BBCʼs Panorama programmeʼs exposé of corruption in FIFA on the eve of the vote impacted negatively on Englandʼs doomed bid.

A cursory examination of recent events lends no small credence to the opinion that England should keep its counsel. England had hoped to host the 2018 World Cup which instead went to Russia – worse still the Russia of Putins, Abramovichs, Usmanovs and Berezovsksy, etc.

England was shocked – outraged even. They had after all run a ʻgreat campaignʼ, part of which had been courting the influence of Jack Warner. Their bid had been officially presented by Prince William, nephew of Prince Andrew, the former trade envoy who told the Serious Fraud Office to keep out of the British Aerospace deal with Saudi Arabia. Glass houses?

Bathwater and Babies – Archive

Editorʼs Note:

These articles were published soon after FIFA announced that the rotation policy that FIFA had introduced to take the World Cup around the world, at the instigation of Sepp Blatter, would be scrapped due to an uncompetitive bid that gave the current World Cup to Brasil. The consequences of that affect Africaʼs chances of hosting the World Cup again. Consequently, we think it appropriate to publish them again.

Derek Miller

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

Couple Posing on the Stairs

Bathwater

FIFA was faced with a stark choice after COMNEBOL had flouted the rules to allow an uncompetitive bid that resulted in Brasil being the sole bid to host the 2014 World Cup after the rotation policy had ensured that the World Cup went to Africa. There were sound reasons for COMNEBOL members refusing to bid and there were no corrupt practices associated with the bidding process.

The enemies of rotation circled their prey. COMNEBOL had breached the rules by not having a competitive bid. What a disgrace? Stiff punishment was of course required. No doubt COMNEBOL would lose its next turn, perhaps two. Er, no. It would not be allowed to bid for the next World Cup. Well that should bring the reprobates into line!

Christ the Redeemer

The fact that COMNEBOL members could not bid for 2018 anyway due to rotation seems to have escaped FIFAʼs notice. The fact that it would not be their turn again for quite a while due to the rotation system anyway also seems to have escaped FIFAʼs notice. And the fact that COMNEBOL members, bar Brasil, had demonstrated that they did not want the tournament this time seems to have passed by unnoticed.

COMNEBOL and UEFA did not like the rotation system anyway. They wanted to get rid of it and they succeeded by COMNEBOL flouting the rules and then got what they wanted as a reward. Surely stiff deterrent punishment was required. What could grab its attention? Obviously, the return to a system that rewarded corrupt practices and one that allows COMNEBOL members to bid to host the World Cup again earlier than under the rotation system would deter such abuses of the system.

Not only has FIFA kept the bathwater, it has retrieved the sewage of the old system and thrown the babies out too.

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Babies

Rotation gave other confederations a chance. Africa deserved a World Cup. Corrupt practices denied it the 2006 World Cup. Rotation came and brought the competition to Africa. Rotation went and back came the dubious practices and accusations of corruption, some of which proved true. But there was no reason for the return to the trough process of deciding who would host the World Cup.

The bidding process that brought the World Cup to Russia and Qatar are mired in corruption allegations. The whole process may have to be repeated. Can FIFA really not see that the system it retrieved is infinitely worse than rotation and that it has brought the whole process into utter disrepute?

Back to Joburg 4

Revamped Rotation

The South American confederation is always going to be a problem because there are only ten countries in that confederation anyway. Realistically only Argentina and Brasil are going to have the resources to host it on their own for the time-being, so it is always going to be like that and obviously so.

There was never going to be a competitive bid from that continent in the current climate – it was pretty bad then as well. “It’s the same argument people raised against Africa,” the CEO of the last World Cup, Dr Danny Jordaan, told us. “We are then arguing why. They are saying that rotation is not a viable policy in the long term.”

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But why not? It just needed a tweak and it would not only be viable, but help make the game global in the truest sense and give bidders from the various confederations the World Cup sooner. It could also control the rampant corrupt practices associated with the bidding processes that followed the end of rotation.

If CONCACAF and the South American Confederation were combined as one region for the purposes of rotation and Oceania added to Asia for another with Africa and Europe on their own the tournament could be rotated between the four regions and have competitive bids as well. That would mean that the various regions get it sooner and as long term policy it would achieve FIFAʼs aims too.

Wouldnʼt that be a better way and a fairer way of spreading the world cup around the globe and controlling the opportunities for corrupt practices? So why hasnʼt this happened? Babies and bathwater, perhaps?

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Babies and Bathwater – Archive

Editorʼs Note:

These articles were published soon after FIFA announced that the rotation policy that FIFA had introduced to take the World Cup around the world, at the instigation of Sepp Blatter, would be scrapped due to an uncompetitive bid that gave the current World Cup to Brasil. The consequences of that affect Africaʼs chances of hosting the World Cup again. Consequently, we think it appropriate to publish them again.

