Sunday, July 13, 2014

World Cup 2014 Reflections

One more World Cup is over won by a German squad who in the end, given the flow of the match and the tournament itself, slightly deserved it more than a defensively solid and compact Argentina squad.
Watching the first group matches of Argentina left most unimpressed. They were certainly difficult to break down, but also struggled to find the net in a consistent basis.
Germany on the other hand had no problems in the scoring department, the only question mark was whether Joachim Low could take them beyond the semifinal hurdle and lose the tag of ‘nearly men’.
We had been used to Low’s Germany in previous tournaments to come out on fire and impress critics and fans alike with positive attacking football.
They would advance far, but stumble in the end with the promise that this generation is getting better and better and the next tournament will be the one they would win.
However, the biggest talking point of this World Cup will be just what happened to Brazil.
They will be many what ifs. What if Neymar had not been injured? What if Thiago Silva had not been suspended over an avoidable booking?
In truth, Brazil was a mediocre side, which lived very dangerously and rode their luck in the previous rounds.
The Manager Luiz Felipe Scolari will predictably take most of the blame, but I believe it was an accomplishment to get this team as far as he did.
He had a history of grinding out unimpressive wins and he did accomplish that until the Semifinal.
Up until the first ten minutes of the semifinal vs. Germany, I was convinced Scolari could possibly lead Brazil to victory with ugly wins as he has done in the past.
I believed home advantage could lead them to victory.
We were left wondering how could a nation like Brazil not find a genuine number nine in the Ronaldo/Romario caliber and settle for a Fred.
It is becoming more evident why Scolari tried to get Diego Costa on board before the latter’s decision to play for Spain (and Scolari’s subsequent angry outburst).
The other question is whether Neymar was being groomed too soon as Brazil’s next superstar. Perhaps he should have been in the background and gain experience like Ronaldo was during the 1994 World Cup and be preserved for future World Cups.
One can hope he will be more lethal in Russia in 2018.
A lot of false hopes were born out of Brazil’s 2013 Confederations Cup victory. The narrative for that win was that the team had ‘reconciled with its public’ and was ready to win and had adapted to Scolar’s tactics.
Even though any team should welcome any win, perhaps a false sense of confidence grew out of that victory.
It will take many years for Brazil to shake away the humiliation of the 1-7 result vs. Germany. Of course, this result should be taken in perspective; it’s a result that happens maybe once in a generation. Certainly it is not a fair barometer to judge either of the teams, neither was as good or as bad the score indicates.
More disappointing for Brazil was the demoralizing demonstration vs. Holland in the third place match that they had to win to salvage some pride.
The silver lining for Brazil is that these performances will be the type of shake up that every team needs from time to time.
Predictably, the press (Brazilian and otherwise) will try to make this a cataclysmic event and describe it as the end of Brazilian football and so on and so forth.
For this we must make a parallel with the 1990 World Cup, when Sebastiano Lazaroni’s ‘Europeanized’ Brazil were eliminated in the second round and the press described that team similar to the headlines we have been seeing in the last few days.
Of course, that event was a wake-up call for that generation and they went on to win the following World Cup in 1994 in USA.
As far as the runner-ups Argentina, doubts always remained whether they would advance as far they did.
The talking point for Argentina has always been that Lionel Messi has to flourish in the International stage to lay claim as one of the best ever players in history.
For nearly a decade now, succeeding national team selectors are unable to come up with a system that will make Messi perform like he does in a Barcelona shirt.
In this World Cup he decided a number of matches with key goals and assists, but at no point did he take charge of a match in the manner of Maradona.
My admiration for Messi is second to none, but in all fairness I could not see how he was awarded the ‘Golden Ball’ (2014 World Cup’s best Player).
The Netherlands was a surprise, as I believed they had many young and inexperienced players. Somehow, the older heads (Robben, van Persie and Sneijder) were able to propel a young squad to a Third Place finish.
Certainly their prospects for the 2016 Euros seem bright, as the squad is still young enough for many other campaigns.
This World Cup brought down the curtain on Spain’s glorious generation.
Players like Iker Casillas, Xavi, Fernando Torres and David Villa will most likely exit the International scene with their head held high. No poor performance can take away what this generation has achieved and even before the Tournament Casillas had said that ‘This generation has earned the right to failure.’
This may also turn out to be the end of Uruguay of Forlan and Suarez. The manager Oscar Washington Tabarez has for many years achieved great results with this squad, but the team may have reached its limit.
Italy with some luck could have perhaps advanced to the second round, though they are still years away from title winning potential. Cesare Prandelli has left his post and remains to be seen if veterans like Buffon and Pirlo will carry on.
Not much was expected of England given the youth of the team; nevertheless, because of their history a first round exit was disappointing.
There is a foundation to build up this young team, while Rooney is still young enough, replacements will be needed for Lampard and Gerrard.
The youth of the squad is a reflection of the large number of quality foreign players in the English Premier League. This has forced Roy Hodgson to blood many young English born players perhaps maybe a bit too soon.
France, under Didier Deschamps, somewhat redeemed themselves from their last catastrophic World Cup and the future seems brighter. Many young players gained much needed experience in line with the 2016 Euros that they will host.
No one will know if Franck Ribery’s absence due to injury would have made a significant difference, but it’s doubtful even with him they would have passed the Quarterfinals.
Prior to the start of the Tournament, much was expected of reigning World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo. However, besides carrying a slight injury, he was not playing for one of the stronger nations with a title winning potential. The superstar who shone throughout the season for Real Madrid seemed to be content with his Champions League Triumph.
Just like the last World Cup, the African nations did not perform to their potential (except Algeria), which is a surprise because in general the standard of play and coaching seemed to have been in ascendance for the last couple of decades.
The CONCACAF gave a far better account of themselves with Mexico, USA and Costa Rica reaching the second round and beyond.
Costa Rica in particular were the surprise of the Tournament with their wins over Uruguay, Italy and keeping England and Holland scoreless.
Many observers had predicted the young Belgium squad to do well and they did not disappoint. Just like their Dutch neighbors they are a team in ascendance.
Living in the United States, the Tournament had the most significant media and fan interest that I can ever remember.
Though there were some debates amongst longtime fans whether the fans were just ‘bandwagon’ or ‘world cup fans only’ as opposed to genuine soccer fans.
Nevertheless, most welcomed the positive and present media coverage that seemed to encompass even the political/entertainment spheres.
Every World Cup comes with a new fad. This time referees were armed with sprays to designate the location of the ball and the wall on free kicks. This may be useful, though I never felt lining up walls was that critical of a problem in football.
Another noticeable aspect was the colorful boots that the players wore. The era of all black boots has given way to yellow, red and even the pink/blue combination.
The water breaks for the matches at Amazon were also a novelty. Many believed it breaks the rhythm of a game that is loved because of its free flowing nature and that these breaks may give an unfair advantage to one team over the other.
As a safety and health concern not many could oppose these. It must be asked if such a concern existed, then such venues should have been avoided altogether.
All in all, it was a pleasant World Cup from the fan’s standpoint with many surprises and many goals.
No one player dominated ‘a la Maradona’, though Colombia’s James Rodriguez price value must have skyrocketed. While Neymar failed to fulfill that role, Messi may not have many other opportunities.

Farewell, Brazil 2014

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