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The usual suspects – a post mortem July 12, 2006

Posted by ramanand in Football WC, Ramanand.
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Now that drama has butted in and left, and also that it is just less than a week after, perhaps it is a good time to quickly revisit Arnold’s question on the not so glorious certainties of the WC i.e. why are most of the football WCs dominated by the same set of superpowers.

This world cup, more than any in recent times, has seen a lack of its fair share of huge upsets. Portugal, the only semi-finalist, without a WC crown cannot be compared to Croatia or South Korea in past years. So why do the same teams strut about every 4 years?

Take a look at the Czech Republic. After a stunning opening, they faltered rapidly (much to my dismay) once they had their chief strikers on the injury list. OTOH, Germany and Italy could stave off cards and crashes by sheer depth in their squad. Most of our usual suspects had great depth, perhaps not so much in world-class talent but in a decent standard and ability to replace players with ease.

Mental strength and a sense of confidence in certain situations like the penalty shootouts saw the likes of Portugal, Italy and Germany succeed. Contrast this with Switzerland. Italy is a new addition to this list after years of failing from the spot as a team. But ever since Totti’s glorious corner slot against the Aussies, they haven’t looked back.

As for the French, well, sheer memory, both muscle and mental, seemed to have pulled them through.

So go on: tell us the reasons why Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Portugal and France (now legitimate usual suspects?), and to a small extent England – a veritable Rogue’s Gallery of World Cup aspirants – were incriminating themselves again this quadrennial.

Gauls Versus the Romans July 7, 2006

Posted by samratsengupta in Football WC, Samrat, Uncategorized.
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So a World Cup final straight out of Asterix Comics. Though the French team composition reflects more of the motley collection in  the “pirate ship” of Asterix (which by the way perpetually gets sunk) rather than the Gauls. I hope I am not being racist here as Monsieur Le Pen, who commented about the French team being uncomfortably polychromatic for his eyes. 

Italians and French are culturally close, both people are supposed to be argumentative,not workaholics( being politically correct here 🙂 ), expressive in love,  they have fashion twins in Milan and Paris. France also ruled over Italy for much of the 18th and 19th century, Napoleon even designed the Italian Flag. French team is a good ad for United Colours of Benetton. The team colors and nicknames are also Blue. Azzuri( from Azure) and Les Blues. Surprisingly even Uderzo (Goscinny and Uderzo creators of Asterix) is of Italian descent, still he surprisingly champions French chauvinism in the Asterix series.

French seem to have taken a swig of Getafix potion after their tepid group display. It also lulled the other teams into a false sense of complacency.  The French attacking midfield has been a revelation, they have a perfect trio in Ribery, Zidane and Veira. Operating at a dual level with the pacy Ribery and the languid and composed Zidane, with Viera adding the robustness. Opponents cannot gauge at what speed the French will attack, this multi-dimensional capability gives them the edge. For Zidane time slows down, he has so much time at his disposal( similar to Federer), though he is past his peak still he is one of the best midfield operators in business The only bad egg in the french basket is the egg-head Barthez, his blunders may sink the French ship.

The Romans are also well-organized as ever. The Italian team has the right blend of youth and experience. The icons Totti and Del Piero would also be as determined as Zidane as it is their “Last Supper” also. The hit men Luca Brasi(Toni) and Gilardino are sharp. Pirlo and Camoranesi add to the flair. Defence is impregnable with Cannavaro being the marshal, Nesta’s return would bolster it further. Gattuso is the wild cannon in the middle to thwart attacks. But most reassuring is the imposing figure of Buffon in goal.

Italians have the twelve year cycle in WC 70 (RU),82 (W),94(RU),06(W?) . But the French coach Domenech with Linda Goodman and MM Joshi as advisors, would have something in store to counter this.

Overall I expect a thrilling WC final, the best since 1986.  

Spiku July 4, 2006

Posted by Abhishek in Abhishek, Football WC.
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Here’s my attempt at Sports haiku or spiku. Yes, yes it does not exist, I know, but hell, even Spamku did not exist at one time.

And then the four saw
Sternly eye to eye,
Leaving just twenty-two.

