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Germanic Hegemony Looms

Over the past eight years Spain dominated the international football tournaments in which they took part – though they had a premonitory blip in last year’s Confederations Cup (and what a misleading pointer that final turned out to be.)

After the win by Germany in Rio on Sunday we could be in for a longer period of domination than the Spanish enjoyed as the German players are quite young and will only have gained in confidence from their achievement. I don’t know if I can stand that thought, though.

Still, at least it gives Scotland an early opportunity to claim their scalp as the two countries meet on Sep 7th in the first qualifying game for the 2016 European Championships.

The late World Cup has unified the FIFA and Unofficial Football World Championships. Going into it Uruguay were the holders of the unofficial title but swiftly lost it to Costa Rica.

For historical reasons Scotland is actually at the top of the unofficial football championship rankings. The September game will give Scotland a chance to reclaim the actual title – if Argentina don’t beat the Germans in their friendly a few days before.

Sólo otro club

In one of the least unpredictable transfers of this summer Liverpool’s troubled (and troubling – the guy clearly needs help) star striker Luis Suarez has moved to Barcelona, no doubt to the benefit of his bank balance. The only question was over his destination. As he made no secret he wished to play in Spain the other option would have been Real Madrid.

Barcelona’s motto, emblazoned on the seats in their stadium, the Camp Nou, is “més que un club” (more than a club.) Such a claim to moral high ground is somewhat undermined by their acquisition of a serial perpetrator of assaults; assaults which if carried out in any other walk of life might have seen their author up before a magistrate.

Suarez’s gifts as a footballer clearly outweigh any consideration of propriety (or indeed of the player’s inner well-being: he is not going to change his behaviour when it is rewarded like this.)

It seems Barcelona is sólo otro club (just another club) after all.

The Team That Made All Brazil Cry

So. There is to be no redemption. Brazil’s historical trauma of the Maracanã in 1950 known as the Maracanazo has been surpassed. Will this one become known as the Mineirãoza?

The country of Brazil has never been involved in a war (except, perhaps, internally.) The national consciousness has been invested in football. The 1950 defeat was akin to a national humiliation. How much worse, then, a 7-1 hammering by a team who had never beaten them in a competitive game? And a first home defeat in competition for 29 years.

It’s been coming, though. They weren’t convincing in the group games, Chile pushed them close in the second round and Colombia didn’t deserve to lose to them either. Both those sides perhaps had too much history with Brazil to overcome. (And the hoo-hah over Neymar’s injury is over-confected. Brazil spent most of the Colombia game kicking “Oor Hamish” – James Rodriguez – all over the park. Given the outcome of the semi-final the real loss was in fact Thiago Silva.) The Germans didn’t care about reputations or history; they did what German teams do.

Brazil’s scapegoat in 1950 (“Look! There’s the man that made all Brazil cry!”) was Moacyr Barbosa. At least this time they can’t blame it on a black goalkeeper.

Make the most of the last few days of this Brazil-hosted World Cup. I doubt there will be another one.

di Stéfano

The football legend who has died today had a name that needed no further explanation. He was part of that legendary Real Madrid side that captivated the football followers of Glasgow and Scotland at the European Cup Final of 1960 – played at Hampden Park. di Stéfano scored a hat-trick.

I was too young to be aware of it at the time but the folk memory was promulgated and persists. Such was the effect of that display of what football could be that the names of the forward line still trip off the tongue with no need for googling. Canario, Del Sol, di Stéfano, Puskas and Gento. Mind you, I see film of that game now and think, “Where was the marking?”

One curiosity is that I believe the Eintracht Frankfurt team that formed the opposition that day were all amateurs – as was German football as a whole.

di Stéfano may be unique in having played international football for three different countries, his native Argentina, Colombia, where he played league football for a while, and Spain for whom he was naturalised in 1956. That was the type of scenario that I thought had been resolved by FIFA with its rules on eligibility but in the recent World Cup one of the commentators remarked that Kevin-Prince Boateng who played for Ghana in the tournament had previously played for Germany (but not, it seems, for the senior side.)

The World Cup was one stage that di Stéfano did not grace, for various reasons, but his thirteen national titles (two in Argentina, three in Colombia and no less than eight in Spain) and five European Cups – not to mention his scoring record – speak for themselves.

