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Gauls Versus the Romans July 7, 2006

Posted by samratsengupta in Football WC, Samrat, Uncategorized.
6 comments

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.  

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.

First Impression June 12, 2006

Posted by samratsengupta in Football WC, Samrat, Uncategorized.
1 comment so far

The event has started with a bang, and has captured the interest of the world as expected. All the results so far have been to my satisfaction. The most heartening one was Ecuador beating Poland, this result was the most unpredictable, it was expected that the Poles being the neighbourhood team, having players with experience and familiarity of the conditions by playing in the Bundesliga , would beat Ecuador and bring them "down to earth"( as Ecuador mostly plays and wins matches only in their high-altitude capital Quito), but Ecuador pleasantly surprised everyone by giving a superior display. The Poles are going to come out all guns firing and Germany should beware in the next match.

T&T also came up with a gutsy and pugnacious display against the much vaunted Swedes, who would be ruing the result. Good to see Netherlands, England, Portugal and Argentina being victorious. The World Cup needs these pedigree teams to qualify, though the wins were not convincing. It is good in a sense because it shows they have not peaked and will prevent complacency.  Ivory Coast impressed me a lot, in the first half-hour against Argentina, the Africans were pressing hard, winning most of the 50-50 balls, making attractive moves; Argentina did not know what hit them. If Ivory Coast had scored a goal in that period, the script could have been different.

The new ball has made life tough for the keepers, as it is wicked in the air, but goals have dried up after the first match, hope to see more. Also looking forward to seeing the Czech Republic and Brazil in action.

Stars Of 1986 World Cup June 6, 2006

Posted by samratsengupta in Football WC, Samrat.
3 comments

Following according to me were some of the stand out players of the 86 world cup apart from Diego (he has GOD embedded in his name) Maradona.

Enzo Scifo: This quiet unassuming Belgian, was the mainstay of the midfield, he remained so for the next three World Cups also. Was the only player with top of the class ball-skills in the team, he played an integral part in Belgium's best ever show.

Enzo Francescoli: Another Enzo, he had a graceful and languid style, with good ball control. He became quite popular during the 86 World Cup, had a Brazilian streak about him. He is infact one of Zidane 's favorite player. Zizou has even named one of his sons after him.

Michael Laudrup: The greatest ever Danish player. Was elegance and poise personified.Stamped his mark in the tournament when he scored a superb goal, by weaving his way through a rugged Uruguayan defence. Though he reached his crowning glory in 1992, when Denmark lifted the European Cup.

Socrates: The unlucky captain of two spectacular Brazilian teams, in 1982 and 1986. A practicing doctor, a chain smoker and heavy drinker. His bearded demeanour and revolutionary looks along with towering height made him a world wide icon like Che Guevara. His game was effortless, as he coordinated with the mercurial Zico and Falcao leaving opposing defences ragged.

Karl-Heinz Rumminegge (I used to love pronouncing his name): The best German player of the WC, he used to marshal the midfield, adept at tackling and in initiating attacks. Lothar Matthaus as a midfielder was a worthy successor to him. Incidentally Matthaus in the 86 final was primarily entrusted with man-marking Maradona.  

Careca: Had a profitable time scoring 5 goals. Put finishing touches to the sublime moves of Zico, Socrates et al. Later he became the first superstar of Japanese soccer. Played for 4 years in the fledgling J-league

Gary Lineker: A striker in the classic mould, he was also the quintessential poacher. Had the knack of being in the right place at the right time. Deservedly won the Golden Boot of 86. Marco Van Basten and Klinsmann (coincidentally current coaches of Netherlands and Germany), both reminded me of Lineker in their playing days.

World Cup 1986 June 5, 2006

Posted by samratsengupta in Football WC, Samrat.
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I plan to post an account of all the five football World Cups that I have seen, starting from 1986. Would be essentially giving an overview from my personal perspective, not an event summary as such.  

So in this first edition I look into the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. 