WC Musings June 30, 2006

Posted by samratsengupta in Football WC, Samrat.
3 comments

World cup excitement this time has percolated down even to the mainstream media, the airtime and print columns dedicated to soccer this month is unprecedented, I feel it is almost equivalent to that given for the cricket WC.

This has brought football popularity out in the open. Hopefully this would popularize football even more, attract sponsors and lead to some tangible improvement in the local infrastructure and standards. Enough daydreaming.

The new offside rule has caused lots of heartburn for many teams, but I think the rule is a positive move, otherwise most of the defences had perfected the offside traps, now they have something more to think of. I get really irritated to see numerous offside whistles, it breaks the rhythm of the game. Was really surprised to see the African teams playing a high defence line, and getting caught many times by forwards breaking the offside trap. The African teams are not known for their tactical nous, so such trap implementations do not come easily to them, and I feel they should not deploy such tactics. They should rely more on their natural strengths. Play man-to-man or zonal defences. The Ghanian defender John Mensah really impressed me, reminded me of Marcel Desailly in his peak. He got an appropriate moniker of the “Rock Of Gibraltar”.

The Germany Argentina match has all the ingredients of being a classic and I am sure we would not be disappointed and I believe the winner of this match is going to take home the cup.

England surely lack the passion, their players look somewhat flat, and have belied the pre-tournament optimism about them. Portugal has been a revelation , they seem to be the hungriest of all teams to win. Though it seemed the same with Spain and Holland , but unfortunately got knocked out.

Most surprising was that all the previous winners who participated in this edition have qualified for the QFs. My friend Arnold would be pretty pleased that his point of view has been vindicated https://sillypoint.wordpress.com/2006/05/31/the-not-so-glorious-certainties-of-football/

and we can safely say that the winners would be among them, considering a weak Ukraine and a sub-staffed Portugal.

My only wish is that Samba’s cute butt gets kicked and they do not walk away as the winner. French geriatrics or Portuguese streetfighters/English Flat beers, seem to have an uphill task though.

Worried about England? June 29, 2006

Posted by Abhishek in Abhishek, Football WC.
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Here is something to mull over. Nicely detailed and wickedly British.
Meanwhile, some Robbo picks of the day :

[…] enjoy the Valentin Ivanov show, featuring brief guest appearances from Portugal and Holland.

(About Ronaldo) A goal for every stone.

[..] the Azzurri don’t even have to work to close the match out – which of course delights Francesco Totti – the biggest and laziest jessie in the tournament. The only decent pass he’s played so far is in that Pringles ad.

I haven’t seen so many shimmies, hip-wiggles and step-overs in ages – Cole, Ronaldo (the slim one), Robinho, Tevez, Robben – all look like they’re auditioning for Celebrity Strictly Come Dancing.

Read the whole thing. 

Good on ya, mate. June 27, 2006

Posted by Abhishek in Abhishek, Football WC.
10 comments

I am writing this after watching the Aussies go out to due to an extremely hopeless decision for a penalty in the dying seconds of their game against Italy. Agreed, the decision was hopeless and completely wrong, but even though I was strongly strongly rooting for the Aussies (reasons for which might come later someday) I will not criticize the referee.

In fact I will remind the Italians of the events of KJ – 2002, when the Ecuadorian referee who made some really appalling decisions against them, sending Korea into the semi-finals. The fact remains that, that experience has still not been erased out of the Italian public’s mind. They cried hoarse for retribution against another Guus Hiddink side, the burly Gold and Green clad Australia. If victory was what they cried for, then they got it – but retribution? far from it.

At the end of the game, a victory in such a manner was poor revenge indeed. Outplayed and maybe outclassed, the Italians had nothing to offer, apart from a few tresses to the ogling teenage girls across the world. Del Piero, not even that, courtesy a brutally shaven head. The Aussies harried and they hustled, and in the end, did not even complain. The irrepressible Lucas Neill, one of Australia’s best players of the tournament, and the rock in defence unfortunately would be the one who would give away the penalty. Even he, only had a mild chat with the referee at the end of the game.