Alfredo Stéfano di Stéfano Laulhé: 4/7/1926 – 7/7/2014. So it goes.

For Interzone 254

The Seventh Miss Hatfield cover

A few days ago my latest Interzone Review book arrived. The review is due on Jul 31st so, World Cup or not, I’ll need to get going on it soon.

The book is titled The Seventh Miss Hatfield and was written by Anna Caltabiano. According to the Orion website it’s, “A spellbinding debut from a hugely talented young author, featuring time-travel, 19th-century New York, unrequited love and a mysterious portrait…” Notwithstanding that word “debut” it appears to be Ms Caltabiano’s second novel. I missed out on her first, All That is Red, probably because it doesn’t appear to be SF related.

Cultural Blinkers

I was watching the Argentina – Iran game today (strangely compelling for a 1-0) and was amused to hear the commentator Clive Tyldesley say that most of Iran’s squad had their Christian names on their shirts.

Christian names? For Iranians?

I see from this that it wasn’t just me who noticed…

Spain 0-2 Chile

World Cup Group B, Estádio do Maracanã, 18/6/14.

This is the way the world (Cup) ends. For Spain at least. Not with a bang – and barely a whimper.

The signs that were there in the Confederations Cup last year that Spain’s time was coming to an end are now manifest. Their defensive frailty in the Holland game was underlined here. How they miss Carles Puyol. I don’t think a defence with a Puyol in his prime would have collapsed in such a way. And the wisdom of selecting Iker Casillas in goal has to be doubted.

With this result we seem to have reverted to situation normal for Spain at World Cups. Implosion.

Speaking of which, has anyone else noticed the facial resemblance between Diego Costa and Fernando Hierro?

Fernando Hierro
Diego Costa

Dunfermline Athletic 0-3 Cowdenbeath (agg 1-4)

SPFL Tier 2 Play-off Final, second leg, East End Park, 18/5/14

A feast of televised football all round this week, this one courtesy of BBC Alba – as indeed was Sons win in the corresponding play-off two years ago.

I missed the first goal (I switched on in time to see the different angle replays) as I had been putting up towel rails and mirrors to amke the new place seem a bit more homely and less stark. The good lady said it was like a sensory deprivation house when we moved in, all white walls and nothingness.

Dunfermline had their keeper to thank for only being one down at half time as he made two very good saves in that time. Dunfermline had a lot of the ball but didn’t do much with it. The same pattern prevailed in the second half; really the home team only had two long range efforts on goal in the whole game. Cowdenbeath always looked sharp on the counter attack but their second came from a corner that wasn’t cleared properly. A mistake by Josh Falkingham (you shouldn’t laugh, really you shouldn’t) let Cowden in for their third and it was game over.

Cowdenbeath were pretty impressive, I don’t remember them being as good the two times I saw them live this season. Maybe we didn’t let them play.

But two other part-time teams in the division gives the Sons a more than fighting chance of staying up again, which is what I’d settle for right now.

Arsenal 2-2 Hull City (3-2 a.e.t.)

FA Cup Final, Wembley Stadium, 17/5/14

Not quite such a historic (nor romantic) outcome to this one. Still a shock looked on the cards after ten minutes when Hull were two up. But eighty minutes is a long time to hold out especially against a team capable of keeping the ball.

Arsenal did not really create much in the way of chances but big clubs tend to prevail in these situations.

And Hull have the consolation of playing in a “proper” European competition* next season. Not that that did Stoke or Birmingham much good – though Wigan reached the play-offs tis year despite the distraction.

*They did once take part in the Anglo-Italian Cup in the long ago.

St Johnstone 2-0 Dundee United

Scottish Cup Final, Celtic Park, 17/5/14.

Congratulations to St Johnstone on winning their first ever cup final. I watched the game on TV and they were worth the win – though had the Dundee United effort that came off the post in the first half at 0-0 gone in the story might have been different. It didn’t, though, and Dundee United didn’t really create much else, or rather, they weren’t allowed to.

Not being a regular spectator of football in the Scottish top Division – I mostly abjure the highlights shown on Sunday nights and never look at league games – I was pleasantly surprised by the standard of play on display.

My younger son has just moved from Perth and told me that in the run-up to the final Perth town centre shops were all done up in blue – apart from one barber’s shop in tangerine. You could even buy blue beer!

The party will doubtless still be going on.

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