Derek Miller

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

Realities

An uncompetitive bid by COMNEBOL (the South American Football Confederation) resulted Brasil winning the right to host the 2014 World Cup without a contest. The fact that such an approach made sense, especially in the current climate and that certain nations – Bolivia for example – had no realistic chance of hosting the tournament, because they were neither good enough, nor possessed sufficient resources, escaped the attention of FIFA.

Realistically, only Argentina, or perhaps Uruguay as well could have hosted the tournament and have a decent chance of success, but Uruguay lacked he resources. No nation should be allowed to buy the right to sell their country through it. South Africa was never going to win the World Cup, but had they stuck to their plan – a good one – they would not have become the first host nation to go out in the first round.

Paraguay would not disgrace the tournament on the field, but who else in South America could host it. Both Paraguay and Uruguay could not afford it in the economic climate then, let alone now, so that left Argentina as the only realistic alternative to Brasil. The economic climate in Argentina was not good and they had hosted the World Cup in 1978, a staggering 28 years after the most successful nation in the football world last hosted. It was obviously Brasilʼs turn and everybody in COMNEBOL knew it.

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Bathwater

COMNEBOL members recognised these realities. There was little point – none really – in opposing Brasil and wasting resources in the process. How could they tell the poverty-stricken of their countries or even the better off that wanted to create opportunities that they had wasted millions of pounds on a bidding process that everyone knew they could not win? It would have been fiscal irresponsibility of the worst kind and none of them were prepared to do it.

Instead they could invest in programmes for the disadvantaged to create the players of the future of both sexes. They could upgrade stadiums. They could improve sporting infrastructures and much more besides. Refusing to allow this type of bid makes no sense at all. The COMNEBOL members had acted responsibly. UEFA demands fiscal responsibility from football clubs. Well how about some from FIFA at this level too!

Rotation

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FIFA had introduced the rotation system to ensure that confederations such as the African and Asian confederations and also CONCACAF had a fair chance of hosting the World Cup. And letʼs not forget that the post-rotation bidding process that gave the World Cup to Russia and Qatar has hardly been a rip roaring success.

We argued for rotation, but the other possibility under the system of rotation is that the continental federations – whether it is CAF (Africaʼs confederation), or COMNEBOL, whoever, can come together in a congress and decide that we donʼt want competitive bidding,” the CEO of Africaʼs World Cup, Dr Danny Jordaan told us exclusively. “We are just going to appoint one country, so then what can you do? Then it comes to what you are saying as long as it a process that is the position that one country is invested in by FIFA and ends up hosting the World Cup.”

So rotation was removed and the corrupt practices quickly returned. The bathwater was retained and the babies washed away.

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Algeria Earn Another Crack at Germany

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

Heroes

Sporting Lisbonʼs Islam Slimani has earned a permanent place in the hearts of Desert Foxes supporters along with the heroes of 1982 Rabah Madjer and Lakhdar Belloumi – the scorers of Algeriaʼs goals against West Germany. Slimaniʼs 60th minute header equalised Aleksandr Kokorinʼs 6th minute goal.

The draw against Fabio Capelloʼs Russia was enough for Algeria to advance to the knock-out phase for the first time in their history and a clash against of all countries, Germany, the villains of 1982. Algeriaʼs coach Vahid Halihodžić kept his job due to fan-pressure. He has made it clear that the Desert Foxes are playing for their fans.

The North-African nationʼs first appearance in the World Cup Finals left a bitter after-taste. This time they had their fate in their own hands, barring a very unlikely result in the other group match Belgium versus South Korea. That never looked likely as even facing ten men South Korea were beaten 1-0. Algeria only needed to avoid defeat and did so.

Reverse

Taking advantage of a clash of heads that left Valenciaʼs Sofiane Feghouli requiring treatment for a head injury, Russia broke forward. Dmitri Kombarovʼs enticing left-footed cross was powerfully headed in by Aleksandr Kokorin. In pole position Russia sat back and stifled the match. Algeria had to score, making them vulnerable to the counter-attack.

Sergei Ignashevich playing his 100th match tackled Feghouli as the attacking midfielder advanced towards the area. Ignashevich then foiled a cross meant for Slimani too. But Russia had offensive ambitions too. Oleg Shatovʼs penetrating run culminated in a 30 yard shot that went just wide, but Algeria posed a threat too. Abdelmoumene Djabouʼs corner was nodded on for Slimani to head powerfully towards the top corner. Igor Akinfeev took no chances, saving to his left, but it wouldnʼt have counted as referee Cüneyt Çakir had spotted an offside

A minute into the second half Russia had a chance to ease their worries. A lovely move by Russia included a one-two between Kokorin and Aleksandr Samedov before the latterʼs shot required a great save by MʼBoli to keep Algeria in the competition. Five minutes later Kerzhakov showed exemplary determination to force his way past Djamel Mesbah and Tottenham Hotspurʼs Nabil Bentaleb to get shot away, but it was deflected for corner.

