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.

 

 

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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.

 

Own Goals – Archive

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 30th 2012 and modified on May 27th 2014))

UEFA Back Goal-line Assistant Referees

The President of UEFA scored some own goals at this afternoon’s press conference. Michel Platini launched a vigorous attack on technology, believing that it does not help and asking why the debate is limited to just goal-line technology and not for other decisions – a very fair point. However, Platini has no truck with technology at all, although he has no problem with extra officials.

UEFA’s General Secretary Gianni Infantino revealed that UEFA had received former referee Pierluigi Collina’s findings on the experiments with extra assistants. Collina had studied 1000 matches and concluded that the extra officials on the goal-line had reduced errors to just one – the match between Ukraine and England, which was played at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk.

UEFA unanimously accepted Collina’s findings and will urge FIFA and the IFA (International Football Association) to adopt the policy, but both Platini and Collina remain opposed to the use of technology. UEFA argued that the extra assistants improved behaviour in the penalty area. Even if that is true, what about behaviour on the rest of the pitch? Has that improved too as a result of the extra officials and if not, how does UEFA propose to achieve this?

Crazy Idea

There was further controversy. “It’s just an idea”, Platini repeatedly said, but it was one that he insisted had some support. Platini thinks that Euro 2020 could be hosted in several countries – up to twelve. Travel – budget airlines or not – will be prohibitive for fans and some media too. It will also take up time to get between the host cities – more a media point, but the cost for fans, especially, will be high too if they wish to see a few teams play.

Multiplying the host countries will cause all sorts of logistical problems and much more besides. It will be a linguistic nightmare too. Co-hosting causes difficulties in covering both matches and pre-match or post-match training. Choices have to be made, or teams of reporters have to be larger, which may not be an option for various media in the current economic climate.

One of the major complaints about Ukraine has been the absurd accommodation prices. UEFA complained about this, but some prices still remain prohibitive. It was also an issue in Austria four years ago, leading to a collapse in prices when the accommodation was not booked at the high prices.

Such problems apply in Ukraine, which is a pity as by and large the Ukrainian people I met – and I met quite a few in my short stay in the country – are lovely and friendly people who should not be judged by a few greedy and unhelpful people. Multiplying the host countries will multiply such problems, as there will be no opportunity to develop a tourism strategy or spread the sporting development plan.

Plain Wrong

But back to technology. UEFA decided to recommend that FIFA and IFA adopt the additional referees on the goal-line, claiming that it has been very successful in a 1000 with only one high profile error – the goal that never was for Ukraine. Despite Platini’s views, there are clearly issues where technology would help – even something as basic replays.

Check the footage and you will see that there is no do doubt that a serious error was made – one that a replay or review could have put right. The technology exists to improve decisions to correct glaring errors. The officials are human. Even the best of them will make mistakes, sometimes glaring ones. Surely if the correct decision can be made by using technology, that should happen. Cricket allows reviews and uses technology in the Decision Review System (DRS). Why doesn’t football?

Affecting Results

Ukraine’s goal that was not given involved another wrong decision. There was also an error in the build up to that goal, which had benefited Ukraine. This was a case of two errors – one for either side. Does two wrong decisions now amount to one right decision? But regardless of that there were errors in other matches, which were important ones.

At least two serious errors would have been caught before they had serious consequences if the use of basic technology had been allowed. Nevertheless, Platini claimed that there were no refereeing errors that affected the outcome of a match. This is wrong.

One is the yellow card given by Jonas Eriksson to Giorgos Karagounis for diving in the match against Russia in Warsaw. The replays showed that there had been contact between defender Sergei Ignashevich and Karagounis, who went down in the box. Not only was it not a dive, but referee should have given a penalty. At the very least, there was significant doubt about whether Karagounis had dived. If there was contact and there was, how could it be a dive? It affected the outcome of a match – the next one.

Karagounis was the Man of the Match against Russia, but that card ruled him out of the quarter final. Karagounis was certainly an influential player for Greece. His goal won the match and sent Greece into the knock-out stages. How can it not have affected the outcome of the following match when one of Greece’s best players was wrongly ruled out of the quarter final?

It affected Greece’s game plan. They were given no choice but to play a completely different plan to the one they would have used if Karagounis had been available to play as he should have been. In his absence, Greece lost 4-2 to Germany at the Arena Gdansk (Poland). They never had the opportunity to see if he would have made the difference and the referee Eriksson was retained for the knock-out stages despite that error.

The other error was glaring and Greece were victimised by that one too. Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo has a habit of sending people off. During the 2011-12 season in Spain he issued 16 red cards in 19 matches that he refereed.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos received a second yellow card for fouling Poland’s Rafal Murawski just before half time. Even that card was harsh, but the previous one beggared belief. Just before that he received a 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”!

Impact of Errors

The match ended a 1-1 draw. Lewandowski had put Poland ahead after 17 minutes. Substitute Dimitrios Salpingidis equalised after 51 minutes. A crucial incident occurred on 68 minutes. Poland’s goalkeeper Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny was rightly sent off for a professional foul on Salpingidis. Replacement goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton saved Karagounis’ penalty.

Had the correct decisions been made Greece would not have had Papastathopoulos sent off. Then they would not have had to play 48 minutes plus added time in both halves with ten men and would or at least could if Velasco Carballo did not find reason to send off another Greek player, which he did not do, have had the opportunity to attack Poland with a man advantage for 22 minutes plus added time after Poland had had no option but to make a tactical decision to withdraw midfielder Maciej Rybus – a decision that affected Poland’s attacking options, especially when facing a full compliment of Greeks. How can it possibly be claimed that Velasco Carballo’s decisions, which could have been reviewed with the use of replays – the game had stopped after all to give the fouls and cards – to ensure that the correct decisions were made did not affect the outcome of this match?