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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Chelsea held by Schalke

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar )September 17th 2014)

Held

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Captaining Schalke04 in the absence through injury of World Cup-winner Benedikt Höwedes, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar latched onto Julian Draxlerʼs through-ball to beat Thibaut Cortois. Huntelaarʼs strike just past the hour equalised Cesc Fàbregasʼ controversial opener after 11 minutes. The Spanish midfielder fouled Max Meyer and then linked up with Hazard to put the Blues ahead.

Croatian referee Ivan Bebek waved Schalkeʼs protests away and booked Huntelaar for his. To some it was poetic justice that Fàbregas appeared to be fouled in the build-up to Schalkeʼs equaliser and that Huntelaar scored it.

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The Legend Returns

Without a win so far this season Schalke faced a hard task, but emerged from Stamford Bridge fully deserving the point they won by holding José Mourinhoʼs in form Chelsea. Didier Drogba got his first start since his return to Chelsea two years after playing a vital role in bringing the Championʼs League trophy to Stamford Bridge. The Ivorian was off the pace, but having played in China and Turkey for the last two seasons that was to be expected.

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Drogba spurned chances to add to Chelseaʼs lead. Five minutes into the second half, Nemanja Matić dispossessed Huntelaar and passed to Hazard who switched ball from left to right. Willian pulled the ball back across Ralf Fährmannʼs goal, but Drogba couldnʼt connect. Ten minutes later Eden Hazard,, poised to become one of the highest earners in football aged just 23, put Drogba through. The striker should have scored, but a heavy touch made the angle harder than it should have been and Drogba shot wide.

Nip and Tuck

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Ten minutes before half time Fàbregas spurned a golden opportunity to add to Chelseaʼs lead. Branislav Ivanović set him up, but the former Arsenal prodigy shot over the bar from near the penalty spot. The former Tottenham Hotspur and AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boataeng drew a save from Belgian international Thibaut Courtois from 20 yards out midway through the first half.

The impressive Draxler ought to have levelled just before half time as he carved a swathe through Chelseaʼs defence before shooting wide. He wanted a corner that never came.

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Ten minutes into the second half Hazard was on the end of a move begun by Matić. It involved Fàbregas and a one-two with Drogba before Hazard shot wide. Shortly afterwards Boateng drew a save from Courtois from a 35 yard effort and John Terry thought he had a scored a stunner rather than earn the booking that Bebek gave him. Draxler shot with just under 20 minutes remaining required a decent save by Courtois and Hazard tested Fährmann again in the final ten minutes as well as spurning another chance to take all three points.

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Opening Round

Meanwhile, a late equaliser in Slovenia gave Celticʼs conquerors Maribor a point after Naniʼs late strike gave Sporting Lisbon the lead. Juventus beat Malmö 2-0 after Carlos Tévez scored his first goals in the competition since leaving Manchester United. Olympiacos beat last seasonʼs beaten finalists Atlético de Madrid 3-2. Liverpool left it very late – a Steven Gerrard penalty – to beat Bulgarian newcomers Ludogerets Razgrad. Real Madrid put recent woes behind them, by thrashing Basel 5-1. André Villas-Boasʼ Zenit St Petersburg defeated Portuguese champions Benfica 2-0 in Lisbon and Monaco beat Bayer Leverkusen 1-0.

Arsenal prop up Group D after Jürgen Kloppʼs Borussia Dortmund beat them 2-0. Anderlecht drew 1-1 with Galatasaray in Turkey. Jérôme Boatengʼs injury time strike gave Bayern München a 1-0 win over Manchester City, while AS Roma thrashed CSKA Moscow 5-1. Gerard Piquéʼs goal was enough to ensure that Barçelona beat APOEL 1-.0 while Paris Saint-Germain and Ajax drew 1-1.

The champions of Belarus BATE Borisov were taken apart by Porto 6-0. French-born Algerian international Yacine Brahimiʼs hat-trick makes him the leading scorer in this seasonʼs Championʼs League so far. Ukraineʼs Shakhtar Donetsk held Athletic club 0-0 at the San Mamés Stadium.

