15 June 2014

WC Diary 2: Messi and Argentina Looked Pedestrian Until the Goal of the Tournament

Day 4 done at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Eleven matches have been played. A total of 37 goals has been scored for an average of 3.36 goals per game. The lowest scoring match was Mexico’s 1-nil win over Cameroon when the winning team had two legitimate goals wrongly ruled out as offside.

No game has been drawn; and neither have there been any party blowouts with volleyball scores. The stadiums are magnificent. The fans are enthusiastic. The shortage of sleep apart, I am truly loving this World Cup!

But of course I am also annoyed that the English have lost to the Italians yet again! The Italians did not defeat England in a full international until 1973; but in recent decades, and especially in competitive matches, the English have not really enjoyed the rub of the green against the Azzurri.

I ought to be pleased, in all honesty. There were five Liverpool players in the starting line-up; Daniel Sturridge scored for the Three Lions; Raheem Sterling was in fine form; and Jordan Henderson, the feller Fergie said did not run right (duh!) was on a World Cup pitch.


Lionel Messi did not look deserving of all the hype… until he went off on a Maradona-esque run in the 65th minute and capped the move with a precision finish that, in my opinion, has been the goal of the tournament so far.

But since when was a loss anything but annoying? The English were actually playing well in the early going while the Italians laboured to make Joe Hart earn his pay. Then there was the failure to spot the training ground routine from which Claudio Marchisio scored.

It was schoolboy defending.

Leighton Baines was having a bad day at the office; but he really should have had some help from Danny Welbeck leading to the cross from which Mario Balotelli scored the winner. My gut reaction when Welbeck slowed down instead of scampering back was, “Uh-oh!”

Then Balotelli, of all people, scored. Don’t anyone get me wrong. I admire Balotelli as a football player; but he has got to be the most annoying personality I have ever known to have broken into the world game. Maybe some will say he is just a colourful personality. I still think he is eccentric and annoying.

Not surprised that Welbeck was soon substituted; although Roy Hodgson will no doubt be wondering why he did not start with Ross Barkley in the first place. As for Baines, why-oh-why was Jon Flanagan not brought along?

And if you all were wondering why in the world somebody from the England bench got stretchered off, it was the physio who dislocated his ankle when he celebrated Sturridge’s goal. Just one more of this World Cup’s colourful side stories.

More annoyance as Côte d’Ivoire came from behind to nip the Japanese, 1-2 in the next live game yesterday. Time – and football – does indeed heal wounds.

I am not old enough to have seen the war – duh – but I still grew up in a generation when the Japs were the villains of children’s baril-barilan games in the yard. Now here I am supporting the Japanese as I do all the Asian teams, probably because they all represent a dream that we all nurture in the back of our minds.

That some day a Philippine team will be in the World Cup. I just pray to God and all the saints that that day will be in my lifetime.

Meanwhile, the Côte d’Ivoire showed how important physique is to the game of football. It was like one army fighting with tanks and its opponents had bamboo poles and sling shots. The Japanese were pitiably being shrugged off the ball time and again.

They might have played the more elegant football and taken the lead by way of a Honda special; but the goal apart, they were not really creating an awful lot of chances to have deserved to win the match.

Those who got up early today caught a first glimpse of Argentina. Frankly, debuting Bosnia-Herzegovina for long stretches made the South Americans look pedestrian; and could have come away from the match with at least a point were it not for an unfortunate 3rd minute own goal by by Sead Kolasinac.

Lionel Messi did not look deserving of all the hype… until he went off on a Maradona-esque run in the 65th minute and capped the move with a precision finish that, in my opinion, has been the goal of the tournament so far.

For younger fans wondering how an itty-bitty country like Bosnia-Herzegovina can put together such an accomplished team with skilful individuals for its World Cup debut, well, the itty-bitty country – along with Croatia – used to be part of this now defunct federation called Yugoslavia.

The states which used to make up the federation were always strange bedfellows, so its dissolution was always a foregone conclusion when the federation’s leader Marshall Tito died. In football terms, Yugoslavia was known as the Brazil of Europe, producing the sort of technically gifted players who were the envy of the rest of Europe.

The upset of the tournament so far, as if I needed to say, was Costa Rica’s scintillating 3-1 victory over favoured Uruguay. This game was similar to the Spain-Holland encounter in that it showed how brittle confidence can be; and how quickly a goal can change the complexion of a game.

Frankly, Costa Rica began as if out of its depth, star-struck and committing the sort of errors that are forgivable in a high school game but ridiculous in the World Cup. Uruguay played elegant football and were in total control in the first half. The match-up initially seemed, in basketball terms, as though one of a PBA team scrimmaging against a UAAP team.

Then came Joel Campbell’s equaliser and suddenly Uruguay lost the plot. It was like the rah-rah of the UAAP team overwhelming the poise of the PBA team. In truth, Uruguay has always had this reputation in international football for lacking pace, something that Campbell exposed time and again.

I have never liked the Uruguayans – Luis Suarez apart, but of course – because, in my youth, they had a reputation for violence on the pitch. For most of the match, I was honestly so impressed with how professional they were and how relatively ‘clean’ the football was that they played.

Until Maxi Perreira swung a full-blooded kick in frustration at Campbell late in the game to earn the tournament’s first red card. Indeed, you cannot hide a wolf.

Finally, a word about Spain. You do not become a bad team overnight, a rout by Holland notwithstanding. I finally watched the replay and did not think anything an awful lot wrong with the Spaniards, particularly in the first half.

The mental fragility, though, will be food for thought for Del Bosque inasmuch as Robin van Persie’s ‘Flying Dutchman’ goal turned the Spaniards around for the worse. Yet how many times will van Persie score that goal even if similar circumstances were to be replicated?

Who knows, then, how different things might have been if, say, the ball had sailed over the bar when van Persie dove to head it?

Those who watched Euro 2012 would have noted how the Spaniards choked the opposition with their pressing. The climate, perhaps, is preventing them from doing the same. Either that or the criticism that the team is old and does not have the legs may have more truth to it than Del Bosque cares to admit.

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