What, I want to say to the Italians is this. Sport is indeed much more than winning. Its being graceful in victory and even more graceful in defeat. That is why the Courbetin Medal is worth more than the gold medal in the Olympic Games. The Italians I am afraid do not understand this. The recent allegations of match-fixing (which might lead to an unthinkable relegation for the top clubs like Juventus & AC Milan ) in the Serie A are testament to this fact that Italians are good at the game, not at the sport. Daniele De Rossi’s ban for his horrible elbow on USA’s Brain McBride is another example to justify this fact.

It’s time, the Italians realize that, in sport, sometimes decisions go your way, sometimes they don’t. Whatever the stakes, this does not mean one has the license to masquerade around like nine-pins going down at the slightest push, or for that matter push and stamp opponents behind the referee’s back. You might get away with it sometimes, but the sport will catch up one day, and then there will be no place to hide.

As for the game, any neutral observer will point out that it will be the Aussies who will walk out the side with their heads held higher, under a coach, who could well go on to write another fable-story with his next employers. Far from the sunny Bondi beach, in the cold and shivering climes of Russia.

The big upset June 18, 2006

Posted by Aniket in Aniket, Football WC.
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Just when it seemed that the African challenge at the world cup was coming to an end with Ivory Coast crashing out, Ghana showed the world that there is a lot of talent in Africa & that no african side can be considered to be easy meat. Their 2-0 win over the Czechs, who were outstanding in their first match, means that they have taken a huge step towards qualifying for the last 16 & in the process have thrown the group wide open.
    Early goals always make a huge difference to any football game & today was no different. The Africans caught the Czechs off-guard by scoring as early as the 2nd minute – a brilliant strike from Gyan Asamoah. After that though the Czechs attacked occasionally, Ghana seemed to be in control & never had any serious trouble till halftime. After the break, the Czechs appeared refreshed and had a few good chances but good defending from the Africans, along with some outstanding tackling, meant that a goal remained elusive for the Czechs. Ghana never stopped attacking though and if it weren't for Petr Cech's brilliance in goal, it could have easily been 4-0 or even worse. They even won a penalty which Gyan failed to convert but didnt make much of a difference. However, here Ujfalusi got sent off for needlessly arguing with the referee & the Czechs were down to 10 men. The Czechs still carried on attacking with Ghana content to counter-attack. And on one such well built-up attack, Ghana got their second goal via a well struck shot by Sulley Muntari. After that, even the Czechs knew the match was gone, though they did get two good headers on goal towards the end, both of them were saved by Kingson, the Ghanaain goalie who seemed pretty reliable.
    What this means is that Ghana now seem to be favourites to qualify while the Czechs will have to win their last game against Italy to stand a chance of qualifying. The Azzuris shouldn't have too much trouble against the Yanks but they should try to score as many goals as possible, as there is a possiblity that the group may be decided on goal difference. But a win for the Czechs seems to be an uphill task, as they will be without Lokvenc, Koller & Baros for the last game. That leaves them without a good striker upfront and the Italian defence is not exactly known for its generousity. So the Czechs might well be going home very soon, but for today lets celebrate a great Ghana victory and a great game of football. 

India and the Cup June 17, 2006

Posted by Arnold in Arnold, Football WC.
3 comments

I’m sure every Indian who’s been following the FIFA World Cup has at some point or the other stopped to ponder upon the woefulness of our very own football team. How is it that countries like Trinidad and Tobago or Angola can field a team while India can’t?  Let’s look at the possible reasons:

A. There is an anti-Indian propaganda in the football world and FIFA fixes matches to ensure that India doesn’t qualify.
B. The qualifying system is skewed in such a way that for a team to qualify from Asia it has to be much better than one than qualifies easily from a zone like the CONCACAF.
C. The Indian team isn’t as good as Angola.

Ignore the first option as a pitiful joke from my pitiful mind. Let’s look at the second option. FIFA’s aim with the current qualifying system obviously isn’t to have the top 32 football playing countries in world compete in the Finals. It wants to have the best teams subject to certain other geographical representation criteria. Is this fair? I think it is to an extent. If it weren’t there I’m sure we would have to scrap the name “World Cup” and call it the “Europe – South America Championship”.