Roller-Coaster

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

The Prodigal

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Suspended indefinitely by the Ghanaian Football Federation after an altercation with the Black Starsʼ coach James Kwesi Appiah that saw him sent home from the World Cup, Schalke04ʼs German-born international Kevin-Prince Boateng must wonder whether it was worth reversing his decision to retire from international football and whether he made the right decision pledging his allegiance to the Stars rather than Germany.

Boateng was a former German youth international left Brasil early. Meanwhile his half-brother Jérôme was part of Germanyʼs World Cup winning team. The brothers have faced each other in World Cup matches twice. Four years ago Kevin was a hate figure in Germany when a mistimed tackle on Michael Ballack put the then German captain out of the World Cup. Boateng apologised to Ballack, but criticised both the German FA and national team manager Joachim Lõw. Ballackʼs international career ended controversially.

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Uncompromising

Boatengʼs disciplinary record has been troublesome, but the box to box midfielder deserves credit too. He moved to AC Milan in 2010 and made headlines for all the right reasons. Within 14 minutes of coming on as a substitute against Lecce, he had bagged a hat-trick, only the second by a substitute in Serie A

He also led the five main leagues in sendings off in 2012-2013 averaging one every six games. before deciding to leave Italy for Germany and Schalke 04. Boateng decided to change his international allegiance from Germany to Ghana. It was approved in May 2010, causing him to miss the Black Starsʼ run to the final of the African Cup of Nations in Angola.

In November 2011 he retired from international football, citing the effect of long distance travel. He was just 24 and once again missed the African Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea and also South Africa in 2012 and 2013. He played in two World Cu campaigns, but his indefinite suspension suggests that he will never grace Africaʼs top competition – the next edition takes place in Morocco next year.

Uncompromising on the pitch Boateng proved himself an implacable opponent of racism too. During Italyʼs mid season break in January 2013, Pro-Patria, then in Italyʼs fourth tier played against AC Milan. Their fans racially abused Boateng who booted the ball into the stands and walked off the pitch in protest, followed by his team-mates. While some criticised him for walking off the pitch other praised his stand. Clarence Seedorf, then playing for Botafogo in Brasil thought Boatengʼs reaction played into the hands of racists.

They should just be identified and kicked out of the stadium,” Seedorf said. “Leave the 90% that were enjoying the match and finish the game. If Boateng was able to identify the whole corner, you just kick the whole corner out, That is how I think it should be handled Walking away? Yes, you send a signal. But this has happened more than once and I donʼt think it really changes all that much. We are just empowering that little group with their behaviour to make this mess”.

Among those who took to Twitter to support Boateng were Rio Ferdinand, Vincent Kompany and Patrick Vieira. “If the stories about KPB walking off the pitch with teammateʼs (sic) after being racially abused are true, fair play to him..well done #UefaStandUp”, Ferdinand said at the time.

Manchester City captain Kompany fully supported both Boateng and his then club. “Act of racism against Boateng during Milanʼs friendly” Kompany tweeted. “How about becoming extremely intolerant towards racist idiots”? UEFA has adopted penalties for racist conduct as did FIFA, but the problem persists despite close calls to a walk off previously – notably Samuel Etoʼo and Marc Zoro.

They need to be told I can only salute Milanʼs decision to leave the pitch”, Kompany tweeted. “Also noted that the majority of the fans were completely supportive of the players”.

Vieira, working with Manchester Cityʼs youth structure at the time, which he retains despite his subsequent promotion to reserve team manager, was vociferous in his support of Boateng. “It was brave of Kevin Prince Boateng to do what he did today, and it was the right thing”, Vieira said on Twitter. “We need to stand up and stand together. Well done”.

Boateng was appointed to FIFAʼs Anti-Discrimination Task Force under the CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb. He presented his proposals earlier this year. Boateng also became an ambassador for the United Nations against racism in March 2013. He told FIFA President Sepp Blatter that he recognised that he was wrong to walk off the pitch, but that strong action needed to be taken.

Welcome

Last season Boateng completed the most dribbles in the top five European leagues. He is now an integral part of Schalkeʼs plans. Ghanaʼs decision to dispense with his services is the German clubʼs gain. Tonight he returns to England for his clubʼs opening fixture in the Championʼs League against Chelsea, weeks after playing a friendly against his former club Tottenham Hotspur.