I was a nine year old boy, used to play fooball regularly in the evenings with friends, the event was in the midst of my summer vacation in Calcutta. I was staying with my relatives then in a joint family, most of them were football fans,  and there were constant football discussions in the household. Some stayed up late in the nights to watch the games. I was also excited by this possibility, and used to go to sleep early and requested my "dadas"(elder cousins) and "meshos"(mother's sisters husbands) to wake me up during the matches.

The matches invariably were in the dead of the night. But Doordarshan was faithful in its broadcast albeit with its occasional "Rukawat ke liye khed hain" ("sorry for the interruption"), we were also able to get transmission from Bangladesh Television.

Alessandro Altobelli scored the first goal of this world cup, making it an unique record as he had scored the last goal of the previous WC also .
Two really surprising results were; one a drubbing of Uruguay by debutants Denmark 6-1
incidentally the Danes had the best group stage record as they also beat Germany and Scotland in their matches. Then the Danes got a taste of their own medicine as they got a thrashing of 5-1 vs Spain in 2nd round. With Butrageuno scoring four goals.

Another interesting highlight for me was the Brazilian Josimar scoring from near the halfline with a piledriver, the sheer speed and power beat the GK, it was not the sort of cheeky shot that with which Ronaldinho conned Seaman in the last WC. Josimar's shot had fascinated me as I thought it was impossible to score from that range, and when we used to play in the evenings, I used to try and use all the strength that my 9 year old legs could muster, to aim at the opposing goal from the middle of the pitch.

2nd round:

The highlight was Belgium vs USSR with Belgium winning 4-3, it was a rollercoaster of a match, lead kept changing alternately, finally Belguim triumphed in the extra time, I remember the players were exhausted and literally dropping off in the searing heat of Mexico, but the passion was there to be seen. The Russian Belanov scoring a hatrick in the losing cause.
West Germany labored win over Morocco 1-0 was one of the most boring matches ever.

Quarters 

The QFs had two memorable matches Brazil vs France, and England vs Argentina. Bra- Fra, was the best match of this WC, two highly talented and entertaining teams. The Brazilians stamped their superiority in this match, it was a joy watching the ballet like moves of Socrates, Zico and Careca. But the French GK Joel Bats was amazing, made spectacular saves, France also had some good counterattacks courtesy the inimitable Platini and Jean Tigana. Brazil's loss in the tie-breaker was a catastrophe for Calcuttans, suddenly I could sense that the zest for the WC reduced in the household and the neighbourhood.  

Eng vs Arg, was a fast paced match, one could feel the intensity in the proceedings, it was a rough match also (years later I came to know about the Falklands tension). Diego's  world famous goals, though for opposite reasons, would ensure immortality for this game. 

As usual the most drab match involved Germany and Mexico, won in the tie-breaker by Germans. I don’t know why I support the Germans, because their style is not that eyecatching, call it efficient and well-oiled at best, but maybe because of their perseverance, and “can do” attitude, they always believe in themselves. Another reason for which I liked the Germans, was that in 86 one of their club teams called Bochum had come for the Super Soccer series, I watched one of their games with my father in the Nehru stadium in Delhi, and I was hooked to football and Germany. After that I proclaimed myself as a German fan.

In the semis a flat and emotionally drained performance by France resulted in them getting clinically beaten by Germans. While Maradona single handedly demolished the Belgians, and scored a spectacular goal similar to his goal of the century, leaving half-a dozen befuddled Belgians in his wake.

I awaited the Final match  keenly, I was supporting Germany ardently. Rest of family were all behind Argentina. This match I saw in Delhi, as summer vacations had ended by then. I still remember the setting, I was so excited that I was standing behind the sofa for the entire duration, jumping up and down, with my parents and sister sitting in front. When Germany pulled back to 2-2 in the second half, I was ecstatic. The last goal which was set up by a beautiful through ball by Maradona, left me distraught.  

Overall perspective about the 1986 WC was that it was an average sort of WC, normal distribution curve of some good and bad matches and most average. Quality was affected by the high altitude and also the heat due to the day matches( to make it prime time in Europe), crowd support was at a peak. Teams mostly favoured the defensive approach and it reaped benefits; the ill effects of which could be seen more prominently in the next edition i.e. Italia 90.    