However, equal representation to all zones obviously isn’t the way out either. Otherwise we’d have the World Cup turning into a farce with teams like Western Samoa qualifying from the Oceania zone. So we need a balance between getting the best teams and giving all the football zones a ‘fair’ representation. FIFA believes that their current qualifying system matches this criterion and hence it is in place. If you think it isn’t fair to India, spare a thought for countries from the South American zone. Uruguay and Colombia, far better teams than India, couldn’t make it out of that group.

Moving to option C. Is the Indian team good enough to play in the World Cup? I have grave personal doubts about this. Looking at the 32 teams in the tournament, I find it hard to pick even a single team that I feel India can beat unless the opponents play blindfolded. (I feel Brazil might beat India even with this restriction.)

I think a strong argument for my case can be made by looking at the clubs that these footballers play for. Even the apparent ‘whipping dogs’ of the World Cup have a fair number of players playing for European clubs. Most of them even have one or two that play for big clubs. (Think Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Dwight Yorke, Kolo Toure etc.) India, on the other hand, can boast of no such thing. Apart from Bhaichung Bhutia’s short spell at a practically unknown English club, no other names come to mind. This isn’t because Indians are so patriotic that they would choose to forsake the big money in Europe and play for a local club. They simply aren’t good enough.

Why aren’t Indian footballers good enough? One frequent complaint is lack of money and infrastructure in the sport. While I am under no delusion about the pitiful condition of sporting facilities in the country, I find it hard to believe that most of the African countries have it much better. They’re just better natural athletes (and probably with more natural talent too). You’d think India, with a population many times that of these smaller countries, would be able to find at least 11 men capable of taking them on. But where are they?

Football in India obviously loses out on popularity to cricket. But I think that’s more of an effect than a cause. You need some success in Indian football before you can hope for the sport to become popular here. Of course, as far as the foreseeable future is concerned, that is merely a vain hope.

Quote of the day! June 15, 2006

Posted by Abhishek in Abhishek, Football WC, Sport.
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Trinidad and Tobago are both magnificent!

(And I don't mean just football. BTW the quote is attributed to who else but him

The Fabulous Destiny of Mr. Tim.K.Hill June 14, 2006

Posted by Abhishek in Abhishek, Football WC.
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Tim Cahill, the aussie wonderkid, Oceania player of the year, and one of the stars of Everton's 4th place finish in the season before last of the EPL. If he was a talented, has-potential player at Everton, he certainly has caught the eye of the world's football public now. Remember, everyone who followed the EPL, knew Rooney was good, but it was only after the EURO 04 championships that his sheer talent was appreciated by the world. Something similar might happen to Mr. Cahill here.

Cahill, finds himself amidst an Aussie team, which is peeping it's head out of it's mother marsupial pouch, as flashlights glare at them and the world celebrates. Then have a line-up with a few stars, Viduka, Aloisi and Harry Kewell coming first to mind. Then there is the list of i-work-hard-like-a-donkey players, well established in various lesser known clubs around leagues in europe. Then there is some real naivete, something which i feel is extremely dangerous if a new team wants to come back with its head held up high. Ivory Coast may be considered relative rookies, but they certainly are not wide-eyed boys staring at toffees on the counter. Contrast that with Togo, which clearly looked a bit over-awed by the occasion. Trinidad and Tobago one may argue were in a similar situation, but Sweden in a sense trying too hard, brought about their own downfall.

However, in Guus Hiddink, the Socceroos may have what is needed to get through to the group stages. He is the major difference between the Aussies and other newbies. I think a lot of teams (Iran, Ivory Coast) could have got results had they had someone like Hiddink. A true master. He brought out the right changes, has made out a strong defence and really makes the Aussies look better than they are. Still, they had to ride their luck, notably when they won the qualifier on penalties againt Uruguay at Sydney.

The Aussies certainly wont go as far as the Koreans, but I for one will not be surprised if they make it out of group H. And atleast I feel, they gave us the best match of the first round of matches. That is provided Croatia / Brazil turns out to be something really special.

PS : The above statement stands after the Croatia/Brazil match.