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He was given a warm reception by Spurs fans. “Obviously itʼs a mark of respect and I think Kevin obviously did a very good job here”, Tottenham Hotspurʼs German international Lewis Holtby said. “Otherwise the reception wouldnʼt have been that good. I think itʼs good for him and itʼs good to see Tottenham fans being so positive”.

In the absence of Schalkeʼs captain the World Cup-winning German defender Benedikt Hõwedes, the responsibility on Boateng is even higher. “Heʼs a great player, a great personality, so heʼs very important for us and we are very happy that heʼs in our team”, Swiss international Tranquillo Barnetta told us.

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Making History

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

Injuries

Hit by injuries German outfit Schalke04 face in form Chelsea in the first match of Group G of the Championʼs League at Stamford Bridge tonight. Schalkeʼs injury list is problematic too, headed by their captain Benedikt Höwedes, fresh from this summerʼs World Cup triumph. “Of course, itʼs very difficult if you lose your captain and from a central defence berth and itʼs also a very difficult situation”, Schalkeʼs manager Jens Keller said. “Weʼve still got a little bit of time to think about what our solutions are and what options there are for us”.

A morale boosting result against Bayern München was tempered by the injury crisis. The loss of Höwedes being the hardest blow. “I donʼt know how long heʼll be missing for”, Keller said. “Heʼs a very important player for us. Heʼs very confident now having won the World Cup and weʼve got lots of games ahead of us, two games a week, so weʼre hoping it wonʼt be too long”.

Their left sided defender Dennis Aogo agreed. “It depends whoʼs actually missing”, the sometime midfielder said. “In this case itʼs our captain, but weʼve got quite a few players missing. Itʼs not easy for us players, but we have to try and compensate and we have to try and cope with that situation whereby the players that are on the pitch, maybe theyʼve got to take on a little bit more responsibility. We canʼt just sit here and say weʼre sorry for ourselves, we have to give our best on the pitch and try and compensate for that”.

Familiarity

“I donʼt think weʼre under any more pressure than we are every year you know, because being a club like Chelsea this is our eleventh consecutive season in the Championʼs League”, Chelsea Director and Club Secretary told us. “You know weʼve been in the semi-final about eight times and two finals and also people expect us to be there or thereabouts every season, so weʼre always under that sort of pressure”.

Chelsea played Schalke last season too – a season that ended poorly by Chelseaʼs standards without a trophy. Nevertheless Chelsea were there or thereabouts and are the favourites of Group G. “I think that Chelsea will definitely have a say in this competition and are a very, very good team and they showed that last season and theyʼre showing it this season as well”, Keller said. “Weʼve learned that mistakes get punished. Weʼve learned that home and away last season and theyʼre a top team and now with the new acquisitions theyʼve got, even more a top team”.

Barnard recognises that Chelsea got a draw that they should progress from. “I think this time round when you look at our colleagues from the Premier League and the groups that theyʼre in, I think people are saying we got the better of the draw … in terms of the opposition, but weʼre not taking lightly our group”, he said. “Weʼll be playing Schalke, and Schalke we played last year in the group stage. Hopefully we can repeat those performances”.

A Tough Ask

Meanwhile, Aogo agreed with his manager. “Well of course in Germany, weʼve seen that heʼs had a great start to the season, but itʼs not just him”, Aogo said of on fire new Chelsea signing Diego Costa. “I mean the whole teamʼs doing really well. Not for nothing are they number one in the Premier League. Weʼve just got to give our best”.

Aogo knows that Schalke face a difficult task. Shorn of top players through injury the burden is higher on the others. “Weʼre playing against some of the best players in the world”, he said, “so we donʼt really need any extra motivation. Last season we actually started very well. Maybe weʼve got to be a little bit more clever in the way we play, but what is there to say against us having a good day and competing at the highest level?”

Despite the mounting problems Keller remains optimistic too. “Well Iʼm a very positive person”’ Keller said. “Youʼve got to remember that anything is possible in football. Also when we played against Bayern Munich people said we didnʼt have much a chance there and we showed what we could do there, so anything is possible; thatʼs what Iʼm saying”.