“Jugo Bonito” or The Beautiful Game May 26, 2006

Posted by samratsengupta in Football, Samrat, Sport.
5 comments

The game captures the imagination and stokes the passion of people around the world like nothing else (hmmm. maybe s3x is a close second). The game is a bundle of contradictions; it can be ridiculously simple or be real complicated. It may be delectable and exotic like an elaborate Kashmiri Wazwan cuisine where savoring it requires patience, or a straightforward yet satisfying  Big Mac burger providing instant gratification. It may be synchronized like a philharmonic orchestra or may resemble a Bronx gang war slugfest; it can be an opera concert or a staccato rap song. All highly entertaining depending on your tastes.

It is a sport that is discussed fervently across continents, be it notorious drug dealers in a high security prison in Bogota (incidentally the Columbian goalkeeper Rene Higuita(1990-94) was also in such a prison), or slumkids  in a ghetto in Lagos, or suburban mothers "soccer moms" in US mid-west while watching their young girls kicking around, or executives in corporate boardroom meetings in Frankfurt, or a group of Kolkata collegians holding an animated conversation on Maradona vs Pele in "Adda"(gossip) sessions in the "Para"(locality) youth club.

The diversity of this game is mindboggling. This is a game that is played simultaneously in NATO bases and Taliban camps in Afghanistan. The fanatical following it enjoys, brings out the best patriotic feelings and the worst jingoistic emotions, example being the infamous "Futbol War" between El Salvador and
Honduras. In Marx's words Football is the modern Opium  of the Masses, it is a universal language and expression.

The Football World Cup is the greatest event and spectacle of the world beating even the Olympics hands down, the World Cup has played a stellar role for more than half a century in sustaining and also enhancing football's popularity all over the world. FIFA in my opinion has also done a commendable job in managing the sport competently and professionally.

In India also the game has tremendous following, though it is not apparent and in your face like cricket, but the World Cup is one of the most looked forward of all events, and this is not confined to the usual regional suspects Bengal, Kerala and Goa.

The game has evolved over time, cannot comment too much of the games in the 50s and 60s though have seen numerous snippets from those days on television, but nothing much can be inferred from those grainy and jerky frames; seem more like Charlie Chaplin, Laurel Hardy pictures. The movements seem contrived and cartoon like. But recently saw a few clips in slow  motion, especially few dribbles of Stanley Matthew who was renowned for them. The way he controlled the ball was impeccable, the feint he gave to defenders was remarkable. Though coming to feints and maneuvers (the hindi word "jhaasa" seems more appropriate) no one compares to Maradona. The way he could mesmerize was unparalleled, ask the leadenfooted English defenders in the 1986 QF. In the current crop Ronaldinho and Zidane come close in the "Jhaasa" aspect. Though overall I still consider Maradona as superior, but the way Ronaldinho is progressing he may also touch similar divine heights.

One thing I lament about current state of football is the similar playing styles of the teams. Due to increased heterogeneity and intermingling of players and coaches in the European leagues, more technology, greater intercontinental exposure etc all the styles have began to converge., As an example the styles of England and Brazil prior to the 80s were as different as chalk and cheese, but now in this decade they may only be as different as say, two varieties of cheese. Teams across the globe have adopted the "Best Practices" of other teams, say the slow build-up of Brazil, the Catenaccio defence of Italy, the combative mid-field of Germany, the uncomplicated British way of attack, Total football of Dutch etc.  So all aspire to be the same, but obviously the degree and capability of implementation varies. So in a sense the uniqueness and competitive advantages of the different teams and styles are being eroded. Even the African teams nowadays have an accomplished technical game, compare that to the raw unpolished talent and unbridled enthusiasm of the Cameroon team of 1990. So the lack of diversity in playing styles, has dulled the game somewhat, but it has taken the game to a higher level with teams playing with lot more nous nowadays, and adapting their gameplan accordingly. Games are more competitive, players are fitter, the results remain as unpredictable as ever. Ultimately the thrill and magic of football remains the same.