The misses proved costly as dreadful marking by Kombarov left Igor Akinfeev stranded as Slimani headed Yacine Brahimiʼs free-kick in for the equaliser that reversed positions. Russia needed to score and Algeria could settle for the draw that they had. They held out for the remaining half hour. Turkish referee Cüneyt Çakir quite rightly booked Algerian squad member Liassine Cadamuro-Bentaïbo when he came off the bench to boot the ball high into the stands to waste some time. Çakir added extra time too. The Desert Foxes would not be denied. A last sixteen tie against Germany was too enticing.

 

 

Desert Foxes Out-fox South Koreans

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 22nd 2014)

Clichés

Itʼs a cliché, but it remains apt. This was a game of two halves. In the first Algeria dominated South Korea. They led 3-0 and could perhaps have had a penalty as well. South Korea regrouped during the interval and came out fighting for their future in the tournament. They outscored Algeria 2-1, but despite demanding a clearance off the goal-line and an outstanding save from Algeriaʼs keeper the mountain proved too high.

Vahid Halihodžić rung in the changes since the naïve defeat to Belgium – five of them – and they paid off as Algeria claimed their first win in the World Cup Finals for 32 years. Trailing 3-0 at half time South Korea changed their mindset and chased an unlikely come-back. A cheeky free-kick had to be cleared off the line and Raïs MʼBoli had to be at his acrobatic best to deny Ki Sung-yongʼs long distance effort, but Halihodžićʼs team held on for a famous 4-2 win, their first since being the victims of a shameful fix in 1982 – one that rightly changed the format of the last round of group stage matches.

Goal-fest

The defending may have naïve on occasion, but this was an immensely entertaining match – everything Belgium versus Russia was not. Kim Young-gwon was fortunate not to concede a penalty after his challenge on Valenciaʼs Sofiane Feghouli. It eventually broke to Yacine Brahimi, who shot over Valenciennesʼ Carl Medjaniʼs 40 yard pass released Islam Slimani to open the scoring with just under half an hour played.

Less that two minutes later Abdelmouméne Djabouʼs corner was headed in by Rafik Halliche. South Koreaʼs goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong was caught in no-manʼs land as he came and failed to make contact. Algeria were two up in les than half an hour and it soon got worse. A long ball was badly defended falling to Slimani, who squared for Djabou to make it three with almost ten minutes left of the first half.

Five minutes into the second half the come-back was on. Kiʼs long pass was controlled in his own way by Bayer Leverkusenʼs Son Heung-min who then beat MʼBoli to engender belief, but two minutes after a fantastic save by MʼBoli, Slimani and Brahimi exchange passes before Brahimi capped of his performance with the goal he deserved. Feghouli got the assist.

An incisive move by South Korea was capped off with a goal as the Koreansʼ pressing paid off. Son made a nuisance of himself, which allowed substitute Lee Keun-ho to square for an easy tap-in for Koo Ja-cheol. With 20 minutes remaining the scoring was over and the Desert Foxes held on for a famous win. There was still time for Medjani to leave Son with a pained expression on his face when he went down and did not get a penalty from Colombian referee Wilmar Roldán.

 

Belgium win Bore-fest

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 22nd 2014)

Dreadful Spectacle

Substitute Divock Origi spared the blushes of Marc Wilmotsʼ touted Belgium. For fans at the Maracaña it was so dreary that Belgium and Russia were booed. Fabio Capello can point to a poor refereeing decision after 27 minutes. Denis Glushakov put Maksim Kanunnikov in on the left of the area. He was plainly brought down by Toby Alderweireld. Referee Felix Brych should have given a penalty, but wrongly waved play on.

Aleksandr Kokorin squeezed between Manchester Cityʼs Vincent Kompany and Spursʼ Jan Vertonghen (who had replaced Arsenalʼs Thomas Vermaellen) to meet Glushakovʼs cross, but headed wide. He had to do better. Russia rarely threatened again.

Belgium offered little in the first half except the odd bright moment provided by Dries Mertens, whose lovely turn embarrassed Sergei Ignashevich, but Romelu Lukaku abandoned the chase as Mertens crossed. Igor Akinfeev dealt with the danger, having promised that there would be no repetition of the error against South Korea.

Progress

With ten minutes. remaining Belgium sprang to life. Substitute Kevin Mirallas struck the post from a 20 yard free-kick with Akinfeev beaten. Andrey Eschenko was put through by Kokorin with ten minutes remaining. His shot from just inside the area went just wide of Thibaut Courtoisʼ right-hand post. It was the last serious threat that Capelloʼs team mounted.

Belgium had the more incisive attacks as Eden Hazard came into his own. Kevin de Bruyne broke forward before passing to Origi, who found Hazard on the left. Chelseaʼs midfielder cut into the area before pulling it back for Origi to give Akinfev no chance. In injury time Mirallas should have scored after an excellent move, but was foiled by Akinfeev.

It didnʼt matter as the win guarantees that Belgium will at least progress to the last 16. Russia must go back to the drawing board, knowing that nothing less than a win against Algeria in their final match will do.