Spurs Spoil return of the Prince

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

Tuned Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Changes

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

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

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

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Zero Vier

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

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

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

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

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

Strength

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

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

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

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

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Argentina Pip Netherlands

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

Drab Spectacle

Louis van Gaal is no Felix Okey Emordi. Hailed as a genius for substituting Ajaxʼs Jasper Cillessen for penalties hero Tim Krul in the quarter-final van Gaal left no room for repetition when he replaced an ineffective Robin van Persie with Schalke04ʼs Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – his third and final substitution.

A drab 0-0 draw meant penalties and Cillessen had never saved one in 13 attempts. Argentina won the penalty shoot-out 4-2, scoring all four to bring Cillessenʼs record to 0 for 17. He got hands to Maxi Rodríguezʼ final spot-kick, but could not keep it out. Sergio Romero, who had spent a season on-loan with Monaco, but confined mainly to the bench in France was the hero. Defender Ron Vlaarʼs penalty was poor and Wesley Sneijder saw his well-saved.

Missing in Action

The match – billed as Lionel Messi versus Arjen Robben in advance didnʼt turn out that way. Bayern Münchenʼs Robben was shackled by a masterful exhibition of defending by Barçelonaʼs Javier Mascherano. Extra time was largely forgettable although Newellʼs Old Boysʼ Maxi Rodríguez should have had an assist when he put Interʼs Rodrigo Palacio through with just Cillessen to beat. Palacio nodded it into the grateful arms of Ajaxʼs shot-stopper.

Cillessen may not be a penalty stopper, but he certainly doesnʼt lack confidence or ball skills. Both Gonzalo Higuaín and the Napoli strikerʼs replacement Sergio Agüero were left with egg on their faces by the same back-heel and turn to find space to start a counter-attack. FIFA did at least learn a lesson from yesterday. A minuteʼs silence or applause was observed for the great Alfredo di Stéfano. Argentina will play Germany at the Estádio do Maracanã on Sunday while Brasil and the Netherlands will meet for third or fourth in Brasilia – the final that should have been if the thuggish Argentine dictator General Jorge Videla Redondo had not been allowed to bully his way into getting the result that he wanted in 1978.

 

 

Van Gaalʼs Bluff Pays off

 

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 5th 2014)

The Bluff

Despite making an excellent save to deny Kuban Krasnadorʼs Marco Ureña Porras and keep his country in the World Cup a few minutes before the end of extra time, Ajaxʼs Jasper Cillessen was replaced by ʻpenalties specialistʼ Tim Krul. It was a very brave call by Dutch manager Louis van Gaal, especially as Krul did not have a good record with penalties. He had only saved two out of twenty for Newcastle United. Ironically Swanseaʼs Michel Vorm has a better penalty saving record.

Krul emerged the hero despite his gamesmanship, which worked. Van Gaal and Krul got into the heads of the Costa Ricans. Bryan Ruiz Gonzálezʼ penalty was weak and saved by Krul. They didnʼt work on the Columbus Crewʼs Giancarlo González or FCKʼs Christian Bolaños Navarro, but Michael Umaña Corrales – one of the Costa Rican-based players in Jorge Pinto Afanadorʼs team – was psyched out by Krul.

Not even the Man of the Match performance of Levanteʼs Keylor Navas Gamboa could deny the Dutch from the spot as all four of their penalty-takers scored.

Credit Where itʼs Due

Van Gaal was hailed a tactical genius, but credit where itʼs due, this was not the first time this tactic had been tried and succeeded. In 2004 FC Enyimbeʼs coach Felix Okey Emordi did it twice to the bemusement of his number one Vincent Enyeama in the African Championʼs League and it worked both times. Tunisiaʼs Esperance were astonished when Dele Aiyenugba replaced Enyeama for the penalty shoot-out.

Aiyenugba emerged the hero as FC Enyimba advanced to the final. Enyeama was back between the sticks for the final, but with penalties looming Emordi decided that a repeat dose was necessary. Aiyenugba was the hero again as FC Enyimba retained the Championʼs League on penalties. Tunisiaʼs Étoile du Sahel fell at the final hurdle to the same tactic. To try the tactic twice in a semi-final and repeat it in a final takes incredible courage and is worthy of great credit.

The Fairytale Ends

The USA reached the semi-final of the inaugural World Cup in 1930, but that was years before CONCACAF was founded. Costa Ricaʼs previous best was the last 16 in 1990. They bettered that and gave the Netherlands a run for their money. The match really came alive in extra time. Two minutes into the first period Robbenʼs corner was headed goal-ward by Ron Vlaar. Navas saved. He was hurt shortly afterwards, but recovered to continue.

A minute after Navas resumed Ureña received a throw-in from substitute Dave Myrie and cut into the box. He went down under Aston Villaʼs Vlaarʼs challenge wanting a penalty which Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov declined to award. It was third penalty appeal that the surprise package of this World Cup could and perhaps should have had – two in normal time.

After 23 minutes of extra time Galatasaray midfielder Wesley Sneijder slotted it through for PSV Eindhovenʼs Memphis Depay, who was just offside. He shot anyway and Navas made his customary excellent save. With less than five minutes left Myrie intercepted Daley Blindʼs punt forward, kicking on for Ruiz to head into Ureñaʼs path.

The man who replaced Arsenalʼs on loan Joel Campbell Samuels after 65 minutes dribbled into the area, but his shot was well saved by Cillessen to keep the Dutch in the contest. With two minutes of extra time left Sneijder finally found a way past the excellent Navas, but his 25 yard shot hit the post. A lazy shot by Schalke04ʼs Klaas-Jan Huntelaar went out of play allowing van Gaal to bring Krul on for the perplexed Cillessen.

Immense

Navas enhanced his reputation once more and will surely earn a move to a bigger club – Levante would be crazy if they let him leave for a cent less than his buy-out clause. He was absolutely immense. It began just after 20 minutes as a move involving Bayern Münchenʼs Arjen Robben, Fenerbahçeʼs Dirk Kuyt, Depay and finally Manchester Unitedʼs Robin van Persie on the left, but Navas saved well. The rebound was helped on to Sneijder by Depay, but Sneijderʼs shot was never going to beat Navas.

Six minutes later Ruiz was shoved in the back by Sneijder. Irmatov gave a free-kick which Bolaños whipped in, but it went out of play although AIK Stockholmʼs Celso Borges Mora was manhandled by Bruno Martins-Indi. Replays confirmed that it should have been a penalty, as the Feyenoord defender was impeding Borges, as the replays confirmed. Irmatov either missed or ignored the offence.

A minute later van Persie surged forward and slotted Depay in, but Navas was equal to the task again. With under ten minutes of the first half remaining Júnior Díaz Campbell who booked for tug on Robben. Sneijder tries free-kick from 25 yards out, but well saved to right by Navas. Five minutes later PSV Eindhovenʼs Georginio Wijnaldum poked it through to Robben. The Dutch winger put van Persie through on left of area, but Navas rushed off his line quickly to claim at van Persieʼs feet.

Intense

With just under an hour played FSV Mainz05ʼs Díaz found space on the left wing and crossed for Campbell who was pushed in the back by Martins-Indi. Again it looked a penalty, but wasnʼt given. A minute later when Feyenoordʼs Stefan de Vrij committed the same offence nearer the half way line than penalty area. That was given, but the opportunity was wasted.

With just over ten minutes of normal time left Kuyt crossed from the right, but found Dynamo Kyivʼs Jeremain Lens just offside. Navas saved his header anyway. A minute later despite suggesting that Robben had dived González was booked for tugging him off. Sneijder responded with a fantastic free-kick, which hit the near post with Navas beaten – he had earned some luck. And two minutes after that Robbenʼs free-kick broke to van Persie on right of area. His turn to make room to shoot was magnificent, but once again Navas was equal to it.

In added time Díaz who had already been booked was fortunate to avoid another card for tripping Robben on the right edge of the area. It was a dreadful tackle. With added time drawing to a close the Dutch had one more great opportunity.

Blind crossed from left. It deflected off Costa Rican side Deportivo Saprissaʼs Yeltsin Tejada Valverde to van Persie whose shot beat Navas, but was miss-hit onto bar by Tejada on the line. Extra time came and went and Costa Ricaʼs dream was ended on penalties. The Netherlands will face Argentina in a repeat of the controversial final of 1978 which helped to prop up the disgusting dictatorship of the late and unlamented General Jorge Videla Redondo.